By Eliza Yvette Esquivel, Chief Strategy Officer, Barbarian
If someone were to ask me what percentage of my sense of who I am is rooted in my Hispanic heritage, I would say very little, maybe 4%. The other 96% is grounded in my selfhood as a whole person: things like my values, integrity, spirituality, my most important relationships (including with myself), my intellect and my actions as a leader.
But, as we are all drawn to focus on Hispanic heritage during Hispanic Heritage Month, one quickly discovers, with a tiny bit of research and soul-searching, a spotlight on some rather stark inequities experienced by 19% of the US population.
There are four areas in particular that are extremely disappointing: self-definition, visibility, progression and distribution.
The Luxury of Self-Definition
I made a personal choice early on to define myself beyond the lens of my cultural heritage. The decision felt natural to me, but also came with an acute awareness of how limiting cultural definition might be.
In the 2000s a self-described “Latina” would have surely been ushered toward certain career tracks within advertising and certain agencies. In fact, it’s only been quite recently (and 20 years later) that I’ve felt inspired to punctuate my identity with my cultural heritage, evidenced by my expanding into my full birth name. This small but loud and proud reclamation of my heritage is a luxury I can now afford because my professional identity is already well-established. Admitting this gives me pause, as it should. Can I freely acknowledge this aspect of myself because I now have enough receipts to protect me from the consequences of doing so?
Having to tiptoe around self definition puts me in the club, to be sure. Hispanics have struggled to collectively self define over the years, as evidenced in the ever-changing referents: Chicano, Hispanic, Latino, Latinx and now Latine. One hopes that with self definition there will be increased self representation and visibility, in society but especially in the advertising industry.
The Need for Visibility
Any one of us can feel the struggle to be seen or heard at times, regardless of gender or ethnicity. It’s a noisy world, and sometimes that feeling of being invisible creeps in. Let’s face it, it never feels good. But for Hispanics that feeling is a fact. Axios recently reported that so far in 2022, Latinos represented only 3.1% of lead actors in TV shows, only 2.1% of co-lead/ensemble, only 1.5% of TV showrunners, and only 1.3% of all film directors. With such low visibility and control of their own image, Lantines are literally in the background.
This lack of visibility is mirrored in the first days of Hispanic Heritage Month 2022, where a small flurry of excitement and attention at the beginning of the month quickly fell by the wayside. Based on research done in Netbase, 50% of the social mentions this year happened in the first 2 days; 80% happened in the first week, with an 88% decline in average mentions from the first week until now. In 2021, the holiday saw 2M social mentions. This year, there have been 370k mentions to date.
Considering that Twitter alone sees 50M tweets per day, the social chatter behind Hispanic Heritage Month is very small when compared to the universe of social conversation. Could it be that we are all unconsciously trained to edit Hispanics out of the picture and out of the conversation? Could this possibly extend to the way we behave in real life?
The Progression Bottleneck
According to the latest annual report from Agency DEI, BIPOC professionals in advertising are in a state of career progression paralysis – contrary to the outdated assumption that there is a pipeline issue. There are plenty of non-white candidates entering advertising, but not enough are progressing beyond the lower ranks. The gap between non-White to White talent more than doubles when going from Professional to C-Suite/Officer levels. At the Professional level, BIPOC vs White representation is 33% vs 63% but at the C-Suite/Officer level the numbers shift from 16% BIPOC to 84% White.
A strikingly large gap exists for Latine representation within this mix. Latine’s account for only 10% of advertising professionals and less than 5% of senior leadership. In fact, Latine talent experiences the largest representation drop-off from the professional to management level of any other ethnicity.
The Distribution Dilemma
Earlier in my career I worked as a professional level strategist for a very large well-known advertising agency. The majority of that time I was the only person of color in my department, in meetings, or within view. I joked, years later and in retrospect, that I was the only person of color in that agency office not changing the toilet paper. One would think this experience is a relic of the past. But sadly, there remains a radical over-representation of white talent across all departments when compared to the current U.S. population distribution. The only example of a non-white group with representation proportional to population levels is within administration, with 18% Latine talent. Not only are Latines experiencing a progression bottleneck more severe than their BIPOC counterparts, but they are literally being ring-fenced into administrative roles.
If I had any wish for our industry, in honor of this month of recognizing and celebrating the growing 19% of Hispanics in the U.S., it would be that career progressions like mine are the norm, rather than the exception. In a recent presentation of the 2022 Agency DEI report, an attendee literally referred to me as a unicorn. I love unicorns, but seriously?
The more I think about my standing in the ad industry as it relates to my Latine heritage, the more I realize there are no quick fixes to the bottlenecks and lack of distribution of Latine talent. There is hope for progress as DEI initiatives take hold and the industry embraces just how much people of different backgrounds and cultures can drive success. One thing I do know: I would gladly give up my unicorn status to see significant progress.