In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Campaign US is spotlighting Hispanic executives from across the industry. This interview with Camilo La Cruz, Chief Strategy Officer at Sparks & Honey has been lightly edited.
What is it like to be a Latino/Hispanic in the advertising industry?
In many ways, it’s quite a lonely experience. The Latinx community accounted for 7.9% of the industry workforce in 2020, and that number plummets as you climb the seniority ladder. This translates in almost no aspirational figures or mentors with a shared experience for Hispanic employees.
Personally, it took a while for me to feel comfortable enough to take risks and bring my full self to work. In that process I learned about the value of being authentic in everything you do, and of trusting your instincts. It turns out that being a Brown immigrant with a thick accent comes with a wealth of lived experience that can add tremendous value when challenging the status quo and stimulating creative thinking.
These days, I find myself working with incredibly talented people from a wide range of backgrounds. This, I think, is the gift of working in a creative industry – it comes with the package and is so easy to overlook amid all the changes taking place around us.
How has it changed since you first started?
It’s starting to change. Gen Z is much more diverse than previous generations, with one in four identifying as Hispanic/Latinx. This is becoming more visible across the industry, and will no doubt have an impact in its makeup for years to come.
However, while we see that future unfolding, we can’t ignore the hard facts. There are still huge barriers for Latinx people in the industry, from representation, to mentorship to backward biases (from accents to skin tone), we still have a big mountain to climb.
How would you like to see brands honor Hispanic Heritage Month this year?
Hire Latinx directors to their boards. Latinos represent only 3% of 2020 Fortune 1000 board seats. This is not only bad for business, but it puts the more than 70% of Fortune 1000 companies without Latinx representation on their boards in a precarious position when it comes to honoring anything connected to this community.
Where has the advertising industry made progress with diversity and inclusion? What still needs to be done?
There are a few beacons of progress. One of the strongest is Netflix,which is challenging the idea of inclusion as a function of HR or talent operations, and instead baking it into its DNA. This makes inclusion a driver of business in visible ways (talent, creators, producers, shows and partnerships), as well as behind the scenes through a business model made to thrive on diversity and draw strength from selling diverse perspectives to the world.
Consistency is at the top of the list of what still needs to be done. More brands need to be willing to take risks and be there for those who have been left behind year round and not just during special occasions. We need more brands willing to highlight positive representations of all the intersections within and among these communities, to challenge through their messages and actions the tired stereotypes that still plague mediocre content everywhere.
One last thought: listen to your employees. Employee activism is going to change the corporate world in very powerful ways. We all saw what it can do in the summer of 2020 and I think the best is yet to come.
What is something you love about your culture?
We are a composite, hybrids and a cultural collage. There is a bit of everywhere in the world in our blood. Ask any of your Latinx friends about their grandparents and you will get a million different answers.
How would you like to see your culture represented in the industry and by brands?
As equally interesting as any of our fellow travelers in this chaotic and amazing country.