Being Latinx comes with its challenges. If you’re Latinx at the University of Redlands, chances are you’re the first in your family to attend college. Your parents are probably immigrants and speak only Spanish, though they get by with limited English. Chances are you grew up low-income but you and your family made it work out. You’ve been taught to respect your abuelitas and abuelitos for their age and wisdom and refer to your tias and tios as “usted”. Your family is probably too large and your cousins easily alternate between English and Spanish at your well-attended gatherings. If you’re a graduate student like me, chances are you’re the first in your family to graduate from college and attend graduate/professional school.
Being a first-gen college attendee and a Latinx employee in the workplace is not easy because the jobs available to you with a Bachelor’s degree are unlikely the same jobs your parents had. Therefore, your parents cannot easily guide you in the workplace the way a more privileged person’s college-graduate parents might. As a first-gen Latinx, your parents cannot easily look at your résumé and give you tips or tell you how to prepare for your job interviews. First, because they aren’t fluent in English, and second, their career trajectory may not have been in an office setting, but in the farm fields, landscaping, housekeeping, kitchens, or factories.
I have found the American workplace is a beast of its own and I want to share a few tips with you about how you can overcome the challenges you might face in the workplace as a Latinx employee. Although I am currently a grad student at the School of Business here at Redlands, I graduated in 2015 from UCLA. I am a full-time paralegal (while being a part-time student), so I have been navigating the workplace for 6 years now.
Here are the tips I would like to share with you.
Do Your Research Before Accepting an Offer
Since you may not have a lot of family guidance during your job search, use your thoroughness and investigative skills to research the companies you’re considering before accepting any job offers. You should check out the company’s websites to ensure you’re going to be working for a company that respects diversity, protocols, and ethics in the field. Check out the salaries posted on Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com, and Salary.com for the going rates to ensure they don’t try to low-ball you with an unfair salary offer or inadequate fringe benefits. If possible, reach out to their employees for their honest opinion about the companies’ protocols and ethics. Luckily, the internet is literally in your hands, so this step should be easy. It will require some of your time, but it will be worth it.
Share Your Opinions with Your Superiors
I recommend you enter the workplace with the mentality that one day your superiors may not always be your superiors, but your peers. In our culture, it’s discouraged to talk back to our superiors, but I’m here to tell you not to be shy about this in the workplace. Don’t be disrespectful, rude, or condescending, but be communicative. If there’s information you have that your superior lacks, speak up about it. If you have an opinion about how something could be better, talk about it with your manager or boss. The more you do it, the more value you add to the company and yourself.
When you care about your job, it isn’t “just a job”, it’s your career. After all, didn’t you decide to go to college to build a career? Therefore, you should always make decisions to benefit yourself. It’s nice to make friends at work, but when friends become a clique, the group dynamic of having its own “back” can bring you down and not allow you to flourish in your career. I’m not advising you to forgo teamwork, but to bring your own unique skills, experiences, and knowledge to the table. The more you stand out in a positive way, the more likely you’ll get promotions and pay raises.
Being Latinx means you’re considered a “minority” so others in the workplace may want to treat you as less-than. Therefore, I recommend you be assertive in the workplace. This doesn’t mean being aggressive –– it means being confident in what you know and what you do. The more you push to get what you want and need, the more likely you are to get it. When I entered the workplace 6 years ago, I wasn’t aware I was being underpaid in my position. After doing research over the years and talking to folks in the field, I was able to ask for raises where appropriate and now I make almost double the salary I made when I started. Remember to advocate for yourself!
Know Your Legal Rights
Through my full-time job as a paralegal, I’ve learned of rights I was unaware of when I initially graduated from college. The Latinx community may be susceptible to being taken advantage of in the workplace by employers who do not know or more likely do not respect labor and employment laws. At my first job right after college, I worked next to an ambitious coworker. Although our work hours were 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., she would often take her office work home and do it there in the evenings. She later realized the law firm may have been cheating her out of hundreds of dollars of overtime pay.
My message is to be aware of your rights to things like a safe workplace, meal breaks, and at least minimum-wage pay. In addition to your rights, an employer is not allowed to discriminate against you in the workplace based on your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If you suspect you’re being treated unfairly at work, carefully document incidents in case you later take legal action. For example, get your complaints to management in writing – save all emails, letters, text messages, etc.
Use Your Latinx Background as Leverage
Utilize your Latinx upbringing as an advantage. Being bilingual opened a lot of job opportunities for me. I haven’t worked for any attorneys that speak Spanish, so my bilingual skills have always been a valuable skill in the legal field. Speaking Spanish and having knowledge of the Latinx culture has allowed me to genuinely connect with clients in ways that have served my clients, my employers, and my career well. Being Latinx also means being collective-oriented, which will also serve you well later in your career when you take on leadership positions. As a leader, you will have to build a team, lead a team, and delegate tasks to get the job done.
Embrace your cultura! Although your background can lead to some unique challenges, do not forget it also helped you get to where you are.