Latinas are underrepresented in positions of leadership. A study from the Pew Center revealed that Hispanics occupy only over 4 percent of executive functions, and from that, only (1) percent are Latinas. One challenge is to understand the problems and obstacles women face in achieving vertical mobility in organizations and to what degree their work requires them to operate in a way that conflicts with their deeply held values.
National Hispanic Heritage Month opens a door of opportunity to highlight the many contributions Latina leaders bring to the American workplace from four lenses: gender, culture, expertise, and leadership.
The Gender Lens
Women bring many advantages to the workplace, such as networking skills, cooperation, sensitivity, and emotional intelligence.
In her article, Kristina Reddy points out that women have strong communication and networking skills that encourage collaboration and teamwork. Their sensitivity, intuition, and emotional intelligence help to create a well-rounded workforce. Women tend to decode verbal cues and body language quickly, and this quality makes them effective problem solvers. Women are great at inspiring and motivating employees at the workplace.
Society tends to describe some female traits as less desirable, such as women are ruled by emotion. It is essential to realize that being able to experience emotions in the workplace allows women to identify the nuances in the communication and use this additional information to create bridges in communicating the entire human experience in the workplace. This sensitivity allows women to better understand others’ emotions and can more effectively appeal to their unique needs, enabling them to perform better.
The Cultural Lens
Latinas in the United States struggle to navigate their dual cultural identity while managing work, home, and community demands. One cultural dimension from Hofstede is individualism vs. collectivism. In this sense, Latinas live and work in two worlds, acting as individuals in the workplace and holding their families and communities together.
In a positive sense, being bi-cultural creates an important resilience and a sense of ethnic pride, continuity, and cultural orientation. Being bicultural is essential for maintaining positive psychological and cognitive development, work performance, academic motivation, and successful family and community relationships.
Latin-Americans tend to be gregarious and socialize with ease. Latina leaders can thrive using their charisma to build relationships and maintain connections necessary for business success.
Latina leaders are resilient and can quickly adapt to change. Culturally, there is a belief and pride in having the ability to be strengthened by life’s challenges. “Querer es Poder.” “Si Se Puede.” Coming from countries with poor living conditions and social systems, Latins have developed great endurance to navigate the complexities of daily life, plus the stress of a new culture, strained family and work roles, and loss of extended family support. This grit or determination to persist in the face of obstacles and hardship is a great strength that Latinas bring to the workplace, fostering a sense of unity in the face of challenge and adversity.
The Expertise Lens
Latins have made positive strides in achieving educational goals in the last years in the United States. A high percentage of Latinas immigrants came to this country with college and advanced degrees or they have pursued high education in this country. In 2019, women made up a significantly higher share of Latino college students than men, 56% vs. 44%.
Bilingualism is a strength Latinas bring to the workplace that can further their careers. According to the Pew Center, 39.8 million Latinos spoke English proficiently in 2019. The number who speak Spanish at home has grown from 24.6 million in 2000 to 39.1 million in 2019. Communication in a second language is valuable, but relating to people from different backgrounds is equally essential. Being mindful and considerate of foreign customs and etiquette can go a long way to bridging the cultural gap.
As a coach, I work with many professional Latin women that display a strong success orientation. Many of them are Engineers and have Masters and relevant certifications. Bringing a solid desire for employment, education, and autonomy, more Latin women, are pursuing educational and career goals motivated by self-mastery and a personal sense of agency that differentiates them.
The Leadership Lens
Damary M. Bonilla Rodriguez conducted a study exploring the characteristics, positive influences, and barriers Latinas face in organizations’ leadership roles. Four essential characteristics identified were: creative, good listener, optimistic/positive, and passionate.
Do you identify with these characteristics? If not, what are your brand attributes that matter to you the most? Being intentional about the value-added you bring to the workplace will help you become a better leader.
Furthermore, study participants noted six crucial factors of positive influence on Latinas:
- Successful educational attainment.
- Participating in leadership training.
- Possessing self-confidence.
- Having role models.
- Religious influence.
- Family influence.
This study suggests that Latinas desiring to take on future leadership roles should do: 1) seek suitable matches for employment so they will be valued, 2) be persistent but know when to adapt, 3) be a risk-taker to overcome barriers, 5) accept that no one is perfect, 6) be grounded in your ethnic background, 7) understand that Latinas in the U.S. navigate two cultures, and 8) surround themselves with people who can serve as a role model or a mentor.
As a Latina leader, you can integrate these four lenses as important contributions that you bring to your workplace: Your gender, culture, expertise, and leadership style. You can create a leadership brand that takes the best of your two worlds as the bilingual and bicultural leader that you are!