The Growing Role of the Latinx Community in the Economy

What does it truly mean to have a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce? For companies hoping to attract Latinx talent, that’s a question that needs to be explored in full. Latinx employees make up a growing proportion of the workforce – and the U.S. population as a whole – and yet still face obstacles and barriers to entry as a result of slow-to-change corporate culture.

 

So, where can we start?

 

Organizations that want to thrive should be paying close attention to how they appeal to the Latinx community and build an inclusive, diverse workforce. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, the Latinx community is growing ever more significant, both as workers and as consumers: Latinx buying power is projected to reach $1.7 trillion, while the Latinx community will account for 80% of US workforce growth between 2012 and 2022.

 

In 2016, a collaboration between the Society for Human Resource Management and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute produced a study with even more information about the role of the Latinx community in a shifting economy[1].

  • Hispanics currently make up 16 percent of the overall U.S. labor market and will account for one out of every two new workers entering the workforce by 2025, and 66,000 are turning 18 every month.
  • Hispanics are enrolling in college in record numbers, on par with rates of white students and outpacing the rates of enrollment for black students.
  • 83 million young people born between 1982 and 2000 are more diverse than any other generation of Americans, and about one-quarter of all Millennials are Hispanic
  • Hispanics represent the second-largest and second-fastest-growing racial/ ethnic group in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Hispanics represented 17.4 percent (55 million) of the U.S. population in 2014 and projects that Hispanics will represent 28.6 percent of the population by 2060

Broadening Values

“For too long, too much of corporate America has had a rigid and narrow view on the traits they view as positive contributions to their business, which has limited the awareness and appreciation of how Latinx values can positively impact an organization,” says Lorna Hagen, Chief People Officer at Guild Education. “In corporate culture, individualism is often much more prevalent than the Latinx value of community. We could all benefit from the creativity, kindness, and connection that comes with shifting the focus from ‘I’ and ‘me’ to ‘us’ and ‘we’.”

 

This cultural mismatch is evident in a number of statistics that reveal the unique challenges faced by Latinx employees in the workforce. A 2016 study from the Center for Talent Innovation, for instance, revealed the following:

  • More than three out of four (76%) Latinx employees expend energy repressing parts of their personas in the workplace. They are covering or downplaying who they are, modifying their appearance, their body language, their communication style, and their leadership presence.
  • Latinx employees who expend a great deal of energy repressing aspects of their personas at work are nearly three times as likely as those who expend less energy to strongly agree that they are being promoted quickly
  • The majority of Latinx employees (63%) do not feel welcome and included, do not feel invited to share their ideas, and/or do not feel confident their ideas are heard and valued.
  • The majority of employees overall (56%) say that leaders at their companies fail to see value in ideas for which they don’t personally see a need
  • 37% of all workers would turn down a promotion if they thought it would reduce time with their children or loved ones, or their commitment to their communities. That number rises to 39% among Latinx employees of Mexican/Central American descent, and 45% among those of South American descent
  • Among Latinx employees, 53% of women and 44% of men say that “executive presence” at their companies is defined as conforming to traditionally white male standards
  • Among Latinx employees, 43% of women and 33% of men say they need to compromise their authenticity to adhere to the EP standards at their companies

 

By adhering to narrow cultural practices and values, companies may miss out on huge opportunities and ideas, choosing familiarity and comfort over openness and creativity.

 

“The differentiator for Latinx is the understanding of the different cultures in an organization,” explains Michael Alicea, an experienced global HR executive (formerly Chief People Officer at NielsenIQ and currently a Public Board Member at Emerald Expositions). “That understanding leads to better communication and ultimately better outcomes.  I have seen it time and time again when organizations realize this capability and put it to work — it bears fruit.  At the end of the day, it’s about outcomes; we Latinx deliver outcomes.”

 

Towards Authentic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Paying lip service to inclusivity is easy. Turning those statements into concrete actions is where an organization can make or break its future. In some cases, it’s about hiring practices; in others, it’s about shattering a “linguistic glass ceiling;” in still others, it’s about overall culture within the workforce, from the C-suite on down. In all cases, though, it’s about overcoming existing preconceptions and norms that, intentionally or not, have disparate impacts.

 

According to a 2017 collaborative study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and NPR, 33 percent of Latinos have personally been discriminated against because of their ethnicity when applying for jobs, while 32 percent felt discriminated against when being paid equally or considered for promotions. In total, 78 percent of Latinos believe that there is discrimination against them today, 37 percent of whom believe that such discrimination is engrained in laws and government policies.

 

What can an organization do? “First the company needs to understand what DE&I means.  It’s more than a slogan. It’s about action, not signage. Actions and behavior create culture, collateral does not,” says Melissa Garza, the Chief People Officer at LogRhythm. Garza, who has over two decades of experience and is an executive sponsor for the company’s DE&I team, also emphasizes the need to see “cultural differences” as a plus, not a minus, in hiring. “Are you hiring people with the thought of ‘she doesn’t fit the culture’ versus ‘she can add to the culture’?  I think this is where the question of Latinx values can really be recognized and reflected as an asset rather than a disqualifier.”

 

Hagen agrees, laying out several specific starting points for organizations. “Look at the footprint externally and internally.  Does your company career page/website show DEI support or a Latinx presence? Do you celebrate things like Hispanic Heritage Month or have partnerships with Latinx focused organizations? How do you show that to the general public? Are your internal employees supported?  Do they have a sense of belonging? Are there Employee Resource Groups and support systems in place for them? These steps need to be holistic, wrap-around supports — not check box initiatives, and not siloed to one stakeholder.”

 

Hagen also notes the importance of accessible language and how it can unintentionally reinforce homogenous culture. “Cut out jargon and acronyms as much as possible — use terms that are clear and widely understood across functions, departments, and backgrounds. We also need to be cognizant of the expectations and competencies put in place around communication and ensure that they aren’t unintentionally discriminatory or biased against folks for whom English is their second language. What is truly required to get the job done, and what might be a system designed without considering other groups’ experiences?”

 

As Alicea points out, however, change has to happen at the top as well. “Corporate America is built around their established networks to find board members and key executives. Studies have shown that hiring managers are likely to hire people like themselves, so, with the lack of Latinx in the C-suite and the Board it is not surprising that there isn’t a broad understanding of what we bring to an organization,” he says.

 

He also notes, “Many Latinx [employees] don’t have built-in networks and mentors that can help them navigate the corporate environment… Having a robust DE&I function and policies that are clearly stated are key. Secondly, having Employee Resource Groups that can help build a network and community for employees is important.” A diverse and inclusive workforce benefits everyone, and it’s up to every organization to take change seriously to build a better future.

 

 

[1] See sidebar on terminology

 

By Ruben Moreno

 

About the Author

After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben Moreno and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.”  Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR Executive Search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of Chief HR Officers and Chief Diversity Officers and their respective teams — inclusive of leaders in Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, HRBP’s, Learning & OD, HR Technology, HR Operations, and HR Analytics. Ruben has helped place hundreds of HR Executives and built deep relationships within the CHRO community across multiple industry verticals. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their business and add value beyond executive search.

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