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Workplaces may be getting more inclusive, but Latino professionals still have challenges

LinkedIn’s Illianna Acosta says she aims to create spaces where Latinos don’t have to question whether or not they can be authentic at work the way that she did.

Workplaces may be getting more inclusive, but Latino professionals still have challenges
[Photo: Luis Quintero/Pexels]
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As a multifaceted Latina who was raised by a single mother with limited access to educational and financial resources, I understand all too well the hurdles we face in the workplace. Early in my career I often wondered how I could bring my most authentic self to work—with big curly hair, caramel skin, and a New York accent. Many of us have an inner dialogue that comes from our rich heritage that we dial back so as to be seen more like others. Now, as a channel sales manager and global cochair of LinkedIn’s Hispanic Employee Resource Group, I aim to create spaces where Latinos don’t have to question whether or not they can be authentic at work the way that I did. The answer, for them, is always a resounding ‘yes.’

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Despite the advances many workplaces have made to create inclusive workplaces through employee resource groups and bilingual resources, Latinos still continue to face unique barriers and challenges in the workplace. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession, many of these barriers have been further exasperated. Not only have about half (52%) of Latino adults in the U.S. shared that a family member or close friend has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19, but we also saw Latino employees face significant job loss which accounts for 23% of the initial job loss due to the pandemic. The professional and economic impact of this is still being felt by Latinos who are entering new workplaces that need to be equipped to manage their growing needs.

New data from LinkedIn sheds light on the challenges Latino people in the US are facing at work today:

  • 70% Latino professionals with darker skin tones believe that if their skin complexions were a different tone, they would advance further in their careers.
  • More than half (60%) of Latino professionals would prefer a mentor who looked more like them.
  • 37% of Latino Professionals surveyed are thinking about leaving their current job

Lean into the fact that Latinos are not a monolith

Our differences are what make us stronger and when we embrace and learn about them, we create opportunities for growth. Being different was how I’ve been able to overcome adversity, be successful, leave an impression, and create change in my workplace. I started to embrace my hair, the color of my skin, my culture, my high-on-life energy that seemed to be too much for some, and all the superpowers that made me uniquely me.

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However, the truth and reality are that my experience does not represent everyone across the wide variety of Latino communities. Almost two in three (65%) Latinos with darker skin complexions feel like they’ve been overlooked for career advancement and nearly three in four Latinos (73%) believe that a person’s skin tone has an impact on their career progression. It’s essential to create workplaces that not only acknowledge but celebrate our differences so that everyone feels supported at work.

Creating cultures of belonging must extend beyond ERGs

Making a commitment to creating spaces where Latino employees can bring their whole selves to work is only the beginning. This is reflected by the fact that more than half (51%) of Latino professionals believe that their workplace talks a lot about creating a more diverse workplace, but doesn’t make any material changes to policies or culture to make it happen.

To make the change happen, it’s up to leadership to build a culture of belonging that weaves through every part of the business inspiring inclusivity within the DNA of the company. For example, General Motors has created a culture of belonging that extends far beyond Hispanic Heritage Month. The company, dedicated to increasing Latino representation within the workplace, supports Latino employees from the onset of their professional journey by specifically targeting professional Hispanic organizations and Hispanic Serving Institutions for recruitment efforts. They also emphasize the importance of Latino professionals in STEM by providing over $5.7 million in scholarships for Latino students.

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To provide more support for Latino employees, companies should equip leaders with the skills to understand and confront bias and to actively create a culture of belonging and inclusivity. Leaders that master the ability to lead inclusively can empower the creativity that emerges from different ideas and experiences and establish trust as the baseline.

Businesses must take meaningful action

In the past year of racial unrest, we’ve seen companies step up to the plate and commit to meaningful action and donations. Given recent events with the Black Lives Matter movement, 66% of Latino professionals say they would be more interested in working for an organization that makes a public commitment to equity and racial justice. Companies like JPMorgan Chase announced a five-year, $400 million commitment aimed at improving housing affordability and homeownership opportunities for Black and Latinx households, and Paypal invested more than $50 million in eight Black- and Latino- led venture capital firms, that are helping move the needle toward racial equality.

I look back at my life and I am proud of the hurdles I have overcome to be where I am standing today. I feel it is my duty to share my story and create dialogue around the experiences of Latinos at work, everywhere. I am fortunate to be part of an organization where my voice is truly heard and valued.

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LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunities for every member of the global workforce. We are responsible for intentionally addressing equity and inclusion both within our workforce and for our millions of members and customers. We hope these research insights help spark conversations that lead to meaningful change.


Illianna Acosta is channel sales manager, Ad Tech Sales, and global cochair of HOLA LinkedIn’s Hispanic Employee Resource Group.