Louis E. V. Nevaer: Managing Hispanic and Latino Employees - Author interview
Acclaimed Hispanic consumer and employment analyst, and director of Hispanic Economics, Louis E. V. Nevaer, was kind enough to take the time answer a few questions about his groundbreaking and insightful book Managing Hispanic and Latino Employees: A Guide to Hiring, Training, Motivating, Supervising, and Supporting the Fastest Growing Workforce Group.
Louis E. V. Nevaer describes how Hispanic employees are making an enormous impact on workplaces, and shares his advice with non-Hispanic employers to better support and manage this increasingly important and dynamic group of employees.
Thanks to Louis E. V. Nevaer for his time, and for his very comprehensive and informative responses. They are greatly appreciated.
What was the background to writing this book Managing Hispanic and Latino Employees: A Guide to Hiring, Training, Motivating, Supervising, and Supporting the Fastest Growing Workforce Group?
Louis Nevaer: This book was the natural result of the issues raised in HR AND THE NEW HISPANIC WORKFORCE. After the success of that book, which was directed at Human Resources managers and practitioners, several editors asked, “What about guidance for non-Hispanic managers outside of Human Resources?” This book was in response to that question.
How important a factor is the Latino and Hispanic employee group to business today and in the future?
Louis Nevaer: Demographics. Hispanics are the only significant domestic group (Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians) that has a positive birth rates. African-Americans are a stable demographic, non-Hispanic whites are declining in number, and fertility rates among Asians is also dropping. That means that of the U.S.-born residents of the country, only Hispanics are increasing in number, and when you consider that more than 60% of all immigration (legal or otherwise) to the U.S. is from Latin America, the numbers speak for themselves: We are witnessing a demographic process in which half the workforce will be Hispanic/Latino by mid-century.
The last time the nation lived through anything like this was in the post-War era, when women entered the workforce, and went from being about 12% of the workforce population to today, when they are half of all workers.
Why do so many employers have problems with working with and supervising Hispanic and Latino employees?
Louis Nevaer: It is a combination of language and cultural nuances. In many instance phrases are not fully understood, or the meaning of words are not grasped. This linguistic barrier is seen more often among hourly employees, many of whom are recent immigrants, or for whom English is not spoken at home. More important, however, are the cultural differences and nuances between Hispanic Culture and, for lack of a more apt description, “Anglo-Saxon” society – which, for our purposes, includes American-born blacks.
Some critics reduce this to a “Catholic” versus a “Protestant” clash, but it is really more a case of the subtle ways of looking at the world. For example, in Hispanic society one is taught that one way to show respect is to be demure, slightly bow your head and look down. This stands in sharp contrast in “Anglo-Saxon” society where one is taught to stand at attention and look someone directly in the eye. In the workplace, a non-Hispanic manager will complain that his Latino employees don’t make eye contact when he is speaking with them. What a Latino thinks is being respectful is interpreted by the non-Hispanic manager as being evasive.
Another example stems from cultural values. For Latin immigrants – and many Hispanics – Thanksgiving as a holiday means very little, if anything. It’s fair to say that Thanksgiving is the most important secular holiday in the United States, but to Hispanics, it’s not their own, it holds very little cultural resonance, and they could take it or leave it. But December 12, the Virgin of Guadalupe Day, rivals Christmas to many U.S. Hispanics – but this day means nothing to most Americans, especially in secular terms. (Conflicts with one client were amended when the option was given in which Hispanic employees could trade working on Thanksgiving Day in exchange for having December 12 off.) It’s possible to write a book about these cultural differences that at times create friction, or give mixed signals.
Louis E. V. Nevaer (photo left)
Are there cultural differences within the Latino and Hispanic cultures that are often completely the opposite of the mainstream business culture?
Louis Nevaer: Of course, and this is especially true when you consider when equals meet. By this I mean, what happens when Americans travel to Latin America and meet with their counterparts? My firm conducted a survey to hear what complaints or observations non-Hispanic American executives had about their Latin American counterparts. Male executives in Mexico City wear too much cologne and dress too formally. Female executives from Argentina and Caracas dress too flashy and wear too much makeup. Male executives from Buenos Aires wear their hair too long, and female executives from Santiago dress as if they were at a funeral. Everyone in Latin America stands too close to each other. Female executives insist on kissing each other at the start of meetings, and male executives make Americans feel uncomfortable if they move as if they want to conclude a meeting with a hug. Latin Americans smoke too much, and there is too much alcohol at business lunches.
