Monthly Archives: July 2009

Courage

Lately, I’ve been doing a good amount of thinking about courage. Courage is the ability of someone to stand up against great odds and move forward despite facing fear in the eye. As an onine instructor for the last 8 years, I’m fortunate to witness many examples of courage – in a variety forms. Many of my online students have been stationed in Iraq, on a battle cruiser out at sea, single parents, unemployed, and even homeless. I currently have a student who is battling cancer. At times, she participates in class from her hospital bed during treatments. Recently, she’s had some setbacks, but despite her illness is determined to complete this current capstone course in order to graduate. This is courage.  

At some point in life individuals experience a change in how they know who they are – their being. I’ve read the real secret to success is to Be first, then Do, and then Have. Given that it is sometimes easier to turn this formula around, and have first, it takes courage to get it right – and be who we are. In order to do so, we sometimes need to tackle change, embrace diversity, manage uncertainty, and face fear. Maybe even break the rules or the status quo.

In a way, courage becomes a means to an end. Courage is not something we need to understand in order to do – it just happens. But it can only happen by recognizing who we really are.

Circuitry Thinking

This morning I was reading an interesting article by Dr. Patricia Gándara, Professor of Education at the University of California, entitled Strengthening the Academic Pipeline Leading to Careers in Math, Science, and Technology for Latino Students. Her paper examines the achievement gap of Hispanics within the education “pipeline”  and offers solutions to address these problems. What strikes me about this and other articles like this is why we think of education as a pipeline? I realize its metaphorical value is widespread, if not the standard, and it’s a good conceptual framework to organize research on anything involving some kind of trajectory.

As most homeowners know, pipes leak! And understandably, articles about strengthening or increasing Hispanic educational success focus on fixing the leaks where Hispanics spill out of the pipeline. In other words, patch the leak. Unfortunately, what you eventually have is a patched up pipeline that ultimately leaks again somewhere else. Slap on another patch. And so on. I think you get my point.

I would rather look at this process or flow in terms of circuitry. I’m not an electrical engineer but I assume circuits have some kind of permeability that allows the flow of material (data) to other areas. Circuits also allow flexibility by using experimentation and continuous development of their capacity. Another aspect of circuits is the relationship between it and its surrounding environment. Unlike a pipeline that is a closed, circuits are open, continually monitoring their environment, recalibrating, taking different paths as inputs and outputs change.

Given the rich technologically-driven environment in which we live, should we not update our thinking to include a more appropriate framework? Particularly as it relates to getting Hispanics from college and into the workforce?

Racial vs. Cultural Diversity

I’ve been following a discussion today on Andrew Sullivan’s blog regarding the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. The discussion stems from a NYT Op-Ed piece regarding the type of questions that should be asked of the nominee. A follow up post asks “Why do we treat racial diversity as different — and potentially more desirable — than other kinds of diversity?” I won’t go into the details because you can read them here and here, however, it does bring up an interesting point regarding the differences between racial and cultural diversity.

Both terms are often used interchangeably but often mean different things. For example, race is considered to be a group of individuals whom share a common origin or ancestry. A person’s race can be described by their original ancestry, such as African or Asian. A person’s culture can be described as a repeated practice or way of living. Belief systems or clothing can be viewed as cultural. Even differences between gender or philosophies about power can be cultural.

There is an important distinction to be made between both terms, particularly in a work environment. Because one understands Cuban-American culture, for example, does not mean one understands Mexican-American or Puerto Rican culture. Although each is Hispanic, each has a different culture.

Beyond an Associate's Degree

Community colleges are at the forefront of educating minority students and provide a vital avenue towards higher degree attainment for Hispanic students. Given the growth of the Hispanic population overall, the Hispanic college-age population has substantially increased, also expanding the potential 4-year college applicant pool. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), while Hispanics are under-represented in four-year institutions, they are clearly represented in two-year colleges – well over fifty percent.

Today in Warren, Michigan President Obama is proposing a $12 billion investment in the nation’s community colleges. The money is also expected to provide funds that will allow community colleges to modify their systems in order to meet the country’s changing economic needs. A system that will hopefully be examined is the bridge between two and four-year institutions. Research indicates that more than half of students that begin at a two-year college do not attain post-secondary degrees. This statistic is even higher for Hispanic community college students (Harvey, 2002). Given today’s global economy, an Associates degree has only limited value providing lesser returns than a four-year degree. Therefore, Hispanic community college students whose objective is a Bachelor’s degree, may be at a disadvantage.

After graduating from high school, I meandered through three community colleges in Los Angeles. I did so out of financial necessity not because I didn’t want to attend a four-year institution. Ultimately, I left Los Angeles to attend a four-year institution in Texas. Unfortunately, the credit hours I earned during my wandering experience did not transfer to my new school, and I literally started my college education again.

Facilitating the bridge between two and four-year institutions needs to be a  part of any initiative to revamp our community college system. If transfer improvements can be made, Hispanic and other minorities may have a better chance of moving through the education pipeline to four-year institutions – and ultimately the global workforce.   

