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Discrimination, Digital Illiteracy Hold Back Many Hispanic Employees


A group of people taking a selfie in an office.



​Hispanic Heritage Month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, is an annual commemoration in the U.S. recognizing the contributions and influence of people of Hispanic descent—including their achievements in the workplace.

Those individuals include Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has won Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards as a playwright, filmmaker and songwriter. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban American to serve in U.S. Congress. And astronaut Frank Rubio, of Salvadoran descent, recently set the U.S. record for longest trip in space, spending over a year in orbit.

But the month should also include "uncomfortable discussions" about the challenges Hispanic employees face in the workplace, according to Michelle Marty Rivera, a lawyer and co-founder of immigration law firm Estrada-Marty LLC in Miami.

"It is imperative that we have an honest and open conversation about the challenges in the workplace, even during this time of commemoration of the achievements of the Hispanic and Latino communities," she said.

The Hispanic community faces challenges around level of education, language barriers, colorism and bias towards populations highly publicized in the media as immigrants, according to Saskia Goods, director of global research at technology advisory firm ISG in Stamford, Conn.

"Workers in this community typically hold lower-level wage roles that are often in person and were heavily impacted by the pandemic and fluctuations in the economy," she said. "These roles are often hourly and may not receive the same legislative support and safety guidelines as salaried employees."

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that Hispanic employees—particularly women—earn less per week than many other racial demographics, including Black men, Asian men and women, and white men and women.

 
 

Bias Rife Against Latino Employees

More than half of Latino individuals (54 percent) said they experienced discrimination from March 2020 to March 2021, according to a 2021 survey of Latino adults by Pew Research Center. Additional findings from the report included:

  • Respondents with a darker complexion (64 percent) were more likely than those with lighter skin color (54 percent) to experience discrimination.
  • Respondents who were born in another country (58 percent) were more likely than U.S.-born individuals (51 percent) to experience discrimination.
  • Roughly 6 in 10 Latinos ages 18 to 29 (62 percent) and 30 to 49 (57 percent) experienced bias.

Further, a 2021 survey of more than 2,000 Latino professionals by LinkedIn showed that 60 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 said they've been overlooked or intentionally passed over for career opportunities due to their race. Further, 44 percent of Latino respondents said they've faced discrimination or microaggressions at work.

"Hispanic and Latino workers reference discrimination at all stages of employment," Goods added.

Because job applicants for hourly or in-person work are often interviewed and hired quickly and directly by the hiring manager, biases often influence the hiring decision and the roles individuals are selected to perform, she said.

Even among equally educated candidates, Hispanic workers are less likely to be selected for a role and, if selected, are more likely to be paid less than white candidates, Goods noted.

A Need for Training and Resources

As companies have moved more of their application processes online, not having access to computers has limited the ability of some populations to apply, and language barriers often make the application process challenging, Goods said.

Meanwhile, "companies often offer training outside of work hours," she said. "Workers in lower-paid roles can be managing multiple jobs, which makes commitment to training challenging. In addition, training is often provided in English only."

In 2023, SHRM and the Aspen Institute published a survey of 844 HR professionals in eight cities with sizable Latino populations. The report revealed that organizations with a larger percentage of Latino workers were:

  • More likely to report that employees' lack of access to digital resources and a lack of training in software or programs in languages other than English make it more difficult for them to support their workers' digital skills development.
  • More likely to say that training employees in new tools and technologies has been a major challenge for their organization.

Rivera explained that Hispanic workers may not be able to compete for jobs that require digital literacy without proper training, thus increasing the digital divide and creating significant economic disparities between Hispanic and Latino individuals and other populations.

"It may prevent this community from taking advantage of economic opportunities and excelling in the workplace," she said.

Goods explained that employers can address workplace challenges among Hispanic employees by creating a more inclusive environment for them. She said companies should:

  • Show diverse representation across all levels, which offers a more inclusive and motivating environment for Hispanic workers.
  • Provide monetary incentives for employees that speak more than one language, which can have business advantages.
  • Present company communications and training opportunities in multiple languages.
  • Advertise referral programs within the business and encourage diverse employee populations to refer candidates and receive referral bonuses.
  • Promote from within and from diverse candidate pools, with diverse interview teams.
  • Remove systemic barriers to roles, which might include assessing skills rather than relying on standard education requirements.
  • Leverage AI in hiring to remove historical biases in selecting the right candidate for the position.

Goods added that companies must "recognize the value added at all levels of the organization, invest in challenging biases around roles this community can fill and promote a more inclusive work environment."

 

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