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Moving Beyond Hispanic Heritage Month: 4 Steps to Creating a More Inclusive Workplace

September is Hispanic Heritage Month, which is a great time to celebrate the wins and achievements of your Hispanic/Latinx employees. But attracting and retaining employees requires more than one week or one month of recognition.

Organizations need to intentionally create an inclusive workplace culture where employees feel safe to be their authentic selves and have equal opportunity for career advancement.

To learn more about how organizations can support Hispanic/Latinx employees, we sat down with Elaine Montilla, founder of 5xminority, TEDx speaker, and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for U.S. School Assessment at Pearson about her experience as a member of the Hispanic/Latinx community and the practices she recommends to create a more inclusive culture for Hispanic/Latinx employees.

What Challenges Do Hispanic/Latinx Employees Face in the Workplace?

America’s workforce has rapidly changed over the past two decades, and it now includes a growing number of Hispanic/Latinx employees across all industries. By 2050, the number of Hispanic/Latinx employees is expected to skyrocket, accounting for nearly 30% of America’s workforce.

This is great news in terms of creating diverse workforces, but companies have some distance to cover when it comes to securing equitable benefits that make a difference. Hispanic/Latinx employees have experienced their own set of challenges at work, particularly when it comes to health and wellness, so the onus is on employers to ensure their resources and benefits meet employees where they are.

Challenge No. 1: Lack of Hispanic/Latinx Role Models in Leadership Positions

One of the biggest challenges for Hispanic/Latinx employees is a marked lack of leadership representation, which is something Montilla feels strongly about:

“I don't think people realize how important it is for young Hispanic/Latina girls to see someone like me as the CTO of Pearson. It’s one of the reasons I took this job. I want these young women to see what’s possible for them. We just don’t have enough of that.”

elaine-montilla– Elaine Montilla, CTO for U.S. School Assessment at Pearson

According to Zippia, only 18.2% of all job recruiters are Hispanic/Latinx, further complicating the hiring/onboarding process for new hires. That means most applicants and new hires are dealing with recruiters who may not know how to properly assist or communicate. Without representation, candidates and employees may not feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the job interview process, let alone to the job itself once they are hired.

How do companies help turn that tide? Montilla suggests they start with the recruiting process.

Challenge No. 2: Having to Conform

Studies have shown a link between employee authenticity and job satisfaction, engagement, and performance. Often, many Hispanic/Latinx employees feel uncomfortable bringing their full selves to work and feel they have to “code switch” or take on “work-specific” personas.

Montilla shared that she used to embody this herself, where she would assume one role at work and another at home. It was the only way she felt she could advance in her career.

“When I first entered the workforce, I had to create different versions of Elaine,” Montilla says. “I naturally speak with a loud voice and use my hands a lot. That wasn’t viewed positively at work.”

However, once Montilla recognized how unsustainable it was for her to live two separate lives, she began to see that she could be the person to set an example for others:

“It took me years to realize that my voice wasn’t ‘loud.’ It was powerful. I saw that all the qualities I thought were holding me back were actually my superpowers. I stopped checking my authenticity at the door and started being a role model for the women around me and the young girls who would follow in my footsteps.”

elaine-montilla– Elaine Montilla, CTO for U.S. School Assessment at Pearson

Challenge No. 3: Experiencing Language Bias

When Montilla first came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 17, she didn’t know any English. After spending many years learning it, she still had a strong accent, which subjected her to a significant amount of discrimination in her career.

Instead of being impressed by a multilingual colleague who mastered the complex nuances of the English language, co-workers and recruiters made unfair assumptions about Montilla, something many Hispanic/Latinx employees also have to deal with on a daily basis.

Another language bias that Montilla and others have had to face is much more subtle:

“Before I was fluent in English, it took time for me to translate in my head what people were saying to me. That meant it took longer for me to answer questions I was asked. Many times, my co-workers simply wouldn’t wait to hear what I had to say. So, I lost my voice in many key conversations that had the potential to impact my career.”

elaine-montilla– Elaine Montilla, CTO for U.S. School Assessment at Pearson

This is a common source of frustration for non-native English speakers working in the U.S., especially when those missed opportunities are directly tied to salaries and opportunities for pay raises.

