The Next Step for “The Unstoppables”: Hispanic Women CEOs

Hispanic Community March 2024 PREMIUM

More and more Hispanic women have taken advantage of the many educational opportunities that exist in this country. They have been so successful that they have been dubbed “The Unstoppables.” They have far outshone their male counterparts.

Many have already assumed leadership positions in higher education. Others have been particularly adventuresome and are studying in many heretofore male dominated fields such as the hard sciences, engineering and mathematics. 

Women account for 50.8 percent of the US population. They hold 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees, and approximately 60 percent of all master’s degrees.

However, according to a McKinsey & Company survey, there’s “a leaky pipeline for women in leadership.” In 2020, female workers accounted for 47 percent of entry-level positions, 38 percent of management roles, and 33 percent senior management/director roles. Women were entrusted with under one third (29 percent) of all vice president positions in American organizations.

For every 100 men who were promoted to a managerial role, only 85 women advanced to the same position. This gap was even larger for women of color, as only 71 Latinas, and 58 Black women received a promotion. Consequently, women remained underrepresented at the managerial level holding just 38 percent of manager positions, while men accounted for 62 percent.

CEOs in Academia and the Role of the Faculty 

Academia has been far more receptive to female Presidents than the business world. Indeed, many Hispanic women have already served as presidents of colleges and universities. The record of these pioneer women has been impressive and paved the way for other women. 

How did they do it? Their first step was to earn a Ph.D. in an academic discipline and enter the faculty. That’s the normal route. Some presidents had careers in business or student affairs, or in non-academic professions, but the vast majority followed the academic affairs ladder (see my book: Vaughan and Mellander, The Community College Presidency: Current Status, Chapter Three, Pathways to Presidency). It’s a bit outdated, but still accurate in noting that most two- and four-year university presidents come from the academic side of institutions. 

Anyone aspiring to a college presidency should be cognizant of the pivotal role the faculty plays in the selection of a college president. Unlike any other situation, their influence is frequently the deciding factor in many college searches.

That has been the case for so long that “the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.” It’s just a fact of life. It is yet another indication of why most college presidents come from the faculty ranks. Many excellent studies have addressed this age-old and continuing reality. 

The Business World

Prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the representation of female workers in corporate America was slowly trending in the right direction. Between 2015 and 2020, the share of women in senior vice president roles in the US increased from 23 percent to 28 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of women in the C-suite went up from 17 percent to 21 percent. The pandemic, unfortunately, was a brick wall; hard fought gains and momentum were lost. 

Currently, in business, women account for 52 percent of all management-level positions, yet men far outnumber women in top leadership roles. The McKinsey & Company survey further reveals that:

Female CEOs run only 41 of the Fortune 500 companies.

There are two Black women among the Fortune 500 CEOs.

Women made up only 5 percent of the CEOs appointed in 2020 globally.

At the CEO level, men outnumber women by approximately seventeen to one. 

59 percent of male employees aspire to become CEOs versus 40 percent of women.

77 percent of women say the biggest obstacle to gender equity at the workplace is the lack of information on how to advance.

The business world has its preferred pathway to the top as well. Statistics show that managers with “profit and loss responsibilities” are the ones who become CEOs. That segment is heavily male, and they regularly advance into C-suites – the “chief” jobs in companies. Women typically come from human resources, legal, or administration segments of a company. These functions are extremely important, but the line of work they focus on doesn’t involve profit-generating responsibilities and rarely creates a path to the presidency.

This is important information for women to understand, in order to proceed accordingly if they wish to be CEOs in the business world. They must seek out positions in the profit-producing section of their company. 

The Bottom Line

It’s rough for women to become CEOs in both the academic and business worlds. Although far more opportunities exist in academia, it is still a struggle. Age-old rank prejudice reigns.   

Nonetheless, female presidents are the wave of the future. Matters will get better. More opportunities will present themselves. It’s time to re-energize the movement and prepare individuals.

Select the right major, select positions that have a future and focus on your goal. Knowing the pitfalls, the opportunities, and the realities of searches will help candidates prepare for successful interviews. The Internet is chockful of useful suggestions. 

I have no first-hand knowledge about presidencies in the business world. On the other hand, I was a university dean for 12 years and a college president for 20 years. As José Martí  wrote, “I have lived within the entrails of that monster.” There’s a lot of luck involved in being selected a president, but you can create your own luck by being well-versed and prepared. 

Many people defeat themselves by not making the necessary sacrifices. One of them is being flexible in moving to a new location. I moved from Washington DC to North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey before my first presidency and then to California for my second. 

Good luck!


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