NextGen Collective: Being Latinx at Work

As Latinx professionals, our unique cultural heritage is integral to who we are. It gives us a special story to tell. However, many folks (me included) struggle with how and when to share that story—especially on job applications or in office conversations.

Don’t even get me started on how much harder this can be when your name and appearance are not stereotypically Latinx.

This difficulty is magnified when aspects of our cultural heritage are applicable in our profession and can be strong differentiators and exponential assets for our careers.

Though I have not figured this out even for myself yet, I have been able to unearth some clues along the way that are worth sharing.

Take stock of your cultural assets

As with the plot of any great telenovela, the twists and turns in each chapter of our lives contain a wealth of knowledge, customs, and achievements that can be leveraged in our profession. This is especially true during the job search when we’re marketing ourselves.

In my industry (edtech), for example, being bilingual, educated in the city’s public-school system, and an active member of local affinity groups (Latinx, WOC, POC, entrepreneurs, etc.) have been extremely useful.

These parts of my identity give me an intimate understanding of many clients, a deep passion and insight into the educational space in which I work, and access to a strong network of movers and shakers beyond the typical demographic of entrepreneurs in my city.

I have leveraged these to identify clients, connect with new partners, and discover potential employees for my company. Other parts of my background may not be relevant today (like speaking Portuguese or having lived abroad), but I keep these in my back pocket for the day when they will be.

Leverage relevant assets

Cultural heritage is more relevant in some professions—like marketing, education, politics—than others, but all industries value a strong work ethic, resilience, and business savvy. Many US Latinx folks can cite things like being the first in their family to go to university or having worked during their formative years in their family’s small business.

These are concrete proof that you are a self-starter, have leadership/management potential, and that you have practical insight into the intricacies of business administration certified by the School of Life. As a Latinx, you have “extra” knowledge and lessons learned—you just have to turn these into real-life applications.

Some Latinx rock stars who seem to have figured this out include my friends Ronald Bautista, multicultural marketing specialist at EmblemHealth (who also ran for mayor of Hoboken!), and Jessica Santana, cofounder and CEO of New York On Tech. And of course, we all admire folks like entrepreneur/Investor John Henry, CMO Bozoma Saint John, and global director God-is Rivera.

Invest in exponential/compounding assets

Culture can be a key differentiator during a job search in a sea of equally qualified résumés and cover letters. I like to view it as an exponential asset—an asset that can grow very quickly with small investments over time. If you want to leverage these assets professionally, it’s important that you invest in them just like you would with any other skill.

For example, most US Latinx are “heritage” speakers of Spanish or English, meaning that we learned these languages at home instead of in a formal classroom. Being bilingual is a huge advantage, but we might lack strong grammatical structures and key business vocabulary.

It’s important to think of your language skills as assets; continually invest in them by deliberately seeking out additional education. You can start, for FREE, by:

  • Reading your way through the Latin American literary canon
  • Reading world news in Spanish (The New York Times Edicion Español)
  • Taking an online class (like Spanish for Communication in Healthcare Settings)

Understanding the Latinx market is another exponential asset to invest in. To start:

  • Conduct your own deep-dive into the US-Latinx market in your field (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)
  • Research and join your city’s Latinx startup communities (Digital Undivided’s State of Latinx Founders)
  • Study Latin-American markets (World Bank Reports on Latam & Caribbean)

Our cultural assets can grow and evolve with us on our career journeys, but this must be done with intention. It will not miraculously fuse with our work personas and career ambitions on its own. It is always a challenge to find the right balance of showing too much or too little of yourself. As we get closer to that balance point, it becomes easier and easier to be our full, authentic, Latinx selves at work.

Originally published by NextGen Collective in 2019.

Michele CantosMichelle Cantos has nearly a decade of international working experience in the U.S., EU, & Latin America – first as a Public Relations specialist, then as a Program Manager for a prestigious fellowship, and now as Managing Director at a coding bootcamp where they train career changers on the skills required to land their dream tech jobs.

She speaks and writes about leadership, the future of work, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at places like Uber, General Assembly, LMHQ, the Anita Borg Institute, and Hispanic Executive’s millennial brand


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