By Roger Knight
Angélica González, a second-generation immigrant, has been working as a paralegal for a well-known law firm in Los Angeles. She was thrilled about her new career especially the ability to provide for her family here in the U.S. as well as her grandparents back in her home country. She worked diligently to learn the ropes at her new position, and soon settled into the office routine. Only a few weeks into her tenure, however, she found herself facing negative Hispanic stereotypes in her workplace. “I began to notice how people kept speaking to me slowly just because of my Spanish accent.” Angélica isn’t alone; a recent NSHP online survey found that 38% of respondents felt that the Latino/a stereotype has a strong and mostly negative presence in the workplace.
In an effort to increase diversity in the workplace, many employers have increasingly shown interest in recruiting Hispanic professionals. Those with limited knowledge of the Hispanic culture might find it challenging to incorporate some Hispanics’ behaviors in the workplace that may reflect specific cultural values. What are these “Hispanic values” and what role does the Latino/a stereotype plays at work?
Stereotyping: Good or Bad?
Some might point out the negative stereotypes like the growing clashes over language use in the workplace and the public square, while others might cite positive values like religion and family, as Karl Rove, White House political strategist, did in a recent address at the National Council of La Raza. According to Evangelina Holvino, president of Chaos Management, the culture of an organization greatly determines whether the values that Hispanics bring to the workplace are seen as an advantage or a shortfall. In a 2003 survey by the Level Playing Field Institute, stereotyping is a common behavior in the workplace, with 54 percent of African-Americans, 52 percent of Hispanics, and 39 percent of Whites saying they had experienced it at work.
In general, stereotyping constitutes a negative generalization used by an in-group about an out-group. In Angelica’s case, the in-group might hold the idea that “If you speak with a Spanish accent, then you must be unintelligent.” Hispanic professionals must be aware of these differences in perception of the Latino/a stereotype as it might prove invaluable for personal career advancement as well as for the professional development of the Hispanic workforce and its impact in the U.S. economy as a whole.
The Latino/a Stereotype according to Hispanic Professionals
The results shown above make sense given that Hispanic professionals constitute only 14 percent of the Hispanic labor force, and the Latino/a stereotype refers mainly to the recent immigrant, unskilled, laborer. According to the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, Hispanic professionals are highly educated, fully bilingual, in almost all cases legally authorized to work, and with a family structure similar to the non-Hispanic White population. In addition, Hispanic professionals have a more optimistic outlook on the economy than the overall population.
The NSHP survey also found regional differences regarding the prevalence of the Latino/a stereotype in the workplace. For instance, twice as many respondents in the Midwest than in the West felt that the Latino/a stereotype is mostly good but has little effect on the community, as the above graph shows.
The results by region might be explained in terms of strength in ethnic group identification. In terms of Hispanic population the regions of the U.S. rank as follows: West, South, Northeast, and Midwest according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that diversity in the workplace in terms of representation of the Hispanic population is greater in the West and South than in the Northeast and Midwest respectively. In this way, the Latino/a stereotype and its negative characteristics affect those in regions with larger concentrations of Hispanics more than those in regions with smaller numbers of Hispanics. In addition, Hispanic professionals in the Midwest seem to place less importance in ethnic group membership than those in the West. Consequently, regardless of how Hispanics are perceived in society, Hispanic professionals in the Midwest find themselves less affected by the Latino/a stereotype than those in other regions.
Although Angélica has experienced prevalent negative Hispanic stereotypes in the past, she is hopeful about the future. “As more Hispanics enter the professional workforce, we will show that these stereotypes aren’t true for the majority of us. We are hard-working, dedicated professionals who just happen to also be Latino.” For these purposes, a series of upcoming articles will further delve into the results of our survey and its insights into the Hispanic professional characterization.
By Roger Knight for NSHP.org
Research Support Analyst
Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame
Based on NSHP Survey about Latino stereotypes