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Viewing U.S. Hispanics as a Deficiency Model Puts America at Risk

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Let's face it. When it comes to U.S. Hispanics, most of today's news coverage focuses on immigration, social program reforms, lack of education, crime, unemployment, etc. To sum it up, Hispanics are viewed as a deficiency model. But as Hispanics, if we do not value ourselves enough either, we are as much to blame as those outside the community, such as the California educators referenced in a December 22nd Associated Press article, "Latino Academic Achievement Gap Persists."

In 2011, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged parents, educators and leaders at every level of government to make Hispanic educational excellence a national priority based on the sobering report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on the Hispanic achievement gap. Those familiar with this report might recall that it revealed some specific problem areas; California and Connecticut, for instance, each had a Hispanic-white gap larger than that of the nation for grades 4 and 8 in mathematics and for grade 4 in reading. Almost three years later, little - considering the growing number of Hispanics in these states and nationwide - has been accomplished to narrow the gap. This is hard to fathom when you consider that America's future will depend upon understanding and leveraging the demographic shift that is currently changing the ways of doing business and its influence on educational standards and human capital requirements in the workplace.

The same holds true in boardrooms throughout corporate America. A 2013 study conducted by Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility (HACR) -- whose mission it is to advance the inclusion of Hispanics in corporate America at a level commensurate with the economic contributions of Hispanics -- revealed some startling facts regarding the representation of Hispanics in the boardroom:

  • Hispanics held only three percent of seats in the boardroom of the Fortune 500.
  • Seventy percent -- nearly 350 companies of the Fortune 500 -- did not have a single Hispanic on their board.
  • Only 10 -- or 2 percent of -- Fortune 500 CEOs are of Hispanic heritage.
  • Only 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies had two Hispanics on their board.

Clearly, U.S. educators and corporate America are in dire need of an awakening and understanding of how the Hispanic factor can yield a new dawn for this country's future economy and global competitiveness. The misunderstanding and lack of investment to implement and maximize the Hispanic factor are contributing to the growing tension points that executives and policy makers are unknowingly creating across all industries.

U.S. Hispanics are living with an identity crisis that has been fueled by the negative perception of Hispanics perpetuated by the media, corporations, politicians and society at large. However, the responsibility lies equally within the Hispanic community. Too many of us have been known to pull each other down, rather than lift each other up. We are a community that battles the gulf between assimilation and authenticity and thus we find ourselves struggling with our own advancement in the workplace and life in general. For long enough, we have been making it too easy for those outside of the community to view us as part of a deficiency model.

This is why America's global competitiveness is at risk.

For these reasons and many others, U.S. Hispanic professionals are delivering only 40 percent of their full potential at work each day. These are also contributing factors to why less than 5 percent of Hispanic mid-level managers in corporate America have executive sponsors in the workplace -- and why 85 percent of Hispanic professionals don't associate hard work with great leadership until they are in a leadership role of influence. The identity crisis Hispanics face stemming from those outside and within the community has put the future of America at risk, yet very few are stepping forward to change the conversation, tackle the issues, and provide solutions. And so, the perception of Hispanics continues to suffer as negative issues are regurgitated in the news every day without a strong voice to course correct the narrative and enforce a level of accountability that is taken seriously.

The narrative about U.S. Hispanics must change quickly. It's time for people, politicians, companies and the media to take a genuine interest in who Hispanics are as leaders, business owners and consumers -- and their vital impact on U.S. economic growth and global competitiveness. Preconceived stereotypes about Hispanics keep the majority of people uninformed about our culture and how it has the potential to shape the reinvention of America. This disconnection with U.S. Hispanics makes it difficult for those of influence to authentically engage with the community, build trust and begin to value Hispanics in America as a viable economic development resource.

While many groups over the years have tried to change this paradigm, they've lacked clarity of purpose and an understanding of the issues to have any measurable impact on the general public, and in fact, have probably hurt how others view U.S. Hispanics in the process. Every time a brand, corporation, association or politician speaks about the Hispanic community within the context of the deficiency model, it not only weakens the value of U.S. Hispanics -- it further erodes the confidence, hope and identity of younger Hispanics and thus ultimately the future of America.

The diversity management model is broken and this is not doing Hispanics or other minority groups any favors. In many respects, it is intensifying racism and discrimination in America. The bottom line is that the demographic shift in America is being mismanaged through the old-school narrative of representation and victimization -- rather than through a lens of talent potential, leadership, economic impact and global competitiveness. The existing "deficiency model narrative" exacerbates tension points between industries and Hispanics and makes it difficult for executives and policy makers to support the necessary change management requirements.

People of influence want to associate themselves with positive opportunities that can immediately impact the bottom line without jumping through too many hoops. Hispanics are viewed by many as a risky community to approach -- too grassroots, unorganized and politically charged. This is why many investors don't associate Hispanics with predictable ROI and why they continue to watch from the sidelines until someone cracks the code. Many brand marketers have decided to lump Hispanics and other minority groups into a "total market strategy" to minimize risk and maximize any potential reward.

By 2050, 30 percent of the U.S. population will be Hispanic. What will happen to America if nearly a third of its population continues to operate at forty percent of its capacity? If Hispanics lack the required leadership, unity and genuine intent to be more inclusive and supportive - toward each other as well as those outside of the community? Needless to say, it will put the U.S. in an extremely vulnerable position versus the rest of the world.

So what is the solution? Leadership! Here are three ways to get you started:

1. Change the narrative away from the deficiency model:
-Think economic growth and global competitiveness
-Improve your thought-leadership strategy

2. Embrace the demographic shift as a growth enabler:
-Culture is the new currency for growth
-Define your human capital plan

3. Alleviate tension points:
-Unleash previously unseen opportunities for growth
-Build a profitable and sustainable Hispanic business strategy