Advancing Latino Talent in the Workplace

As Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15) reminds us, Latinos have a lot to celebrate. Latinos will account for 80 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force’s growth between 2012 and 2022. At the same time, the Latino consumer market is exploding: Over 57 million strong, Latino consumers represent almost 18 percent of the U.S. population. At over $1 trillion, the buying power of U.S. Latinos exceeds the GDP of Spain and Australia. According to a recent report from NERA (National Economic Research Associates), Latinos are the key to making America rich again.

Yet this growth in talent and marketplace has not been reflected in the leadership of U.S. companies: Latinos represent barely two percent of directors of boards of Fortune 1000 companies. Research by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) shows that while the Latino talent pipeline is rich, many Latinos who should be on track for leadership roles are stuck and stalled.

Why isn’t Latino talent rising?

One major hurdle to Latino success, the CTI report Latinos at Work: Unleashing the Power of Culture found, is that most Latinos (63 percent) feel excluded from white-collar workplaces, reporting micro-aggressions like colleagues being unaware of their credentials or having their name mispronounced. Seventy-six percent of Latinos expend energy repressing part of their personas in the workplace, covering or downplaying who they are, modifying their appearance, their body language, their communication style, and their leadership presence.

Many Latinos who rise to leadership check their heritage at the door for a simple reason: Those who spend a great deal of energy repressing aspects of their personas at work are nearly three times as likely as those who expend less energy to say that they are being promoted quickly. Fit in, the feeling is, or risk stalling out.

Yet repression undermines an organization’s ability to diversify its leadership pipeline. When anyone is forced to hide their authentic self to rise to management, they are at risk of smothering their unique strengths. The same is true for Latinos. Furthermore, incoming or up-and-coming Latino talent is motivated to look elsewhere for employment. As a member of a Latino employee resource group at a major U.S. corporation confided, “I look up, see no one like myself, and have to wonder if there is a future here for me.”

The fact is, organizations need Latino talent -- and they especially need Latino talent unafraid to bring their full selves to work. Other CTI research shows that teams with one or more members who represent the culture of the team’s target end user are 158 percent more likely to understand that end user, increasing the likelihood of successfully innovating for that audience, enabling companies to improve existing market share and capture new markets. The Latino market, notes the Nielson report From the Ballot Box to the Grocery Store, is “widely recognized as a cornerstone of any growth initiative for virtually all U.S. industries.” No company can afford to ignore the imperative of developing Latino talent.

To tap into this rich talent pool, leaders and managers need to become “culture smart” about creating an inclusive workplace in which Latino talent thrives. Here are a couple of ways that companies tackle this challenge:

Start early. Among Latinos, sponsorship is particularly crucial in invigorating ambition and driving engagement: Latinos with a sponsor are 42 percent more likely to be satisfied with their rate of advancement than Latinos without sponsors. Yet only 5 percent of Latinos have a sponsor, compared to 13 percent of their white counterparts.

Knowing that sponsorship is a key retention tool, in 2011, EY introduced EY Unplugged. EY identified three chief reasons to explain low rates of engagement and retention among people of color, especially at the crucial promotion from experienced staff to manager: lack of visible black and Latino role models in partner positions; lack of complete awareness and understanding of the “unwritten rules” of career success; and confusion about how to learn those rules. The Unplugged program engages recently hired people of color right from the start of their careers to provide a solid foundation for their long-term success at the firm. The core of the program is the exchange of candid questions and honest answers and advice between new entry-level staff and black and Latino top performers, partners, principals, and mentors. “These recruits come from great schools and programs, but they need an extra push to be successful,” says Ken Bouyer, EY’s Americas Director of Inclusiveness Recruiting. “We want to remove the barriers as much as we can. We want to maximize their time at the firm.”

Make connections. How does one company go about connecting employees across 50 states and 35 countries? Wells Fargo’s three-day Latino Diverse Leaders program brings together high-potential members of the company’s widely dispersed Latino population to deepen their leadership skills. “We introduce people who might never meet each other otherwise,” explains Vanessa Walsh, head of talent development and organization effectiveness.

Each day of the program covers a different theme -- lead yourself, lead the team, and lead the business -- each with a focus on developing the strengths of the participants’ Latino cultural background. “Our intent is to invest in and grow Latino leadership,” says Walsh. “We are committed to helping those leaders build their careers with us.” The results are clear: Retention rates for participants are 19 percent higher compared to other groups at the same level (76 percent versus 64 percent) and promotion rates are a full 60 percent higher. In addition, Wells Fargo also has a Latin Connection Team Member Network (TMN). With more than 11,900 members and 40 chapters, the TMN provides a way for talent to connect, leverage, learn and build their skills.

Even as Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the achievements of Latinos in the U.S., the recent rescinding of the DACA program emphasizes the importance -- indeed, the emphatic necessity -- of recognizing the significant contributions Latinos have made to our country, our culture, and our economy. It’s more crucial than ever for companies to become “culture smart” and create a workplace in which diverse talent thrives and succeeds.

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