Honor Hispanic Heritage Month by Committing to Inclusion

Thursday was the first day of Hispanic heritage month, which celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The date is significant as it is the Independence day for five Central American nations – El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Mexican Independence is the 16th and Chile is the 18th. Dia de la Raza falls during the period (known in the US as Indigenous peoples day or Columbus day).

Hispanics represent the largest ethnic group in the United States – over 62 million people. It’s also the fastest growing at 23% versus the national average of 4%. 53 million people speak Spanish, making the US the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world (Mexico is first) and bigger than Spain itself. By 2050, it’s expected that nearly 138M people will speak Spanish in the US or about ⅓ of the population.

Count me in as someone who “sorta” speaks Spanish – with a lifelong goal of getting to fluency. I started learning Spanish during a semester of service learning in college that took place all over Central America. It started with language school and a home stay in the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala followed by service projects in Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Mexico. In business school, I did a semester in Barcelona taking some of my coursework in Spanish, which was quite an adventure given I knew the vocabulary for milking a cow, but not for accounting. I am headed to a language immersion program in Spain at the end of the month to keep plowing forward.

You can also count me in as someone who absolutely loves Hispanic culture. I am incredibly grateful to live in a country so influenced by our Hispanic neighbors, colleagues, and friends. I think we can agree that food has been one of the greatest contributions to life in America – from tapas to tacos. Music, whether it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Broadway, Carlos Santana or Selena, has been heavily influenced by Hispanic artists. Writers like Junot Diaz have given us a window into the Hispanic immigrant experience. The fact that soccer is now the 3rd most popular sport (behind baseball and basketball) for children is heavily influenced by the popularity of futbol in Latin America and Spain. Hispanic Americans are also very entrepreneurial, including the founders behind Zumba, Brightstar (now Sprint), and Honest Company.

Hispanics also form a backbone of the US workforce, particularly in essential jobs like healthcare, retail, agriculture, and services. As a result, the Hispanic population bore a huge brunt of the impact of COVID-19, both in job losses and rates of infection. Latinos in particular were nearly 3X more likely to die of COVID. Of women who lost jobs during the pandemic, 45% were Latina.

Our Hispanic colleagues, while often over representing the population at the entry level, struggle to rise to the top ranks with less than 7% of executives identifying as Hispanic or Latino. More than 30% of Latinos say they have faced discrimination in hiring and promotion. Americans also vastly overestimate the percent of the Latino population that is undocumented, which has insidious side effects including increased rate of police encounters, housing discrimination and frequent racist or insensitive comments.

Besides working to ensure we operate inclusive workplaces, one of the most impactful things leaders can do to more systematically address the challenges our Hispanic colleagues face is to start publicly releasing EEO-1 reports. These are reports filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission, but the government does not require that companies release them publicly. Journalists have been on a crusade to get companies to voluntarily release them. Many will not. But for those who do, the data makes it really clear how much progress still needs to be made. 

The other thing we can do as citizens and leaders is push for comprehensive immigration reform. America desperately needs more workers willing to do much of the work that Hispanic immigrants do, whether clerical, front-line, agricultural or technical. At WeSpire, we have tried to secure an H1B visa for a refugee on temporary protected status who graduated from a Massachusetts college. It’s a demoralizing, expensive and often unsuccessful process for both the company and the candidate. As citizens, we can also call out cruel, politically motivated anti-immigrant behavior like the stunt pulled this week on Martha’s Vineyard when fifty Latino asylum-seekers were stranded at the tiny island airport by officials from the state of Florida.

We are a stronger nation because we are diverse. Our companies are stronger when they are diverse. But our challenge is inclusion. So let’s use this month to recommit to a world where everyone, but particularly our Hispanic colleagues and neighbors, are appreciated for their unique gifts, talents and contributions to our culture.

Quote of the Week: “The Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever.”

Sonia Sotomayor

Are you ready to build a better working world?