Latin Americans arrive at meetings thinking they can spend the first twenty minutes catching up on their families, and they believe that having a business dinner at 10 p.m. is “normal.” And when asked what they found most “distracting” about, say, Latinas in the U.S., here are some observations: They wear too much make up. Their clothes are too flashy for the business world. Their accessories – whether it is your perfume or your choice of jewelry – are distracting. They stand too close to others, are too “touchy-feely,” and look like you spend more time thinking about striking a pose than striking a deal. It all comes down to the Anglo-Saxon preference for business-directed approach over the Hispanic relationship-directed way of doing things.
What influences have caused cultural differences within the Hispanic and Latino communities?
The most important division within the Hispanic identity is the fact that U.S.-born Latinos are “losing” their “Hispanic” sensibilities. U.S.-born Latinos are certainly aware of the linguistic challenges they encounter – they’re forgetting Spanish! And this creates a tremendous rift between Hispanics who are fluent in business Spanish and U.S. Latinos who converse in “Spanglish.” This creates two problems. Among Hispanics, there is discrimination: It becomes difficult to build a strong bond with someone whom you cannot fully communicate with as you would like.
The other, more serious consequence, of course, is that if U.S. Latinos are not conversant in business Spanish, this limits their career opportunities. One of the most difficult things I have to do is to be straightforward and tell someone that their language skills are inadequate. At first they are offended, and many times there is anger. (This is especially the case when a firm, out of frustration that their U.S.-born Latino staff does not have the language skills for international business, and they hire a Latin American immigrant for a managerial position. The complaint emerges: Why should I, who was born in this country, have to report to someone who’s an immigrant? Why was I passed over for a promotion and they went out and recruited someone from some other country? Because this other person knows how to say, “To Whom It May Concern” in proper Spanish.)
The fact that U.S. Latinos are a minority in the “Anglo-Saxon” mainstream, English-speaking society in the U.S. means that they are acculturating and assimilating in ways that create barriers. It is natural to the conflicts that emerge when one group of people (U.S. Hispanics) are living in a diaspora.
When many employers think of Hispanic and Latino employees, they often think of them as a homogeneous group. Is that really the case or is there a large amount of diversity within the Latino and Hispanic communities?
Louis Nevaer: There is as much “diversity” within the “Hispanic” identity as there is within a “European” identity. We say “European,” but then we know there’s a big difference between a European from Germany and a European from Italy. Similarly, there’s a world of difference from a Hispanic of, say, Mexican ancestry and one from Cuba. Not only are we talking about, in comparing Mexican Hispanics and Cuban Hispanics, in language, culture, and history, but in this case in racial makeup. Cubans are more in line with American society: Europeans and Africans coming or being brought over to the New World, forging a society of white, black and mixed race (mulatto) peoples.
Mexico, on the other hand, is a totally different experience racially: Europeans intermingling with First Peoples (Native Americans), and with Africans almost absent. The differences are physically so stark that consider this: A Cuban who manages to get to Mexico, and makes it to the U.S. border can walk across, say, “I’m Cuban and I want asylum,” and U.S. officials almost instantly know if this is true. On the other hand, a Mexican who crosses the border and tries to pretend to be a Cuban, will, almost as instantly, be found out. The differences are that stark among various Hispanic groups.
How can companies better attract and retain the best Hispanic employees?
Louis Nevaer: The answer is simple: The ability to be “in-culture,” which means sensitive to the values and concerns of Hispanic, Latino and Latin employees. Word gets around, and fast. Consider the classic case study on why American Airlines was successful in Miami, while Delta Airlines floundered. American Airlines acquired the routes to Latin America from Eastern Airlines, and Delta had the routes from Pan American World Airways. It was how American Airlines saw the nature of their Miami hub – a Latin American outpost in the U.S. – that made the difference. Delta Airlines, culturally oblivious to the nature of Hispanic society, got just about everything wrong, and had to shut down that hub. It all had to with one company’s ability to attract and retain a superior Hispanic workforce, while Delta was not.
