Think tank report | Hispanic & Latino employees are being forced to "mask their heritage" to succeed in corporate America

Hispanic & Latino employees are being forced to

Most Hispanic and Latino employees say they must downplay aspects of their personality to succeed at work amid other major barriers to advancement in corporate America, a study from Coqual has found.

The think tank’s report, ‘More than a Monolith: The Advancement of Hispanic and Latino/a Talent,’ draws on research from over 2,300 full-time employed professionals in the US, and reveals several alarming challenges for Hispanic and Latino workers including pay inequity, discrimination, and the need to mask their heritage to achieve career progression.

Hispanic and Latino individuals make up 19% of the US population, but only around 8% of the professional labor force, and just 5% of executives identify as Hispanic or Latino/a.

According to the study, 68% of Hispanic and Latino professionals with a sponsor – someone who is meant to promote their career and push for others in the business to recognize their work – have been encouraged by their sponsor to assimilate with office norms.

40% say it is necessary to change aspects of themselves to succeed at their company, reporting they are frequently told they are too emotional or expressive, too loud, and to be more agreeable.

The report also concludes the “white-passing-ness” of Hispanic and Latino workers may influence whether they feel accepted by others or represented in company leadership.

“Our findings illuminate hurdles Hispanic and Latino professionals face, including the undue pressure to mask their authentic selves and heritage in pursuit of success," said Lanaya Irvin, CEO of Coqual.

One Latino CEO and corporate board member told researchers they took this approach.

“There is plenty of Latino talent. Exceptional Latino talent. But some of us saw the option to be invisible as a smart strategy. We were playing the system,” they explain, adding that action is needed. “We need to think about this as we strategize to fulfill this mandate for diversity and inclusion at the executive and board level – and we all need to help the next generation have a different experience.”

Many Hispanic and Latino workers are forced into becoming ‘invisible’ due to discrimination, and the desire to fit in and succeed. 21% of Hispanic and Latino professionals say colleagues make negative comments to them about immigration or immigrants regularly, and nearly a quarter (23%) say they hear colleagues express stereotypes about Hispanic or Latino people at least monthly.

One study participant, a Latina Exuctive, shares an example of the discrimination she has experienced in her career. “I was wearing khaki pants and a blue shirt. Someone approached me and asked, ‘Excuse me, are you with the cleaning crew?’ No, I’m not. I happen to be a Director.”

The study finds the discrimination extends to management practices, with 42% of Hispanic and Latino professionals reporting they are micromanaged compared to 25% of their White, non-Hispanic or Latino counterparts.

As well as being harmful to the individual, this pressure is also damaging communities within companies, with 42% feeling they are not seen truly as Hispanic and Latino by other members of the Hispanic and Latino community at their company.

The issue of intersectionality

The report also takes an intersectional lens when examining the issue, finding that women and non-White Hispanic and Latino workers are particularly disadvantaged in the workplace, including pay inequity, leadership representation, and discrimination.

45% of Hispanic and Latino women say their company doesn't pay them an appropriate wage, though the figure is still staggeringly high for men at 25% of H/L men who say the same. And whilst a concerning 19% of Hispanic and Latino men say their salary does not allow them to support their dependents, the number jumps to 40% for Latinas.

Black Hispanic and Latino professionals also say they are told racism is over (25%) more frequently than other workers (8%). Moreover, 65% of Hispanic and Latino professionals who are perceived as White feel well represented in company leadership, compared to 46% of those perceived as Black.

“It does influence which Latinos get career visibility. We were at a [Latino corporate] event where we saw no Afro-Latinos represented. It was a bit triggering to us. Afro-Latino experiences and stories—there is no space for those here," a Black Dominican woman told Coqual’s research team.

The impact of systemic and cultural barriers to Hispanic and Latino professionals

Whilst many Hispanic and Latino professionals have understandably taken the decision to mask their heritage in a bid to succeed in corporate America, many workers – particularly younger generations – may not accept working in companies with cultural barriers to Hispanic and Latino career advancement.

Coqual’s research found that Hispanic and Latino professionals are 41% more likely than White professionals to plan to leave their companies within a year, and estimates that in the next decade, nearly eight out of every 10 new workers will be Hispanic and Latino. 57% of entry-level Hispanic and Latino hires report dissatisfaction with their current options for career progression.

“For younger generations, there’s a demand and an urgency that will propel the work forward in ways that we haven’t been able to,” a Millenial Black Dominican professional said. “They’re less likely to stick around and wait for it to happen. ‘If it doesn’t happen, then I can go somewhere else.’ That’s not something that people did. You just stayed at jobs because you were grateful you had access. I think those generational differences are really significant because we’re often grouped as one collective.”

The report makes several recommendations to employers, breaking advice down into two categories. Firstly, Coqual encourages companies to pursue culturally inclusive leadership practices including redefining professionalism, validating and rewarding linguistic diversity, and welcoming conversations about race and ethnicity.

Secondly, it advises employers to strengthen organizational & structural policies. Practices here include improving company-wide terminology and self-ID campaigns, focusing on structural diversity, providing support for work visa and DACA recipients, strengthening sponsorship offerings, endorsing and funding affinity groups and powerful networks, and partnering with experts.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.