Participating in a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion last year, the moderator asked me, “What unique obstacles impeding Latinas’ professional development are other women not aware of?”
Thinking about this question, I realized I have been writing, speaking and presenting on this issue for close to 15 years. I couldn’t imagine repeating, again, all of the specific headwinds I have encountered. Then, thinking more strategically about an answer, I realized the issue was bigger than my personal list of career obstacles.
I flashed back to a few years ago when I was asked to moderate a panel of Latina executives in the retail and consumer goods industry. The topic was steering your career and finding your passion.
A few weeks after agreeing to moderate, the host responsible for finding panelists called me, very concerned. She couldn’t find Latina executives to be panelists. Those she spoke to were not interested in participating. When a panel was finally put together, we discovered that each of these amazing women had one thing in common: They had all spoken publically about their business competency, but never about their careers as Latinas. They didn’t want to be seen as Latina, because they feared it would diminish their credibility as a leader.
This experience has haunted me. As a Latina, I see and feel the pressure to conform and to hide my authentic self. Latinas often feel that being Latina is somehow a negative in the workplace and to succeed they need to fully assimilate.
Hiding in plain sight
While many Latinas are comfortable talking about their leadership skills, many more are uncomfortable having conversations about the cultural traits that have helped them become successful. Not being able to express yourself or having an equal voice as others in the room is a significant headwind.
After the panel discussion, I read an article outlining a study by People en Español and Lieberman Research Worldwide, that supported what I believed in my heart to be true. Hispanic women are wary of appearing “too Latina” at work.
The vast majority of Latinas surveyed (80 percent) for the Latina@Work study said they want to be seen as who they really are at work, but tend to play down their accents and play up their collegiate backgrounds.
Simply put, Latinas believe being Latina is a barrier to advancement. The Hispanic women who responded to the Latina@Work survey were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic women to agree with the statement “I have to work twice as hard as my co-workers because of my cultural background.”
How do we individually, and as corporate leaders, create more inclusive and more even playing fields? My advice is to rethink how we mentor and how we build relationships inside and outside our companies. Do you understand others’ beliefs? Do you understand how you may influence others? How is your company working to improve the visibility of Latina managers?
For Latinas — for all women — bringing your “whole self” to work can be difficult. No one is going to give us permission to embrace our differences, our culture, our passions, if we don’t take the first step. So take that step.