IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Latinas are an invisible, economic powerhouse. It's time to elevate them.

Op/Ed: Despite persistent systemic barriers, Latina entrepreneurs have proven their ability to build economy time and again.
Claudia Romo Edelman is a Mexican-Swiss diplomat and an activist for diversity, equity, and inclusion who has worked with global organizations including the World Economic Forum, UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF.
Claudia Romo Edelman is a Mexican-Swiss diplomat and an activist for diversity, equity, and inclusion who has worked with global organizations including the World Economic Forum, UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF.Courtesy We Are All Human Foundation

It’s no secret that Hispanic communities across the country have played a major part in fueling the economic growth we’ve witnessed for decades in the U.S.

Today in fact, Latino GDP amounts to $2.8 trillion – a figure that would rank as the 5th largest economy in the world – according to the nonprofit Latino Donor Collaborative. Purchasing power in the Latino community is just below $2 trillion, the highest among minority groups. And in just a few years, that number is projected to top $2.6 trillion.

But what’s the force behind that? Latinas.

They are the incredible, invisible economic powerhouse – the secret sauce of extraordinary future growth. As a Latina, we represent an untapped treasure with exponential potential. And despite persistent systemic barriers, Latinas will only yield greater influence and power in years to come.

Right now, that may not instantly ring true with many; Latinas are the worst-paid demographic in the United States. Each year, as Women’s Equal Pay Day exposes the inequality that women earn substantially less than their male counterparts, Latinas represent the greatest disparity among all groups.

This year, Equal Pay Day fell on March 14. For Latinas, that day won’t arrive until October. That means Latinas on average must work almost an additional year in order to earn what their non-Hispanic white male counterparts made in the previous year.

While this diverse and growing demographic lives day by day with the reminder that they are undervalued and invisible, they have a different plan for the future. Here is a lesser-known statistic: Latinas create small businesses six times faster than any other group in America. Nearly 77 percent of all Latinas say they would prefer owning their own businesses. And another data point from the U.S. Census: In the last decade, the number of Latinas who obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher nearly doubled, resulting in better jobs, if not better pay.

As a community, Latinas still resolutely believe that hard work and education provide a path to upward mobility – the American Dream. We pay taxes, create jobs and are the fastest-growing population in the military.

Latinas represent more than one-fifth of all active-duty enlisted women in service, over-indexing our percentage in the population. This, too, is not a mystery. The military has long been a path to progress for economically underrepresented populations.

The high rate of Latina entrepreneurship, of course, is often a response to denied access and discouraging rates of corporate advancement. Given the huge gaps in affordable childcare and healthcare, owning one’s own business is not only an attractive proposition, but also born of necessity.

At the same time, despite a clear and credible commitment by corporate America to Latino diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, women of color still face a long road. They must be seen, heard and valued.

There have only been three Latina CEOs in the Fortune 500: Geisha Williams, former CEO of PG&E, Cheryl Miller who served as CEO of AutoNation from 2019 to 2020, and most recently, Priscilla Almodovar, who became CEO of Fannie Mae last fall.

Less than 2 percent of Latinas hold senior executive roles and only 4.4 percent are in management. A whopping 77 percent of all Latinas believe they must repress their background in order to fit into their company’s culture.

The slow climb up the corporate ladder has a secondary negative impact. Younger Latinas do not benefit from the inspiration and mentorship that senior leaders often provide. This begets a retention problem.

Nevertheless, the trends and anecdotal evidence of entrepreneurial persistence among Latinas indicate that they will continue to fight for their prosperity. We are tenacious, we are innovative and we are making inroads, albeit slowly.

A McKinsey study revealed that although Latina founders run nearly 2 million businesses across the country, representing the fastest-growing bloc of entrepreneurs, they received less than two percent of venture capital funds.

Surely, we can convince investors that funding Latina businesses is not an act of charity or reparation but a sound investment strategy.

Latinas vote. We vote in elections. We vote with our feet, discontent to stay in dead-end roles for less pay. We vote with our wallets. We are often the CFOs of our households, making the majority of household purchasing decisions. We are ambitious. In the coming years, we will continue to get more and higher degrees, and we will look for companies that not only welcome us but support us. We will continue to start businesses that hire people, create goods and services that benefit the public. All of our ambitions will uplift and strengthen the American economy.

Being invisible has made us creative and courageous. We may not be included yet or compensated equally (along with all other women) but we are gaining influence. Take heed and tap into our power – it is a win for everyone.