Hispanic IT leaders work to close the gap

When Pete Torres transitioned to the IT industry after serving in the military, he encountered a noticeable lack of Hispanic representation at conferences and events he attended. Even when he was young, the idea of a career in technology was “not really an option,” he says, owing in part to the IT industry’s decades-long issues with Hispanic and Latinx representation.

Now a director of engineering at Capital One, Torres is among many of his generation seeking to change the equation — and to inspire Hispanic and Latinx students to consider IT as a viable option for developing a meaningful career.

For Torres, having children of his own was a turning point, and he began to think about the importance of instilling an interest in STEM fields at a young age. He considered what he wished he knew when he was younger and looked at how to “propose this potential career path to other people that might not be aware of it,” starting him on a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey that continues to this day.

Inspiring a new generation — and diversifying the talent pipeline

According to Pew Research, Hispanic and Latinx professionals fill only 8% of STEM roles in the US workforce, despite representing 17% of the total job market. Furthermore, their labor is valued less by employers, with Hispanic IT professionals earning just 83% of what their White colleagues make, a number that has dipped from 85% in 2016. All this, despite industry-wide efforts in recent years to rectify diversity issues in IT and STEM.

Pete Torres, director of engineering, Capital One

Capital One

For Torres, the path forward requires operating on two timelines at once. First, Torres has worked to strengthen diversity at a professional level at Capital One. And second is his work to help create opportunities for young people to embark on careers in tech. Through Capital One’s Hispanic employee resource group (ERG), Torres and his colleagues have spent a “lot of time reaching out to the youth and driving diversity of thought” across the organization.

This work includes helping to create a more diverse talent pipeline, as evidenced by Capital One’s efforts to connect underrepresented students at the college level with technology opportunities, as well as local chapters’ work with elementary schools. This outreach gives young people a chance to see people working in IT who share their “last name or similar upbringing, out there talking in a suit and tie — it just brings confidence and lets them know that [IT] is now a career path and an opportunity,” he says.

Qualcomm is another company diversifying its talent pipeline through programs that take the underrepresentation of Hispanic and Latinx individuals into account.

Cisco Sanchez, who got his first job at FedEx through InRoads, an internship program that creates career pathways for underserved students, worked his way up the FedEx ranks for 25 years before starting as CIO at Qualcomm just over a year ago. At FedEx, Sanchez was a sponsor of the Diversity Leadership Committee, which he has now carried over to his career at Qualcomm, where he is part of the LatinQ ERG. LatinQ focuses on identifying biases across the organization and helps ensure there are strong talent pipelines that give all employees the same roadmap to success, says Sanchez.

Cisco Sanchez, CIO, Qualcomm


One big move Qualcomm has made in its IT recruiting efforts is to avoid falling into the trap of hiring only from a handful of prestigious colleges and universities, Sanchez says. As someone who came from a nontraditional talent pipeline himself, Sanchez knows there are plenty of IT skills that can be taught to anyone who is motivated and has an interest in learning.

Plus, Sanchez says, with the rapid pace of changing technology, a four-year degree doesn’t guarantee you’ll be up to speed on the latest skills after graduation. As such, Qualcomm has shifted to looking at candidates who have different types of schooling — certificates, non-computer science degrees, and people with no experience who can be quickly trained on the latest coding skills.

“It’s this conscious effort of ‘How do we retrain our mind a bit to start to pivot into a different direction?’ When you open the ability to hire from a larger population of people, you also create the ability to have deeper and more diverse candidates,” he says.

Mentoring to make a difference

The value of mentorship and sponsorship can’t be understated when it comes to fostering and growing your career. But for underrepresented groups in the tech industry, it can be difficult to find mentors and sponsors inside and outside the organization. Mentorship is all about creating connections that help professionals better understand what it takes to go to the next level, says Tim Grijalva, president of GoDaddy LatinX technology and director of learning.

“I think that individuals that have opportunities, whether that’s been through academic, or they’ve had mentors in their life, they’ve had more exposure to understand” what it takes to develop a career, he says. “It’s about conversations. It’s about asking questions to understand how you become manager or director. For folks in the Latin community itself, it’s a challenge because I think not everybody feels that some of those higher achievements are available to them as a Latino. And it’s often hard to understand who you can ask and who you can have the conversations with to understand [a path forward in tech].”

Tim Grijalva, president of LatinX technology and director of learning, GoDaddy


In fact, there was a time when Grijalva himself wasn’t sure if he’d be able to land a job at Go Daddy without a background in engineering. But after getting a job in learning and sales, his career grew with the organization, putting him on the path to leadership.

Capital One’s Torres says he is lucky to have found strong mentorship opportunities throughout his career and credits his mentors as allies whose faith and trust in him helped give him a platform for his career. And now, Torres is paying that support forward.

“I see myself now as being in a position where I can push or pull up people, and that’s extremely important to me. The importance of having that mentorship, awareness, ability to bounce ideas off someone, and to gain perspective and understanding of the way other people think was invaluable to my growth and my development,” says Torres.

The power of ERGs and opportunities to build a path to leadership

Another way companies are helping have an impact is in facilitating — and empowering — ERGs. These groups give employees a safe space where they can connect with others who share similar backgrounds or experiences, giving them stronger connections at work. Such environments can be crucial to empowering employees to voice their opinions and give authentic and genuine feedback, which is vital in moving the company forward.

“In my experience, we come together, and we are very authentic,” says Torres of his ERG experience at Capital One. “We wear our hearts on our sleeves and it comes across very naturally. Again, that’s probably a result of our upbringing and our experiences. What I’ve learned is that [can be perceived as] somewhat intimidating by others, and that it wasn’t coming from a place of fear, it was coming from a place of lack of understanding. So I’ve spent a lot of time in my leadership career focusing on creating that safe place for people to be themselves and to be authentic.”  

ERGs also give employees a chance to connect, network, and grow their careers within the organization. A huge part of DEI is not only who and how you recruit and hire but also whether your diversity efforts continue all the way up the organizational ladder. Building diversity in leadership is about creating and exposing underrepresented groups to opportunity.

At Qualcomm, diverse hiring panels help ensure there are fewer biases in the hiring process, says Sanchez, who adds that the company’s panels reflect the diversity they want to see in the organization. Once candidates are hired, internal coding bootcamps can help open new opportunities within the organization.

As for leadership opportunities, Torres says Capital One works closely with nonprofit groups such as Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC) to develop leadership and emerging executive programs and tech college classes for employees to work on developing new skills.

Giving back and pushing forward

Like Torres, Grijalva also believes in the power of helping to uplift the next generation. To that end, Go Daddy’s Latinx and Technology ERG has built a partnership with a local high school in Arizona that has a majority Hispanic and Black demographic, where they review resumes of juniors and seniors.

They also help students better understand how their background and experiences can boost their resumes and even help them in interviews. Grijalva says they hold conversations with the students about how to show up to job interviews, what challenges they might face, and that “you don’t have to speak perfect English in order to nail your interview,” he says.

“Because most of the time when you’re going for a job at a job interview, leaders are looking for commitment and dedication. And by having those conversations younger, they really start understanding that it doesn’t matter much about the color of [their] skin or [their] accent in this meeting. Really what it comes down to is having a mentor showing [them] a roadmap,” Grijalva says.

Making a difference indeed.

Diversity and Inclusion, IT Leadership