Susan Martinez, Eva Peron, Sonia Sotomayor, Jennifer Lopez. The images many have of Latina leaders whether political, historic, judicial or popular, are of smart women who are savvy and powerful.
But there are also the conflicting popular media images of Latinas portrayed as sexy hotheads who are destined to work in service industries. The challenges facing many Latinas in the workplace include moving beyond narrow definitions of their culture buoyed by fiercely maintained media stereotypes and the expectations of how they present themselves. And the pay gap they suffer is debilitating over the course of a career.The pay gap Latina women suffer is debilitating over the course of a career. Click To Tweet
A new study by People en Espanol and Lieberman Research Worldwide of 1,000 Latinas about their work and personal identities finds many challenged by their need to be authentic to who they are culturally and to cope with the feeling of “otherness.”
While most or 80 percent say they want to be seen as who they are, close to a third say they dress more conservatively at work in order to be taken seriously. That is higher than the 21 percent of non-Hispanic Caucasian women who report, “I must dress more conservatively than my co-workers in order to be taken seriously.”
“Our Latina@Work study highlights new insights depicting the struggle faced by today’s Latinas as they battle disparate perceptions, overwhelming stereotypes and pre-conceived notions in a corporate environment,” said Monique Manso, People en Español Brand Sales Director. “The study lays the foundation for a critical conversation among corporations and brands around the success, equality and inclusion of Latinas in the workplace,” according to Vibe.
Latina women have accomplished far more than their stereotype suggests.
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reports that more than 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses contribute more than $661 billion to the American economy every year. Recently the chamber of commerce announced that Claudia Mirza, CEO and Co-Founder of Akorbi, will receive the its annual 2016 Businesswoman of the Year Award. According to the chamber, Mirza is recognized as “a female entrepreneur whose outstanding leadership, pioneering spirit, social, and economic contributions exemplify the best of America’s business community.”
There are 56.6 million Hispanics in the country as of 2015, or 17.6 percent of the total U.S. Population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2060, there will be 119 million Hispanics in this country, or 28.6 percent of the population. So it matters enormously that a slice of the U.S. Population is unfairly dismissed.
Data from the most recent Survey of Business Owners shows that Hispanic-owned firms account for $1.4 trillion in sales receipts in this country, and women-owned firms are 44.5 percent of the firms. Hispanic women-owned firms brought in $78.7 million in sales receipts, according to the 2012 data.
Yet in spite of this enormous economic power, many Latinas fight a legacy of lower pay. According to The Guardian, “Black and Latino women will lose more than $877,000 and $1 million respectively over a 40-year career compared to their white male counterparts, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center.” Jana Kasperkevic writes, “The report, which breaks down the gender wage gap by race and state, found that in 2014, Latina women earned between 54 and 55 cents for every dollar that white men made. This amounts to a 40-year career wage gap of $1,007,080 on average. Latina women lose more than a million dollars over their careers in 23 states, including the District of Columbia where the gap is highest at $1,781,720. ”
The pay disparities persist along with the stereotypes of Latinas perpetuated by popular culture.
None of these stereotypes jibe with what many would consider professional behavior. Most recently, the movie, “Sausage Party,” with Salma Hayek portraying a taco shell in the animated feature, has been lambasted for its fierce stereotypes of Latinas.
Ariel Nagi wrote in Cosmopolitan about the myths that Latinas dress flashy, have high pitched voices and come from dangerous neighborhoods. This in turn affects how they are perceived at work, in business and as leaders.
According to Huffington Post’s Carolina Moreno, “What we see in the media right now is a limited version of our humanity,” Kat Lazo told Vivala’s Concepcion de Leon in a video interview. Moreno quotes YouTube star Lazo: “In terms of career (white women) can be police officers, council women, fire women — like all these different professional career roles, and not so much when it comes to Latinas. The problem really lies in when that is the extent of our humanity. So we internalize these messages and we put limits to who we can be in terms of our professions, in terms of our own identity.”
These exaggerated, unreal images and stereotypes of women can harm the careers of Latinas.Exaggerated, unreal stereotypes of women can harm the careers of Latinas. Click To Tweet
“The spicy Latina is portrayed as a woman with curves in all the right places, the perfect shade of tan skin, and dark, thick hair. She wears tight clothes that highlight her bosom and bottom. Her sexy sway just happens to attract every man that passes by. Her voice is loud and she speaks broken English,” writes Carelyn Tiburcio on ULoop. “But be careful with her! Mess with the spicy Latina and you’ll most likely get dramatically slapped across the face.”
As women in the workplace, Latinas are portrayed often as maids in television and movies. “The late actress Lupe Ontiveros estimated that she played a maid as many as 150 times on screen,” according to the site, Race Relations.
Many of the “9 Leadership Power Tools To Advance Your Career” created by Take The Lead co-founder and president Gloria Feldt can address these challenges. Power Tool # 2, to “define your own terms,” and Power Tool #3, “use what you’ve got,” call for a bold grasp of your own career path and an embrace of authenticity.
In the private sector, writes Valentina Zarya in Forbes, multicultural women are woefully underrepresented in senior level executive slots. While women hold 25 percent of the senior executive spots, “the majority of these women leaders are white. When it comes to minority women, the numbers are much, much lower: Hispanic women represent about 6 percent of the workforce and 1.3 percent of leadership.”
But increasing numbers of new Latina entrepreneurs and the continued successes of Latina-owned businesses will perhaps shift perceptions, dissolve stereotypes and leverage opportunities.
“According to the Minority Business Development Agency, in 2012, the most recent data available, there were 8 million minority-owned businesses, representing a 38 percent increase since 2007,” MSN reports. “Overall, new business activity rose in 2016, bolstered by women and minority-owned businesses. Women make up 40.6 percent of new entrepreneurs, while a second important stat showed a dramatic increase in Latino business owners, more than doubling since 1996, to 20.8 percent of all new entrepreneurs,” according to MSN.
“Another factor that allows minority-owned businesses to flourish is a local community that supports these businesses regardless of whether they’re retail storefronts or tech companies, according to MBDA national director Alejandra Castillo. Location in a community that is rich with diversity undoubtedly helps to make this a reality.”
Castillo adds, “The population sees minorities start businesses and then become job creators within those communities.”