Josean Fernández was tired of being the only Latino in the room.
“If people think that Latinos have a low amount of representation in financial services, that’s accurate,” he says. “But we have an even lower representation in asset management. I’d like to continue changing that.”
Three years ago, Fernández started the Latino Professionals Network (LPN) at OppenheimerFunds, and what started out as a two-man operation has grown to nearly forty members spread throughout New York City, Denver, Seattle, Dallas, and Rochester. The network’s goal is not only to grow that number and increase Latino representation in the financial services and asset-management sectors, but also to change the mind-set within these huge firms that looking outside the office for senior management isn’t productive.
“Hiring from within absolutely kills diversity,” says Fernández, who now serves as director at BlackRock. “That kind of system has long been considered a positive for organizations, but what happens when the organization has no diversity and you’re hiring from within? You simply continue lining up management with no diversity.
“You have to consider hiring externally to bring in talent from different backgrounds,” he continues. “Many skills are transferrable and too often we get caught up in the small things—an argument like, ‘How can this person be in a business-development role if they never sold this product?’ It’ll take a smart person a month to learn a product. If this person has the the other skill sets for building relationships and business development, they’ll learn the product.”
Fernández says he hopes that more people will take the risk to bring in outside perspectives and better cultural awareness. If they don’t, he warns, the talent pool will dry up quickly and today’s giants could be tomorrow’s also-rans.
Fernández is also aware that Latinos face an unconscious bias when it comes to landing senior management roles in the financial world. As many Latinos don’t have what he calls a “country club” background, they often lose out on management roles to people who are more familiar to those already in the companies’ upper ranks. That needs to change, but Fernández says his other goal with the LPN is to unify a variety of cultures.
“Most people in the United States will look at Latinos as one large group,” he says. They don’t know the difference between a Latino or a Hispanic, or a Colombian or Peruvian. We look at ourselves as having many different cultures, with different languages, dialects, and music. That separation can hurt us when we’re trying to build a unified front. We have more similarities than differences and there’s power in unity. We need to do a better job relaying that message.”
As that message increasingly makes it to the senior levels of management, Fernandez says he hopes that more people will take the risk to bring in outside perspectives and better cultural awareness. If they don’t, he warns, the talent pool will dry up quickly and today’s giants could be tomorrow’s also-rans.
“If a younger Latino does not see senior representation in their ranks, they’re going to go to another organization,” he says. “It’s as simple as that. Why spend the time associated with moving up in a business if you don’t think you’ll be able to because no one’s done it before you? Firms increasingly will not have a choice in the matter. If they don’t become more diverse at the top, then they’ll lose.”
Photos: Rebecca Ferrier (main), Lena Di Photography (inset)