February 20, 2004

From the Break Room to the Boardroom - Hispanics in Corporate America

By Congressman Joe Baca

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Corporate America Task Force, which I chair, was created by CHC Chair, Ciro D. Rodriguez in the beginning of the 108th Congress. This task force was specifically established to voice the need for Hispanic involvement in all aspects of corporate America - from the break room to the boardroom.

The growth of the Hispanic population to approximately 40 million has been accompanied by a similar growth in our purchasing power. It is now at $630 billion and increasing everyday. Corporate America has stood up and taken notice of the dollars Latinos are willing to spend, evident by bilingual ads featuring Latinos, the fusion of Latino Caribbean sounds into the mainstream, and the recent growth of bilingual large-market newspapers and publications. Unfortunately, we have yet to see the strength of those numbers transform into decision-making roles in America’s corporations. Currently, only 1.7 percent of all corporate board seats in Fortune 1,000 companies are held by Hispanics.

The Corporate America Task Force has set three primary goals to address these disparities while building productive relationships with corporations that realize the importance of taking proactive steps. We want to: (1) increase diversity in corporate boardrooms and in senior management so that Hispanics are represented at a level commensurate with our economic contributions and purchasing power; (2) increase corporate America’s procurement of goods and services from Hispanic-owned businesses; and (3) ensure that corporate America increases its philanthropic support of Hispanics and Hispanic communities.

Last year, the Task Force created an informal Advisory Committee comprised of various organizations, including the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, the New America Alliance, the National Council of La Raza, MALDEF, and the Hispanic College Fund. It is the first time that the CHC and leaders in the public and private sectors have come together to work on these important issues. The Task Force and Advisory Committee met last summer to adopt the Corporate America Initiative, which outlines the goals that the Task Force expect corporate America to meet.

On November 4, 2003, the Task Force held an informative public forum to hear from organizations on “The State of Hispanics in Corporate America.” Panelists informed Members and the audience about the lack of Hispanic participation in corporate management and the challenges facing Latinos trying to break into the financial services industry. They also discussed incentives to encourage young Hispanics to participate in the business field and the need for increased government procurement of minority, particularly Hispanic contracts.

The CHC Corporate America Task Force is dedicated to working with our new partners in corporate America in the coming year. In 2004, the Task Force plans to hold a series of field hearings across the country to question companies about the progress they are making to meet the goals set forth in the Corporate America Initiative. The Members of the CHC believe that it is the responsibility of influential leaders in government and business to build on the gains made by Hispanics in corporate America. The Corporate America Task Force will be an important vehicle by which we can accomplish these goals.

Representative Joe Baca (43rd District, California) was elected to the United States House of Representatives on November 16, 1999, in a special election. He was elected to his second full two-year term on November 5, 2002. He is the first Latino Congressman to serve from the Inland Empire.

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