Jenny was a 24-year-old Air Force pilot who used to work in the accounting section of an interior design organization. One day, she realized another team was going through some difficult times. She kindly offered to help.
Surprisingly, she received this response in an email from her boss: “Number crunchers lack leadership skills.” Seriously?
Jenny, a determined Latina if there ever was one, decided to write to her boss’ boss (let’s call him John) explaining how she could help her colleagues. She included her resume, which showed over a decade as a civil air patrol volunteer, her involvement as an ambassador of the Red Shoe Movement (my company), and so on.
Impressed not only with her credentials but with her initiative, John set up a time to talk to Jenny. After an insightful conversation, he promoted her to program manager of the team in question. The kicker? The tables had turned; the woman who had told Jenny she didn’t have any leadership skills would now report to her.
The first part of what happened to this young woman is not that unusual. More often than not, bosses overlook high-potential Latinas because they are looking through the wrong set of eyeglasses.
Consider this: Hispanics have the fastest population growth of all the race and ethnic groups. They are projected to represent nearly one-fifth of the labor force by 2024. With a median age of 28 (compared with 43 for whites), Hispanics are the youngest of all groups. And, considering that 21% of millennials in the U.S. are Hispanic, you may very well be missing out on key talent in your own backyard.
Three Mistakes To Avoid In Order To Recruit And Retain High-Potential Latinas
1. Avoid breaking promises.
We could fill the Library of Congress with stories of women — and, more poignantly, non-white women — who after working hard at their jobs get passed over for a promotion. It goes like this: Karina is so good at what she does her boss keeps piling responsibilities on her. He showers Karina with compliments but offers no remunerative incentive. The promise is that in six months, there will be a job opening for a higher position with a higher salary and it will be Karina’s for the taking.
Excited about the prospect, she takes leadership development courses, works long hours, and volunteers with other teams to keep a high profile. But when the time comes, the promotion is offered to a male colleague. Her boss tells Karina: “I can’t afford to lose you right now. Nobody can do what you do.” Come again?
Frustrated, Karina looks for another job where her work is fairly compensated. Most importantly, she looks for an organization with a clear career progression plan in place for high potentials and people of all backgrounds.
2. Avoid preconceived notions of what Latinas can or should do.
Most likely, when you meet a professional Indian man at an office after-hours you’ll think he’s some kind of software genius. This kind of stereotype is so ingrained in us that it’s hard to see someone for who they really are before you make an assumption. It’s just how our brain works — at least our “System 1,” as Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman taught us in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Now, what do you think about when you see a Latina? Do you immediately believe she’s good for customer-facing and support positions? What happens when the person in front of you is a brilliant businesswoman: someone with strong leadership skills who can handle large contracts and high-stakes negotiations?
Evaluate whether you’ve been assigning roles to members of your team that are quite stereotypical and explore opportunities that are outside the realm of what you initially thought they could do.
People of Hispanic background tend to have been exposed to a wide range of life experiences that make them ideal candidates for roles with more responsibility than you probably give them credit for. Many young Latinos grew up taking care of younger siblings and elder relatives, working while going to school and being responsible from a very young age. They bring skills, experience, values and a work ethic that often goes undiscovered. Look again at Jenny’s example above. She was only 24, but she had already done so much.
So, when you pigeonhole high-potential Latinas (and although today I focus on Latinas, this applies to women in general), you miss out on their real potential for your company.
3. Avoid missing out on recruiting the right talent.
You may be out there visiting colleges and participating in professional conventions in search of diverse talent, yet inadvertently overlook the Latina standing right in front of you. Why? Because her resume doesn’t read like what you think you are looking for: wrong schools, wrong side of the tracks, wrong experiences. Are you looking closely?
Daysi was the first in her family to go to college. She studied aviation at a city school, founded a women’s organization in her college, and held internships at JetBlue and a company at La Guardia Airport before starting a retail career at Target and Macy’s. She has an unusual background to be working in retail, and you could be focused on the fact that she moved around a lot or that she didn’t go to an Ivy League school.
But, when you dig a little deeper, you realize this is a young woman who always over delivers and is solution-driven and open to feedback. She’s used to making do with less and thinks outside of the box. She has a plan B and a plan C at the ready just in case. She’s resilient.
Change your eyeglasses and you’ll see an abundance of high potentials all around you. Treat them as if you’re seeing them for the first time, and honestly explore their true value to align their goals with your organizations’. Sooner than you think, your company will feel a lot more inclusive for everyone.