Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of career related blog entries leading up to El Mundo Boston’s Latino Career Expo. The Latino Career Expo is Boston’s largest and most prestigious diversity career fair, attracting over 1,500 job seekers and nearly 40 recruiters from the public sector and top firms across the health, education, and financial services industries. This year’s event will be held on March 20th at the Marriott Courtyard Boston from 1 pm to 5 pm and is presented by: Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard University, the TJX Companies, the MBTA, and Eastern Bank.
By Elvis Jocol Lara
If you are a Latino or minority professional, it is highly likely that you have looked around your office and realized that you singlehandedly represent diversity at your organization. It happened to me in college and it was heightened upon entering the professional realm. If you are among the Latino workforce employed in the occupations of management and business, science and engineering, or health care (loosely defined as corporate America), you know all too well that the shiny downtown office buildings and mammoth corporate campuses in the suburbs can be very lonely places. That’s because, even though Latinos make up 16% of the total population in America, we only make up 8%, 7%, and 9%* of each respective occupational group.
For many of us, high school graduation represented a moment where we left our diverse communities and ventured into a world that resembles the face of a past America; where diversity is in short order and there are many doors yet to be opened. Despite the shift in demographics and gains made in civil rights and educational attainment, diversity in professional settings continues to elude us as a country. This in many ways is the next frontier for equality in America. For all intents and purposes, education is the key to success in this country, but one cannot feed or shelter a family with diplomas or advanced degrees. It is what one does with that degree that ultimately determines upward mobility.
It’s no secret that companies small and large across the country have struggled to ensure that their workforce reflects the diversity of the consumers and communities they serve. As illustrated above, Latinos are woefully underrepresented in professional roles on a national scale, while skewing heavily towards services. Blue collar occupations, such as those in construction and extraction (25%) cleaning and maintenance (32%), and farming (47%) all see high overrepresentation of Latinos within their workforce. It is reasonable to expect that an equitable benchmark for representation by occupational group would be the 16% of the total population made up by Latinos, but we are far from seeing that across most industries.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with blue collars occupations, there does exist a need for Latinos to shift our occupational demographics to a point where we can also partake in the American dream. Corporate, or white collar jobs, offer greater rewards in terms of compensation, job security and satisfaction, all qualities that today’s bicultural and bilingual Latino crave as they enter the workforce. Beyond that, as the United States has seen a decades-long shift towards professional services, low skill jobs are increasingly more and more rare, creating uncertainty among those employed in these fields.
My own father built a successful cleaning company over twenty years that supported a family of seven and put four children through college. Yet I’m fully aware of the physical toll that it took on his body and I am certain that he did not envision that same path for his children. He followed that career path out of necessity, not out of passion but still made it possible for my siblings and me to explore various career paths. Luckily, many companies are making it a corporate priority to give diverse candidates the opportunity to explore various career paths within their organizations.
Savvy companies today understand that a diverse workforce is not only a social imperative, but sound business strategy as well. For all the market research in the world, there is no substitute or adequate training for cultural competency. Latinos today represent roughly $1.3 trillion in buying power nationally and many brands have made the Hispanic segment a strategic priority for growth in the coming years and decades. If history is any indication, however, it’s one thing to strategize and quite another to execute.
Over time, there have been embarrassing attempts to reach Hispanic consumers that have gone terribly awry. For instance the Dairy Association once asked Latinos “Are you Lactating?” instead of “Got Milk?” Elsewhere, a Cincinnati radio station previously ran a billboard campaign throughout the city featuring a man with a dark mustache dressed in a traditional Mexican outfit, complete with a Mexican flag and a donkey along with the tagline, “The Big Juan.” The former can be seen as humorous while the latter is clearly offensive; neither do anything to advance a company’s relationship with the Latino community. In both cases, someone possessing the cultural and linguistic competency could have saved the organizations from costly gaffes.
It is because of this and the wealth of talent that exists in areas such as business, science, engineering healthcare, and education among the new generation of highly educated Latinos, especially in the city of Boston, that we hold great value to world class organizations. Doors are beginning to open where once they were shut. Clearly there is much work to be done to ensure equality and diversity among corporate America, but even Rome wasn’t built in one day. It will take time for not only companies, but the leadership at said companies, to reflect the ethnic diversity of America. However, the time is now for a new generation of Latinos and diverse candidate to step up to the plate and take the next step towards equality.
Elvis Jocol Lara is Founder and President of Casa Guatemala and an experienced Marketing professional who has worked with some of the world’s leading brands. A child of Guatemalan immigrants, he was born in Boston and raised in Waltham, MA. Follow him on Twitter @ElChapin.
*Source: Pew Hispanic Center tabulations of 2011 American Community Survey