Hispanic or Latino/Latinx communities are vastly underrepresented in the tech industry. According to 2020 US Census data, Hispanics account for 19% of the US population, the nation's second largest racial or ethnic group after non-Hispanic whites. While they hold 17% of all jobs in the US, that number falls to just eight percent of STEM roles.
Amazon is a company tracking above average and pushing for faster progress when it comes to Latinx in tech. In 2021, 24% of US Amazon employees were Latinx, which is seven percent above the national average, and a six percent increase on the firm’s 2018 workforce.
There is also progress at more senior levels. At the Corporate Employee L4-L7 level, Latinx representation was nine percent in 2021, up from six percent in 2018; while Latinx workers account for 4.5% at the L8+ Senior Leader level, up from three percent three years ago.
Amazon has set itself clear targets to push these numbers up further, including increasing L4-L7 Latino talent across the US by at least 30%, and L8+ Latino leaders by at least 35%. (The firm has set itself the same targets for Black employees, which diginomica covered previously.)
Amazon has a number of initiatives in place targeting the Latino community, which has helped it increase representation at the company.
The AWS Impact Accelerator has recently finished a round of recruiting for the Latino founders cohort, which ran from 6-17 March. Successful applicants are offered training, mentorship, along with $225,000 in cash grants and AWS credits.
The AWS Innovation Fund provides employees with micro-grants to make a positive impact on underrepresented communities. There are currently several projects running in Latin America, where staff are working with local non-profits to support people with autism, up-skill women through digital training, or provide free cloud training to unemployed people.
The firm also has a Latinos at Amazon employee affinity group, aimed at preparing Hispanic employees for leadership roles, offering mentorship opportunities, and increasing the company’s presence across Hispanic Serving Institutions.
One of the key proponents of the Latino community at Amazon is Diego Pantoja-Navajas, Vice President of Supply Chain at AWS. A proud Bolivian, Pantoja-Navajas came to the US with the specific purpose of studying and building a career in technology. But after graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology, he didn’t always get wholehearted support in his ambitions. Pantoja-Navajas explains:
Early in my career, as a young immigrant from Latin America, I felt like people couldn’t hear me. They couldn’t hear my ideas or voice. But I had so many ideas. I even had an idea to create my own company, but people would constantly tell me, ‘That will never happen’.
Instead, Pantoja-Navajas went to work in different supply chain companies, creating on-premise business applications as the slow pace of the supply chain industry meant the cloud hadn’t reached it yet:
Eventually, I reached a point where I knew I was ready to start my own company, and I knew exactly how I would start my company. People still tried to talk me out of it, but I had a vision.
It was the clarity of that vision that kept Pantoja-Navajas going when things got tough, and despite the naysayers, he stuck to his plans. He founded SaaS supply chain company LogFire, a business that was eventually acquired by Oracle, where he then spent five years. He recalls:
I feel like people finally started to hear me after I sold my company, and I find that interesting because what I had been saying had never changed. They were just more willing to listen.
Pantoja-Navajas joined AWS in October 2021, where he is also executive sponsor for Hispanic Leaders in Tech, networking events that help drive representation of Hispanic people in the tech industry.
Prior to arriving in the US, Pantoja-Navajas hadn’t thought much about his heritage but he’s now a passionate advocate of his background:
The first time I learned I was Hispanic was when I arrived in the US to go to college. I celebrate my Hispanic heritage every January 2nd, because that's the day I arrived in the US in 1999. It's really something that I discovered when I came here - I am from Latin America, I'm from South America. I'm very proud of who I am and that heritage because it's a great heritage, it's a heritage that gave me the opportunity to be who I am and gave me the values of who I am as a person.
That heritage has had a positive impact on his professional life, as it forced him to be more creative. When you come to a country like the US as an overseas student, you have a certain number of years to graduate and find your dream job, so the pressure is on to succeed. He explains:
There are only a set number of opportunities for you as a student or H-1 B visa holder, so you need to demonstrate that you're a person who companies can and want to work with, because of the creativity, experience or attitude that you have or all the other values that you bring to the table. I don't think that without my Hispanic heritage, I would be here.
My Hispanic heritage has had a tremendous influence in my career and has helped me to be an entrepreneur, to be able to navigate very difficult times when I was starting my company. When we went through very difficult times, that can-do attitude - we don't go back, we keep climbing the wall as much as we can - it's what helped me to accomplish what I have in my professional career.
As part of its ongoing efforts to expand its Hispanic workforce, AWS has monthly events as part of the Hispanic Leaders in Tech network, bringing together different leaders from different organizations. The main topic of discussion - given the underrepresentation of Hispanic people in STEM fields and especially in leadership positions - is what can tech companies do to change the situation.
Hispanics are vastly under-represented on corporate boards. While they represent 19% of the US population, according to a report from the Latino Corporate Directors Association, in 2020 Hispanics held just 4% of Fortune 500 board seats. Pantoja-Navajas says:
This is not a good number. We wanted to collaborate with all these other leaders, to understand what are they doing and what can we do as a team.
What I love about these events is, regardless of who you are working for, when these executives and leaders come to these meetings the main topic is how are we going to help the Hispanic community. It's not about who you work for, it's about what can you do as an individual to influence and how can you help in building successful Hispanic leaders in tech.
The Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing communities in North America, so it’s crucial to include that group in the development and provision of technology. For organizations solving complex issues for their customers, developing solutions on their behalf or providing services, it would be counterproductive to just focus on one segment of the population. Pantoja-Navajas concludes:
For these minorities to have a brighter future and impact the economy and the communities where they live, we need to help them find funding so they can start developing their ideas. We need to give them hope that as an industry, we really believe they're going to have an opportunity to contribute to all these great things that we're working on.
A key way to start doing that is for Hispanic leaders like Pantoja-Navajas to be visible as role models. He adds:
“When you see very few leaders, you say, well, that's not an area for me so let me go into a different direction where there are more Hispanics or more leaders from the Hispanic community and others.
“As we have an under-representation in STEM fields, we need to be more active, to go and talk to the start-up community and to schools. We need to promote more programs. And we’ve got to convince not just AWS, but the broader market that there are huge opportunities in working in this area, with this community. We just need to invest in them.”