Challenge No. 4: Reduced Pay Grades

The pay gap for Hispanic/Latinx employees has always been a hot-button issue, but it has become increasingly worse over the years. In a March 2022 article from Luz Media, the depth of this pay gap is illustrated it in grim detail:

“In 2020, a Latina made 57 cents to a white man's dollar. According to the National Women's Law Center, this means a Latina would have to work until she is 90 years of age to make the same amount of money a white man would have made by the time he is 60. That gap has now fallen to 49 cents to the white man's dollar.”

The reasons for this dip in pay are numerous:

So if these inequalities are as prevalent as they are, what is management doing about it, if anything at all?

Challenge No. 5: Inconsistent Executive Support for Hispanic/Latinx Employees

There’s little doubt that senior leaders across industries are aware of the challenges Hispanic/Latinx employees face in the workplace and are having conversations at the highest levels.

And fortunately, several are taking action.

In some cases, company leaders are spearheading initiatives to recognize unconscious bias, such as when a Hispanic/Latina professional woman experiences consistent interruptions in a meeting. Leaders may have conversations with managers in their direct line to make sure Hispanic/Latinx employees are given the same opportunities and are considered for raises and promotions. There are even companies that have begun to look into how their recruitment process can include the type of representation that will attract Hispanic/Latinx employees.

However, that doesn’t mean those actions are being taken in every company—and there may be no formal plans in place. To be truly effective, companies will need to develop well-thought-out initiatives that include several elements.

Top 4 Ways to Become More Inclusive of Hispanic/Latinx Employees

As is the case with every marginalized community, company leadership must focus on the psychological safety of their employees and prioritize empathy as a cultural norm. By integrating the following best practices into your communication strategies and peer-to-peer dynamics, you can give Hispanic/Latinx employees the room to fully embrace their authentic selves at work, during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond.

1. Encouraging Uncomfortable Conversations

It can be tempting to discourage employees from asking questions that pertain to another’s cultural preferences, particularly when you consider the perceived repercussions of asking the wrong questions. However, when thoughtfully done, it may actually be the key to addressing what Hispanic/Latinx employees need to feel safe at work.

Montilla emphasizes the importance of having an open dialog to help employees understand other cultural perspectives and their fellow coworkers. This is especially true of managers who have the power and authority to help employees reach their professional goals:

“People are so worried about saying the wrong thing that they will sometimes opt to not talk to Hispanic/Latinx coworkers, which may leave those employees out of important conversations that pertain to project opportunities and advancement. It’s better to ask a question and risk being wrong than say or do nothing.”

elaine-montilla– Elaine Montilla, CTO for U.S. School Assessment at Pearson

2. Conduct Bias Training

One way to help employees get past their discomfort of asking questions is to address the elephant in the room—unconscious bias.

Most of the time, people don’t realize they have an unconscious bias until it’s pointed out to them. If that doesn’t happen, they will continue to repeat the same discriminatory behavior, even if they don’t intend for it to be harmful or offensive.

Anti-bias education and training should be a requirement across organizations to help employees identify where their biases lie so they can work past it. This is where a well-supported and fully-funded employee resource group (ERG) can add tremendous value by offering suggestions for training content and context, particularly as these topics can require employees to work through some deeply-rooted thoughts and habits.

3. Designate More Mentors and Sponsors

Representation is another key element in an inclusive culture.

In her Forbes article, “Five Ways Men In Tech Can Support Women As Allies,” Montilla talks about the impact one of her mentors made on her career trajectory. A simple suggestion that she take an exam to determine her technical aptitude sent her on a path that eventually led to her becoming the chief technology officer for a Fortune 500 company.

It’s this type of example that justifies why companies should designate more mentors and sponsors for all employees, particularly those in marginalized groups. Providing employees with a mentor who can help guide career decisions and advocate for advancement is essential in promoting a supportive, inclusive environment.

4. Include Representation in the Hiring Process

Companies will continue to struggle to attract diverse employees if they don’t change the demographic makeup of their hiring team. To truly welcome Hispanic/Latinx candidates into your organization, you can start by looking at who will perform the recruiting, hiring, and onboarding.

When a candidate moves through the interview process, the committee who performs and evaluates interviews should be diverse. This ensures all candidates are truly being considered equally and aren’t being penalized by the biases (conscious or unconscious) of your hiring team. It also reassures the candidate that people like them are welcome and have been promoted to leadership.

For more information about how your company can create a more inclusive culture, WellRight’s Wellness Consultants are available to help.

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