Gabriela and I met for coffee together one morning before work. Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano is the Business Counselor for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis. She told me the Hispanic Chamber offers resources for companies looking for Hispanic talent. And businesses often hire Hispanics because of their work ethic. “While we certainly help place cleaning ladies, welders and construction workers, we also help professional Hispanics find jobs too. In fact, most of the people connected with the Chamber are accountants, researchers, engineers and IT experts.”

With the current unemployment rate at 4.1% and a U.S. demographics shift toward people of color at 46%, employers will have to get comfortable hiring diverse people. The benefit is that those businesses will then appeal to a broader market. So I asked Gabriela, “If business leaders want to hire and retain Hispanic people, what do they need to know?”

Gabriela explained, “It’s important for business leaders to help employees integrate into the company culture, as well as value the diverse experiences and perspectives various cultural groups offer. Leaders can keep in mind the core values Hispanics hold dearly, including family, celebration of culture and a desire for self-improvement.” Gabriela and I discussed the following ideas for companies and their employees to be successful.

Clarify expectations. “Rather than just teaching a person how to do specific job tasks, it’s helpful for Hispanic employees to learn how to work in the new environment as well. More often than not, it’s the more subtle American majority cultural expectations that need to be made clear, like how to engage in networking, team building, emailing and just hanging out.” With team building, don’t take for granted that someone will take the initiative to speak up in a meeting or one-on-one conversation. An American majority culture manager or colleague can invite a person to share an idea or ask her what she thinks. If a person is particularly hesitant to speak up, give him the question ahead of time to think about an answer. Gabriela said, “A Hispanic employee may never have been asked before and need time to consider, ‘What do you want to do?’ You could also ask, ‘How would you handle that job?’” With emails, explain an email can go directly to the person for whom you have the question. You don’t have to ask the boss first.

Have signs and flyers in Spanish. Gabriela told me that she goes out of her way to go to a specific Bank of America because they have Spanish and English language signs. She goes to that branch because she loves seeing her language. When doing this, Gabriela recommends hiring a translator in order to use the correct words and not inadvertently offend people. One St. Louis-based organization that can help is AAA Translation.

Celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Hispanic countries. For events around Hispanic Heritage Month, from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, and Cinco de Mayo, Gabriela said, “Because it’s their heritage, it’s important that Hispanics plan and host these events. Even if it’s a business initiative, don’t leave the Latinos out of the planning.” Also, because the Hispanics are aware of the vast cultural variations in Latin America, they may be more mindful about stereotypes. “We have to be careful about our assumptions, even at the Chamber. All the Latinos at my work are from different Hispanic backgrounds so we have to navigate cultural nuances every day.”

Offer English classes on site. “Employers may not realize that when Hispanics don’t speak English, it can be hard on them. While they often want to learn, when both parents are working two to three jobs and taking care of children, it’s hard to find the time and money.” It’s helpful if an employer can provide English classes, for example, during the lunch break at work. This is to the company’s advantage too. When personnel are able to speak English, they are more confident as employees and more likely to share ideas for improvement. And while professional-level employees may already speak English, they still may need to learn the vocabulary of their particular industry.

Greet people. Gabriela told me that because relationships are significant in Hispanic culture, greetings are particularly important. Before talking about a task, say, “Hello!” or “Good morning, how are you?” Eye contact is important. And taking an interest in a person’s family is a great way to connect. Author Erin Meyers in her book, The Culture Map (2014), explains that on the “Trusting Scale,” Mexican culture tends toward being relationship-based; whereas, American culture tends to be task-based. In relationship-based culture, “…trust is built through sharing meals, evening drinks, and visits at the coffee machine.” In a task-based culture, “…trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships are built and dropped easily, based on the practicality of the situation,” (Meyers, 2014). If a person does good work consistently, he or she is considered reliable, enjoyable and trust-worthy. Gabriela told me that another way to bridge this cultural difference is for a manager to extend personal invitations to a work event rather than just a general one.

I asked Gabriela, “How can a person of American majority culture learn more about the relationship-based cultures of Latin America?”

Gabriela explained that attending the Chamber’s monthly After Hours networking event is a great place to start. By attending, leaders and employers can:

  • Meet professionals that help break down stereotypes,
  • Hear stories of people from the distinct Latin cultures,
  • Get to know fellow majority culture colleagues who already partner with the Chamber,
  • Discover how to be even more effective and compassionate toward minorities, learning to navigate their new culture.

The Business After Hours networking event is held the third Thursday of every month, has no agenda, requires no commitment and is no cost. And bring a friend! The Chamber is made up of a welcoming group of people and love to have new people join in! -AN

Gabriela, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and share your wisdom and experience. Gabriela and I met serving on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the 2018 Midwest Women Business Owners’ Conference.