Latina In HR
Starting a professional career is scary, no matter what stage of life you're at.
You have to build your treasure chest of knowledge, train your mind to think in a new lens, and build your confidence as a subject expert - phew! In today's age, you can type a question in a Google search and receive various answers in a matter of seconds, but that doesn't mean the answer you find will always apply to the challenge you face. People often worry about the facts instead of critically thinking how facts can be useful in engaging in conversations. One thing that remains unique in any interaction is your point of view. No matter what the challenge you're facing or what solution you may find, your unique outlook at a situation can help those around you to learn from your insights.
Human Resources (HR) has gone through a series of evolutions, yet it is a field that many have come to distrust. For an area of focus that is meant to support people at all levels of the organization, there have been times where HR focused on facts instead of looking at the big picture, therefore losing focus on the people aspect of their role. When done right, HR can be a supportive role in an organization to help rally employees and organization leaders in unity, to find constructive ways for both sides to work through conflicts, and provide tools to build trust all around. The recent shift to rebrand HR as "People Operations" or "Human Capital Management" is only the surface of the current change in the field. Many organizations have realized how valuable it is for HR to have a seat at the executive table. Still if you look closer, the diversity of this vital executive seat is surprisingly low amongst Latinos. The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) published their 2016 Corporate Inclusion Index (CII) findings after surveying 33% of Fortune 100 companies and discovered "fewer than five (5) percent of executive officer positions were held by Hispanics." Out of the executive positions, why should the HR role be the one to strive for more diversity?
In order for HR to be effective in an organization, it needs to empathize with its employees. The best way we can empathize is by asking the right questions (yet another skill to learn), but if there are language or cultural barriers, the chances to empathize diminish. Now I'm not saying Latinos are the only ethnic group worthy to seek out the coveted executive HR seat, but "the gap between the labor force and executive representation is wider among Hispanics than any other group" (according to a 2019 analysis of EEOC reports). You can analyze the data for days and make arguments for or against the findings. I can tell you from my experience, having a bilingual member that can communicate with a labor force in the second most-common language is a lifesaver for an executive team, especially when you're in need of assistance in confidential matters. Understanding how culture impacts your employees motivations and boundaries helps you (the organization) empathize with the employees. Some of these things can be taught, but when a sensitive matter comes up in the workplace involving an employee of color, the most effective person who can empathize with their perspective is a diverse member of management. Diversity at that level can quickly code switch between culture and conversations at various levels. That's why diversity matters in these roles. Here's my opinion:
In a corporate world that wants to embrace diversity, you need to invest in diversity at the top in order for the company's values to reflect their commitment to D&I efforts all the way down to your essential staff.
So with all that said, allow me to introduce myself: I am Katie Lopes, a cisgender Latina woman, and a bilingual Human Resources Anthropologist by profession (a story for another blog piece). My HR career path began in 2018 after years of attempting to break into the field. Despite the lack of stories shared from the perspective of Latina executives in HR, my goal is to build and document my path into an executive position in the field.
In many ways it feels like I've been training for a career in HR all my life. Building professional skills and acquiring a higher education as a first-generation Latina was only the beginning. I've had many years of training in supportive roles, but trying to move up in a corporate ladder often felt like I was circling a labyrinth with no end. The lack of public Latina voices in the HR field made it that much harder for me to believe that my dream of amounting to this level of influence could even be possible. Gratefully I've crossed paths with inspiring leaders and have built a supportive network around me who are guiding me to make this a dream a reality one day. I hope the pieces published here can provide insight to aspiring Latinas interested in a career in HR. These are my chronicles navigating a new career path, as a Latina in HR, and I want to share it with you.