Maria Puig

(WOMENSENEWS)–While many women face challenges rising in the corporate world, climbing the corporate ladder can be especially difficult for Latinas.

Many Hispanic women cannot find appropriate mentors in the workplace. They often feel like outsiders and face a lack of understanding of their cultural background among managers. These obstacles make it difficult for Latinas to achieve success, according to a new reportreleased from Catalyst, a New York City-based organization that studies women and business trends.

Close to 38 percent of the Hispanic women surveyed say they regularly encounter stereotypes about their ethnic group in the workplace. This may include attitudes from employers about their work abilities, their desire to move up in the corporate world or assumptions that if they have an accent they may not understand their work assignments.

The report suggests that managers, among other things, encourage more experienced Latinas to serve as mentors for younger Hispanic women, focus more on employees’ productivity at work rather than just time spent in the office and make more of an attempt to understand the backgrounds of their Hispanic workforce.

“This report shows that workplace inclusivity is not what it should be,” says Katherine Giscombe, Catalyst’s senior director of research. The study “Latinas in the Workplace: What Companies and Managers Need to Know,” released this spring, surveyed 342 Hispanic women and conducted 13 focus groups in 15 Fortune 500 companies.

Managers need to better understand Latinas’ culture, so that they don’t misinterpret certain actions, Giscombe says. For instance, in the Spanish culture commitment to family is particularly important and the definition of family extends to include brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Because of this, Latinas many face work-life issues and have responsibilities that are not adequately addressed by corporate policies. For instance, they may need time off for extended family issues, duties or events that they are expected to attend. In fact, one out of five Latinas have elder care responsibilities, and support from their companies in balancing these roles serve as an important success factor, the study indicates.

In addition, Latinas may have their skills overlooked, Giscombe adds. Hispanic women need to get to know their managers better, so that they can build alliances and better promote themselves within their own companies.

“Invite co-workers out to your favorite ethnic restaurant to get a feel for your culture, or go out for coffee regularly with colleagues to build up this network,” Giscombe advises.

Success Often Means Taking Initiative

Successful Latinas who have mastered the corporate world offer their own stories, advice, and recommendations. Maria Puig, 39, marketing manager for analog wireless infrastructure at Texas Instruments in Dallas, two years ago launched a mentoring group at her company for Hispanic men and women. Puig, with the company for over five years, is originally from Puerto Rico.

“Sometimes you need to think out of the box and take the initiative with your employer. I was lucky that my company was open to this,” Puig says in an interview with Women’s eNews.

There are differences in communications in Latin cultures that can create challenges in the workplace, Puig notes. For instance, many Hispanics use more words and don’t speak as directly and quickly as many non-Hispanics. Also, in most Spanish cultures, it is more common to kiss people in different social and business settings and often not considered respectful to look someone directly in the eye.

“With the importance of family to Hispanics, it also can be tough to balance personal life with your business life,” says Puig, who has a young son and travels for her job about 35 percent of the time. “You just have to make adjustments.”

Managers need to go beyond their own biases and recognize the abilities of Latinas, as well as other women in the workplace, says Rossana Rosado, 41, publisher of El Diario newspaper, based in New York.

“Latina women look different; we may dress up more in the workplace and wear gold hoop earrings,” Rosado says. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taken as seriously or be listened to.”

On the other hand, Hispanic women also need to be more assertive and let their bosses know what they want from their jobs and that they are looking to grow and advance, Rosado adds.

Employers Need to Recognize Value of Diversity

There has to be a more active understanding of different cultures in the workplace, says Joyce Stearn, 52, vice president and corporate director of global diversity and compliance at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola, whose background is Mexican. For instance, her company offers special diversity business councils, one aimed specifically at Hispanics, that help different groups of employees voice their opinions and gain recognition. Stearn also serves as a mentor. She has worked for the company for 18 years.

“Employers may not understand that many Latinas have extended family obligations that are part of their culture,” Stearn points out. “Also, Latinas normally don’t reach out to other Latinas and that could also be a barrier in the workplace.”

Find out if a company you want to work for has a diversity program, says Catherine Giordano, 55, president and chief executive officer of Knowledge Information Solutions Inc., a Virginia Beach, Va., information technology and product services company with $16 million in annual sales. In addition, be proactive in finding your own mentors in the workplace, especially if your employer doesn’t have a formal mentoring program. According to the Catalyst study, finding a mentor at work is the number one challenge for Hispanic women.

“This is a person you need to have a complete level of trust with and some level of compatibility,” says Giordano, who is Puerto Rican.

Also, some companies want to be more sensitive to different cultures, but they are afraid to ask the right questions, says Oklahoma City-based Terry Neese, co-founder of Women Impacting Public Policy, an advocacy group, and former president of the National Association of Women Business Owners. “The first step is to ask questions and then act upon the answers in a responsible, progressive way.”

Laura Koss-Feder is a freelance business and features writer who covers small businesses and career/workplace topics. She has written for The New York Times, Business Week, Time, Money, Investor’s Business Daily, Newsday, Self, and Family Circle.

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