It wasn't that long ago that pioneering Hispanic women were known more for their groundbreaking battles over social reform than their battles in the boardrooms of corporate America.
Today, due to advancements in women's rights and education, more Hispanic women than ever are rising to the top of the corporate, government, and academic hierarchy. Hispanic females are serving on Fortune 500 boards, leading elite universities, and building multimillion dollar companies.
Every April since 2003, Hispanic Business magazine has reported on the notable achievements and in some instances the historic advancements being made by Hispanic women. A highlight of that coverage has been the annual selection of the Woman of the Year, chosen from among elite women identified by HispanTelligence, the research arm of Hispanic Business media. The exemplary career of this year's winner, Dr. Sandra Hernandez, is a tribute to all Hispanic women and an example of how much they are changing our society for the better. (see our profile of Dr. Hernandez here)
This year's Elite Women range from a NASA astronaut to the first female and first Hispanic to be named president of the oldest university in Texas. Th eir careers are as varied as their backgrounds. Marta Brito Perez, vice-president of human resources and global marketing for AstraZeneca and former chief human capital officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, fled Cuba as a teenager with her family and migrated to the United States. Alice Rodriguez, a Mexican-American and Texas native, is head of retail banking in Texas for JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she oversees 300 Chase branches across the state.
"After watching my parents and relatives work labor-intensive jobs I knew that I wanted to go to college so that I could achieve a professional position," says Ms. Rodriguez. Education continues to play a significant role in the lives of Hispanic Business magazine's Elite Women. All 20 are college graduates and most have graduate degrees from universities that include such prestigious institutions as Stanford, Harvard, and Yale.
"My mother had a high school education, and she valued education very much," says Dr. Elsa Murano, who was recently named president of Texas A&M University. "Th ere was never any question that I would be going to college. It was a given."
Despite the success of our Elite 20, the number of Hispanic women earning graduate degrees nationwide remains relatively small. In 2006, 2.9 percent of U.S. female Hispanics earned graduate degrees compared to 6.9 percent of non-Hispanic women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Similarly, while there have been significant breakthroughs by Hispanic women in the worlds of business, education, and politics, lingering discrimination based on gender and ethnicity remain. Th e upside is there are a growing number of diversity programs and women networks designed to help minority women succeed in their respective professions.
To examine these issues, and the unique experiences of Hispanic women in the upper echelons of their professions, Hispantelligence asked the Elite 20 what experiences they have encountered on their way up the corporate ladder. Th e group, most of whom are in their 40s or 50s, are made up of Mexican Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and South Americans. Many are mobile within the job market, only about half have been with their current employer for more than 10 years. Significantly, most are trusted with considerable financial responsibilities as more than half oversee budgets of more than $100 million.
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