Hispanic/Latino Millennials: The Growing and New Diverse Workforce (Challenges and Opportunities)


Human Intelligent (HI) Workplace
Helping Leaders Help Themselves

July 6, 2016


Donna Blancero, Ph.D., Edwin Mouriño-Ruiz, Ph.D., & Amado Padilla, Ph.D.

Note: While the authors recognize that Latino and Hispanic have different origins and have different meanings for some, the authors chose to use them here interchangeably simply for convenience. The following is a summary of a future upcoming article to be published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences.

State of the Workforce

There are a variety trends that are enabling and forcing organizational change that include the technological evolution, the educational challenges, an aging workforce, four generations in the workplace that include a growing Millennial workforce, and an increasing diverse (particularly Latino) workforce. These trends are creating both challenges and opportunities for organizations and their leaders. 

A crucial trend that has implications for a changing and growing demographic workforce includes Millennials and in particular Latinos/Hispanics as the world and workplace continues to have an increased aging workplace. In the future demographic world map there will be two countries Mexico and India that appear to have enough of workforce for the future where most do not meet the minimum 2.1 number which includes immigration, emigration, births, and deaths. This is further highlighted in a 2014 Ted Talk where the speaker warns of the aging workforce that will come to a crossroads by 2030. This will only make it that more important to attract and retain an engaged workforce as competition increases for an aging workforce.

While there is an aging workforce in the 21st century, there is an increase in the millennials as a major generation in the workplace. Actually, it is expected that by 2020 50% of workforce will be made up of Millennials. Millennials have overtaken the number of baby boomers in the workplace and they are primarily interested in collaborating, recognition, innovation, and relationships. Millennials have been labeled impatient, technologically savvy, self-absorbed, and just plain spoiled. The changing diversity of generations in the workplace will provide both opportunities and challenges in leader-employee relationships.

Today’s workplace consists of workers of all ages, not just Millennials searching for meaning and purpose in life, and yet the workplace seems to be the last place where workers are finding this meaning.  In the 21st century, worker’s expectations are changing, unfortunately most companies have not evolved to keep pace or adapting fast enough to meet these changing expectations.

The Growing Hispanic/Latino Millennial Workforce

While expectations of the workplace are changing, there is a generational change taking place such as the Baby Boomers entering retirement at increasingly fast rates. All of this is occurring while the Millennial workforce is becoming the largest portion of the workforce and among the Millennials the increasing Latino demographic is the largest portion of this trend.

There are presently 53 million Latinos in the U.S., which make the U.S. the 2nd country with the most Latinos in the world and also the second largest Spanish speaking country with an average age of 27 compared to 40 of the Anglo demographic. A further point is made that for every Anglo who dies, one is born; for every Latino who dies, eight are born. This is further reinforced with the fact that Latinos will make up 74% of labor force growth by 2020 and just this year became the largest entrants into the workforce, which makes this group both an important part of the present workforce and customer base for organizations in the U.S. Latinos are expected to keep America both young and growing, will make up 29% of the growth in real income, more likely to participate in the workforce, and expected to add more than $1.3 trillion in buying power.

Latinos are members of the largest and also one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States. They are disproportionately underrepresented in more highly compensated professional and leadership roles across corporate America.

Acculturation and/or Enculturation

While the U.S. continues to evolve demographically what has been traditionally accepted and researched is how minorities integrate or achieve acculturation into the mainstream and into organizations. Acculturation is what occurs when immigrants migrate into the new culture and integrate the values, beliefs, and practices of the new culture, while also maintaining aspects of their own ethnic identity. The process of acculturation is often differentiated from that of enculturation. Specifically, while acculturation is viewed as the adoption of and adaption to new cultural enculturation is more centered on the maintenance of one’s own cultural heritage or traditions as a result of this cross-cultural contact or independent of it. 

American corporations have typically had an Anglo-capitalistic cultural makeup that includes a mindset of controlling one’s destiny, speaking and bragging about one’s strengths, successes, and a mentality of “look what I bring to the organization.” While Latinos have traditionally been raised to demonstrate humility, a focus on family, respect, and faith in God. It will be interesting to see how this moral compass, religious preference, and cultural perspective will impact American corporations and their organizational talent acquisition, management, leadership development, and diversity, both from an employee and customer point of view. We believe that the acculturation–enculturation experience is unique for Latinos and may result in additional challenges for them in the workplace and their careers.

