A 2016 report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pointed out that Hispanics represent 8% of the tech force, and women 36% of the tech force. A year earlier, in 2015, NCWIT estimated that Latin American women represented only 1% of the US tech workforce. With a growing Hispanic population within its borders (multiplied by 6 since the 1960s), and the multiplication of tech trades between the US and Latin American countries, publicizing the achievements of Latina women in technology has become key to attract more Latinas onboard.
Cecilia Corral provided a list of 50 Latina women in tech, but admits that this is a work in progress, as very few studies exist on this topic. the rapid development of the tech sector in Latin America, from infrastructures to education, is creating an important pool of women entrepreneurs seizing the opportunities of the new tech boom. Through increased media exposure, some Latina entrepreneurs are reaching a celebrity status, but as Cecilia Corral realized, building an exhaustive list of Latina entrepreneurs is close to impossible. While this article doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of Latina entrepreneurs, it offers many leads to follow to further research this topic.
A destiny of worldwide leadership
Latin Americans account for 625 million of the world population (10%). Spanish is officially spoken in 31 countries (and Portuguese in 12 countries). Those countries are located in the Iberian peninsula, the Latin American region, and on the African continent. This transatlantic language bridge recently got overlaid by another bridge: the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS), which was inaugurated in September 2018. The SACS enables for the first time direct communications between Africa and Latin America (no routing through Europe or the USA). There is a new America-Africa economy in the making, with Latin American countries standing at the crossroad of this dormant bonanza.
The renegotiations of the NAFTA and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with China reshuffled the cards and created new business opportunities between Latin America and Asian countries. After US president Donald Trump abandoned the TPP, Japan created a temporary agreement among the 11 remaining partners, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which gives more latitude for trades between Latin America and Asia. Asia is already Latin America’s 2nd trading partner after the USA.
While Latin America is gaining more economic weight, it must also be concerned with the essential indicators that define a well-balanced “market” country. The men-women equality plays a major role in assessing a country’s health. Latin American countries will have to submit to the gender equity condition to fully mature. The Latina tech force is destined to grow really big, really fast in the next 10 years.
Latina networks lead the way
Chicas Poderosas was created in 2013 to help women in Latin America get on the new tech bandwagon, with a focus on New Media and leadership. Active in 13 countries, Chicas Poderosas organizes local workshops and communities to convey the spirit of citizen journalism and train women to get started. For example, since 2015, Chicas Poderosas invested the Bolivian podcast scene, promoting it as a major voice-sharing opportunity for Bolivian women, a program that got the interest and participation of the local US embassy. The Chicas also organize hackathons, and in 2017, a Chicas accelerator was launched that provide intensive training and some funding to kickstart women-powered New Media initiatives. The goal of Mariana Santos, founder of Chicas Poderosas, is for « women to be more digitally savvy so they can gain an edge and start their own news organizations ».
Latina Geeks is a women-in-tech network active throughout California. Its goal is to build bridges for Latina women in the US tech industry by organizing workshops focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, Social Media… and code learning since 2017. In San Francisco, Latina Geeks organized an event with the SF Newtech Meetup in 2017 to showcase Latina-powered startups (Me Tyme Network, Dabkick, Trixandtrax, Madebos, Canticos).
Latinas in Tech started in 2014 to bring together women working in top technology companies in Latin America. It grew to 3K members and organized 30 meetups in 3 years. The meetups became summits gathering all women involved in tech (executives, entrepreneurs, networkers, …). The latest was hosted in San Francisco in November 2018 where London Breed, mayor of San Francisco since June 2018, was among the speakers. A few months earlier, Latinas in Tech received a generous $100K donation from Comcast-NBCUniversal to further develop the organization and its chapters.
The list of networks focused on Latinas in technology goes on (Latinity, Be Visible, Hispanic Women In Leadership, We All Grow Latina, Latinas Think Big, …), and those networks keep on reaching wider as they grow.
A variety of Latina tech leaders
Thanks to the development of those community-building networks, successful Latina tech entrepreneurs now have a medium to share their stories and encourage their peers to follow the same path of self-empowerment. While studies count only 1% of Latinas in the US tech workforce, those networks are actively working to push those numbers up. Quite controversially, it seems that the minority, underrepresented factor is what gives a boost to Latinas to prove themselves. What follows are bits of experiences and testimonies from Latina women working in the technology sector.
Elle Huerta, founder of Mend, declared in an interview that she hasn’t really come up against anything in her entrepreneur life. Daniela Perdomo, cofounder of goTenna, will actually admit that most discrimination is related to being a woman, and less to being of Latin American origins.
Sue Siegel leads innovation at GE and is considered among the most powerful women in the tech industry. Because she was so focused on hard work and accomplishment, she always made sure her cultural diversity would never come up, thus admitting it could have, one way or the other, affected her career. Rosalba Reynoso, CEO of Blue Trail Software, was born in Mexico and moved to the US where she eventually became an entrepreneur. Rosalba Reynoso admits that being a woman and a Latina in the USA sometimes lead to biased interactions, but she also thinks this is the perfect motivation to unleash the beast that lives in every Latina. Clara de Soto, cofounder of Reply.ai, argues that being a Latina growing up in the US is what gave her “superpowers”: it boosted her ability to solve social problems, which she considers a highly competitive skill in the workforce.
However, Clara de Soto and Alexandra Zatarain, cofounder of Eight, also argue that skin color, facial traits – and even names – are so diverse among Hispanics that it’s hard to recognize a person with Latin American origins. So talking about a systematic discrimination against Latinas in the tech sector may not be accurate, but it is a fact that up until recently, the archetype of the successful Latina-in-tech did not exist, leaving a whole generation of Latina millenials with nothing but self-confidence to create this archetype and pave the way for future generations.