Latinos Repress Themselves in the Workplace, and It’s Time We Start Talking about It.
As I am researching to write this article, I pause, breathe, and ask myself: what value can I offer to this topic.? I am a US-based Latina specializing in emotional intelligence, and am committed to a daily practice of self-awareness and meditation. It is easy to fall into the trap of victimization, a learned subconscious pattern. Our upbringing and culture influence us tremendously. Even when we are the target of discrimination or racism, or simply somebody dislikes us, we must take ownership; otherwise, we hand over our power.
I would like to explore a couple of contrasting perspectives to proceed to reflect on them. Upon reviewing a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, the Harvard Business Review indicated that “most Latinos in the U.S. do not feel that they can bring their whole selves to the office. We found that the vast majority of Latinos (76%) repress parts of their personas at work. They modify their appearance, body language, and communication style — all components of executive presence (EP), that intangible element that defines leadership material.”
What’s behind this trend? Why are Latinos repressing themselves?
As I kept digging in, I found moving stories, and I’d like to mention a couple. “I have been told to calm down, be cooler. Be careful with my voice and my hands. You are too emotional.” A Latino moved from a “Hispanic-dominated company, where he could gesture eloquently and speak passionately, to a Caucasian workplace where he had to scale back his expressiveness. Another Latina executive talks about the countless times she’s been asked to anglicize her name.” According to Corin Ramos, who appears on catalyst.org, “As a Chicana and first-generation college graduate, I have always felt different or on guard within professional and academic settings. It has always been difficult to have this weight on me—the feeling of knowing I am different and that I would have to defend myself against people who think I am not in the right place.”
How then does this forced habit of not being ourselves in the workplace affect us? Self-repression is a survival skill that our limbic brain knows well. Most of the time, we do not even have to choose to repress because our brain, mind, and body do it automatically when feeling judged, unsafe, or threatened. In psychology and emotional intelligence, it is known as self-regulation. When done reactively, it is an instinctual reaction that can negatively affect our cognitive and emotional health in the long term. Unfortunately, we have been led to believe that suppressing emotions is “professional,” and we have mistaken suppressing emotions with managing them. We do not need to make an effort to conceal, but we need to invest energy in managing emotions because it requires practice, knowledge, and training.
The difference between healthy management and unhealthy suppression:
There are healthier ways to self-regulate without negating authenticity or loyalty to ourselves. We are talking about having the freedom to be ourselves, including expressing our ideas, feelings, and emotions in ways that are authentic to our identity. It involves our culture, which influences us profoundly.
As I kept researching, I found an interesting post from 6seconds.org: “Research from Wharton professor Michael Parke found that when employees express emotions at work, and coworkers respond empathetically, it unlocks a whole range of productive and beneficial outcomes for the group: more creativity, more effective problem solving, an increased ability to generate new ideas, et cetera. The problem is that many employees don’t feel safe expressing genuine emotions at work – over 47% don’t, per research from Joblist.”
This is an issue that many Latinos, as well as other groups of people considered “different,” have to face. We can do that by fostering emotional honesty. As I said, I practice and cultivate self-awareness, one of the most important emotional intelligence competencies. In fact, I focus my research and practice on self-awareness because it is the starting point to honesty, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, social intelligence, and more. It is straightforward if we are not aware of what is bothering us, limiting us, causing us to walk in circles and live with a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction, how could we transform it?
The solution seems to be a new culture of honesty.
One way to create a culture of emotional honesty? Observe nonverbal communication cues and follow up on them – with the group or 1-on-1. Who’s sitting forward, who’s holding back? Who’s frowning? Who’s tone of voice is escalated or tight? By attending to these cues and responding to them like you would verbal communication, you can identify if there’s an unspoken issue about safety and build trust by tuning into it.
Let us broaden our perspective and explore this complex subject with an honest desire to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Monica Coronel is speaker, writer, and PhD candidate who specializes in emotional intelligence.