Understand Culture, values to Reach, Keep Hispanic Workers

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 30, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS—Companies that want to be an employer of choice for Hispanic workers need to understand the value this group places on family, their culture and their desire for self-improvement, according to Miguel Joey Aviles, founder and CEO of Virginia-based MJA International, a talent management consulting firm.

“When you develop recruitment [and] retention strategies, they need to be founded on those three values. This is what you need to … talk our language,” he said. Aviles discussed what it means to be Hispanic in the U.S., Hispanic workers’ biggest challenges and what organizations can do to aid their advancement at work during a concurrent session at the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition in October.

He started by addressing some myths about Hispanic workers.

Myth: Hispanics are all the same are from the same country.
Fact: 63 percent are from Mexico, 9.2 percent are from Puerto Rico, 3.5 percent are from Cuba, 3.3 percent are from El Salvador, 2.8 percent are from the Dominican Republic, and 18.2 percent are from other Central or South American countries, he said, citing the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center data.

Myth: All Hispanics are immigrants.
Fact: According to the Migration Policy Institute, the majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are native born. In 2012, among the 53 million people who identified as Hispanic or Latino, only 36 percent (18.9 million) were immigrants.

The number of undocumented Hispanics in the U.S. is between 17-18 percent—close to 9 million people, Aviles said, citing data from the Pew Hispanic Center.
“For the first time in nearly two decades,” he said, “immigrants do not account for the majority of Hispanic workers in the United States.”

Myth: Hispanics are blue-collar workers.
Fact: 24 percent of Hispanic workers are in service occupations; 22 percent in sales or office jobs; 19 percent in management or professional roles; 19 percent in production or transportation jobs; 15 percent in construction and maintenance; and 2 percent in farming, fishing or forestry, according to Aviles. Additionally, 2.3 million Hispanics own their own business, he said.

Recruiting Your Hispanic Workforce

“Family is the No. 1 thing in our lives,” making workplace flexibility an important retention strategy, Aviles said. Hispanic workers also want to feel that their employer cares about them beyond the work they do. “Our supervisors are important to us; we stay in a job where we feel we are part of a family.”

Aviles recalled his first full-time job in Washington, D.C. and inviting his supervisor to a dinner at his grandmother’s house in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.

“To my surprise, he accepted,” he said in a follow-up e-mail interview with HR News. “My family only speaks Spanish at home, so I had to translate the entire conversation throughout the entire dinner. It felt weird at times, but allowing my boss to meet my family created a strong bond.”

It also was a way for Aviles to share his culture with his supervisor.
“Employers should create a sense of family in the workplace. In the Hispanic culture, employers need to show employees that they care for them by showing they care for their families.”

Hispanics want to see that they have a future with the company and will leave if they feel underutilized at work, noted Aviles, the author of the e-book Hispanics 101: How to Understand, Manage and Grow Your Hispanic Workforce, (MJA International LLC, 2014). 

“We want to get ahead, we want to improve. We want to get promoted. We want more money,” he said, and advised supervisors to be the mentors these employees need. This group also is willing to relocate—sometimes making big sacrifices—in order to get ahead at work, he added.

Aviles urged employers to develop relationships with career guidance counselors at schools, and with business leaders and others in the Hispanic community. He pointed to New York Life and Prudential insurance companies as examples of employers that have been successful at this.

New York Life, he said, recruits qualified individuals from the Hispanic community, uses social media for outreach and has established an ambassador program that involves its Hispanic workers. Prudential’s strategies have included hosting student symposiums, providing internships to Hispanic students, and establishing relationships with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting. 

Managing Your Hispanic Workforce

Development, engagement and outreach is a three-pronged approach that has proven successful for managing the Hispanic workforce, according to Aviles.

Develop workers through leadership programs, mentoring and coaching, and training. American Express has a leader advancement program geared to Hispanic employees to grow them in leadership positions. Also, consider rotational assignments.

“We love rotational assignments because it allows us to connect with other people as well as grow in our career. Coaching and mentoring are vital. Engagement is crucial because we crave relationships.”

Additionally, engage Hispanic employees through affinity groups and networking opportunities. Employee resource groups (ERGs) “create a pipeline of high potential” employees, Aviles said, calling Hispanic ERGS “the single most important retention strategy.” The result:  “we feel a sense of family, a sense of group.”

Use immersion programs that recruit, train and send Hispanic workers back into their communities where they serve as examples of that company’s employees. Perform community outreach; an employer in the financial industry, for example, might offer a class on how to build financial stability. Consider clients as potential employees, he urged. 

“The best Hispanic customers have the potential to become the best Hispanic employees,” he said.

“You can’t just go shoot [out] the job vacancy announcement,” Aviles noted. Finding and keeping Hispanic employees is all about developing a high-touch relationship.  Appeal to the importance of family in their personal and work lives and understand their drive for self-improvement. The first step to understanding is to care.

Part of Hispanic culture is dance, said Aviles.

“Can you connect, can you follow me?” he asked, breaking into a smooth samba step. “Can you go with the rhythm” and make that connection that is so important to Hispanics?

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

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