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Latino Leadership: The Culture Plus

  • November 4, 2017

In a new book, Auténtico: The Definitive Guide to Latino Career Success,” Korn Ferry’s Andrés T. Tapia and Dr. Robert Rodriguez, President of DRR Advisors, interviewed twenty leading Latino executives who remain an all-too rare breed in today’s corporate world despite a couple of decades of diversity efforts.  Below, the third of three adapted excerpts:

Some of the very actions Latinos are criticized for are those that are valued and nurtured in Latino culture. Unconsciously, the corporate values that are exalted and held as universal standards for how a great leader and executive should look come from the European-American context. The challenge for corporations who want to attract more Latinos is to do some soul searching about their own cultural values and realize that what often are seen as must-haves are much more subjective than the gatekeepers think they are.

Corporate America must make a distinction between true job requirements and cultural preferences that are not vital for job success. This requires self-awareness of what is preferred and why, curiosity and education about Latino culture and its differences, as well as similarities, to corporate culture. Proactive steps must then be taken to simultaneously affirm the many dimensions of mainstream culture that have given corporate America its strength and resilience, while at the same time becoming open to new ways of growing and strengthening their companies.

These changes are not needed just so Latinos will experience being more welcome but also so they do not feel they must keep sacrificing their identity at the altar of conformity. Change is also required so companies can truly benefit from the differences Latinos bring to the workplace. As demographic trends predict, the future workforce will be represented with an increasingly Latino identity so the current unilateral approach of requiring Latinos to do all the adjusting must change.

Bottom line? Corporations need to stop saying they want to hire Latinos for their differences and subsequently coach them into assimilation by asking them to set aside those differences.

Our research and personal experience show that there are various cultural assets that Latinos as a cohort bring to corporate America such as a much more team oriented and communal approach, more of an interpersonal approach through more emotive connection, and a greater agility to go with the flow in a time of extraordinary disruption. There is also one additional cultural asset that corporations desperately need more of: biculturalism.

Latinos are not always bilingual, but they are almost always bicultural. That means they are adept at moving effectively in varied cultural environments and have leveraged this skill to be accepted. But what is the impact when they introduce new cultural values, behaviors, and skills into an environment unaccustomed to diversity? As one executive observed: “My bicultural background absolutely helped me with my career. I was able to not only recognize I was different but that there could be various ways of looking at the same thing. That not only gave me greater insight, it also helped me to more effectively recognize that there were multiple points of view that needed to be heard and addressed in any room.”

Korn Ferry’s Victor Arias, an Executvie Search senior partner,  says he leverages his bicultural identity to be able to transcend many lines that often are kept separate in society: “There’s a switch in my head and I always keep it on. While I spend a lot of time with executives in my Board and Executive search work, I go out of the way to talk to and connect with the housekeeper at the hotel as well. I also pay attention to how people, including executive candidates, treat other people not like them, and that’s a really big filter for me. “

When former KPMG Partner, Lou Miramontes was offered an expat assignment in Mexico, he found the situation ironic: “My abuelita (grandmother) who lived across the street from me, said, “Why are you’re going to Mexico? Do you know how hard it was for your grandfather to get here and now you’re going back?!” I talked to the chairman about her concern and he told me “They think you’re one of them in Latin America, but we also know you’re one of us in the United States. You have to be crosscultural, multilingual. You have to be able to play in all those buckets.” I learned how to be bicultural, resulting in great effect on those around me, on emerging Latino talent, and for my career.”

Because ours is a history shaped by 27 different nations, Latinos epitomize what it means to be global. We can provide the ideal archetype to corporate America of what a global leader must be. Ours is a community with a rich history of bringing globally diverse groups together to construct a collective identity, a unique gift offered by Latinos to corporate America.

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