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Hispanic business leaders say companies need to catch up to Houston’s demographics or miss out

Laura Murillo, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Murillo and the chamber say companies in Houston need to bring more Hispanic executives into C-suites and board rooms. Photo: Brett Coomer, Staff / Houston Chronicle / © 2018 Houston Chronicle

Companies in Houston need to bring more Hispanic executives into C-suites and board rooms, or risk losing out on a large and growing market and source of talent, Hispanic business leaders say.

The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Thursday will present data to local executives to make the case that businesses need to integrate a growing and well-qualified pool of Hispanic candidates. Hispanics will become Houston’s largest ethnic group by 2020..

Hispanic spending in Houston could top $80 billion by 2022, up from $55 billion today , representing more than 25 percent of all spending in the region, according to the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents entrepreneurs, executives, small businesses and Fortune 500 firms.

“This is a market that one must look at if you’re going to succeed,” said Laura Murillo, the president and CEO of the chamber.

The Hispanic population of Houston’s metro area is about 2.7 million, according to population projections by the Texas Demographic Center, the state’s liaison office to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics could be the largest demographic group in the state as early as 2020. Much of this growth will come from people moving here from other states, such as California, Louisiana and New York.

“The purchasing power of Hispanics in Houston is huge,” said Pablo Pinto, the director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.

Murillo said businesses in Houston could miss opportunities to tap into this market if they don’t consider Houston’s changing demographics as they make decisions about hiring, promotions and leadership within their own companies. Only 13 of the 275 people who hold board of director positions in a Fortune 500 company based in Houston are Hispanic, according to research presented by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

That’s about 5 percent even though Hispanics make up 40 percent of the Houston’s population.

“What we’re saying is that we want a holistic approach to integration,” said Murillo, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Houston. “We want to be part of the fabric and not a thread to this blanket.”

Murillo said she has seen more corporations expand efforts to diversify their workforce and leadership efforts, but it remains a challenge for Hispanic business leaders to break into top executive positions because of the way most executive committees recruit. Often, executives are chosen based on recommendations by colleagues. If all the colleagues are white men, minorities and women are frequently overlooked, she said. The chamber is encouraging companies to explore new recruitment processes for candidates.

“Every time they have a vacancy we want them to consciously think about us as an expert and a possibility,” Murillo said. “At the end of the day, may the best person win, but if we go to the same circle of people, then we’ve missed an opportunity.”

The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will host its third annual Hispanic Impact Summit from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Asia Society Texas Center. The summit will include an analysis of the Hispanic community’s economic impact on Houston with a focus on corporate board representation.