Building Careers for Hispanic Professionals

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"Once you get past seven years ... that's where we need to do more," says Ann Marquez, executive director of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting's New York chapter.

Can you us about the role of your organization?

Our basic mission is to create opportunity, add value and build relationships for the membership, community and business partners, while expanding Hispanic leadership in the global workforce.

Is there a typical member of ALPFA?

Our members are accountants, and they also come from a variety of finance positions. Most of the accountants come from the Big Four. Most of our finance and investment banking people come from many of the major and well-known firms. The bulk of our members have three to five years of experience in their field, followed by those with five to seven years of experience.

Do more experienced members act as mentors to those with less experience?

Absolutely. We are looking at formalizing mentorship opportunities locally, as well as nationally.

Mentorship tends to be informal. We provide the opportunity for the membership to come to events and meet informally with professionals at all of the companies we partner with. Within those conversations, often opportunities arise. About 41 percent of our New York chapter's total membership is made up of students - undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of finance programs.

Can you describe your efforts to work with some of the top businesses in the state?

What we do is partner with companies. They come to us because of the access we have to the pool of applicants. We're working with the Big Four and many of the large investment banking firms, as well as many of the banks in the area. We might work with the companies over a 12-month period, or even over a number of years, and the company will support the organization by pledging a set amount of funding to ALPFA.

This funding might support everything (depending on the level of sponsorship) from an exclusive event hosted at their firm or an effort to identify a certain number of job postings a year that are then sent to our membership, either through our Web site or newsletter.

All of our relationships take on a different shape. We have some activities that include a recruitment component, where companies have booths and get resumes. However, a lot of the recruitment efforts are done informally. We also have internship opportunities for our student members.

Sponsorships also take into account bringing speakers to some of the marquee events we host, such as our upcoming Women of ALPFA Summit in May. This event will be attended by about 200 to 300 female professionals, and will focus on building opportunities and networks for women to further their career trajectories. We'll announce the details soon.

What do you think is one of the main ways to bring more Hispanics into finance?

Getting more Hispanic college students to major in accounting and finance is certainly a factor. Here in New York, I think we need to start even earlier than that.

One of the things that ALPFA is trying to do is to expose students to more professionals with accounting and other finance jobs. We need to make this an option for them to consider. It's a challenge for students once they get into college. Maybe they will consider liberal arts, or even law or medical degrees. You simply don't get as many to consider business or the engineering route.

So what progress has been made? And what improvements are still needed?

We've done a lot better in terms of the diversity efforts at the entry level, and at the experienced level between three to seven years. Once you get past seven years, or the partnership level, that's where we need to do more. That's where we're looking to focus a larger amount of time. One of the things we are looking at is doing an executive leadership summit to bring Hispanic leaders - those who are partners or senior level people - and then looking at the next level of experienced professionals that we have, and trying to get them thinking of taking that next leap into the partnership role.

There are many associations addressing diversity in the finance world. What do you think distinguishes your group?

We're the only one that is really working to partner Latinos with the companies. In addition, there's a reason why we've managed to keep as many partner companies as we have working with us, at the local level and at the national level. The relevancy of what we're doing resonates with them. I don't think you can be successful without building relationships with the companies and making sure that there's a win-win for everyone - that there's a return on the investment for the partnering companies that are sponsoring you, and the benefits are making sense for your members.

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