‘Broken rungs' on the corporate ladder are holding Latinas back from the C-suite

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Latinas face the steepest climb up the corporate ladder despite being as ambitious as their white peers, according to new research from Lean In. 

The report found that Latinas are still underrepresented in corporate America, making up just under 5% of entry-level employees even though they account for 10% of the population. 

Conditions hardly improve at the top. Latinas lag behind nearly all other major demographic groups in the executive ranks — white men and white women, Black men and women, even Latino men — comprising a mere 1% of C-suite executives at U.S. companies. 

A "broken rung" at the first critical step up to manager is still holding Latinas back from climbing the corporate ladder — for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 74 Latinas are promoted, Lean In reports.

Later, at the critical step up to senior leadership, Latinas face a second hurdle, experiencing lower promotion rates than other groups of women from the director to vice president level. 

"When you look at a lot of the stereotypes that Latinas face, it's that they're feisty or overly emotional, which are of course not true, but people associate Latinas with these traits, or with domestic service jobs and being less educated," Rachel Thomas, Lean In's co-founder and CEO, tells CNBC Make It. "These stereotypes leave people unfairly believing that Latinas are less qualified for corporate leadership roles." 

Another barrier curbing Latinas from advancing in their careers is a lack of sponsorship. 

Latinas are less likely than white women and women overall to have their work highlighted to a leader or to have benefited from a sponsor action like being recommended for a promotion. They are also less likely to have had a senior leader advocate for them to receive a raise or publicly praise them for an achievement.

Anna Dapelo-Garcia recalls how challenging it was for her to move up from the manager to the executive level at Stanford Health Care, where she's now the senior manager for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

"When I was promoted to an executive director role 10 years ago, I was the first Latina to have the role," she says. "I was very interested in moving up the ladder, but it took several of my white colleagues advocating for me to land the role." 

Garcia adds that she thought she had to "code-switch" to land the promotion, too. "I thought I needed to assimilate and emulate the women that I saw in the C-suite, who were all white," she says. "While that strategy worked in my favor, I felt like I wasn't always being me, I wasn't authentic." 

It's one of the most common problems Garcia, who is also president and founder of Lean In Latinas, says she hears from other Latina professionals.

"When you're the first or 'only' in your role, you feel this constant pressure to prove your competence and be successful so you're not the last," she says.

Despite these challenges, Latinas remain highly ambitious and increasingly committed to advancing their careers. Nearly half (44%) of Latinas say career growth has become more important to them in the last two years, compared with 32% of white women, Lean In reports. They are also more interested in becoming senior leaders (71%) than women overall (63%). 

Companies would be wise to tap into this ambition, says Garcia. "Latinas are one of the fastest-growing groups of workers in the U.S.," she points out. "If you don't nurture the talent in this demographic, you're missing out on a huge opportunity."

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