Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain and Latin America. October is that time of the year that inspires me to share what it means for me to be a Latina. I also want to unfold the multidimensionality of this topic from the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion – or DEAI- perspective so you can get ideas and inspiration to power up your leadership brand.
Sharing Your Own Story
I have been a first-generation Hispanic in the United States since 1996 when I moved to Texas with my family to pursue graduate studies and expand my career. For 26 years, my journey has been packed with life-changing experiences shaping my worldview and vocation. I started my path by experiencing a cultural shock. Feeling excluded sometimes, I felt the need to assimilate into the American culture. For example, when I shortened my name. I am differentiating in the latter part of my journey by embracing my uniqueness and fully accepting my diversity. I have found my voice in the middle of a continuum that starts with my cultural roots and ends with the realization that I call this place home. Yet, in the eyes of others, I will always be a foreigner, the Hispanic lady who speaks with an accent. And that is okay. I feel inspired to help career Latinas to succeed in the American workplace and that is a purpose that ignites my existence.
You are a success story because you have overcome many obstacles to get where you are. You are resilient, talented, and whole. What are those stories when you demonstrated that SÍ SE PUEDE?
Barriers to Embracing the Latin in You
In the Society
There are societal stereotypes that portray Hispanics in a certain way. For example, Hollywood’s most frequent female Hispanic characters are maids in tv and movies. Hispanic female celebrities are those bombshells pop culture idealize but do not fit the female beauty standard most Latin women embrace. The recent polarizing political climate, the social crisis of immigrants, political and economic deterioration in our countries of origin, and other more significant societal issues affecting Latinos impact the mindset and concerns of professional Hispanics and how the larger society perceives them. This fragmented misrepresentation of the culture erodes the identity of many Hispanics and creates a shadow in the heritage and positive impact of Latinx in American society.
Recognize those prejudices that most negatively impact you and be willing to initiate dialogues that expand intercultural awareness and shed some light on how those more significant societal issues affect you.
In the Workplace
The workplace for Latinos has similar structural barriers that impact other marginalized groups, an ingrained culture that favors traditional white male standards. Misrepresentation is loud and clear. Hispanics account for 80% of the US workforce growth between 2012 and 2022. Yet, Latino leaders represent only 2.3 % of the board members on the Russell 3000 index, according to Latino Corporate Directors Association. From this underrepresentation, Hispanic women represent about 6% of the workforce and only 1.3 of leadership. Misrepresentation matters because it negates access to those who are excluded from opportunities.
Organizations are in different stages in attracting, recruiting, developing, and retaining Hispanic talent. They might be looking for representation but not necessarily inclusion. No wonder 63% of Latinos did not feel confident in their ideas, heard and valued, and did not feel welcome and included, according to a study conducted by Latinos at Work.
In addition to external barriers, Latina leaders also experience internal conflicts that hinder their ability to rise. The most frequent dilemma comes when cultures collide and how hard it is sometimes to reconcile their culture of origin with the values and expectations of the American culture they navigate. This dilemma is more evident for first-generation immigrants – like me – who keep close connections with ‘home’ and feel emotionally tied to cultural values such as respect, kindness, teamwork, and family. Second generation Latinas are also living in two separate worlds but might gravitate more toward their American side while feeling the pressure to maintain connection and values to their family of origin. Not speaking Spanish with fluency is one of the most common dilemmas they face.
Latinas in leadership roles are more prone to feel they must work harder to prove themselves. They might experience a ‘Cultural Imposter Syndrome’ when they are the only ones who have made them that far from their cultural group, making them feel as if they are constantly in the spotlight.
This ‘Cultural Imposter Syndrome’ exacerbates after experiencing multiple micro-aggressions that erode their confidence. Many talented women who speak with an accent become self-conscious when others treat them as they are not smart enough – or accent bias-. As a result, they shy away from voicing their opinions in meetings and around senior management. In other words, they mute themselves, which limits their career growth. They might also struggle dealing with abrasive coworkers with direct styles or feel obligated to please rather than set boundaries. The cultural maps might get in the way of asserting at work.
Trust your own voice. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone to stand firm on your convictions, and setting the agenda as the leader that you are. You have what it takes, and your accent is beautiful because that means you are bilingual and many wish they would.
Explore Your Cultural Identity
Our identity is multidimensional and multifaceted for the Latinx community, packed with rich cultures and traditions tied together with a common language (Spanish & Portuguese) and ancestry. Some of us define our heritage by our family’s country of origin. While each person is unique, many Latin cultural traits can positively impact the workplace if we embrace them with intentionality. Some of them are: Approachable and conversationalist; comfortable in social situations, making it easy to network and build connections; a high tolerance to ambiguity and change; a strong work ethics; adaptability and resiliency; value for extended family; relying on traditions to get through hard times; and valuing education.
Exploring your core values allows you to leverage the positive aspects of your culture to foster pride and intentionally activate these important leadership assets in your repertoire. This richness of outlook can precisely model an executive presence that celebrates your cultural distinctions versus ascribing to the organization’s norms.
Reconciling Your Cultural Dilemmas
There are challenges and opportunities for being bicultural. Exploring one’s cultural values and sense of identity requires reconciling both cultures and recognizing how some cultural values can delimits our professional growth. For example, an orientation toward the greater good of Latin collectivism might interfere with someone’s ability to get ahead, articulating ambition and self-advocate. Modesty would not take you far because, in the workplace, you need to be able to communicate your accomplishments.
Finding your voice is a personal exploration of being willing to let go of what feels limiting. Being bicultural means learning to navigate parallel cultural realities and flexing your style while striving for a balance between yourself and others.
Balancing Assimilation & Differentiation
Out-group and In-group dynamics are mighty social forces because we have an innate need to belong. When we feel excluded, we might repress aspects of our personality or personal expression to fit. A study from www.talentinnovation.org revealed that most Latinos hide their identities and do not bring their whole selves to work. Assimilating to get ahead can be about modifying one appearance, body language, communication style, and leadership presence to fit a mold.
Managing the polarities of togetherness and differentiation will allow you to expand your sense of cultural identity to embrace the Latina in you. Recognize when it is okay to go on a solo trip by taking the risk of being different—stand firm with the conviction for what you believe is right without the pressure to conform. Only then can you lead authentically.
Power Your Leadership Brand
Latina leaders add significant value to the American workplace from four lenses: gender, culture, expertise, and leadership. When Latinas become more aware of their impact and contributions, they can significantly impact the people they lead. They can also better position their leadership presence with energy, and creativity.
In wrapping up my overview, I want to invite you to consider these recommendations using the acronym LATINA:
Leverage the positive cultural traits your culture offers.
Assess the barriers to inclusion and decide how to approach them.
Toot your own horn with confidence, knowing you have what it takes.
Ignite the emotional connection to your cultural roots.
Neutralize biases by sharing stories to expand intercultural awareness.
Activate a holistic identity to boost your self-image.
Embracing your cultural heritage enriches your leadership brand and invites others to explore their authenticity at work. Why not tap into your roots to ignite your presence with those values that feel close to home and make you feel alive?