According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, Hispanics are expected to make up more than 80 percent of total US labor force growth through 2028. Over the same period, US Latinx GDP should surpass France as the seventh largest in the world. Despite these trends, and the well-known benefits of increasing corporate diversity, Hispanics and Latinxs remain underrepresented in the corporate workforce, particularly in senior and executive leadership positions.
In the first of a series of conversations examining this lack of representation and what we can do to overcome it, our Hispanics or Latinxs of AlixPartners (HOLA) employee resource group (ERG) leaders Isaac Fisboin and Omar Miranda spoke with Chad Schwarz, Diversity & Inclusion Lead—ERGs, about what companies can do to reverse this trend and increase the pipeline of Hispanic and Latinx recruits, and the benefit of doing so.
Chad: Before we dive into the aspects of recruiting, tell me a little bit about your background and journey into consulting.
Omar: Growing up, I was a first-generation American in Southern California. My parents focused on education as best they could, but didn’t have a lot of experience in the US education system, having only a secondary education in Mexico.
So, when I went to university, I went there on my own, with no real roadmap to follow. I always liked working for my family’s business, so I decided that accounting was right for me. I got an internship at one of the Big Four, which was a good launching pad for me.
Isaac: My experience was a little bit different than Omar. I was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia.
In my situation, I was supposed to take over the family business after graduating from college, something that is very typical in Latin America. However, because of the political situation in the country at the time, and just the lack of security, after high school, I ended up moving to the US, where I had no connections. I knew nobody, and that made me grow up fast, because I needed to rebuild what my family had in Colombia.
After graduating college, I knew I wanted to work in banking. But after working at a couple banks, I realized that to have a career in banking based on my objectives and goals, I would have to move out of Miami. And I didn’t want to leave because my roots were planted and I had worked really hard to build my network here, so I moved into consulting given that it was an avenue that offered the best of both worlds.
Chad: What challenges do first-generation students face?
Isaac: I think it's that lack of guidance, right? It's that lack of examples that their immediate family members can provide.
When I moved to the US, I didn't have anybody to ask a question as to how things worked here. The whole process of finding a job was a foreign idea. In my mind, I was going to do what everybody else did in Latin America and go back and manage the family business. But I was faced with a completely different reality.
Latin Americans are known for being resilient and hardworking, but more importantly, we have a sort of go-getter attitude. I think that’s what drove me to where I am today. There wasn’t a manual or user-guide, so I just had to figure it out.
Omar: I agree with Isaac. My parents own a small meat business, and when I told my parents I was going to get a degree in business and accounting, they thought worst comes to worst, I could come back and work for the family business.
I went to a local state school, largely because that's what I could afford with financial aid. I was working for my parent’s business almost full-time and going to school full time. I didn't really have much of a social life outside of those two things. And I made this goal of getting an internship at a Big Four firm, so a lot of free time I had was focused on achieving that goal.
Isaac: So, Omar, it sounds like neither of us necessarily had that roadmap. But do you see us as being drivers of change? Because now that we’ve gone through it, we understand what worked and what didn't work?
Omar: Absolutely! When it comes to people that are looking to join AlixPartners, we can be a sounding board and provide them with insights from our experiences.
Chad: I think that's a good segue to my next question. As ERG leaders, how do you view your role in recruiting and onboarding Hispanics and Latinos to the firm?
Isaac: I see myself as an ambassador. I’m the person that can tell people how AlixPartners is different.
People have a view of our firm as being this very selective firm, which is correct and appropriate. We've earned that reputation.
But I imagine that can scare a lot of people. And I know for a fact that it scares a lot of Hispanics and Latinxs that have different backgrounds than you associate with being in consulting. And so, by virtue of me being able to say to candidates, “I am Hispanic, and I am of Latinx descent, and because of your cultural background, you’re bringing a completely different perspective and cultural experience that our clients love,” I hope it helps candidates see that their background is an asset to them and our firm.
Omar: Yeah, I’ll just add that it’s a two-way street. We can also share what the firm has to offer them, and when they join us, it’s only going to bolster what we can offer to clients and to future recruits.
Chad: Did either of you face any discrimination or bias during the interview process at any of the other firms you applied to?
Omar: In an interview I had when I moved to the UK, the interviewer asked about how proficient I was speaking Spanish. And I tried a lighthearted answer and said I speak Spanish the way an American speaks English, and he responded, “I guess your Spanish isn’t very good then.”
I think he was just giving me a hard time for being American, but it seemed like a response from someone who didn’t have a lot of experience with people like me or someone who appreciates the nuances and richness of Latin American dialects and accents.
Isaac: I have a similar story. I was applying for an anti-money laundering position at a bank. In the interview, I was asked where I grew up, and I said I was born in Colombia. She responded that Columbia, South Carolina was beautiful, so I said no, Colombia, like the country. And she responds but you’re applying for this job? Isn’t money laundering big in Colombia?
Clearly, I didn’t want to be part of an institution like that, because whether it’s fair or not, her words represented the whole institution in my eyes.
Chad: What do you think the firm can do to increase the pipeline of Hispanic and Latinx employees?
Omar: As Isaac mentioned, our firm is very selective, and that's a good thing. But, sometimes the best candidates don't come from the top schools.
I have a master’s degree from Notre Dame, which is a great school, but I took a path that was less traveled than most people to get there. So, I think it’s important for us to continue recruiting from different kinds of schools, paths, and backgrounds.
Isaac: Omar has a far more prestigious pedigree than I do! My journey was so different. I first went to culinary arts schools and then I went to Florida International University for my bachelor’s degree, which is not a school that is well known. That just goes to show that you don’t have to graduate from an Ivy League school to be successful at this firm or frankly speaking, anywhere else.
Chad: Along those same lines, what role does the HOLA employee resource group play in recruiting?
Isaac: I think we're the anchor. We are the conduit. We can talk with candidates and speak the same language and understand their backgrounds and the challenges they’ve experienced. I think that being able to relate to one another is super important in making sure that we're able to attract the right kind of talent.
Omar: I agree, HOLA members can be the reference point so candidates can see what their careers can be like at the firm.
Chad: Isaac, I like how you describe the role of our ERGs as an anchor. They partner with our talent acquisition team to help identify the organizations, schools, and clubs that we can partner with, and ERG members meet with candidates to share what AlixPartners is all about. They’re playing a very important role.
Isaac: The fact that I can actually pick up the phone and speak to either candidates or clients in Spanish speaks volumes about how far we have come. We can say honestly to them that we come from different backgrounds and think differently.
To me, that’s a perfect example to show how far we have come and how important AlixPartners’ ERGs have been in getting us here.