As We Rise, We Pull: 7 Learnings to Elevate More Hispanic+ Leaders to the Board

DEIBoard Composition and SuccessionBoard of DirectorsBoard EffectivenessDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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April 22, 2024
8 min read
DEIBoard Composition and SuccessionBoard of DirectorsBoard EffectivenessDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
Executive Summary
To help achieve parity on boards, we uncovered seven new strategies to elevate more Hispanic+ leaders to non-executive director roles.


There’s no question that inclusion efforts have climbed board and CEO agendas for decades.

But while we’ve seen strong commitments and progress in entry-level roles across industries, we’re still a long way from achieving true equity at the top. This is especially prevalent for Hispanic+ leaders* and NEDs who—despite being the United States’ largest ethnic minority, accounting for nearly 20% of the country’s population—hold only 5% of the S&P 500 board roles.


*The term Hispanic+ was coined by Russell Reynolds Associates to signify inclusiveness within this broadly defined, under-represented minority group. The terms Hispanic, Latino, and/or US Latino can be sometimes used interchangeably; hence, this term focuses on being inclusive of all existing definitions.

Research consistently shows that diverse boards and leadership teams deliver better business outcomes. So, what’s holding organizations back? How can they finally bring more Hispanic+ leaders to the table?

To increase Hispanic+ directors’ representation in the boardroom, RRA interviewed 25 board directors across the US to better understand how they support leaders from their community on boards. Leveraging these conversations, market insights from our 1000+ board searches and DE&I assessments in the US over the last three years, and learnings from RRA & Clearlake Capital’s annual Hispanic+ Corporate Directors Conference, we identified the following best practices for current Hispanic+ NEDs looking to elevate more Hispanic+ leaders to the board:

  1. Be visible—continued networking is critical for current board members
  2. Advocate for your community
  3. Take a holistic & intersectional community view
  4. Be a sponsor
  5. Start succession planning early
  6. Seek out board leadership opportunities
  7. Remember: Merit and equity go hand in hand


Be visible—networking is critical for current board members


As executives from an underrepresented group, we want to be appreciated, fair, neutral, and objective. That often means that we feel guilty if we ask for more Latino representation. But if we don’t ask, who will? It's frustrating when I have to be the one to pose these questions. You have to find strategic allies in your organization so you aren't the one continuously asking the same things.”

All of our interviewees stressed the importance of connecting with people in one’s industry early and often. Exposure at conferences and industry events are extremely beneficial to current Hispanic+ board members, providing visibility and opportunities for nominations.

Make your value-add clear: Interviewees stressed the importance of positioning one’s skills and capabilities. It’s alright if prospective directors aren’t well-versed on every topic; instead, they should focus on the areas where they bring distinguished expertise. Learning on the job is crucial to every leadership role; board seats are no exception.

One seat does not guarantee another: While sitting on one board makes it easier to find another seat, it’s by no means a guarantee. Hispanic+ directors must stay active—both to ID prospective directors and new opportunities for themselves. Continuing to foster relationships is key to continued visibility and opportunity.

Find your allies: Finally, networking is as much about finding opportunities as it is about finding one’s allies. Many interviewees shared that their advocacy for increasing Hispanic+ representation was more effective when there was a chorus of voices calling for parity, rather than a solo one.



In general, Latinos are not as direct as Americans or Europeans…they take more time to say what they're going to say, but when they make a decision, they can be stronger on their views."




Do I feel pressure to represent my community? Yes. It’s a dual responsibility, whether you accept it or not."

Advocate for your community

When proposing more Hispanic+ leaders for board positions, many directors spoke of initial concerns around being viewed as pushing a biased agenda. However, as they grew more comfortable, they saw firsthand that diversifying the boardroom wasn’t just the right thing to do—it also led to better outcomes.

As such, Hispanic+ directors stressed the need to overcome the fear of coming across as biased when advocating for more Hispanic+ directors. Board seats come with a sense of privilege, responsibility, and pressure. These leaders spoke about the power of a diversified board, and how they want the Hispanic+ community to be an active—but not the only—part of that conversation.

Additionally, many interviewees noted that Hispanic+ directors communicate differently than others in the Board. Be cognizant of Spanish language habits that may not translate as well into an English-speaking conversation. For example, numerous interviewees shared that they needed to focus on brevity when they joined their first board.

However, while it’s good to be aware of these different communication styles and make some potential adaptations, Hispanic+ directors should embrace their differences and use them to their advantage. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion—even if it doesn’t feel natural to speak out initially. Hispanic+ leaders need to be louder when advocating for others within their community. Organizations want you because of your unique experience and perspective—not in spite of it.



I am what I am: 63, Latina and Black. I am outspoken and appropriate. I know how to handle myself in the boardroom, and I will not be silent."


Take a holistic & intersectional community view

The Hispanic+ community’s demographic composition is notably more intricate than that of other minority groups. Within it, one finds Afro-Latinos, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, individuals with Spanish/European heritage, and more. While we celebrate these differences, the Hispanic+ community’s multifaceted nature can make it difficult to define.

