Editor’s note: In this article, Adweek deviated from its style of using Latinx due to the writer’s preference. Latine is a gender-neutral form of Latino.
In my career, I’ve worked for organizations where I was not the only Latina/e in the room. I have raised my hand to participate in projects that connect with my community because I self-identify as a translator of culture.
I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in Chicago raised by Mexican-born parents who worked to afford an annual trip to Mexico to visit family. I recognize that the act of traveling to Mexico was a privilege for my family because so many immigrants left their homes without the option to travel back until they were able to obtain legal status. I also recognize that Chicago is home to a diverse Latine community that makes up 33% of the city’s population.
In contrast to how I self-identify, there are Latine professionals who prefer not to be labeled as part of a group and instead lead with other professional experiences or personal interests.
Or, simply, talking about cultural identity can be painful. This is especially true if a BIPOC professional grew up in a town that lacked diversity, where they were the only non-white student in school and/or their parents wanted to protect their kids by teaching them to not embrace their cultural roots.
However, if you have a Spanish name and/or look like you are Latine, regardless of your path, stories of tokenism are real on both sides.
From the perspective of a first-generation Mexican American raised in Chicago, here’s how managers can avoid tokenism and retain our nuanced talent.
The fastest-growing minority—except in advertising
Our impact is evident. Beyond national headlines and data like “Latinos account for over half of the country’s population growth,” our impact can be felt on the main stages and society has embraced us.
Seeing Diana Flores, a Mexican flag football players, featured in a Super Bowl ad made me beam with pride, especially as she spoke to her mom in Spanish. The movie A Man Named Otto beautifully depicted a Latine bilingual family as the main characters alongside Tom Hanks. Many elementary classrooms have better ethnic and diverse representation than our offices. I imagine children sitting next to each other with a tapestry of ethnic food as their lunch in the cafeteria.
However, a recent report by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4A’s) was a reminder that there is room for improvement both in hiring and retaining diverse talent.
Lack of action is at the heart of tokenism
To avoid tokenism, we need to see companies and leaders commit to talent for the long term. We don’t just want to be hired to fulfill a short-term diversity goal. Regardless of how we self-identify, we want active participation from managers to get to know our individual motives, values and nuanced professional experiences in order to guide our professional development.
Let Latine employees choose if they want to share their cultural identity, or lead with another area of interest. Managers can help by co-creating a space of belonging by allowing employees to self-identify as they choose versus making assumptions that can feed into negative stereotypes.
Seek to learn from multiple lived experiences
Ensure employees aren’t called to be a lonesome representative of their entire group. Teams strike gold when they have representation from multiple Latine lived experiences and perspectives versus having one or two perspectives in the room.
Make our contributions relevant all year. Work from within the community by tapping into your employee resource groups for feedback, or make time to learn from people in the communities you are trying to reach.
Conducting ethnography sessions in a respectful way in the neighborhoods you are trying to reach is a practice that should be a part of every marketing communications institution. It teaches us to actively listen, learn, and build perspective and character by putting a voice and name to our data.
Reward excellence with excellent compensation
The pay gap among talent of color is real, regardless of how one self-identifies. Motivate diverse talent to stay with equitable monetary compensation that reflects their contributions to the business. A level up is to build reward systems by way of leadership roles and ownership opportunities.
Once we start seeing more longevity in companies by seeing more Latine talent and holding C-suite positions, we will have made a dent in avoiding tokenism. Until then, companies risk being seen as organizations that extract our cultural contributions without proper compensation and recognition.
Author moments of praise for your diverse team
Encourage and coach your diverse team to show ownership of their work by having them speak about their contributions. There is no better feeling when one is able to deliver and share our work, and get credit for it. It helps build a positive reputation within the organization that will excite others to work and collaborate with us.
Each one of us has a story, a struggle and a unique path in how we self-identify and how we choose to lead in a professional setting. There are two sides to growing up as a first-generation Latine professional that is important for managers to know. Some of us lead with our cultural identity as a superpower while others lead with other traits. Our common goal is to not be tokenized.