 Source: Harvey, W. (2002). Minorities in higher education: Nineteenth annual status report. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Update: 6/15/09 

I just took a look at the press release regarding the American Graduation Initiative announced by President Obama yesterday. It seems like my thoughts above are addressed here:

Expand course offerings and offer dual enrollment at high schools and universities, promote the transfer of credit among colleges, and align graduation and entrance requirements of high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities

Even better offering opportunity for dual credit. Plus the intiative advocates more business partnerships by developing additional internship opportunities.

Lessons from the Sotomayor Hearings

Confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor begin today. The event marks an historic chapter in the annals of our country and Hispanic community. I’ll sidestep the “D.C. political” aspects of the event and focus on the cultural and gender factors raised by her nomination. Generally, research across many fields (including my own doctoral studies) suggest that the demographic composition of a team or organization can impact its decision making process. Why would the Supreme Court be any different?

During the University of Michigan admission issue a few years ago, you might be surprised to know that seventy of the Fortune 500 organizations filed briefings in favor of UM’s admission process to consider an applicant’s race. Why? Companies realize that diversity within an organization not only has a bottom-line effect but intangible ones as well. Sotomayor’s possible addition to the court brings forward the fundamental idea of diversity initiatives: the idea that diverse teams are distinct from ones that are homogeneous.

Without a doubt, Sotomayor’s background and unique perspective will impact the Supreme Court’s discussions and the way other members of the court view a particular case. It is hard to imagine that her perspectives on gender, race, religious, or other social issues won’t reshape the Court. I would argue that adding Sonia Sotomayor to the Court will certainly impact its dynamics. Certainly, her female and Hispanic perspective will have an effect. But more importantly, adding a diverse voice to the Court will force its other members to consider and analyze cases before them differently.

Within any organization, it’s not only the individuals of the minority group who are impacted by diversity – but the whole organization.

The Uniqueness of El Paso

I just came across this article on El Paso, Texas being designated the 3rd safest city in the country. The article mainly discusses a study examining the relationship between immigration and crime. It also describes how El Paso embraces immigrants in its community.  I spent a good portion of my life living, studying, and working in El Paso. As an assistant to a former mayor of the city, I can vouch that El Paso is very proud of its safety designation.

I attended The University of Texas at El Paso where I completed both my undergraduate and graduate work. The campus literally sits on the border between the United States and Mexico. The Rio Grande, which is the natural border between the U.S. and Mexico,  can be seen winding through the dusty desert by looking out the window of any tall building. Campus life was, and continues to be, a truly bicultural experience at UTEP with Mexican students crossing the border daily to attend classes.

One section in this article was particularly interesting:

What’s happening with Latinos is true of most immigrant groups throughout U.S. history. “Overall, immigrants have a stake in this country, and they recognize it,” Northeastern University’s Levin says. “They’re really an exceptional sort of American. They come here having left their family and friends back home. They come at some cost to themselves in terms of security and social relationships. They are extremely success-oriented, and adjust very well to the competitive circumstances in the United States.”

Having worked at the UTEP Career Services office close to five years, I had the opportunity to counsel many students who came from this background. I was continually inspired by their commitment to improve their lives through education and hard work. Although some may not have been at the top of their class, each had the work ethic and determination typical of immigrants outlined in this article. Many of the UTEP graduates I advised returned to campus as recruiters  ready to share their success stories with other students. And so it goes.

Hispanics 401(k) Study

Hewitt Associates just published an interesting study on 401K contributions among Hispanics and African Americans. Aside from long-term implications related to a lack of financial planning, the study highlights a characteristic often seen of Hispanics in the workplace. As a first-generation American, long-term financial planning wasn’t a concern in our household – I’m assuming most first generation Hispanics would agree. Coming out of college my first inclination was not to begin saving money!

While the results are interesting – I would caution accepting their generality.  The Hewitt study does not examine differences based on educational, generational, or other social factors which may produce slightly different results. The study should create awareness among HRM professionals to focus on educating Hispanic new hires on long-term financial planning opportunities sponsored by the company during the on-boarding process.

An Introduction

 Welcome to the first entry of Hispanic Talent Memo – aka HTM. I hope you’ll join the discussion!

The nature of our workforce has changed. It continues to change daily, particularly as it relates to the Hispanic American workforce. Using a Hispanic American perspective, this forum will be comprised of various human capital themes in the areas of business, government, academic, non-profit, and social systems. Hispanic culture and strategic talent management issues will be central to many of the blog posts – although I also expect to be posting on a lot of other subjects, from education to trends, from leadership to research. Many of the posts will be supplemented by articles and information found via the AdMentis website, the online home of my consulting firm dedicated to the same objective.

I believe that the increasing number of Hispanic professionals over the next decade represents a powerful opportunity for organizations to create a competitive advantage in a global economy. But realizing this opportunity will require awareness, and fundamental change in the way Hispanics are recruited and retained. HTM’s mission is to challenge the old assumptions, offer new ideas and become a catalyst for the transformation that must occur to achieve leadership in the talent economy.