Tapping the Hispanic Labor Pool

By Robert Rodriguez Apr 1, 2004

HR Magazine, April 2004 Creating an effective employment brand is the best way to successfully recruit from the nation's fastest-growing demographic group.

For many organizations, effectively recruiting Hispanic professionals is a critical goal. U.S. Census data show that Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group, representing the largest minority in the country. By 2050, Hispanics will make up one-quarter of the population and will nearly triple in number to 97 million strong.

For recruiters, this is a significant portion of the population that can’t be ignored. For business professionals as well, this population growth means Hispanics will have increasing purchasing power, which furthers the business case for employing a diverse Hispanic workforce that can help better understand and gain access to this market.

Although the benefits of attracting Hispanic workers are clear, HR professionals are having difficulty tapping this pool of talent. The problem is that traditional recruitment strategies do not effectively reach Hispanic candidates.

If Hispanics aren’t attracted by traditional recruiting efforts, it may be because they often don’t believe that such traditional methods will help them get a job, says Abe Tomás Hughes, chairman of the board of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE), a nonprofit affinity organization based in Chicago. This feeling may stem in part from limited access and exposure to traditional recruiting methods, and a lack of understanding regarding how these methods work, he says.

Instead of traditional recruitment methods, Hispanics often find jobs through networks of friends and family. As a result, employers that wish to attract Hispanic workers must be prepared to take a long-term approach, one that gradually establishes a solid word-of-mouth reputation.

Edwin Garcia, CEO of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA), headquartered in Dallas, says the biggest recruitment concern for organizations is to “cultivate a positive employer image within the Hispanic community.” Such an employment brand will make it easier for organizations to attract Hispanic candidates.

Hispanics tend to be brand-conscious and brand-loyal when it comes to making purchasing decisions, so organizations with a strong employment brand will benefit, says Garcia.

Employment branding does not refer to an organization’s products or services, but instead to an organization’s reputation as an employer. Establishing such a brand within the Hispanic community requires organizations to:

  • Understand and value Hispanic culture. An effective brand goes further when it reaches the right people. And reaching the right people has everything to do with learning who they are.

  • Show that they offer valid opportunities for advancement. Talented workers want to know that they will be given the opportunity to succeed and that their ethnicity will not be a factor—either positively or negatively—in their career advancement.

  • Get involved in the Hispanic community. Such efforts go a long way toward building trust and create a foundation for a long-term employment relationship.

Understand Hispanic Culture(s)

Understanding Hispanic culture—or, more importantly, the cultural variety within the Hispanic community—is vital to building an effective employment brand.

Because of the ethnic diversity and differences in dialect and acculturation patterns, it’s difficult to effectively recruit Hispanics as a homogenous group.

Andrés Tapia, chief officer of global diversity at Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Ill., points out that the worldview and values of a Mexican-American will be very different from those of a Cuban-American, even though both individuals could be called Hispanic. Recruiters “need to understand” such differences if they wish to demonstrate that they value heritage and ethnicity when trying to build relationships with Hispanic job candidates, Tapia says.

Because the Hispanic community is diverse, there is no single effective approach for recruiting Hispanics. Rather, HR professionals must pursue several, tailored approaches simultaneously to be successful.

That’s a lesson Tammy Napoli—director of recruitment at Walgreens, a drugstore chain headquartered in Deerfield, Ill.—can attest to. Walgreens recently planned to place employment ads on radio stations targeted to Hispanic audiences, but Napoli learned that using the same ad for different radio stations would be ineffective.

Instead, Walgreens customized its ads for each radio station—a strategy that speaks to various Hispanic subgroups on their own terms and one the company gained from its association with HACE. HACE is one of a few affinity organizations that can help educate companies on the Hispanic community and open doors to Hispanic talent.

Organizations seek out groups like HACE to learn about the history of Hispanics in the United States, gain insights on the diversity within the Hispanic community and receive recommendations on strategies to improve their Hispanic recruitment efforts.

Another popular affinity organization is NSHMBA, which has 6,000 members throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. One of the group’s premier events is its annual career conference, which last year attracted more than 6,000 attendees, mostly Hispanic.

In addition to the career conference, organizations that partner with NSHMBA get to share recruiting best practices and gain valuable insight into how to effectively position their job opportunities to the Hispanic community. For example, Garcia says that generic job titles—such as “junior sales associate”—may not appeal to Hispanic job seekers, who tend to be sensitive to job titles that let others know where they stand in the company hierarchy.

