It’s often said that a key to success is “Find a hole . . . and fill it.” After more than twenty years working in HR and talent management, Lizette Ibarra faced a hard truth: Latinx people are underrepresented in executive roles, despite being a growing demographic.
But Ibarra didn’t simply grumble about the situation; she did something about it. Ibarra is the founder and chief empowerment officer of Latina Chief, an executive recruiting and placement firm that she founded in 2021.
Her journey began with her childhood in Guadalajara, Mexico. “I grew up in a large extended family,” Ibarra says. “My grandfather was raised in California but moved back to Mexico, and I was very close to him.” Ibarra recalls that he had an eclectic personal library, and she began reading about human behavior when she was eight or nine years old, becoming fascinated by how the brain works and why people behave the way they do.
Her first career plan, in fact, involved psychology or psychiatry. Instead, she earned a degree in industrial relations at ITESO, Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara, followed by a master’s degree in neurolinguistic programming from the Instituto de Programacion Neurolinguistica.
“It’s not that Latino talent is lacking, but that qualified Latino candidates are simply overlooked in the recruiting and hiring process.”Lizette Ibarra
Ibarra entered the corporate world as a talent acquisition manager for Eastman Kodak in Guadalajara (the company’s headquarters for its Latin American operations), where she led the staffing and training strategy of the 5,500-employee facility. Subsequently, she served as HR manager for Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) medical devices manufacturing facility in the Monterrey area and as managing director for Mexico of the QualiFind Group, a boutique headhunter that had actually recruited Ibarra for her role at J&J.
She then launched her own firm, Bleumind Executive Search, a boutique firm that operated in Mexico and the US Hispanic markets. “I’d always been an entrepreneur at heart, so starting my own company was a no-brainer,” she says. “My goal was to build my team around women who had left corporate careers to be moms or wives and then wanted to come back. There were many talented women in that situation, and corporations didn’t go out of their way to hire them. I hired them and created a successful search firm that helped many organizations find the right talent for high-specialty roles.”
After ten years as an entrepreneur, Ibarra returned to the corporate world as the first Latina partner at global search firm DHR International. Her involvement there in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts led her to create Latina Chief—precisely because of the lack of diversity she saw in the workforce.
“Hispanics in the US account for 19.2 percent of the population, and there is roughly a 4 percent representation in executive ranks in corporate America and less than 3 percent in the board room. It’s not that Latino talent is lacking,” she explains, “but that qualified Latino candidates are simply overlooked in the recruiting and hiring process.”
Latina Chief intends to change that situation dramatically by working closely with Latino associations across the US, spanning many sectors. “We work with companies that truly want to diversify their workforce, and not just play the ‘tokenism game,’” she says.
In keeping with its mission to increase workplace diversity, Latina Chief has a broad client base. While some executive search firms concentrate on a specific industry, Ibarra estimates that 60 to 70 percent of her company’s business is in the industrial, consumer, retail, and technology sectors. “We’ve also been approached by a major pharmaceutical company that was tired of seeing the ‘same old names’ every time they engaged in a search,” she says. “They came to us for a fresh perspective.”
Likewise, Latina Chief’s targets span all levels of management. Ibarra herself oversees the search process for C-suite executives, general managers, board members, and executive-level staff. In her career, she has led more than 170 executive-level searches and helped place more than 2,500 professionals.
The company’s Latina Chief Rising division focuses on placing directors and managers, as well as individual contributors. That effort is steered by President Alejandro Romo, who has nearly a quarter century of experience in recruitment and designing, implementing, and executing world-class DEI initiatives and practices.
Ibarra points out that 80 percent of her business comes from repeat clients: “They know we will deliver what we promise, and that we’ll be honest in our dealings with them,” she says. “Latino demographics are trending upward, and companies that don’t get ahead of the game will be missing many opportunities for growth.”
Ibarra is also an avid tennis player, a sport that helps keep her mind, body, and soul in shape. “It’s the only time that I stop thinking about the business, my family, and everything else in my life,” she says. “I must stay super-focused on the game, because of you take your eye off the ball, you’ll lose it.
“It’s much like dealing with my clients; I need to keep an eye on all the little details.”