Why Diversity and Inclusivity Is Good for Latinos and Your Business

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Three ideas that can help support this “intentional diversity,” as he calls it, throughout the business.

When speaking at a World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Cid Wilson, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), described an often overlooked consumer market.

He recalls saying, “Imagine an entire country that has the eighth largest economy in the world at roughly 2.3 trillion dollars of gross domestic product that’s growing faster than every other single G20 country, has no sovereign debt risk, has a strong regulatory structure, has very little risk of experiencing a government coup d’état, is English-language  dominant, and whose average age is 27, meaning there’s years of community growth yet to come. Would you invest in a global strategy for a country like that?  Of course, everyone is likely going to say, ‘My God, that’s a no brainer.’  Well, I just described to you the U.S. Latino community.”

Culture Over Profits

That companies don’t more effectively—if at all—reach out to this population, which is estimated to drive nearly a quarter of the U.S. GDP, is a shame. Part of it may have to do with internal operating cultures, which many executives don’t want to change, citing current business success. This, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, however, is short-sighted, especially as changes to U.S. demographics become increasingly apparent, with Latinos now representing one in five people in the country, a statistic that’s only sure to grow.

“Culture is one of the most difficult things to change at a company because it’s usually governed by the board of directors, and they decide who to hire as CEO, who may in turn further act as a guardian of the culture,” Wilson says. “Indeed, some companies will sacrifice business growth to maintain their culture, resisting change by saying, ‘No, this is how we’ve done business here for the last 50 years.’ I know that that sounds counterintuitive, but some companies will guard their culture more than they guard their profits.”

By not changing their cultures, they’re missing out on not only increased revenues, but also the wealth of ideas, experiences and perspectives that can be gained by increasing workplace diversity as offered, for example, by the Hispanic communities. On the other hand, organizations that have been and are open to that cultural change have a great deal to gain, including a more competitive stance.

Starting and Building a Career

As things stand now, however, there are still many roadblocks to delivering a truly diverse, inclusive and equitable working environment that includes vital Hispanic participation, input and leadership.

Per a new survey from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), these include:

  • The opportunity challenge: Younger Hispanic leaders are not getting the same advancement opportunities as their more senior colleagues. While 41 percent of the Hispanic executives surveyed say they have benefited from formal mentoring and on-the-job training, only 26 percent of junior managers say they have access to these mentorship programs and only 31 percent say they have access to workplace training. Perhaps as a result, only one in five junior managers say they feel empowered to overcome professional challenges.
  • The discrimination challenge: Eighty-seven percent of Hispanics say they’ve experienced prejudice because of their race. And 70 percent of junior leaders say they have to work harder to succeed because of their identity. That doesn’t change much over the course of a career, with 63 percent of all Hispanics saying they continue to work harder because of their identity, no matter how high they climb on the leadership ladder.
  • The gender challenge: For Latinas, all of the hurdles faced by Hispanics—and by women in general—are amplified. Among other things, they are paid significantly less than other groups, and 82 percent of poll respondents say Latinas don’t get the respect they deserve.

“When Hispanics enter the workforce, it’s important to ensure that they, and other minorities, have the support they need to start and build a career,” remarks Maria Bartolome Winans, current Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl and former Chief Marketing Officer, IBM Americas Marketing. “Mentoring and sponsorship—especially for younger professionals—has to be an absolute priority, and there has to be a deliberate effort to create a pipeline of young Hispanic leaders.”

Wilson has three ideas that can help support this “intentional diversity,” as he calls it, throughout the business:

First, diversity and inclusion cannot be only the chief diversity officer’s job. Rather, the chief diversity officer should be the quarterback of an entire companywide diversity and inclusion strategy. This should be led by the chief executive officer so the message is clear that diversity and inclusion are integral to the business’s entire strategy and structure.

Second, every company should have a diversity-focused executive advisory council chaired by the CEO. This hands-on approach by the CEO again stresses the challenges and opportunities involved in strengthening overall diversity and inclusion.

Third, there must be active mentorship and sponsorship support strategies at the executive level. Many mentorship and sponsoring programs are targeted at junior to mid-level employees, but there must be executive-level sponsorship so success stories can be shared at the highest levels of the company, allowing individuals who are demonstrating desired skills to be clearly identified and put on track for a future C-suite executive position.

Bartolome Winans largely agrees with that C-level participation in diversity and inclusion programs is a must. “Leaders need to be visible advocates for change, starting with the board of directors and the C-suite,” she says. “Campaigns should be created where senior leaders and managers share their commitment with employees through meetings, emails, blogs, podcasts, videos or webcasts. This encouragement will enable other employees to engage and voice what they can do personally to support the cause.”

Active Participation

But this is only part of the diversity and inclusion equation. Hispanics need to actively advocate for themselves. For example, they should become comfortable with demonstrating ambition and knowing what they deserve in their jobs. They should look for leaders and allies who can advocate on their behalf for equity and broader opportunities.

They should also seek out formal mentorship and sponsorship programs, as well as employee resource groups, to help open doors along their journeys. Mentors can help provide valuable insights and advice. But note that mentors talk to people, whereas sponsors talk about them. As a result, Hispanic professionals need sponsors who will advocate on their behalf, particularly when promotion and appointment decisions are being made.

More Say and Influence

When everyone within a company comes together to promote a more diverse and inclusive working environment, the benefits to both Hispanic employees and the companies for which they work can be enormous. Wilson likens this to a profit-and-loss statement, on which a diversity argument could be made on every line item of an income statement.

That could include multicultural marketing, making sure provided goods and services are connecting to a diverse audience. For example, if a company wants to cater to a Latino audience, a cultural connection has to be made, whether that’s by making sure the products are audience acceptable, the marketing language and visuals are culturally specific, or that other related cues, including from where a product has been sourced, appeal to the company’s intended customers.

“You’d want to consider whether your product planners, marketers and suppliers have aligned with your strategic diversity and inclusion efforts,” Wilson notes. “Are they conscious of the culture?  Are they multilingual, bilingual? Are they staffing the right personnel for their intended markets? Ultimately, both internally and externally, the money you invest in developing a diverse and inclusive staff will pay for itself and increase your market reach without offending anyone.”

As diversity and inclusivity programs take hold, it’s likely there will be an increase of Hispanics in crucial strategic and leadership roles. This obviously won’t happen overnight, but that so many fair-minded people and organizations are taking notice is a solid step in the right direction, giving a greater number of undervalued populations more say and influence over their own futures and that of their companies.

Related content:

‘Nuestra Historia’ – Exploring the Latino Contribution to American History [Video]

Cultural Beliefs Latinos Need to Leave Behind to Achieve Financial Success

Latino-Owned Businesses Also Need to Put Diverse Hiring into Practice


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