Employers in both the legal and tax & accounting industries need to make stronger investments in recruiting and retaining top-quality Hispanic professionals
According to our Pandemic Nation research, the key career progression challenges for Hispanic lawyers during the COVID-19 pandemic were difficulties in staying visible and accessing professional development and external networking opportunities.
As one Hispanic lawyer told our researchers: “The lack of in-person opportunities to network, attend or speak at conferences has made it more difficult to expand my network and engage potential partners.” Indeed, the pandemic exacerbated these obstacles on top of the already-existing lack of representation of Hispanic leaders at senior levels in Corporate America.
According to the 2020 Census, individuals identifying as Hispanic were almost 19% of the population, yet occupy only 4.3% of executive positions. Representation within the accounting industry is a little better, standing at almost 10%. Hispanic lawyers account for 5% of American lawyers, according to the American Bar Association. For Latina lawyers, the lack of representation is also stunning, with Latina lawyers representing less than 2% of American lawyers, according the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA).
Crowd-sourcing employer investments
Inherent in individual advancement of Hispanic accountants and lawyers at senior ranks is making connections with persons of influence within and outside of employers. Eighteen months of remote work during the pandemic has only made this more difficult, according to one lawyer from our Pandemic Nation research. “Remote work has complicated relationship development and maintenance,” the lawyer says. “You are not in-person to perhaps make certain connections while at the cafeteria or the hallway or water cooler.”
However, when we polled Hispanic leaders, they suggested that employers need to invest more effort in certain areas, including:
Increasing visibility in leadership — As a younger professional of color, “seeing yourself in leadership” is a huge retention factor. “There’s no one there to pull you up, if we don’t have Latinos in the higher ranks,” says Elia Diaz-Yaeger, immediate past president of the HNBA.
Institutionalizing sponsorship and mentorship — At the same time, the responsibility for diversifying leadership and retaining Hispanic accountants and lawyers cannot rely solely on senior Hispanic leaders themselves. There are simply too few of them. This is why sponsoring younger professionals across racial and ethnic differences is imperative.
Democratizing critical work assignments — Like other professionals from underrepresented groups, Hispanic professionals need to gain access to cases and engagements for important clients. Yet, this remains a challenge. “It is a battle to get the same work and the hands-on experience that my non-Hispanic colleagues are getting,” notes Diaz-Yaeger.
Removing bias from performance evaluation — Employers need to be more intentional in how they set up their performance evaluations to make sure bias is removed. Employers need to understand the negative impact to Hispanic professionals’ careers when bias is inherent within evaluations of performance.
Increasing feedback training for managers — Our Pandemic Nation research indicated that training and supportive follow-up on giving constructive feedback across differences is a vital to increasing representation for Hispanic lawyers.
Driving inclusion — Legal and accounting employers need to focus more on embodying values around inclusion, defining the behaviors internally about what it means to be an inclusive leader, and then, institutionalizing those behaviors and attitudes to create true allies. If middle managers do not have an underrepresented identity, diversity and inclusion is not something that they feel they need to play a part in addressing, according to several professionals of color that were interviewed.
Indeed, employers need to make sure the value of diversity is viewed not just as the right thing to do, but the thing that they must do in order to be successful. “Training on implicit bias creates awareness and knowledge that at minimum gets the conversation to happen,” says Claudio Diaz, who has been a chief people officer in Top 50 accounting firms. “More in-depth inclusion training can start to remove some of the blinders; yet for it to be effective, it has to be done top-down and firmwide.”
Expanding cultural competency awareness — The Hispanic culture has a strong commitment to family. Indeed, the culture has powerful norms and values that are related to work ethics but also to relationship and duty to family. For example, it is common for Hispanic professionals to financially support their families during their academic and professional careers. Not surprisingly, this honorable multi-year commitment to family can impact Hispanic professionals’ career advancement negatively because these familial commitments can come at the expense of developing and deepening professional relationships that often lead to advantageous career opportunities.
While employers must make additional investments to retain and support Hispanic professionals, especially in a new hybrid work environment, some professionals saw the opportunity that the pandemic opened up for career growth.
“Crises can be an opportunity to step-up and make a difference,” says one Hispanic accountant. “[With] the challenges brought by COVID, we were able to seek and implement projects related to technology — such as Zoom, Teams, Digital Signature — and to promote even more connections among the team by going beyond geographical borders.
“We were also able to engage people and increase the number of give-back activities in our communities,” he adds. “The opportunity to lead and create a good environment during crises helped build many skills and helped the organization grow.”