The week after the 2016 election, my brilliant Costa Rican colleague and I met our new boss. The boss started off by saying how impressed she’s been with Donald Trump and how she felt people's concerns about him were overblown. I knew my colleague was worried about how the new administration would affect her as a Latin American and noncitizen. Given the boss’ lack of concern about Trump’s aggressive, insulting remarks about immigrants, this new work relationship was not off to a good start. It only got worse.
This is just one example of a white privilege microaggression toward people from Latin America.
In the U.S., National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 to October 15. It’s a time to celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
The Hispanic proportion of the U.S. workforce increased from 8.5% in 1990 to 18% in 2020, and it will grow to 21.2% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Within the last decade, 86% of all new U.S. businesses have been launched by Hispanics, with Latinas creating business six times faster than any other group.
If you have employees like my boss, above, and you lack a plan for respecting and integrating your Hispanic employees, you’re falling behind. Here are some easy ways to start:
1. Know your terms
Let’s begin with Hispanic, which means someone descended from Spanish-speaking countries.
A Latino or Latina is a man or woman of Latin American descent. Latinx and Latine have emerged as gender-neutral alternatives to Latino or Latina, which encompass Hispanic people from all racial backgrounds and those who identify as LBGTQIA+. The terms “Latinx” or “Latine” are not widely accepted though, especially among older generations.
Others prefer to identify themselves by their country of origin, similar to Native Americans preferring to be called by their Tribe or Black people disliking the term “BIPOC.” It’s more respectful when you name someone’s origin instead of lumping them together.
Ask your employees of Latin-American or Hispanic descent what terms they prefer.
2. Avoid cultural appropriation
In last year’s Great British Bakeoff Mexican-themed episode, the hosts wore ponchos and sombreros and made insensitive jokes. As we approach Halloween, this is a good time for my annual reminder to not appropriate other cultures.
Unless you are Latine, avoid:
Wearing Mexican or Indigenous traditional costumes or Chola style outfits
Getting culturally themed tattoos
Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos without understanding its deep cultural meaning
Using Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to party without participating in the cultural elements
3. Celebrate with culturally appropriate activities
Celebrating cultural holidays, traditions, and events can be a powerful way to show support. Ask your Latine employees for ideas, but avoid singling them out or requiring them to lead or participate.
Here are some ideas to consider:
Feature culturally inspired music, food, films, and art
Sponsor a book group with selections by Latine authors
Discuss Latine diversity, equity, and inclusion
Host an educational session led by Latine professionals
Celebrate the contributions of your Latine employees
Spotlight Latine businesses
Host company-wide celebrations and workshops, encouraging employees to share their own experiences and customs
Make sure your activities are respectful and inclusive. Do your research and check in with Latine folks to make it fun and educational.
4. Offer support to Latine employees all year long
Any attempt to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month will be inauthentic unless you work toward everyday inclusion. With their rich cultural heritage and diverse perspectives, Latine employees contribute significantly to the workforce. However, they face everyday prejudice and need specific support. This support could include:
Fostering cultural sensitivity and awareness. Educate employees about diverse cultures, traditions, and languages. Break down stereotypes and create a more inclusive atmosphere.
Addressing microaggressions and bias: Create a workplace free from discrimination and bias. Address and rectify microaggressions or unconscious bias. Implement policies and procedures for reporting and handling such incidents to ensure employees feel safe and valued.
Promoting language access and inclusivity. Provide translation services, bilingual materials, and language courses. Encourage a culture that values multilingualism so employees feel comfortable expressing themselves in their preferred languages.
Offering mentorship and networking. Create networking events, affinity groups, and mentorship programs that connect Latine employees and experienced professionals.
Promoting representation in leadership. Seek out and promote Latines to leadership positions to ensure their voices are heard at decision-making levels. Latines make up only 4.3% of executives, making the gap between the labor force and executive representation wider among Latines than any other group.
Offering flexible work arrangements. Provide remote work options or flexible hours to accommodate family or cultural commitments.
Providing professional development: Invest in your Latine employees’ professional growth. Offer training, workshops, and conferences and sponsor certifications or advanced degrees.
Supporting Latine people in the workplace is more than stopping microaggressions like my boss made. It's not just a matter of diversity and inclusion; it's an investment in your organization’s success and growth. By fostering cultural sensitivity, providing resources, and offering professional development, you can help Latine employees thrive.
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