Helping Hispanic Women Speak Up, Be Seen at Work


By Dana Wilkie October 27, 2015

BOSTON—A patriarchal culture, conservative religious traditions, and the admonition to be “seen and not hea​rd” are among the reasons some Hispanic women may experience difficulty excelling in their careers, according to a diversity expert who spoke Oct. 26 at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2015 Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition.

But HR professionals can help these women recognize how their rearing may hinder their promotion prospects and find opportunities to advance at their organizations, said the speaker, Mariela Dabbah. Dabbah is founder and CEO of the New York-based Red Shoe Movement, a diversity consultancy that focuses on the career advancement of multicultural women.

“Do we all agree that we cannot look at [diversity and inclusion] from one angle only?” asked Dabbah. “We’re going to look at it from the perspective of those who are women and Latinas and what’s going on with the organizational culture that’s not really allowing them to move forward.”

The session was sponsored by the Professional Diversity Network, a diversity-inclusion consultancy.

HR Takes the Lead

It’s up to HR professionals, Dabbah said, to first make the business case to company leaders that more women and Hispanic employees are good for a company’s bottom line. She shared these statistics:

  • Hispanic purchasing power in the U.S. is $1.5 trillion a year, according to the Pew Research Center.
  • 1 of every 4 elementary school children in the U.S. is Hispanic. “That’s huge, and they’re going to be in your workforce in a few years,” Dabbah said.
  • 84 percent of U.S. Hispanics ages 16 and older say they can get ahead by working hard, while only 64 percent of all U.S. adults ages 18 and older say the same. “This is a workforce that works hard,” she said.
  • 70 to 80 percent of purchasing decisions in the U.S. are made or influenced by women.

“Why aren’t we selling this to our CEOs?” Dabbah asked. “They don’t have time to read all these studies. But we do.”

Dabbah said that HR professionals can also help Hispanic women understand the cultural dynamics that hold them back at work, and give them opportunities to blossom.

For instance, in many Latin American cultures, Dabbah said, there is a common saying for women: “Be quiet; you look prettier.”

“You need to teach women how to network and get out of their cubicles, because most relationships are made when you’re socializing with others. Then you get invited to more outings and that leads to better opportunities, because people promote people they trust,” Dabbah said.

Many Hispanic women are reared in the Catholic tradition, which teaches humility and makes it difficult for women to promote themselves, she said. “You teach them how to talk about themselves, about their achievements … so they know how to include their stories when they’re talking to people who can give them opportunities,” Dabbah said.

Many Hispanic women are also raised in cultures where men are the leaders at home, in business and in government. “It’s complicated for these [women] to raise their hands and give an opinion different from everyone else’s, or to tell their boss, ‘You’re going to make a mistake,’ ” she said. “And isn’t that actually the value of diversity, that you’re not saying what everyone else is saying?”

Dabbah also offered advice for helping all women, not just Latinas, win promotions and C-suite jobs.

“One of the worst things that happened to women,” Dabbah said, was the assumption that they are better at “multitasking” than men are.

“We as employers have to stop asking women [to] do more than the men,” she said. She added that jobs that require extensive travel—which she called an outdated requirement in this highly technological age—often exclude many women who feel they cannot leave their roles at home as wives and mothers.

Moreover, she said, it’s not fair to women with families to arrange only after-hours networking events when “they’re still expected to prepare dinner.”

“You need to find the best time for everyone to mingle with high-level executives,” she said.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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