Unsurprisingly, numerous interviewees shared that they’re more likely to identify with their individual identities than as a “Hispanic+ leader.” While there’s nothing wrong with that at the individual level, Hispanic+ leaders interested in recruiting more directors from their community need to take a holistic, intersectional view. One interviewee spoke to the need for Hispanic+ directors to work to be aware of these potential (perhaps even subconscious) biases within the community and make efforts to overcome them. To achieve parity, directors need to operate as a unified group with a common goal of elevating Hispanic+ leaders collectively.



When people talk about Latino and Hispanic leaders, they think of one group. In actuality, we have different languages, cultures, approaches, and generational experiences. While there’s power in that uniqueness, it doesn’t serve these leaders to divide themselves in this way. When on boards together, we should be allies and work to elevate all."


Be a sponsor: community mentorship is key

Mentorship and sponsorship are both crucial to career development, and this remains true at the board level. With the barriers for Hispanic+ leaders and NEDs remaining quite high, these efforts become even more important.


Pulling someone up is all about mentorship and sponsorship. Coaching and mentoring are more behind the scenes, while sponsorship is a larger responsibility. Both are key in elevating more directors from our community."

What’s the difference between mentorship and sponsorship? While both require full, active engagement from both individuals, there are some fundamental differences. Mentoring can cover a range of activities, but is ultimately about discreet, one-on-one meetings in which leaders truly get to know their mentee. Sponsorship, on the other hand, is much more public; sponsors must believe in sponsees’ capabilities and competencies in order to truly endorse them. Ultimately, sponsors put their personal reputation on the line—meaning the bar for sponsorship should be kept high.

To truly pull more Hispanic+ leaders to the boardroom, sponsors should remain engaged in top talents’ career journey as part of their “personal board.” Not only will your guidance give this individual a better sense of what’s required for the role, it will also expose them to other senior leaders in your network.


Start board succession planning early

In 2024, board succession planning and refreshment will be under increased scrutiny, and we’ve seen many companies leverage external attention on board composition as a way to ignite change in their own companies. Diverse boards remain a top priority for these organizations. And to get more diversity at the top, organizations need to plan for it.

To fix Hispanic+ representation on boards, we need to improve their numbers at every level of leadership. RRA research shows that, as of January 2023, 40% of S&P 100 leadership teams did not have a single Hispanic+ member. As such, it’s never too early to start networking to improve representation throughout one’s organization.


Be proactive. Don’t just think about who’s available now—who is going to be available in five years? Planning leads to stronger, more diverse slates.”


When looking for future board members, current board members need to consider what skills their organizations might need in the years ahead (for example, AI’s proliferation will require board members with more digital acumen). This involves creating clear—yet flexible—success profiles, leveraging career planning platforms, and prioritizing behaviors that can’t be taught, like agility, resiliency, and adaptability. Associations like LCDA and NACD provide exposure to motivated prospective board members. Ensure you’re leveraging these groups and taking note of top performers within the Hispanic+ community.


In the long-term, proactively enact strategies like “The 50% Challenge” (which aims to have 50% women and people of color in both the front and back of the organization), and “The Board Challenge” (an effort to get 100 Black directors appointed in the year after George Floyd’s murder).

Regardless of the chosen approach, ensure you have a clear view of your organization’s existing processes and equity initiatives.


Seek out board leadership roles

To meaningfully increase Hispanic+ representation at the board level, we need more Hispanic+ directors in board leadership roles. Interviewees shared that they were able to drive more change when in governance chairs roles, especially within the nominating committee. Unfortunately, Hispanic+ directors are not typically found in these roles. That needs to change.

However, this is not an opportunity that one simply asks for and receives—Hispanic+ executive leaders with board aspirations should ensure they’re getting corporate governance and talent assessment experience throughout their careers to position themselves for board leadership. Even once on a board, getting a leadership role requires patience. Seek out opportunities, while also understanding that these roles come with time and exposure.

Once in a leadership role, Hispanic+ directors can push for a continuous pipeline, running evergreen recruiting process in which their board searches for a diverse range of qualified candidates.


Merit and equity go hand in hand

Organizations and their leaders are not immune to the impacts of current debates around the DEI landscape. Remember: leadership homogeneity dulls our understanding of the world. Improving board diversity enhances its collective understanding of all the stakeholders it serves, leading to long-term organizational resiliency, stability, and success.

A team that lacks diversity will also have a more limited perspective. Frame DEI as a business benefit (versus a social movement), understand your boards’ skills gaps, and advocate for the Hispanic+ leaders you know who have experience in needed areas.



It’s a common misconception that leaders are promoting people because they ‘check a box.’ Promoting someone who can’t do the job is biggest disservice a leader can do to a cause—or their business. And, in reality, this isn’t happening. Merit and equity go hand in hand.”


Despite our current turmoil, DEI isn’t disappearing—it’s evolving. While we are at a crossroads between challenge and opportunity, now is the time to re-energize DEI as a force for social good and business success, which is the board’s ultimate goal.




Hans Roth is a senior member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Board & CEO advisory practice and leads the firm’s Industrial Services and Infrastructure practice. He is based in Houston.
Leah Christianson is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Center for Leadership Insight. She is based in San Francisco.
Carmen Aguiló Argos is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Board & CEO Advisory & Consumer practices. She is based in Miami.