Heritage months and identity awareness weeks are once again front and center in the diversity, equity and inclusion lane. With the lessons of summer 2020 in mind, many practitioners are working diligently to distinguish performative allyship from genuine solidarity.
In a conversation with Remy Meraz, co-founder and CEO of BIPOC career coaching platform Zella Life, HR Dive posed the question of whether Hispanic Heritage Month was tokenizing. Meraz’s answer, like many doing this work, was nuanced.
“I personally think it should be every day. I think Black History Month should be every day; Latino Heritage Month should be every day. Yeah, I'm that person,” she said. “I do think it creates opportunities and platforms to have important discussions. But again, our plight, our challenges, are happening every day. We should be talking about it every day.”
Latino workers have seen significant pandemic-era hardships. In a 2021 snapshot by Pew Research Center, 52% of Latino adults surveyed said a family member or close friend had been hospitalized or died because of COVID-19. Additionally, 49% said they or another household member had lost their job or taken a pay cut since the on-set of the pandemic.
One main stressor Meraz’s team addresses for BIPOC business professionals — on top of the strains of COVID-19 concerns and the toll of daily racial trauma— is the dual imperative of managing up and managing down.
Meraz recounted an example of a coaching client, a middle manager, who recently started reporting to a new manager. “This boss that was new in their position constantly kept going to [the client] and saying, ‘How am I doing? How am I doing?’ And she's like, ‘Dude, I have stuff to deal with!’ She felt she was having to manage him, but also still manage her team,” Meraz recalled. “Our coaches that are working with her gave her some tips on how to establish boundaries and have that difficult conversation with her boss.”
Essentially, by putting those boundaries in place, the coaching client began to regain and redirect energy to leading her own team.
Honing this skill is critical for Latino and Asian workers, Meraz added, because it can be a stress-reduction technique in their personal life, due to cultural traditions.
“Latinos, Asians and others that may have strong family ties: Often, we’re taking care of our older parents and our kids as well,” Zella Life’s CEO said. Again, people are tasked with managing up and managing down. “It's a pressure cooker for folks right now,” she added.
HR researchers continue to clock the toll of pandemic-era work-life on people of color. Data from the Future Forum reconfirmed that Black employees prefer remote work long-term. A chief diversity and inclusion officer told HR Dive that microaggressions and lack of psychological safety have likely turned Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous knowledge workers off from returning to the office.
In the previously mentioned Pew snapshot, researchers found that Hispanic adults who worked outside the home and whose work required frequent contact with others had been more likely to lose their jobs or take a pay cut. Researchers described a double whammy, where service jobs (in which Latino and Hispanic talent are disproportionately represented) provided greater exposure to coronavirus and less career stability.
Meraz’s pressure cooker analogy is further supported by Pew data, which suggests about 40% of Latinos (in households with job and wage loss) have had problems paying their mortgage or rent, have faced trouble with medical care bills or have lost health insurance, or have turned turned to banks or government assistance to put food on the table.
All of these factors make clear why giving Latinos and other people of color the tools to organize their life, foster better time management and learn how to pour energy back into themselves is Meraz’s end game.
“At the end of the day, it is about learning how to have difficult conversations. I feel like that's where a lot of people are challenged — learning how to feel comfortable being uncomfortable, and having difficult conversations within an organization.”