The Emerging Latino Leader
Many organizations recognize that Latinos and Latinas can contribute to corporate life in immeasurable ways. Some realize that diverse perspectives at the employee, managerial, and executive levels can bring fresh ideas, energy and innovation. Prior to the economic crisis of 2008, Latinos and Latinas are becoming a market force in the United States, to a projected $1.3 trillion estimated buying power by 2013. And the Latino labor force was expected to grow by 30 percent to reach 27 million by 2016, whereas the non-Latino labor force was projected to grow by only 5 percent.
However in its Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that Latinos represent 7 percent of the workforce in management, business, and financial operations occupations. Indeed, certain industries have relied on Latinos to grow or competitively sustain their operations. Why haven’t Latinos and Latinas made huge strides in the corporate world? Why are the numbers still low, and what are the challenges they face? Many organizations recognize that they don’t have an adequate number of Latino leaders and they want to know what they can do to change this to their advantage.
Why aren’t there more Latinos at the top?
The reality is that the odds of making it to the top are always slim, regardless of one’s background. Certainly, it is not the lack of talented individuals; rather, the answer has more to do with business strategies and learning how to position, develop, and advance Latino leaders. Latinos are not making it to the top fast enough because of the challenges they have to overcome, including managing corporate politics, obtaining visible positions, and finding role models. Here are key challenges that you will find in my book Latinization and the Latino Leader, how to value, develop and advance Latino professionals.
Divided Between Two Cultures
Latinos and Latinas spend their lives caught between two cultures, two identities, and in some cases, two languages. Home is where their hearts and minds were formed; work is where they aspire to be leaders. Identity issues become more complex when you take into account differences among first, second, or third generation Latinos. The first generation exhibits more Latino cultural traits and speaks Spanish as their primary language. The second generation frequently learns about Latino culture from their parents, but lives in a different social and business context and reality. The third and later generations possess limited knowledge of Latino culture, heritage and traditions, and transmit little of it, if any, to their children and their cultural context.
Educational Does Not Equal C-Suite Jobs
As we all know, education is the great social equalizer. Latinas are demonstrably eager to be successful and advance in the workplace, and they are looking for opportunities to take a more active role in their chosen fields, seeking out companies that provide the training and support they sometimes feel is lacking in the workplace. As part of their efforts to increase opportunities, Latinas are making an effort to further their education, but seeing no return on their investment. The rate at which Latinas are earning college (and graduate) degrees has risen more rapidly over the past ten years than that of any other racial or ethnic group. In a recent study I conducted for the National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI), 40% reported having earned a master’s degree. However, half of the women holding master’s degrees stated that the minimum level of education required for their job was a bachelor’s degree. Given the high numbers of Latinas attending college and graduate school, one might wonder whether this finding suggests that Latinas have struggled to translate their advanced educations into C-Suite executive-level jobs. According to the Alliance for Board Diversity (ADB), Latinos hold less than 2 percent of the 5,500 Fortune 500 board seats; despite comprising 15 percent of the nation’s population.
Minority and Latinos in general have made a lot of progress thanks to the Women’s Rights movement, the Civil Rights movements, the Glass Ceiling Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, and the support of many Anglo men and women in positions of power who embraced multiculturalism and the belief that America is founded by immigrants. However, discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation continues to be part of the fabric of American life.
Micro-inequities is a term that’s being used for small but hurtful discrimination and forcing people to assimilate. Bosses and peers sometimes deliver the direct or indirect message that Latinos must lose their accent and blend in order to get ahead. People are quick to appraise someone’s intelligence by their appearance. For Latinos this includes not only the way they look, the color od their skin but also the way they communicate, and how truthful the message is perceived. Accent might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers, eyewitnesses, actors, reporters, and news anchors. Foreign-born individuals like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger overcame his accent and secured the trust of voters. Antonio Bandera won the Oscar in 2005 and Penelope Cruz in 2009; Cristina Vergara in her supporting role in the comedy, Modern Family, has been nominated for several awards, just to name a few who have overcome this negative stigma.
A refined English accent and superior vocabulary is considered synonymous with a higher IQ, but is this the case? Perhaps it is the opposite. People from other cultures that read, write, and comprehend more than one language are more cross-culturally proficient. In July, 2010 the University of Chicago released a report about research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Shiri Lev-Ari and Boaz Keysar. The researchers found in a small study that people unconsciously doubt statements in accents that they find difficult to understand more than ones delivered in accents that are completely familiar. “Instead of perceiving the statements as more difficult to understand, they perceive them as less truthful,” the researchers said. On one hand, those whose accents are less well understood may experience more problems in communicating and therefore have less successful interactions, or avoid them completely, limiting their advancement in corporate America.