For all the progress that has been made in DE&I, all of our group members have stories about times in our professional lives where we have been made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace. Mispronouncing our names. Jokes that lack contextual sensitivity. Getting mistaken for the only other woman in the office who has curly hair.
As our colleague above mentioned, progress on diversity, equity and inclusion is limited when your people cannot trust that they are in a safe environment to truly be yourself. When you don’t feel safe, the fear is that what makes us different — and fully embodying it while at work — could be misconstrued. Many of us worry that our language and/or accent, our hair and/or clothing, even our personal backgrounds (in which many are first-generation college graduates) could inadvertently have a negative impact on our standing at work.
To truly thrive, we believe Hispanic and Latin American employees need to trust that they can be themselves in a way that is free from personal and professional repercussion. Words and behaviors from co-workers and managers can go a long way in making this possible: not shying away from informed questions and honest conversations about our lives, even if we come from different places. Those day-to-day interactions can help all parties involved imagine a new way of engaging more meaningfully and positively.
For employees from underrepresented groups, it can often feel like the onus is on them to make the leap of faith that it’s okay to make themselves vulnerable. At the same time, we often feel like outsiders who are not invited to the conversation. In such a broadly diverse group as the Hispanic and Latin American community, we often feel a large burden to educate others about ourselves, our community and about some of the preconceived notions.
Personalized connection is the best way to bring down walls between people. Town halls and other convening events can bring together employees and help build the kind of culture that truly embraces diversity. But getting at the heart of what makes us unique as individuals is how we develop the openness that makes workplaces thrive. Seeing vulnerability from other colleagues and leaders can also create room for us to do the same. For example, one of our affinity group members recalled being inspired many years ago by hearing a white male colleague share the story of his background and upbringing in a poor community. Hearing his story and knowing that she wasn’t alone was inspiring and encouraged her to be more open about her own background.
Increase representation at the top
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.9 percent of the population is Hispanic and Latin American, yet the group accounts for only 4 percent of senior positions, according to the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility. It’s a stark contrast that plays out in the workplace, as diverse employee bases work for often-homogenous leadership teams.
Countless studies point to the importance of diversity in workplaces and leadership teams, and their connection to improved results. There are plenty of steps firms can take to increase diversity within their leadership teams — both by casting a wider net during recruiting efforts and by improving internal mentorship and leadership development programs. Companies can also make a greater commitment to expanding the criteria for their leaders, and not just relying on the same handful of educational and professional backgrounds that often favor those of a certain socioeconomic status, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Bring diverse perspectives into decision-making
Who is at the table for organizational decision-making and team development? This is a crucial guiding question when it comes to creating a safer space for Hispanic and Latin American employees as well as those from other historically underrepresented groups.
Inclusion goes hand-in-hand with equity. While roles and hierarchies will always exist within organizations, if every employee is treated with the same candor and respect, it is a first step to ensuring that members of historically marginalized communities can come into their virtual and in-person offices with a sense of openness. When people feel that they have a true say in important decisions, they are more likely to feel empowered, included and, therefore, more confident about bringing their true selves to work.
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Bringing your whole self to work requires being in a place you can trust. And creating that environment takes hard work — objectively demonstrating in deed and word that Hispanic and Latin American employees and others from underrepresented groups are not alone, that they are heard, and that they are welcome, appreciated, and embraced for who they are.