HR professionals also can develop ties to the Hispanic community through more informal, local efforts. Michael Williams, HR faculty chair at Minneapolis-based Capella University, advises HR professionals to seek out and consult with Hispanic leaders in business, educational and civic organizations. “Such leaders can provide recommendations of where to begin a search for top Hispanic talent, as well as providing valuable insights into the Hispanic community,” he says.

Valid Advancement Opportunities 

Hispanics are proud of their heritage, but they do not want to feel they are being hired simply because of their ethnicity. They want to be hired based on their merits and credentials.

Lucino Sotelo, who was born in Mexico, remembers being actively recruited from Northwestern University in Chicago after completing a master’s degree from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. “One of the most important things for me while being recruited was finding an organization that understands my cultural background and values my ethnicity—but still rewards based on performance” says Sotelo.

During the recruiting process, one firm, Household International, a member company of HSBC Holding PLC based in London, made it clear that it valued Sotelo’s education and experience as much as his ethnicity; he now serves as an assistant vice president of e-commerce at the firm.

Having talented Hispanics in upper-level positions sends an important message to current and potential workers, reinforcing the existence of the potential for advancement and underscoring the fact that an organization has an inclusive culture. Of course, creating such a culture is difficult without executive support.

That’s where Abbott Laboratories, a broad-based health care organization in Abbott Park, Ill., has a big advantage: The company’s chairman and CEO, Miles D. White, is also its chief diversity champion. White chairs Abbott’s Executive Inclusion Council and sets diversity and inclusion goals and expectations for himself and his management team, including those specific to Hispanic recruitment.

Such support creates a culture that allows Abbott to effectively recruit entry-, mid- and executive-level Hispanic talent. Currently, Hispanics make up 10 percent of Abbott’s corporate officers and 8 percent of the company’s board of directors. This last fact is particularly impressive given that Hispanics represent only about 1.6 percent of the approximately 5,900 seats at Fortune 500 corporations—and that the vast majority of these boards have no Hispanic representation—according to a 2004 study by Hispanic Business Magazine.

“It is important for Hispanic professionals to see others like themselves in executive positions,” says Michelle Thomas, Abbott’s director of corporate diversity and inclusion. “These individuals serve as role models and reflect our commitment to creating a culture of inclusion.” The role models also enhance Abbott’s reputation within the Hispanic community.

Be Involved In the Hispanic Community

Building trust within a community also is an essential part of employment branding.

Companies like Hewitt Associates and Caterpillar Inc. have developed proactive strategies with schools to build the pipeline of future Hispanic talent. These strategies take a long-term recruiting approach and help to strengthen relationships between an employer and the Hispanic community.

In January 2004, Hewitt opened the Hewitt Associates Career Center at Waukegan High School in Waukegan, Ill. Waukegan High School has a student population that is approximately 70 percent Hispanic. The career center helps students enhance their future potential by giving them access to career information as well as providing a place to learn more about college options.

Hewitt’s Tapia says the career center enhances the firm’s employment brand within the Hispanic community and also is a big part of the company’s global corporate social responsibility efforts.

Caterpillar Inc. formed a partnership with Texas A&M University because of the school’s reputation for producing outstanding engineering students, and its strong connection with farming communities. A&M also has a large Hispanic student population.

Caterpillar holds information events and pizza parties at A&M’s career center. Many of the Hispanic students who attend these Caterpillar events get their first exposure to the career center, which can help students in their career searches. Caterpillar’s involvement results in better-prepared students and an enhanced employment brand for the company.

Other organizations can reap big rewards when they—like Hewitt and Caterpillar—get involved in the Hispanic community. Lorraine Grubbs West, director of field employment at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, says recruiters and sourcing specialists from Southwest’s people department work in partnership with its Multi-Cultural Marketing Teams to tap into local Hispanic partnerships and events, including the conventions for the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce.

The involvement of Southwest’s HR professionals at such events helps generate positive word of mouth, enhances Southwest’s employment image and has resulted in the successful recruitment of Hispanic professionals.

Win the Race

As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. Employers that focus on immediate short-term results may not achieve the diversity they seek. In fact, some organizations could potentially do more harm than good if they successfully recruit Hispanic workers without first creating a hospitable culture or real advancement opportunities. In such cases, word of mouth may work against the organization and the resulting employment brand will not help to attract more Hispanic workers.

By contrast, a longer-term employment brand approach will help raise the return on investment of Hispanic recruitment efforts. As the demographic figures continue to show an increasing Hispanic identity in the United States, those HR professionals who can effectively recruit, develop and retain Hispanic talent will help their organizations gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace

Robert Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a faculty member in the Human Resource Program in the School of Business at Capella University in Minneapolis, where he teaches graduate- and doctoral-level courses in human resources and diversity. He serves on the board of directors for several Hispanic and human resource organizations.


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