September 29, 2022

Hispanic Heritage Month. What Great Looks and Sounds Like.

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The importance of Language and Culture in the Workplace

Hispanic Heritage Month is quite enjoyable for some of us. It is the time of the year in which it is “cool” to be Hispanic or of Hispanic Heritage.

In the workplace, we see the 3F’s being honored, Hispanic Flags, Hispanic Foods, and Hispanic Fun.

While I do appreciate it, enjoy it, and gives me a sense of pride, to me it is also an invitation to reflect on some of the not so cool things about being Hispanic in today’s workplace.

Representation, YES, we are everywhere, but unfortunately our representation is mostly at the entry level. While we have very similar graduation rates as white Americans for some reason it is still harder for us to get to manager and director level positions.

To get ahead, get a promotion, fit the “corporate” mold, we usually must spend a great amount of energy suppressing who we really are. The idea of being authentic is not that effective for us.

In my work, as DEI and Culture Trainer, I often ask students what Executive Presence looks like. I encourage them to type anonymously whatever comes to mind. White and Male are usually the two most common responses. As companies are trying to become more inclusive and promote diversity, I would like to extend an invitation to let go stereotypes and consider a new version of Executive Presence. One that is not based on gender and race but on qualities like commitment, confidence, creativity, determination, and curiosity.

Psychological Safety exists when people feel their team is a place where they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions. That measure of how threatening or rewarding it is to take personal risks at work. Workplace cultures that have a high tolerance for differences and uncertainty can promote a sense of belonging. It might seem easy to tell employees to voice their opinions, but for Hispanic and other underrepresented employees the narrative sounds like this:

Use your voice - but not too loudly because it sounds aggressive Be bold - but not too bold because it looks unprofessional Pursue excellence - but not beyond existing limits

Unconscious Bias is a process, and it builds overtime, since childhood we tend to trust people who look, and sound like us. In the workplace, if a Hispanic employee is working for a Non-Hispanic manager, when the time for a promotion arises the Non-Hispanic manager will be more inclined to promote the employee that looks and sounds the same as him/her/them. Obviously, this is not a display of ill intent, or racism, unconscious bias manifests in the workplace unintentionally, it is up to business leaders to put in place the appropriate measures to identify and mitigate biases in the hiring and promotion processes to create a culture of equity.

Hispanic Behavioral Drives. It is common knowledge that Hispanic culture characterizes for being expressive, and highly connected. These characteristics make us wonderful additions to parties, gatherings, and celebrations, but in the workplace that expressiveness tends to be a challenge for others. We are expected to get every Happy Hour going, we are the Life of the party, but remain confirmative at company meetings even if we have something valuable to contribute. Another behavioral drive is collectiveness, defined as our preference to receive praise and criticism in a group setting. We believe that credit and criticism belong to the team, we work hard so that our TEAM gets attention and rewards but in the traditional workplace individualism is the way to go. Individuals are encouraged to seek credit to move their career forward we, Hispanic Employees, would benefit from coaching from mentors and allies to effectively navigate the nuances of the traditional workplace.

Moments of value are elevating, legitimizing, and humanizing for underrepresented employees. Instead of planning the next Taco Night, lets think about creating moments that lead to positive change. Moments that allow ALL of us to embrace our differences and develop a deep sense of purpose and connection in the workplace.

Understanding that workplace culture happens whether we focus on it or not is the best lesson we can take from this Hispanic Heritage Month. As employers, business leaders, business owner, and culture creators, leaning into our people is the real secret to success. Becoming Intentional about the culture we want to promote is the best way to generate authentic employee engagement and discover what different employees might want and need to feel purpose driven and not just part of a stereotype that is celebrated once a year.