October 3, 2012

Staff — HispanicBusiness.com

Influentials Q&A: Yvette Donado

Educational Testing Service

Yvette Donado has many responsibilities at Educational Testing Service (ETS), including overseeing corporate quality and process management, marketing, and government and community relations.

As chief administrative officer and senior vice president of people, process and communications, Ms. Donado supervises a staff of more than 500 employees.

She also directs the office of the corporate secretary and leads an ETS-wide initiative to address the needs of the nation's English learners.

Her parents, born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York, where Ms. Donado and her four sisters were raised.

HispanicBusiness asked the Influential about the lack of Latinas on corporate boards, as well as the high U.S. Hispanic dropout rate.

Ms. Donado shared her thoughts on those issues, as well as her advice about how the U.S. Hispanic community can best use its power to develop a stronger voice.

HB: What has been your proudest accomplishment?

YD: As I oversee HR, the office of quality and marketing and public affairs, I am proud of helping our CEO, Kurt Landgraf, instill the strengths of business disciplines in areas that include leadership in ETS, historically a highly academic environment.

Bridging the excellence of educational measurement with the diverse skill sets that were absent has made us so much stronger as an organization. We’re better aligned and poised to achieve our mission of advancing quality and equity in education for all learners worldwide. We now have more people with business backgrounds than at any time in our history. That diversity of backgrounds is a strong addition to our organization.

I am also proud of having helped translate board of trustees and CEO concerns about the plight of the nation's 5.5 million English learners (ELs) into a strategy to marshal our intellectual capital to address their needs.

About 80 percent of those ELs are Hispanic, and their numbers are growing rapidly. I became the sponsor of the EL initiative. The work of our cross-functional strategy team, including focus groups across the country, led to the creation in 2011 of an EL unit in our K-12 division headquarters in San Antonio.

HB: What has been the biggest challenge in your professional career and how did you overcome this challenge?

YD: I believe it was dealing with the assumptions people made about me as a woman and a Latina. It was the "whispers down the hall," the inappropriate questions about my background, the idea that perhaps I could not deliver on expectations.

In my previous position and at ETS, I had to earn my colleagues' respect first and build a record of success. Then, with that track record, I earned their respect. Like many female executives I have known, including many Latinas, I have certain attributes that allow me to deliver.

Now, through the years, I have hired thousands of people and have changed organizations for the better and learned much in the process.

HB: In your work with ETS, you must come across news of high Hispanic dropout rates. Why do you think this is happening and what can communities, educators and parents do to combat this issue?

YD: Yes, we see the reports frequently. It is a tragedy that we are losing individuals and at the same time shortchanging our nation. Demographics show that Hispanics hold the key to our future productivity and global competitiveness. The good news is that the dropout rate is declining, but only slightly.

Dropouts happen for many reasons: family finances, family dynamics, frustration with failing schools, inadequate English proficiency, boredom, the lack of a college-bound culture in the home, insufficient parental engagement.

How do we lower the rate? As your question suggests, it requires a holistic approach—community, educators, parents and others. Many local, regional and national Hispanic organizations are making a difference, working hard, adding their granito de arena, their grain of sand. As the expression goes, many grains of sand make a mountain.

ETS has conducted 16 Achievement Gap symposia, including some focusing on Hispanic youth, parents and English learners. So we know a good deal about this. I believe, however, that besides improving instruction and facilities, the two most effective interventions are parental engagement and mentoring, using role models.

Parents Step Ahead in Dallas, for example, has a proven model for parents and families, while New Jersey-based Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement puts successful Hispanic professionals before middle school students.

HB: Are you still on the board of directors of Hispanics Inspiring Students' Performance and Achievement (HISPA)? What advice can you give to Latinas about the right steps to get on these boards?

YD: Yes, I proudly serve on the HISPA board. I am on several nonprofit boards, all having to do with our core mission: education. Also, I oversee the office of the corporate secretary at ETS, so I deal with board of trustees issues on a regular basis. I am proud that we have a long history of Latino and Latina participation on our board.

I recently attended a conference in New York City on the very question you pose about advancement in the corporate world and getting on boards. That and similar conferences validate what my HR experience has taught me about how to advance: one, get involved at whatever level; two, get a mentor; three, mentor someone yourself; four, develop and execute your plan; five, speak the language of your target group; six, dress for and act the part; and seven, persist. Whether the goal is a for-profit or nonprofit, these steps will help.

HB: Our readers like to know more about social media and technology. How do you use social media on a personal or professional level? Please explain.

YD: Frankly, I was wary of social media when the wave first came. Now I realize that Hispanics must ride that wave. And I salute HispanicBusiness for its attention to technology as it relates to Latinos. It is the way to go. Organizations large and small, for profit and nonprofit, now use social media—and that includes ETS.

My smart phone is my link to my job, my family, the organizations I work with. I need to know what is going on around the world, especially in education and assessments.

Given that each year we administer more than 50 million tests in some 180 countries, fail-safe technologies are vital to ETS. We were an early user of phone texting abroad, and we have made efforts to keep up with the latest technological advancements. ETS has won many awards for its use of "green" technologies in our facilities around the country.

HB: Tell me about any mentors you may have had.

YD: I admired certain people—for example, a family friend, an Afro-Cuban, who had a dry-cleaning business in New York. He gave me lessons to improve my Spanish. I was a teenager. He taught me that good knowledge of a second language is a valuable asset and that a mentor can be anyone.

HB: Is there anything else you would like to add that I may not have asked?

YD: Yes. I am concerned about how Hispanics can make better use of our own power, to develop a stronger voice. Many factors militate against us, but others greatly favor our advancement. There is power in talent, numbers, etc., that we do not leverage.

To use our power and find that voice, I think we must:

• Have clarifying issues

• Know what we truly stand for

• Know what the causes are that we believe in and will fight for

• Know how to fight for those causes

• Be able to empower others to keep us where we need to be

• Speak with a single voice

Our fine Hispanic organizations work hard and do an excellent job. I would like to see us cohere, however, to find common ground, exercise our power in ways that can truly advance our communities. Our country’s future productivity and our global competitiveness are inextricably linked to the harnessing of Latino power.

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