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Op-Ed: Three Steps To Forge a New Path for Latina Leaders in Philanthropy

Photo courtesy of Carolina García Jayaram
Photo courtesy of Carolina García Jayaram

Too few Latinos are in positions of power to help set and drive priorities at philanthropic organizations in the U.S., and the consequences of that are significant.  

Latinos accounted for just one percent of foundation not-for-profit CEO positions in the U.S. in 2019 and less than 10 percent of program officer positions. The fallout of that: They receive just 1.3 percent of foundation funding.

That’s a scant amount for one of the fastest-growing demographics, representing nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population and more than $1.9 trillion in consumer purchasing power — a growing figure that accounted for 11.1 percent of U.S. buying power in 2020. 

Given that the amount of philanthropic funding directly affects the success of a community, Latino communities are being shortchanged. 

Foundations and non-profits need to take swift and thoughtful action to address this lack of Latino representation at the top. They must create a space for a greater variety of voices who can bring an informed point of view to help shape and expand philanthropic funding 

commensurate with the Hispanic population and community needs. Data show that as recently as a few years ago, 90% of non-profit CEOs were white, 84 percent of non-profit board members were white, and more than one-quarter of non-profit boards were entirely white. 

When Latino voices are not present, or when barriers keep Latinos from being authentically themselves in the workplace, organizations lose out on perspectives and knowledge that can lead to effective change — and who better to address the needs and well-being of Latinos than Latinos themselves?

For example, Brisa De Angulo, a human rights activist from Bolivia, founded A Breeze of Hope Foundation, which champions a whole-healing approach to childhood sexual violence rooted in her own experience of assault. She is a recipient of the 2020 Elevate Prize, which recognizes changemakers for their transformational impact in solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

De Angulo used her prize money, mentorship, training, and support to amplify her impact in eradicating and preventing sexual violence against children. The work she has done has created change, resulting in a more sympathetic legal system that protects children across Latin America. 

Another purpose-driven Latina, Cristina Jimenez, co-founded United We Dream, the largest immigrant-led youth network in the country. After being told she could not attend college because of her undocumented status, Cristina started her organization. The organization’s mission is to create welcoming spaces for young people no matter their immigration status to empower them to make their voices heard. Could leaders from any other demographic champion this kind of change so compellingly and effectively?

The task of driving this kind of much-needed change in philanthropy and other sectors will not just happen through good intentions. It will require a commitment to a steady stream of hard work that starts with each one of us.

These are just a few steps to achieve it. 

Be the example you want to see in the world

While there are some Latina leaders in philanthropy and other fields to look to for inspiration, we should also feel comfortable serving as our own examples and embracing our ability to inspire others. We can do this by seeking out opportunities to raise our own visibility while also shining a light on other Latina voices and perspectives. There are countless ways to get started proactively — whether it’s starting a blog, writing an article, creating your own podcast, engaging with others on social media, or hosting a round table. The key: put your ideas into action and make them a reality.


Use your influence to take action 

Since Latinas are underrepresented in leadership positions, those who do yield this influence must build systems of accountability, input, and recognition of good work at all levels.

The National Urban League, for example, urges action around “education, job training, direct employment, and enforcement of anti-discrimination actions.” Look at your own organization’s recruitment practices, prioritize diversity, be transparent and help spotlight those for whom the recognition could be transformative.  

Invite Latinas in lower management levels to sit in on decision-making committees, for example, to champion and empower them instead of waiting for other systems or people to effectuate change. Propose starting a paid internship program, a skills training seminar, or a mentorship program, leading the way to create the change you want to see.

Fight for equality

Make it your mission to fight for today’s most pressing issues for Latinas. October 21 of this year marked National Latina Equal Pay Day. According to the American Association of University Women, “Latinas were compensated just 57 percent of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2020.” This means it would take Latinas almost an entire year of full-time, year-round work to be paid the same as white men. 

Also, according to the American Association of University Women, Latina’s gender pay gap is worse compared to all other demographics, including white, Black, and Native women. As a Latina in a position of power, it is our responsibility to call out the pay gap within our own organizations to make sure the fight for equality starts with us. 

One by one, Latina voices will change the conversation in the non-profit and foundation world. We have a valuable and unique perspective to bring to the table, and it is our own duty to make sure our voices are heard.

“Latinos are a force,” says the Latino Community Foundation. “When we harness their power and ignite their leadership, our economy and democracy will thrive.” For years, we’ve shown our incredible contributions to culture, the economy, and the overall U.S. society. Now it’s time also to ensure that philanthropy sees how incredibly innovative we truly are in creating long-term impact. 

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