Bicultural or Cosmopolitanism

Embracing a bicultural identity is one of the key pillars of successful acculturation enculturation, which implies the ability to function in a manner that is congruent with the values, beliefs, customs, behaviors, and language of both the ethnic and host culture. However, as compared to those who are English-language dominant, bilingual fluency in both Spanish and English has been linked to higher occupational prestige for Latina workers as well as enhanced cognitive performance and executive functioning in bilingual speakers, even with nonverbal tasks. Furthermore, there is some evidence that bilingual individuals enjoy significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and resilience than those who speak only one language.

In the US alone millennials are about 90 million strong, better educated than their parents and grandparents, typically more socially liberal in their attitudes on a wide range of topics including: cultural diversity, same sex marriage, interracial marriage, marijuana legalization, economic inequality and the poor, social justice concerns, gender equality, and environmental issues including minimizing one’s carbon foot print. In many respects, millennials have been the beneficiaries of the multicultural education fostered by earlier advocates for a multicultural society beginning with educational reforms that called for greater inclusion of diverse cultures and histories in the school curriculum. 

Millennials seem to move across social and cultural borders with far greater ease than generations before them. In addition, because of technology and their ability to literally speed across the globe in seconds in search of information they have a totally different perspective of what it means to be a member of a global society.

Millennials are also America’s most racially diverse generation ever with many living in cosmopolitan global cities. In this new world of cosmopolitanism, the view is that every culture possesses elements that are valuable while also pointing to a diminishing loyalty to any single culture orientation. Nearly half (43%) are non-white and within another 25 years the full U.S. population will be majority non-white. Members of this generation too are more likely than others before them to hold a position that all ethnic/racial heritages should be respected, counted and acknowledged. 

While this is occurring, today’s millennials identifying strongly with their ethnic heritage are also more oriented toward biculturalism and finding ways to present themselves as an ethnic person through their life styles choices while also showing that they are American. There are also interesting studies showing how millennials use their bicultural/bilingual skills to translate for their parents and the process by which they transition their elders into the American mainstream.

Discrimination, Micro-aggressions, and Isms

Unfortunately, while society moves forward and continues to get more diverse, it continues to hold on to negative old practices. The reason for the maintenance of an ethnic identity has much to do with perceived discrimination and micro aggressions. For many persons of color, a positive way of coping with discrimination is to maintain a bond with one’s heritage while also participating in American culture, but doing so on one’s own terms which implies a selective form of biculturalism in behavior and cultural expression. Biculturalism is complex and involves numerous cultural, linguistic, and behavioral competencies meaning that there is no one set of characteristics that define a bicultural person.

And while for many, the bicultural world is what many might have grown up with, much has changed over the last few decades where biculturalism is being over taken by a new world view – cosmopolitanism – among millennials. Today because of globalization, technology, and ease of racial/ethnic/cultural border crossings people are expressing feelings of multiple identities and belonging while at the same time holding firm to a heritage identity especially when they experience micro aggressions and/or discrimination against the heritage group.

What should make this of increased importance to organizations, is that the future workforce will be made up of the millennial growing workforce, and the Latino portion makes up 44% or the largest demographic segment of this group and have experienced discrimination. This was further highlighted in a recent study where it found that those that were considered different (Latinos, African American, and women) might have a more difficult time getting through an interview. This cannot be tolerated nor accepted. Not only because discrimination is illegal and just morally wrong, but because these are the groups that will continue to grow and make a larger segment of the workforce including their leadership, customer base, and overall diverse American society. What makes this increasingly difficult to accept and for organizations and its leadership to allow is the instant transparency of information made available through the internet.

In a relatively short period of 3 decades, we have evolved into a global society interconnected because of incredible advancements in technology. Today’s millennials do not know a world without the Internet and social media. Pundits have described this generation as “digital natives” because of their high dependence on technology and their uncanny knowledge of how to use technologies without much instruction. This means that as or if discrimination occurs the world has access to who is discriminating against this both growing workforce and customer base.

Unfortunately, as society has evolved so has the form of prejudices and biases. This unfortunately is supported by the fact that the majority of Hispanic Millennials have experienced discrimination.  More recently other forms of biased behavior directed at persons of color have been variously labeled as implicit bias or micro aggressions. These micro aggressions are hurtful to the minority person and as research has shown can have serious mental health consequences. Individuals who experience perceived discrimination and/or micro aggressions because of their ethnicity/race/culture/sexual orientation/religion may suffer feelings of depression, psychological distress, and social marginality calling into question their place in a multicultural society.

