Latinas represent an important and expanding source of talent as one of the fastest growing groups of women in the U.S. labor force. They also have one of the largest rates of growth in earning college degrees for any racial or ethnic group. In the restaurant segment of the Food Industry alone, Hispanic team members represent nearly one-fifth of all employees.
But many do not feel well understood, are not advancing into senior management and may have different needs than other women of color. Effective managers must understand both the barriers and cultural influences impacting Latinas to create workplaces that support their ability to thrive. National Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to delve deeper into how best to support these colleagues and build policies and practices that will enable more Latinas to advance into key roles.
Celebration and concern
Launched in 1968 by Congress to celebrate U.S. Latinos and their culture, Hispanic Heritage Week was expanded to National Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988. It begins September 15 to coincide with national independence days in several Latin American countries. Hispanics today make up nearly 20% of the U.S. population and accounted for 51% of the increase in U.S. population overall from 2010 to 2020.
Still, Latinas face the dual disadvantage of both sexism and racism at work. On average, they are paid 45% less than white men and 30% less than white women, according to research by McKinsey & Company. Even among those working in the same jobs, Latinas earn less than white men on average and the gap is largest among those with a bachelor’s degree.
Understanding culture and values
According to insights from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), companies that want to be an employer of choice for Hispanic workers need to understand the value placed on immediate and extended family, their culture and their desire for self-improvement. SHRM draws on the expertise of Miguel Joey Aviles, CEO of a talent management consulting firm, who spoke about the challenges faced by Hispanic workers at SHRM’s Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition.
“Family is the number one thing in our lives,” he said. “Workplace flexibility and a feeling that employers care about team members beyond the work they do are strong retention strategies. Our supervisors are important to us; we stay in a job where we feel we are part of a family,” Aviles said. “We love rotational assignments because it allows us to connect with other people as well as grow in our career. Coaching and mentoring are vital. Engagement is crucial because we crave relationships,” he added.
Aviles also stressed that Hispanic colleagues tend to have a strong desire to improve, advance and be promoted, and are often willing to relocate or make personal sacrifices to get ahead. In decision-making roles, Latina executives can also help businesses tap into the growing buying power of Hispanic community members and many Latina team members are bicultural and bilingual.
Need for greater support
COVID-19 has added to the challenges faced by women, especially women of color. McKinsey & Company research on how employees are coping with the ongoing stress of the pandemic found consistent concerns around workplace safety, work-life balance, mental health, decreased connectivity and decreased career opportunities. But the pandemic has amplified existing inequities and women of color feel these concerns more severely and more often.
Working in jobs that are especially vulnerable to furloughs and layoffs, as well as those that cannot be carried out remotely, creates additional stress. Sixty-five percent of Hispanic and Latinos in the United States work in the five economic sectors experiencing the largest drop in GDP during the pandemic, including hospitality, according to McKinsey’s research. The severe disruption caused by the pandemic is also an opportunity to think in new ways about how best to support Latina colleagues and other women of color, McKinsey urges. That includes:
Prioritizing DEI efforts by appointing well-respected executives to lead the charge and empowering them with budget and staff. Clarifying and tracking DEI efforts will help create much-needed accountability among senior leaders and better align financial incentives to progress against DEI goals.
Tackling newly-identified challenges across groups. Mental health concerns are an especially important area where companies can better support women, LGBTQ+ employees and women of color. Similarly, remote work can no longer be treated as an afterthought, but requires strategic thinking, performance parameters and technological and management support systems.
Raising your corporate voice on DEI issues. McKinsey’s research finds that employees expect their organizations to be vocal outside the corporate walls on their commitment to increasing DEI. That might include greater engagement with diverse suppliers, targeted giving in the community and proactive recruitment processes.
Leaders in the Food Industry have a special opportunity to connect with, better understand and open doors of opportunity to talented and ambitious Latina colleagues who are ready to rise to the next level with access to role models, professional networks and meaningful mentoring. That is something to celebrate this month and throughout the year.