Hispanic and Latino professionals feel overlooked and underrepresented in corporate America, new study finds

Hispanic and Latino professionals feel overlooked and underrepresented in corporate America, new study finds
  • PublishedApril 11, 2024

Feeling seen and accepted, and having your skills and talents appreciated, are both key ingredients for job satisfaction and employee retention.

That’s one reason why it’s notable that a new study finds a full 40% of Hispanic and Latino/a professionals in corporate America say they feel it is necessary to change aspects of themselves to succeed at work.

The study, “More than a Monolith: The Advancement of Hispanic and Latino/a Talent,” comes from the nonprofit think tank Coqual, which seeks to address bias and uncover barriers to advancement for underrepresented populations in the workplace.

“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 Coqual CEO Lanaya Irvin.

The report’s findings were based in part on a survey of 2,385 full-time, US-based employees who had at least some postsecondary education or degree. They were also based on virtual focus groups and interviews with 100 Hispanic and Latino/a professionals and experts.

(Generally speaking, “Hispanic” refers to someone with Spanish-speaking ancestry, while “Latino/a” refers to anyone with geographic roots in Latin America, regardless of language.)

Stereotyped and overlooked

The study notes that while Hispanics and Latinos make up 19% of the US population they only represent about 8% of the professional labor force. And within corporate America, only 10% of managers and 5% of executives identify as Hispanic or Latino/a.

That lack of representation may be evident throughout a person’s career. “I’ve been at three different organizations since college and haven’t really been exposed to senior Hispanic or Latino/a professionals in executive roles, or even managing director roles, unfortunately,” said one Latino professional in finance.

When Hispanic professionals get their foot in the door, or even get promoted, many still find they are stereotyped, overlooked or underappreciated.

In recounting one experience, a Latina executive told researchers, “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.”

Among Hispanic professionals who said they had a sponsor or champion at work, more than two-thirds said their advocate “encouraged them to assimilate to office norms.”

Authors of the report note that such professionals often deal with indications that their communication style –- from accents and expressions, to tone and language — is “unfit or even unprofessional.”

For instance, they wrote, “expressing enthusiasm and passion is often evaluated by peers, clients and managers as ‘aggressive,’ and everyday communication is read as too emotional, causing them to limit their contributions.”

And speaking Spanish is often an underappreciated skill, the report suggested, noting “while some Spanish speakers said they are discouraged from communicating in Spanish at work, many are tapped for their language skills when it is convenient for their employer. Professionals told us they take on requests to translate internal and client-facing deliverables – sometimes requested late at night, last-minute and outside the scope of their job.”

Why retention may be a problem

The study found Hispanic and Latino/a professionals are 41% more likely than White professionals to plan to leave their companies within a year. More than a third (35%) said they were actively looking for a job.

And its findings suggest many of the youngest Hispanic and Latino/a professionals could be hardest for employers to retain if their pathways to success aren’t opened wider.

The Coqual study notes that within the next decade, Hispanics and Latinos will make up nearly eight out of 10 new workers. And it found that 57% of entry-level hires are dissatisfied with promotion rates at their employer, while 40% of mid-level managers said they don’t see opportunities for future growth.

“[Younger generations] are less likely to stick around and wait for it to happen,” said one Millennial Black Dominican study participant. Their thinking is, ‘If it doesn’t happen, then I can go somewhere else,’ the person explained, adding “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.”

Those in the older cohort may have done all they could to conceal their ethnicity to help ensure they rose through the ranks, according to one Latino CEO and corporate board member.

“[S]ome of us saw the option to be invisible as a smart strategy. We were playing the system, hiding our Latinidad,” the CEO said. And once they climbed the ladder, he explained, the thinking was, “Now I made it; I’m an executive. Should I come out as Latino? I haven’t yet, so will that affect me?”

All leaders, he suggested, “need to think about this as we strategize to fulfill this mandate for diversity and inclusion at the executive and board level. …[W]e all need to help the next generation have a different experience.”

As for how employers overall can improve the work experience and sense of belonging for Hispanic and Latino/a professionals?

Coqual suggests, among other things, that they redefine professionalism, reward linguistic diversity, and welcome conversations about race and ethnicity.

In addition, the think tank encourages companies to focus more on increasing diversity, strengthening sponsorships of Hispanic professionals and endorsing and funding affinity groups.


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