The American workplace is becoming more diverse. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculated that 14.8 percent of the U.S. labor force was Hispanic in 2010. That number is expected to jump to 18.6 percent by 2020—which translates to roughly one in five workers. While many see such diversification as a positive development (and it is in many ways), it doesn’t automatically lead to a utopian, racially integrated environment.
This article discusses some of the positive contributions Hispanics can make to workplaces, ways in which you can maximize and reward productivity, and considerations you must give to ethnic and color tensions that may exist among employees who share the “Hispanic” ethnic designation.
A family affair
Whenever we have started a new job, my husband and I have taken our daughter and parents to the office for a tour. We are in our 40s, and we still do it. We also outfit our family with the new employer’s swag—e.g., shirts, hats, and umbrellas. This exemplifies one of the most important values of our Hispanic or Latino culture: family.
For the most part, Hispanics will not compartmentalize their lives—work, friends, family. Rather, everything will revolve around and become part of the family. This sentiment can be a great asset for employers. By involving Latino workers’ families in corporate events or having a supervisor speak well about an employee to his spouse, parents, or even children, you can greatly increase job satisfaction, productivity, trust, loyalty, and retention, and even engender teamwork among employees from different groups.
In fact, family integration is one of the main reasons why employees in the Latino America region express some of the highest level of job pride in the world. There, even employees in manufacturing, the lowest-scoring industry in the United States, rate their employers highly. Family integration practices are relatively simple and inexpensive to implement, even for U.S. employers, and can yield great rewards in terms of job satisfaction and performance.
The Hispanic “business is part of the family” belief isn’t without its faults, however. Many Hispanic workers, especially first-generation ones, expect employers and supervisors to serve a paternalistic role and operate within a structured hierarchy. Workers may expect their supervisors to consider and take care of their personal needs as well as the personal needs of their families, provide moral support, and protect and stand up for them during difficult times. Further, the expectation is that they will receive this treatment without asking for it and in recognition of their good work.
Be aware of cultural differences
In the Latin culture, the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease—it gets replaced—and humility is a highly valued trait. As a result, Latino workers are not as likely as other employees to speak up and ask for things such as support, accommodations, training, raises, and even promotions. Furthermore, Latino workers are less likely to contribute business ideas unless they are specifically asked. That can pose some challenges if questioning ideas or requesting accommodations or promotions is considered a measure of leadership, confidence, and ability.
Employers and supervisors in the United States should consider these traits and expectations when managing and evaluating Latino workers. Proactively seek Latino employees’ input about business plans and their job needs to retain them and fully benefit from their skills.
Finally, while many employees who are Hispanic do in fact share some traits, it’s important to recognize that this ethnicity designation encompasses people from numerous countries, spread over two continents, with a lot of history. The United States didn’t invent slavery. It’s estimated that of the 10 million enslaved Africans brought to the Americas, 4.6 percent landed in the United States, and 90 percent were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean. And while there was more race mixing in Latin America than in the United States (European white, black, and Native Indians), the shade of people’s skin has at times served as a basis for discrimination among Latinos.
When traveling on business through Latin America, people often will note how the higher you go in an organization’s hierarchy, the “lighter” or “whiter” people look, and the lower in the hierarchy you go, especially on the manufacturing floor, the “darker” or more “Indio” people look. That has also resulted in national origin discrimination among Latin American countries. People from countries with more of a white-European influence may consider themselves superior to those from countries with higher black or “Indio” populations.
What does that mean for workplaces in the United States? You cannot assume that you won’t have race or national origin discrimination issues if you pursue “diversity” by employing a large number of employees who identify as Hispanic. Also, you cannot assume that such diversity will serve as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit.
The so-called diversity defense is based on the idea that having a large number of workers who belong to a certain ethnic group can establish that there is no discrimination against that group in the workplace. But while the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 1976 case, Castaneda v. Partida, that a statistical lack of diversity in a workplace can establish bias, it hasn’t ruled that the contrary is true. The Court has explained that statistical differences in cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are relevant when there is gross underrepresentation of racial minorities because American racial history has shown that it’s more likely than not, absent any other explanation, that the underrepresentation is tied to discrimination.
However, the Supreme Court has rejected the idea that no bias can exist when an employee worked in a group that included several members of the protected category. Nonetheless, a few misguided employers and courts have erroneously suggested that there is a diversity defense available in these situations. In the case of Latino workers, with their diverse views and national origin tensions, that is a dangerous position on which to rely.
The good news for employers is that in-group discrimination, particularly among Hispanics, is still a complex issue to prosecute. For example, such a claim may require expert testimony to explain interethnic biases, present social science data supporting the theory, and demonstrate its applicability to employment discrimination. However, as the Latino population grows in the United States, courts will likely treat such cases as typical discrimination lawsuits that require less proof and agree to take judicial notice of the existence of this problem. As a result, employers must be proactive in understanding the issues and developing and implementing practices that will minimize the likelihood of interethnic discrimination among Latino workers.
Glianny Fagundo is an employment and business litigation attorney at Taylor English Duma LLP. She is a founder of the National Latina Business Women Association-Atlanta and the past president and current chairperson of the Georgia Hispanic Bar Association. She may be contacted at email@example.com.