By Dr. Christine Coleman
In honor of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, companies around the globe are taking conscious action to honor and celebrate their Hispanic/Latinx colleagues. The question is, are they getting it right? Over 16% of Hispanic/Latinx professionals have a bachelor's degree or higher (Mental Health America, 2022), yet efforts to foster inclusive workplaces are still falling short. As a mental health professional, speaker, consultant, and coach, I have first-hand knowledge of the strenuous impacts Latinx/Hispanic professionals face on a daily basis. Many report feeling “othered,” dismissed, and even ostracized at work. Their ideas are minimized and often overlooked, and oftentimes being a minority means they have no one around who truly feels safe.
Below is an essential compilation of tips colleagues and allies can use and implement to cultivate transformative change in their workplace and most importantly, in their everyday lives.
Ask how they identify.
Terms associated with our identities are ever evolving. While many still subscribe to the term Latino/a, it is a simple yet powerful gesture to allow your Hispanic/Latinx colleague to establish how they identify themselves. The term Latinx is seen as more inclusive and not as gender specific, for example (Castillo-Montoya & Reyes, 2020), and can nurture one’s sense of belonging when given the liberty to establish their identity to the outside world.
Understand that not all Hispanic/Latinx people are the same.
That’s right. Hispanic/Latinx communities consist of Black, White, green-eyes, afros, freckles, curly hair, straight hair, varying body types, Spanish or non-Spanish speaking, spreading across various nationalities. Hispanics/Latinx’s hold various political views, enjoy various foods and activities. Understanding the diversity within people groups can help dismantle existing stereotypes and microaggressions. More importantly, leading with curiosity and respect for differences can lead to a further sense of belonging for the Hispanic/Latinx community.
Show interest in your Hispanic/Latinx colleague’s stories.
Now that you’ve increased your clarity on the beautifully diverse community of Hispanics/Latinx, it is essential to lean into the individuals around you and have a conversation. You heard that right. Talk to them. Get to know them. Research tells us that as humans, we tend to gravitate towards people who look like us or have shared experiences (this is called homophily). Listening and leaning in to those who differ from us can take some vulnerability, but it is the number one way we can increase empathy and promote belonging. Give it a try. Oh. And do your best to connect on things other than your love of Mexican food and your ability to recite Bad Bunny lyrics.
Get clear on the microaggressions you project.
Microaggressions are subtle, indirect forms of discrimination against a marginalized group. To the Hispanic/ Latinx community, they may sound like, “Where are you from?” which implies they don’t belong here/were not born here. Another example is, “You don’t look/sound Latin,” further perpetuating stereotypes that Hispanic/Latinx people are one and the same. When Hispanics/ Latinx are confronted with microaggressions, it is often translated to them that they don't belong. Many have worked so hard to be the “model minority,” to be labeled as good and nonthreatening. These subtleties can do a great deal of damage. So the next time you’re tempted to say “Wow, you speak so eloquently” or “You don’t have an accent!” recognize that these are indeed microaggressions that can be harmful and promote barriers against psychological safety in and out of the workplace.
Examine potential inherent racist beliefs.
White Supremacy is ingrained into every aspect of this country. Understanding how deeply it seeps into social, political, structural, and institutional aspects of our everyday lives is the first step to accepting that we have continuous work to do. For allies of the Hispanic/Latinx community, it is essential to avoid beliefs or statements such as “I am not racist. I have a Mexican friend” or the like. Racism is a byproduct of White Supremacy, and while each individual varies in their association to racism, much more can be accomplished once we realize that we all carry inherent biases that are often harmful and even dangerous to marginalized communities. Try joining an affinity group at work or in your community, or tap into anti-racist works Hispanic/Latinx changemakers.
If you hear inappropriate language being spoken about the Hispanic/Latinx community, step in and say something. The Hispanic/Latinx community often come into the workplace without a sense of belonging and psychological safety. Your allyship includes shifting from bystander to accomplice. Call it out publicly and if that’s still something you’re working towards, pull someone aside for a constructive conversation. Your privilege is more powerful than you know and this is the perfect opportunity to use it for good.
Recognize the signs.
When you build friendships and relationships with Latinx colleagues, you will have insight to their varying qualities (as mentioned above). You may also notice commonalities based on cultural influences. Latinx can be quiet and non confrontational. They can also be outspoken, no-nonsense, and assertive. When it comes to mental health, there is still a lingering stigma surrounding conversations about emotions, mental health disorders, and needing help. If you notice a shift in your colleague, a gentle “hey, I noticed you were quieter than usual in the meeting the other day. I am here if you want to talk” can go a long way. Empathic action is critical in all of our relationships, and is no different when befriending Latinx/Hispanics.
Give appropriate credit to your Latinx/Hispanic colleague.
Have you ever been in a setting when you presented an idea to your colleagues or higher ups and got a mediocre response, only to be met with a privileged counterpart sharing your same idea and having it applauded and implemented? Me too. It’s the worst. This happens to Hispanic/Latinx professionals time and time again. Making space for ideas, turning their ideas into actual outcomes is not only good for your Hispanic/Latinx colleagues, it’s good for the greater society. We all benefit from Latinx/Hispanic voices and brilliance. This is not a handout, it’s you using your privilege for equitable change.
Join a Latinx affinity group (if allies are welcome).
Some of the most powerful action steps for allies are to step out of your comfort zone and listen in. Look into the various employee resource groups and find out if there are Latinx/Hispanic groups meeting. Most of these spaces are limited to those who identify as the specified group to further promote engagement and psychological safety. However, if they have events where all are welcome or do allow for allies to engage appropriately, this could be a wonderful step forward in your personal and professional growth.
Access the resource list featured on FitPros Hispanic Heritage Month campaign page for books, podcasts, and documentaries on the Hispanic/Latinx community. This is a journey, not a sprint.
Uplifting, centering, and celebrating Hispanic/Latinx community members goes far beyond one month a year. Taking action, getting uncomfortable, exercising empathy and compassion are all powerful approaches to establishing inclusivity and psychological safety in your workplace and in our greater communities.
Dr. Christine Coleman, PhD., LMFT. Dr. Coleman is a licensed psychotherapist, speaker, consultant, and coach specializing in the intersection of mental health and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Dr. Coleman identifies as Mexican/Iranian American and uses she/her pronouns. Dr. Coleman’s mission is to destigmatize mental health in communities of color and to assist organizations in cultivating workplace environments that are equitable, psychologically and emotionally safe for their staff of color.
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