by Ibi Fleming

Latinos are a growing force of influence in America – with good reason. The Latino population is anticipated to double, to approximately 106 million people, by the year 2050. The success of the U.S. economy is very much tied to the success of the Latino workforce. Since small businesses are a critical sector of our economy, ensuring Latinos reach their full entrepreneurial potential is especially important for expanding economic opportunities.

As a Latina business executive, I’m proud to say Latinas are leading this charge by starting their own businesses in record numbers. According to the National Women’s Business Council, Latinas own close to 788,000 businesses in the U.S., an impressive 45 percent increase since 2002 and 133 percent increase since 1997. Data shows these businesses generated over $65 billion in revenue in 2012 (the most recent data available), also a huge increase from past decades.

Indeed, Latinas are showing their strength as business leaders both among the general Latino population and among other women. Latina-owned businesses made up almost 35 percent of all Hispanic non-farm businesses across the country. Likewise, Latinas own 36 percent of businesses owned by minority women, and one of every 10 women-owned businesses overall. There’s no doubt Hispanic women, the CEOs of la familia, have serious influence in our economy, their families and communities, and are helping Hispanics grow as an economic force.

One of the most interesting trends among Latina entrepreneurship is the rise of businesses with no paid employees – also called “non-employer businesses.” Over 93 percent of Hispanic women-owned businesses fall in this category. Most of these companies consist of people running small businesses from their homes, such as real estate agents, independent contractors and salespeople. These businesses represent true entrepreneurship.

It’s no surprise that many Latinas have taken to this business model since it provides maximum flexibility and has a low barrier to entry. As such, they are ideal for working mothers, immigrants and those who want to supplement their primary household income. And they harness Latinas’ strong sense of community since these business owners depend on their families and neighbors to help spread the word about their companies. Herbalife is proud to provide such economic opportunities to thousands of Latinas across all 50 U.S. states.

Yet we still have a way to go to ensuring Latinas are able to reach their full economic potential. Hispanic women continue to make just 54 cents for every dollar earned by white non-Hispanic men, a 46 cent pay gap. That’s an even more egregious statistic than the 22 cents pay gap between white women and white non-Hispanic men. Additionally, despite their boom in business ownership, Latinas are underrepresented as CEOs and business executives. We must ensure Latinas have access to the educational and professional development opportunities needed to move up and take on leadership positions.

As a Cuban-American whose family came to the United States seeking a better life, I know first-hand the entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic Latinas bring to the table. In my work at Herbalife, I am continually inspired by the work of our members and their stories of transforming their lives and providing for their families. I’m proud to see my fellow Latinas leading the way and representing the growing population of Hispanic small business owners.