Why We Need More Latinx Nonprofit Leader Role Models

By Jacob Martinez, CEO, Digital NEST

There are 60.5 million Latinos living in the United States (nearly 20% of the total population). We’re the fastest growing group in America. According to the U.S. Labor Bureau, one in two workers who enter the workforce in 2025 will be Latinx. We have rich ethnic diversity and perspective—traits proven to deliver innovation and growth. Why then do only 3% of Latinos hold leadership positions in nonprofits? This is disconcerting not only for me as a Latino, but because many nonprofits serve communities of color and claim racial equity, but are led by white men.

Systemic barriers as a result of racism, and wealth and power concentrated among whites, prevent Latinos from securing executive positions at nonprofits. How the impact of these roadblocks plays out in the real world sounds like a comment a Latina Digital NEST member, Denise, shared with me recently about role models at her college. She said most of the educators and administrators at her school are white. The only Latino people she sees on campus are the janitors. She knows the message that sends her and her Latino classmates – those are the only roles for them in society and more successful positions aren’t intended for people like her. The power of role models cannot be understated. Exposure to role models early in life can influence a person’s life direction and career choices. The same goes for Latinx professionals – to see peers in powerful and decision-making roles inspires and sets a high bar for what’s possible. We all need role models who look like us. That’s why it’s critical for us to have more Latinos in power positions at nonprofits – once in those positions, they will have the influence and ability to improve Latinos’ lives, and become role models for others.

As a Latino nonprofit leader, I have been lucky to have powerful Latinx role models throughout my life, many of them women. Naturally, I’m inspired by my own personal experience to help my community, which is why I’ve built an organization that reflects the community Digital NEST works so hard for: Latino youth. Fifty-seven percent of our board members are Latinx and 58% are women. The same stats apply to our executive team as well. Our leadership team constitutes role models not just for our youth members, but for our staff and other nonprofit professionals – they begin to see themselves as potential leaders.

In particular, bizzNEST is our consulting arm where our members who’ve completed a Digital NEST program advance to consult on business projects and become part of our staff. bizzNEST youth get exposure to Digital NEST leaders  (including younger/near peer Latinx mentors) – they see themselves in those leaders, get inspired and passionate about the possibilities for their own lives. We teach them the skills they’ll need to enter and thrive in all-white environments and how they might change organizations from the inside by standing in their power and knowing how to resolve conflict.

Beyond the individual level, collectively we’re sending a message that Latinx leaders are capable of leading fast-scaling organizations. Digital NEST’s growth and support is proof.  We are intentionally reflective of the community—contributing to our community’s assets and proving we can break the mold to create a different kind of world for Latinos. We hire the diverse talent in our community to show other nonprofits they can too.  

Our youth members talk about their dreams, their hopes for the future. It’s our mission at Digital NEST to show them their dreams can come true. Get in touch with me if you want to help bring dreams to life by creating more opportunities for aspiring Latinx leaders.

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