Microaggressions are defined as: “Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual- orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group”. These forms of aggression against people of color have always existed, but have taken on new prominence in our post-Civil Rights era because it is harder to get away with overt hate crimes acts whereas microaggressions are subtle and often difficult to prove that a racist act was committed, often even by the person who communicated the microaggression. This could be part of the reason for a recent article that highlighted a study where minorities “whitened” their resumes and had a better chance to get an interview.

Allowing bias and discrimination runs contrary to the research that highlights the advantages of diversity in the workplace that include decision making, problem solving, creativity, flexibility, and innovation, something needed by all organizations if they are going to remain competitive and enable them to reinvent themselves in the midst of constant change . Bias and discrimination make no sense with a growing and needed demographic. This is probably one of the reasons for a recent article titled “Without Hispanics, America’s Corporations can’t Grow and Compete”, while emphazising the importance of this growing workforce for the U.S. corporations. Yet here we are in the Trump era where “isms” are seen as just nothing serious and begs the question if the U.S. is going backwards when the demographics are continuing to evolve?

From an organizational and customer perspective, the buying power of the Latino community in the United States is estimated at over $1 trillion in 2010 and expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2020. This purchasing power is estimated to be larger than the entire economies of all but the top fifteen countries out of 194 or 16th in the world. In addition, when comparing the 53 million Latinos in the U.S. to the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, which are each have much larger populations, from a GDP perspective the US Latino demographic is at $31K plus, while the next closest is $11K and from a year over year growth perspective the US Latino demographic is at 3.2%, while the next closest is 1.4%. This has serious market share implications and should be an important focus for organizations and their senior leadership as part of their customer focus within their strategic efforts going forward.

In this new global world research points to youthful Hispanic consumers as very brand and fashion conscious and status image-driven in their purchases and who enjoy shopping more that non-Hispanic youth. These findings break with possible stereotypes of Hispanics millennials as marginalized. Hispanics are bicultural consumers who internalize their dual cultural identities and who are fashion and trend conscious as a way of locating themselves in an American context to demonstrate that they fit in to the mainstream.

In the 21st Century, an organization that has an engaged workforce has a tendency for higher productivity, less accidents, employees are less inclined to leave an organization, and higher customer satisfaction. This will be important as the workforce of Latinos and Millennials continue to grow. Their talent will play an important role in the future of organizations.

We suggest that because of these technological advances and globalization, we need to re-think what acculturation and biculturalism means for millennials. We might need 21st century concepts, theories and measuring instruments to completely understand this new world. We also caution us to think more carefully about microaggressions and the impact these can have not only on the targets of these aggression, but how through social media the perpetrators of micro aggressions can be identified and challenged on a scale never seen before. This is important for marketers. 

Finally, we call for a broadening of our thinking to include cosmopolitanism as more encompassing of the millennials and their place in the world. The large majority of people of color today live in cosmopolitan global cities. In their everyday life they experience the sights, sounds, and surroundings of globalization. And importantly their ethnic/racial/cultural heritage and identity has taken on new meaning which is just beginning to take hold in the consciousness of many millennials. In this new world of cosmopolitanism, the view is that every culture possesses elements that are valuable while also pointing to a diminishing loyalty to any single culture orientation. With people more open to adopting ideas, behaviors, and cultural products such as foods from other cultures and demonstrating a greater degree of open-mindedness and cultural empathy for other cultures.

These changes will make it increasingly more important for senior leadership to ensure that their organizations and managers are working to educate their leaders on the changing trends impacting society and in turn organizations. Being increasingly aware of these changes can only help organizations to attract and retain an engaged workforce as competition increases with an aging and diverse workforce. Increasing engagement has become particularly relevant when most workers crave meaning and purpose in life and very few find this at work.

For Latinos, work and the place they work in brings an extra perspective of pride along with an increased expectation of having a good relationship with their supervisor. In addition, Latinos place a high value on the employees’ stability and reputation. This makes effective leadership through increased awareness of the advantages of diversity and ensuring leaders are enabling employee engagement an imperative in today’s organizations.

The organization and its leadership has a choice. It can accept the societal demographic changes and use it as a competitive advantage and in turn use inclusion and diversity as a positive strategy for organizational success or disregard the changing demographics and increase the chances of a negative organizational brand along with possible discrimination lawsuits. This latter one can lead to an extinction event that has occurred to other organizations such as Kodak or Circuit City amongst others. While these organizations did not disappear due to discrimination, they did not adapt to the changing times, changing business models, and competitors. While adapting to new business models are good strategies to consider, this does not exempt organizations from previous and current practices of discrimination as both Uber and Airbnb have experienced. For success to prevail, organizations will need more than just new business models, they will need organizational cultures that accept the changing demographics and does not tolerate discriminatory practices.

