Leadership Series: Crashing Through the Silicon Ceiling

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Last summer, the Washington Post printed an article to confirm what Latinos in Silicon Valley already knew to be true – Latinos and other people of color are grossly underrepresented in the valley’s workforce, especially in management. The numbers are abysmal.

Intel leads the pack of tech giants where only 8% of its employees are Latino. That’s double the percentage of other major high-tech firms. Twitter is in the basement with only 2% of its workforce identifying as Latino. These statistics include all employees: tech, non-tech, management, etc. Latino managers, directors, and executives represent just a fraction of those employees.

The Post article goes on to describe how management points to the lack of qualified Latino candidates and an education system that isn’t providing a pipeline of talented people of color. This is a common response for organizations and institutions that claim that the problem exists with the talent pool, not hiring practices. Although still woefully inadequate, the rate of Latino college graduates is twice the percentage of employees in Silicon Valley.

So what gives?

According to the Washington Post, Valley executives are beginning to listen to the notion that there are “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.” This is a great start. Along with those revelations, HR teams are well aware of the challenges to change the mindset of large institutions. As Latino college admission and graduation rates rise over time, there may be someday in the future when this isn’t an issue. It could be decades before the bias demons are exorcised

Unfortunately, today, it’s a major problem and current Latino professionals can’t afford to wait for society to catch up with the reality that there is a large pool of candidates already in the pipeline. The National Society of Hispanic MBAs alone has over 30,000 members in 40 chapters across the country, including Silicon Valley.

The good news is that Silicon Valley seems to be responding to the Washington Post article. Over the past year, companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have hosted events targeted at Latino professionals. The bad news is twofold. First, HR professionals have already said that tackling bias will take a long time. Second, these companies don’t know how to attract Latino talent. I’ll leave that issue for another blog post.

In the meantime, what are smart, talented, and ambitious Latino professionals to do?  Here are few tips that will get you started on your leadership journey:

  1. Work Hard

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Getting ahead takes an enormous amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance. There’s no other way around it. All of the successful people I’ve ever encountered were passionate and dedicated to their craft. This can take a million hours a week or far less, it just depends how you manage your time. Just make sure to give it your all. A college education gets you to the front door. Hard work gets you to the corner office.

As I made my way up the corporate org chart, I was the first to raise my hand when upper management was looking for someone to take on an extra project. When the corporate office executives needed support for an initiative, I packed my bags and traveled throughout the country to lend a helping hand. Soon, I was on the radar for promotion from manager to director to vice president.

This strategy seems to fly in the face of corporate America’s newfound philosophy on work/home balance. Let me just say this: the hardest working employees get first crack at promotion. There are ways to balance family life and an ambitious career. My wife Sandra worked her way up the education administrator ranks while I moved toward the executive suite. Yet, we always made time for our family (I’ll leave that for another blog post too).

  1. Find a Mentor

Learning to master a craft from a successful person is the best education you’ll ever get. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice once said that aspiring leaders should, “search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.” In my career, the best mentors have been people who truly cared about my future. I’ve been blessed to have five men in my professional life that fulfilled that role.

Bob Williams, Percy Carr, Navarra Williams, Dave Walton, and Johnnie Giles have made an indelible imprint on my career. Bob, the manager at my first part-time job, was a master at team-building. Coach Carr is a hall-of-fame college basketball coach. I worked as his assistant in the late 80s and early 90s. He taught me the value of preparation and developing talent. Navarra, Dave, and Johnnie helped me understand the intense, yet delicate world of corporate politics.

The most valuable asset each of these men brought to me was a sincere interest in my growth and development as a leader. There are people like this in everyone’s life. You need to identify them and seek their guidance. One more piece of advice from Secretary Rice, “you don’t have to have mentors who look like you.” Just make sure that they genuinely care about your potential as a leader.

  1. Keep Learning

According to Pulitzer Prize historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this concept is one of the ten qualities that made President Abraham Lincoln a great leader. Lincoln spent countless hours with generals in the White House and on the front lines of battle to better understand the science of warfare and the causes and effects of his decisions. He’s perhaps our nation’s greatest wartime president.

Make your personal development a priority. As a student of Goodwin’s theory, I’ve never hesitated at an opportunity to take advantage of leadership development. Among the many programs available to me, I studied community leadership as a senior fellow with the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and corporate leadership with the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Today, I continue to learn from the talented people I encounter in my role as a leadership coach.

The most exciting thing about the Latino future is that it’s happening right now. There are many talented professionals in the pipeline today. While it appears that institutions are warming up to the facts about Latino talent, we need to take matters into our own hands until they catch up. Start your leadership journey by taking positive steps toward crashing through the Silicon ceiling!

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Are you ready to make your next career move?

REGISTER TODAY for the July 16th  ESEReport.com Leadership Series “Foundations of Leadership Workshop.” Please contact Eddie directly with any questions at eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net. This will be an inspiring day of learning!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/foundations-of-leadership-workshop-tickets-24943731372

To read the full Washington Post article, click here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/silicon-valley-struggles-to-hack-its-diversity-problem/2015/07/16/0b0144be-2053-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html

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2 thoughts on “Leadership Series: Crashing Through the Silicon Ceiling

  1. Herminia Ojeda

    Very interesting Eddie. You mentioned that the “rate of Latino college graduates is twice the percentage of employees in Silicon Valley”. Are there any statistics of the majors of these Latino college graduates? Considering that we are in tech capital of the world, are these Latino college students graduating with degrees that could easily translate to tech job? Or is it mainly due to “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.”

    1. Hi Herminia,

      Thanks for your great questions. The article attached some statistics that give insight to your questions. While it’s true that many Latinos aren’t graduating with STEM degrees, the majority of Silicon Valley management jobs are non-technical i.e. marketing, finance, product management, PR, sales, etc. If you get a chance to read the Washington Post article, check it out. It’s fascinating.

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