The Latina Wage Gap (It’s the Worst!): What Employers May Be Missing

latinaNew research from the University of Massachusetts Boston on workers in Massachusetts finds that while a gender wage gap exists across all occupations for women, the gap becomes a chasm for Hispanic women, especially for low-wage workers. Here are some facts from the research:

  • White women make 83 percent of what white men make in the same occupations.
  • Hispanic women make 56 percent of their male equivalents.
More specifically, here are some numbers for low-wage workers:
  • Latinas who work as cleaners make 54 cents on the dollar compared to all male janitors and 59 cents compared to their Hispanic male counterparts.
Ann Bookman, the study’s author, notes, “the earnings gap for women of color is wider than for women as a whole, and for Latina women it’s egregious.” The wage gap for Latinas is particularly damaging for mothers. Women are the primary breadwinners in slightly more than half of all Hispanic households in Massachusetts with children under eighteen. Of these female breadwinners, 49 percent are single mothers. Many of the research participants complained that they are seldom offered promotions when openings occur because they are not seen as having leadership potential. They also report difficulty in being considered for higher-paying jobs as single mothers because they are assumed to be unreliable. These assumptions reflect misunderstandings about Latina culture. Evangelina Holvino conducted research on Latinas and found eight cultural scripts that can be leveraged as strengths if employers understand them. Holvino defines cultural scripts as commonly held assumptions shared by a cultural group that are learned beliefs about how to be in the world. The eight scripts she discovered for Latinas are
  1. Familismo—valuing close family relations
  2. Simpatía—avoiding conflict and disharmony
  3. Colectivismo—putting the needs of the group before those of individuals
  4. Personalismo—forging meaningful and trusting relationships
  5. El presente—being in the here and now
  6. Respeto—respecting authority, age, and power
  7. Machismo-marianismo—strongly differentiated gender roles
  8. Espiritualismo—trusting in a higher power/being
Holvino’s research offers us a way of understanding Latina cultural scripts as strengths that employers should appreciate and leverage. For example, instead of assuming that a single mother is unreliable, her value of familismo means that she is driven to work hard to support her family. She will do what it takes to perform well and keep her job. The scripts of simpatía, colectivismo, and personalismo give her an important leadership framework and capacity for building and leading teams.

What Employers Can Do to Close the Wage Gap and Value Latinas in Their Workforce

With these new wage-gap statistics and Holvino’s research in mind, here are some suggestions for employers:
  1. To begin with, employers can look closely for pay disparities by occupation in their organizations and make adjustments in pay to close the gaps. Pay disparities are often invisible and unscrutinized and reflect unconscious bias.
  2. Employers should become familiar with the cultural scripts, or cultural assumptions, that guide hiring and promotion decisions in their organizations. For example, the dominant criteria for leadership in Anglo culture, which focuses on valuing individual achievement and a direct communication style, runs counter to strengths in Latina culture.
  3. Employers can become familiar with Latina cultural scripts and develop appreciation for the value they can add.
  4. Employers can expand their definitions of leadership to include strengths in Latina cultural scripts, such as building relationships.
Understanding and including cultural differences can enrich us all and add capacity to our organizations. And it’s past time to close the gender wage gap for everyone. Image credit: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at  ]]>

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