Present and future organizations need to consider a paradigm shift when it comes to acculturation, enculturation, and a possible evolution to the acceptance of cosmopolitism.  Maintaining the status quo, or doing the same and accepting different results is not very smart to state it nicely and will not ensure success for the 21st century organizations. In his recent book, the author highlights that the success for future organizations will entail giving employees the right office space, tools and technology, and creating the right organizational culture. The right organizational culture for organizations in the 21st century with a changing demographic that are expecting different experiences as part of their work experience then from previous generations will mean organizations need to gain insight from their employees more often and create an environment that really makes their employees proud to be part of the organization, something very important for the Hispanic culture and workforce.

So what now?

From a leader-employee relations perspective, it will be imperative for leaders to better understand how to relate to this growing and diverse workforce. Senior executives will need to ensure they are emphasizing the importance of this and modeling the behavior they expect from their management teams. In addition, this growing millennial Latino group has the potential for developing into the organization’s future leaders.

As senior leadership consider their organizational strategies for the 21st century, they need to ensure they have the right human capital strategy and that this strategy takes a holistic perspective. They need to ensure that their human capital strategy addresses HR issues such as recruitment, development, retention, engagement, management capabilities to manage a growing diverse employee base, succession planning, performance management, and rewards among others. They have to have an environment, policies, and practices in place that makes it one where this young Latino Millennial group not only find pride, but engagement through development, inclusivity, and in turn gain overall satisfaction.

Questions to consider

In addressing these above mentioned issues there are some questions organizations should consider among others:  

  • Do they have a human capital strategy to address these changing trends?
  • Are they creating the right environment from an employee, organizational, leadership development perspective, and increasingly aware of their new diverse customers?
  • Are they engaging and developing this growing workforce, both from a Millennial and Latino/Hispanic perspective?
  • Do they have more of this demographic in their leadership ranksthat demonstrates there is an opportunity for this group for growth and attainment of top roles?
  • Are they positioned to be an employer of choice and have strategies to attract the growing Hispanic Millennial?
  • Are they taking a holistic and systemic approach in addressing this growing and changing demographic through recruitment, development, leadership development, diversity, and change management strategies?
  • Are organizations adapting with the paradigm changes of bi-culturalism to cosmopolitanism?

These are just some questions organizations, their leadership, and their HR departments need to consider and reflect on as they develop plans (if they have not already) to address them. Those organizations that are not proactive, will play catch up, be in a reactive mode, and possibly too late to capitalize on the changing diverse wave that will impact organizations in the US.

Implications for Organizations, Leaders, and Human Resources (HR)

1.    Recognize the differences and uniqueness of the 21st Hispanic/Latino Millennial and the times we’re living in and working in.

2.    Recognize the diversity and non-monolithic group the Hispanic/Latino Millennial is.

3.    Assess the shifting paradigm of career development with this growing workforce and the times we’re in which do not enable employee loyalty.

4.    Recognize the impact of the times that include the globalization, technological explosion, and connectedness making the world a smaller world.

5.    Recognize not only the importance of this workforce but also the buying power.

6.    Assess how engagement will be a key.

7.    Consider how to create effective leader-employee relations that will be imperative for organizational success.

8.    Address this issue from a holistic perspective. Consider attraction, organizational branding, recruitment, development, recognition, diversity, and retention. 

9.    Consider the issues of acculturation and enculturation in this changing demographic growing workforce context along with a possible cosmopolitanism view of the world from this Latino/Hispanic Millennial group.

10. Consider the changing need for Human Resources and its practices from the 20th century to a more diverse workforce in a technologically connected, and global society in the 21st century.

Implications for Further Research

There needs to be more research done on this growing demographic. This research should address some of the issues mentioned above, from bi-cultural, to acculturation and enculturation to cosmopolitism.

In addition, there should be more research on what organizations can do to improve the career growth of this group as it continues to increase in the workplace. Organizations and its leaders need to consider what biases are keeping this growing demographic from increasing the numbers in leadership roles?

There should also be research conducted on the differences of Latino millennials born in the U.S. and those born abroad. There should also more research on the acculturation, enculturation, cosmopolitism argument made in this paper. Have these constructs really evolved and changed based on younger minority demographics at least one to two generations later in the American society in the 21st century? 

Research should also look into the leader-employee relationships needed in the 21st century with this growing demographic and workforce.

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