Understanding Cultural Differences in our Latinx Workforce

By Pam Berrios, Director of Multicultural Training and Development

As a large corporation, we understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion are the key components needed for better financial performance, better decision making, improved talent recruiting, longer retention and overall employee engagement. However, we cannot possibly achieve any of that unless we are making a conscious daily effort to get to know and to genuinely accept and respect everyone’s individuality.

The most important thing to understand when we talk about cultural differences is that everyone, without exception, has biases. These are based on our own background, culture, and personal experiences and often originate at a very early age. This reality, however, does not mean that we are necessarily prejudiced or inclined to discriminate against other people. It simply means that your brain is working in a way that makes associations and generalizations based on what you’ve experienced in your lifetime.

Avoiding biases entirely can be difficult, but being aware of their existence and striving to minimize them can help. One way that we as individuals can work towards a more inclusive workplace is to learn about our cultural differences and work to understand them so we can try to bridge the gap. With the multicultural workforce we have here at Ruppert, it’s important that we each take an interest in getting to know the members of our team. For managers, this is a critical step in managing cross-culturally. What makes each member of your team who they are? What is his/her background? Their country of origin? Their values? Their challenges? Their goals? How can we help them achieve their aspirations? These are the critical building blocks that will enable you to effectively communicate with and motivate your team.

Here are just a few cultural differences within our Latinx workforce that we should be aware of:

  • Workplace Hierarchy and Social Harmony: Many Latinx come from very class-oriented societies and therefore have a very traditional view of workplace hierarchy, viewing themselves as separate from their supervisors. They may prefer to speak to supervisors more formally and not be comfortable using first names.
  • Avoiding a Potential Conflict: Some Latinx employees may be reluctant to give a negative response when asked a question and tend to avoid confrontation. It’s not uncommon to respond with “Todo bien!” or “Si!” when asked a question in front of the team, even if there is an issue, to ensure that their supervisor doesn’t lose faith in his/her capabilities. To ensure that all details have been communicated accurately, supervisors must learn to ask their Latinx employees specific, open-ended, probing questions and when possible, make one-on-one time to get to the heart of the issue.
  • Earning Trust: In Latinx cultures, trust–or “confianza”–is not automatically given; it is earned. For example, Americans tend to refer to people they work with or know peripherally as “friend,” whereas it takes longer to earn the title of “amigo.” This is also a reason why Latinx family members end up working together so often; they prefer to work with people they trust. As a supervisor, it is important to develop trust with your Latinx employees by making an effort to be extra friendly, ask about their families and where they are from, and even if you don’t know much Spanish, a smile and a handshake can go a long way.
  • Offensive Gestures, Behaviors and Humor: With the language barrier, some things just get lost in translation or are not humorous to others. For example, snapping your fingers at a Latinx employee could be highly offensive (a gesture that’s usually reserved for animals), as would a joke at their expense or a family member. Be mindful of how what you say may come across to someone who doesn’t understand the joke or gesture. Likewise, foul language or smoking/chewing tobacco while working may be viewed as disrespectful to your employer and coworkers.

While these generalizations are helpful in understanding behaviors and motivations, it is important to recognize that not all Latinos come from the same background or have the same lived experience and should be treated individually. But with a foundation of cultural understanding in place, we can begin to build trust and respect and work together more effectively. And while we always encourage our Spanish-speaking team members to become more fluent in English—especially if they want to progress in their career—it’s always a well-received gesture when managers and team members make the effort to communicate in Spanish as well. Learning a few industry-specific words and phrases in Spanish and genuinely trying to connect, even if it feels awkward or clumsy, will ultimately encourage a better dialogue among all involved. In short, when coming from two very different perspectives, sometimes meeting each other half-way makes all the difference.