3 p.m. and Irela Bagué is at a business meeting at the Biltmore Hotel
in Coral Gables with two of the partners in her multilingual marketing
services firm. Polished and energetic, she's bantering with her
colleagues as they prepare for a meet-and-greet with members of the
Latin American Business Association.
Cool as she may seem, Bagué
knows the clock is ticking: Time to shift gears from entrepreneur to mom
and drive through traffic to Kendall to pick up her 10-year-old son
Alberto from school. Then she drives across town to Biscayne Boulevard
and 50th Street to drop off Alberto with her ex-husband before returning
to the Biltmore meeting. Her day ends close to 10 p.m. at yet another
meeting at a restaurant to plan a fundraiser.
``My days are
schizophrenic, but I'm a single mom and I own my own company and I'm the
chair of a large charity in our community -- the Girl Scout Council of
Tropical Florida -- and my days go from one thing to another,'' says the
42-year-old head of Bagué Group.
The Cuban American's
high-charged entrepreneurial life is hardly unique these days. In the
past 30 years, the role of Hispanic women in society has rapidly
evolved, and women like Bagué are no longer expected to be señoras waiting at home and preparing a four-course meal for their families.
They're independent, savvy and take-charge businesswomen who are leading
the ranks of entrepreneurship in the United States.
to a 2007 survey of the Hispanic Association for Corporate
Responsibility (HACR), a coalition of Hispanic organizations that works
with Census data and conducts its own research, Latinas are starting
businesses at a rate six times the national average.
are the fastest-growing group of small business owners in the country,''
says Cristina López, president of the Washington D.C.-based National
Hispana Leadership Institute , which is bringing its annual conference
and Mujer Awards gala Thursday and Friday to the Hyatt Regency in
The conference will address the myriad challenges facing the modern
Latina businesswoman. More than 600 Hispanic women from as far as
Seattle and the American Southwest are expected to attend workshops and
panel discussions about professional development, business opportunity
and leadership. Topics such as politics, the economy, health and
finances are headliners.
Nationwide, more than 750,000
businesses -- 37 percent of all Hispanic businesses -- are owned by
Latinas and generate close to $50 billion in revenues, the HACR survey
``That is a significant segment of the economy,'' López says.
The Latinas' entrepreneurship, however, is a mixed bag.
Many Hispanic women start their own businesses because they're
disappointed with corporate America. They aren't promoted enough,
they're misunderstood culturally, and they're paid less than men and
than non-Hispanic women and African Americans.
non-Hispanic women are making 79 cents for every dollar that a man
makes, Latinas earn 59 cents, according to 2009 Census figures.
A study by the non-profit Catalyst found that women in general and
Latinas in particular don't have the right mentors or sponsors who can
open doors for them and advance them in corporations.
have outsider status,'' López says. ``Women were seen as not part of the
boys club of the traditional decision-makers, which is white male.''
In the case of Latinas, there are cultural barriers -- or perceptions that cultural barrier exist.
``Their culture is not well understood by managers,'' López says.
``There are misperceptions that they are not seen as aggressive enough,
that they're not willing to do what it takes. There is the stereotype
that they don't have enough mobility, that they are too constrained by
Most Latinas do put family first, López says.
``Our families are very very important and we make sacrifices because
of family circumstances,'' she says. ``We give up promotions that imply
moving, we might not take on some assignments because of family
circumstances and that constrains you a bit, because you do need to do
that for the promotions and to take those positions of greater
responsibility that get you in the pipeline'' to corporate office.
But lack of geographical mobility doesn't compromise their work
ethic, and in some cases the mobility issue may only be temporary, López
Even that perception is changing given the recent high-profile appointments of Latinas devoted to their careers.
Hispanic women point to the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, a Puerto
Rican from New York, to the U.S. Supreme Court as the most powerful
symbol of how far Latinas have come. And California lawyer Vilma
Martínez was named ambassador to Argentina.
professions that demand a huge time commitment, the numbers of Hispanic
women are dramatically low. While Hispanic women make up 7 percent of
the U.S. population, they account for only 1.3 percent of the country's
One of the issues being addressed at the conference is
how organizations can better support and encourage Latinas in their
rise up the corporate ladder.
``There are issues women have to
deal with that men don't,'' Bagué says. ``We grow up with so many
things. You have to be the base of your home and now we have to go out
and work. With this economy, we don't have a choice.''
the ways women help each other is by developing their own networks. Las
Comadres para las Americas, a national Latina networking organization
led by NHLI alum Nora Comstock, was born from the informal gatherings of
groups of friends in each other's living rooms.
to Femfessionals, a group of 30-plus business and professional women who
``cross-promote and try to work with each other as much as possible.''
In South Florida, Hispanic women are more likely to readily find
networking opportunities in the cocoon of a multicultural society, but
they need to get out of their comfort zone and expand to grow their
careers and their businesses, business leaders say.
changed and the needs have changed from what it was 25 years ago,'' says
Maria Elena Toraño, 72, the Miami businesswoman who co-founded the
National Hispana Leadership Institute. ``Hispanic women have recognized
the need for an education and they now get formal educations. They come
out of school thinking they're goddesses and that's good. It gives them
confidence. But then, so what? Now they need training in what is a
The next challenge for Latinas, Toraño says,
is to better integrate themselves into a global corporate culture
``where the support of the comadres is not there'' and where both bosses and employees hail from all over the world.
Hispanic women also are changing in another significant way: They're
engaging their husbands -- or ex-husbands -- in child care.
``They've gone from the Super Mom Syndrome to making parenting a more balanced act,'' Toraño says.
Bagué shares custody of her son with her ex-husband, a music producer
who takes care of Alberto about three times a week and gives him music
lessons. Bagué schedules her evening meetings around the nights Alberto
spends with his father.
But call her on a Tuesday or Thursday
afternoon and you'll find her on her cellphone participating in a
conference call right outside Alberto's karate class.
who ran for a seat on the state Legislature when her son was only 2
years old in 2002 and lost -- ``Best loss I've ever had, I learned a
lot,'' she says -- doesn't discard the possibility of entering the
But for now, she's happy to be on her own.
``I like my flexibility,'' she says.
And she's not shy about accessing her worth and that of other modern Latina businesswomen in the marketplace.
``I think every business needs a mother,'' Bagué says. ``We can
handle so many things. At the end of the day, a mother takes care of
things, makes sure things grow, makes sure everybody is doing what they
need to be doing.''