Study Finds Few Latinos in Top Jobs : Diversity: Despite gains in the lower and middle ranks of U.S. companies, people of color say they are largely shut out of executive posts.


Raul Alvarado says he worked as an engineer on Rockwell’s B-1 bomber program for 15 years before coming to the realization that he would never be promoted to a management job. The last straw, he says, was a performance appraisal in which he was chided for being too enthusiastic about volunteering for extra responsibilities.

Today, Alvarado, 46, has given up engineering to work for McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach, helping the aerospace company to seek out minority-owned subcontractors. While he believes that he has better prospects at McDonnell, he is sure that Rockwell passed him over for a management job because he is Latino.

“There is a negative perception that we are not as good. It precedes you,” said Alvarado, who is also president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Foundation. “Consequently, you have to continually prove yourself. But the bottom line is it didn’t matter how much work I did. You pretty much have to read the writing on the wall.”


A Rockwell spokesman said the company had no immediate response to Alvarado’s comments.

A study released this week by the Hispanic Assn. on Corporate Responsibility shows that less than 1% of top officials in Fortune 500 industrial companies are Latinos. Latinos hold 81 of 11,881 executive positions in the 500 corporations, it said.

In industries with a large presence in California--where Latinos account for 26% of the population, compared to 9% for the nation as a whole--the scarcity of Latino executives is particularly striking.

The Southland-based aerospace industry, for example, includes no Latinos among its 537 top executives. Six of 1,406 senior positions in the computer, electronics and electrical equipment industries are held by Latinos, according to financial reports of Fortune 500 companies. In the petroleum refining industry, seven of 781 senior executives are Latino, the study found.

In a nation where racial discrimination has been illegal for more than 25 years, minority groups say there has been considerable progress in hiring those traditionally excluded from mainstream corporate America. But despite their higher representation in the lower and middle ranks of U.S. companies, people of color say they are largely shut out of top executive jobs.

“It’s not that we don’t have the people out there,” said Richard Jose Bela, president of the Washington-based group that conducted the study. “I think corporate boards are the last bastion of resistance to diversity.”

Bela’s group, a coalition of 27 Latino rights organizations, monitors corporate treatment of Latinos in hiring, promotion, contracts and philanthropy.

While many corporations have recently declared their commitment to diversity in the workplace, many minorities say that pledge rarely extends to the highest corporate offices, where the crucial decisions of policy and promotion are made.

Yet in a business environment where globalization is increasingly becoming a necessity for survival, human resources experts say American corporations will be severely handicapped if they do not allow a diversity of cultures and ethnic backgrounds into positions with decision-making power.

“Globalization will occur with or without U.S. companies, and they can either be ahead of the game or behind it,” said Karen Stephenson, president of the Human Resources Roundtable and a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. “But if you don’t understand how different people think and the logic of other cultures, you’re going to miss out on important business deals.”

But some companies blame a slow economy and recent layoffs for the lack of progress at promoting and retaining minorities in top management.

“I would say today we have a problem with the representation of Latinos in our management,” said David Barclay, vice president of work force diversity at Los Angeles-based Hughes Aircraft. “What’s happening is that we are losing some really good people.”

Hughes, which a few years ago had four Latino vice presidents, now has none. The company shed 8,000 employees last year and plans more layoffs in the coming months.

Santiago Rodriguez, director of multicultural programs at Apple Computer, said the Cupertino, Calif., company knows it needs to include diverse viewpoints within the company to sell its products to an increasingly diverse market.

As Apple was developing a new hand-held personal organizer called the Newton, the company held focus group discussions that included employees of different races and ethnic backgrounds. The idea was to design a product that would fit the needs of different lifestyles. One result of those discussions: Common Spanish words will be included in Newton’s internal dictionary.

Still, Rodriguez said, while the company would like to hire more minorities, qualified applicants are hard to find. “Particularly in highly technical fields, the dearth of both Hispanics and African-Americans in feeder institutions remains quite low,” he said. The computer maker’s professional staff is 5% Latino, 4% African-American and 8% Asian-American.

Margarita Colmenares, a Latina engineer who has worked at Chevron’s El Segundo refinery and now serves as the firm’s adviser on Central America, agrees that education is part of the problem. She believes that as more minorities attain high-level degrees, they will also advance to upper management posts.

“A lot of those top positions require some technical background, and 20 years ago we were not graduating the numbers we are today,” Colmenares said. “The wave is just beginning to enter.” “

George Castro, a manager with IBM in San Jose, said that when he was growing up in East Los Angeles in the 1950s, teachers actively discouraged him from taking algebra.

“The career and life of a top executive is pretty foreign territory to many Hispanics,” Castro said, who is also president of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. “What happened to me was a tremendous accident. An educational system that really holds down minority students in L.A. had a crack in it, and I fell through the crack.”

To be sure, there are minorities who do manage to advance to high levels within large U.S. corporations. Jorge Diaz, head of Northrup’s B-2 bomber program, is but one example. Roberto C. Goizueta, chief executive of Coca-Cola Co., is another.

But the numbers for Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans in high management positions ultimately reflect a pattern of exclusion that is becoming glaringly obvious as the nation’s population itself grows increasingly diverse.

Corporate Latinos

Here are the number of chief executive and director positions in 26 industries represented by the Fortune 500 and the number of Latinos holding those jobs, according to a study by the Hispanic Assn. on Corporate Responsibility.

The first figure represents the total number of positions. The second figure is the number held by Latinos.

Industry Total Latino Aerospace 537 0 Apparel 237 1 Beverages 211 8 Building materials 234 3 Chemicals 1,050 10 Computers, office equipment 540 4 Electronics, electrical equipment 854 2 Food 1,286 9 Forest products 779 4 Furniture 219 0 Industrial and farm equipment 866 5 Jewelry, silverware 26 0 Metal products 355 3 Metals 544 2 Mining, crude oil production 332 0 Motor vehicles and parts 376 4 Pharmaceuticals 441 3 Petroleum refining 781 7 Publishing, printing 515 4 Rubber and plastic products 230 0 Scientific and photographic equipment 516 2 Soaps, cosmetics 383 9 Textiles 249 1 Tobacco 153 0 Toys, sporting goods 49 0 Transportation equipment 118 0