As far as Latinos in Communications are concerned, the stats are grim: in 2014, only 10.5% of people employed in public relations were Hispanics, even though they make up about 18% of the general population and are the second fastest-growing population segment. In 2018, a Harvard Business Review analysis of federal labor statistics found the industry is only 5.7 percent Hispanic or Latinx. Data on female Latinx talent in PR is not readily available.
As part of PRSA Silicon Valley’s #FridayForum series, we talked with three rising Latina PR stars about their challenges breaking into and advancing in an industry that does not have many leaders who look and sound like them: Facebook’s Jennifer Martinez, FleishmanHillard’s Sasha Quintana and independent PR pro Tanya Rivas of PR with Heart.
Contrary to the all-too-often oversimplified notion that Hispanics are a homogenous block, the panelists represented three very different modalities of being Latina in the US:
Sasha Quintana is a first-generation American with Venezuelan roots who grew up with English as her first language.
Tanya describes herself as “a child of the diaspora,” with both parents from El Salvador. Her father left behind a successful professional career in El Salvador when he immigrated to the US. Upon arriving, he was only able to secure work as a dishwasher. This prompted him to implement a PR strategy when communicating his value that earned him lucrative job opportunities, including providing a civil service.
Jennifer was born and raised in San Jose, CA, with a Mexican American father who started out working in a sheet metal factory and later becoming an engineer the technology industry.
A Kaleidoscope of Experiences
One common thread running through all three family stories was the extremely strong work ethic and self-reliance that came with the immigrant experience and how that was passed on to through the generations – leading to today’s stories of professional success against all odds. One thing our panelists made it clear – as a Latina in PR, the odds are stacked against you, especially if you’re trying to break into the industry later in your career.
“When I left journalism, I thought getting into PR probably wouldn’t be that big of a leap – I knew a lot of people that had made the transition,” said Jennifer Martinez. “But I found it really difficult. I went on so many interviews and people were asking me ‘what are your skills’, ‘do you even know what a briefing book is’… It was tough.”
Eventually Jennifer got her lucky break with a boutique tech PR agency and from there to an in-house role for a cyber security company, then Facebook. Her conclusion: “You can teach people PR skills, but you can’t teach people hustle and you can’t teach them passion for what they do.”
Tanya, founder and owner of PR with Heart©, had a similar story. “Why I ventured out on my own has a lot to do with the fact that I wasn’t getting a big break in the PR industry. I was getting some internships. I was getting some offers. But nothing that really excited me or promised to fulfil me. I had this feeling that you could combine the super powers of community relations and public relations to make what I call social impact relations. And that’s what I set out to do,” she said.
Today, as a freelancer, Tanya finds that her understanding of cultures and communities, the Hispanic community, coupled with data-informed strategies, usually help her land the business she wants.
FleishmanHillard’s Sasha Quintana credited her experience at an HBCU, Howard University, for giving her the confidence and the tools to pursue a career in communications and aim high from the beginning: “It was a life-changing experience for me to be around so many people of color – especially professors and mentors. I remember my college counselor (who still works there) told us on the first day, ‘Everybody here has to leave with five internships. And not internships with little tiny companies that nobody knows. No, you’re going to be interning on the Hill.’”
Our event wrapped up with Sasha giving her advice for new entrants into the industry and all three speakers providing advice for employers:
Advice for new Latin professionals
- Once you get your foot into the door, take the projects where you can provide value, that maybe are less interesting or tougher or ‘wonky.’ Don’t just go for the shiny new objects that everyone likes to go for.
- There are mentorship programs that target BIPOC talent. Don’t just network up, seeking mentors and hiring managers. To your right and your left is your cohort, your peers who in 10 -15 years will be executives and decision-makers and these relationships are your most valuable assets in the long term.
- Be strategic about reaching your long-term career goals by building relationships with people who have the clout and power make things happen for you. While it is great to have a good relationship with your direct managers, you have to lift your head and look up higher.
How to recruit and retain Latin talent
- Big goals for diversity are great, as are large donations to organizations that address these issues. But on the most basic level, PR agencies and big employers (especially in tech) need to walk the walk.
- Now that you’ve hired CDOs and given them really ambitious, lofty goals, set them up for success by also funding and staffing them.
- Keep an open mind when recruiting and hiring. Look less for exact experience and more for transferrable skills. People from diverse backgrounds often have not had access to the same career opportunities as the mainstream talent pool. But they have skills that can be transferred and often make up for their lack of experience with their enthusiasm, drive and work ethic. Companies should also invest in building pipelines that attract talent and create pathways to success.
- Pay your Latinas what they deserve. In 2019, Latinas were compensated just 55% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid. PR is no exception, so pay your talent what they deserve and also give them opportunities to showcase their work, be present on global calls and give them development opportunities.