Should employers consider different employee evaluations and appraisals that are more culturally sensitive?
Louis Nevaer: Yes and no. Yes, when it comes to understanding the relationships within a department and the dynamics of a working team. No, when it comes to deliverables and job results. There’s no “sliding scale” in terms of business output and success. But morale, group cohesion and the organic dynamics of an office, a department, a division or a company has to reflect how a balance is struck. Think of it this way: It’s still a struggle to strike a balance between men and women in the workplace. How does one overcome gender issues – what one gender finds innocuous another finds offensive? How can a workplace function without similar conflicts or complaints emerging between Hispanic and non-Hispanic employees?
What opportunities does hiring more Hispanic employees provide to a company?
Louis Nevaer: The opportunity to be in sync with the nation’s demographics. I’m convinced that when the U.S. Census Bureau begins to disclose its findings from the 2010 census that people will be surprised at how rapidly the U.S. is becoming a Hispanic nation. In terms of numbers, purchasing power, dispersion throughout the U.S. and cultural presence, it is, as some critics point out, like the colonization of this country. The U.S. recently displaced Spain to become the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Hiring more Hispanic/Latino/Latin employees gives a company a competitive advantage as the U.S. becomes a bilingual consumer economy.
What is the future of Hispanic and Latino employees in the employment world, especially as more Hispanic employees enter management?
Louis Nevaer: In the short term, there will be more conflicts between Hispanic and non-Hispanic employees (management and non-management alike). There is also a backlash, much the same way we see a backlash in society in general. If you reflect on the hostility that informs the question of “immigration” currently, it’s driven by fear. On a very basic gut level, “Anglo-Saxon” mainstream society feels “violated” that the notion of what is “American” – the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Anglo-Saxon Protestant values – is threatened. The “narrative” of “American” society is seen as being undermined by the arrival of people who do not share that history, or are even aware of it.
If you ask a Mexican immigrant to the U.S. to name one of the Founding Fathers, well, you might as well be asking a certain former governor from Alaska! But the future is, in the long term, is driven by demographics: To see what the future holds, visit the maternity ward at your nearest hospital, and see names of the newborn babies. In 20 years from today, these are the ones who will be thinking about ruling the world, just like you did when you were 20.
What is the first step an employer should take when considering expansion of the company's Hispanic and Latino workforce?
Louis Nevaer: They should read my book, of course. But in a more serious note, they should understand that there is no monolithic “Hispanic” identity, so they have to ask several questions: Where are we located? Which are the Hispanic/Latin/Latino employees in this market? Are they “Caribbean” or “Mexican” Hispanics? Are they immigrants? What are the cultural nuances that define their identity? Is this community immigrant, acculturated or assimilated? Think of it this way: If you were expanding your “European” workforce – well, there’s a huge difference between a European from France and a European from Greece and a European from Norway. It’s that diverse, the Hispanic identity.
What is next for Louis Nevaer?
Louis Nevaer: Apart from speaking to businesses about diversity and managing Hispanics in the workplace, there are two other books. First, a follow up book to this one! I’m under contract to write a book directed for Latinas, and how they can advance their careers. I’m delighted to be working with Rose Guilbault, the former Editorial Director for the ABC-affiliate in the San Francisco market, and the current Vice President of Corporate Communications for AAA of northern California. Rose is a pioneering Latina, who has broken through gender barriers and opened many “firsts” for Hispanics. This exciting, simply because Latinas are more likely to become managers than Hispanic males.
At the same time, as one of your questions posed – What drives a wedge among Hispanics? – I’m also working on a book for Hispanic. The Top Ten Lies Hispanics Believe about the U.S. will answer many of the questions and observations that Hispanics, Latinos and Latins find about the greater, mainstream “Anglo-Saxon” society in which they live.
My book review of Managing Hispanic and Latino Employees: A Guide to Hiring, Training, Motivating, Supervising, and Supporting the Fastest Growing Workforce Group by Louis E. V. Nevaer
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