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Spanish-speaking employees victims of hasty generalizations?

When working in any sort of multicultural environment, it is important to realize that people from different backgrounds have differing approaches to fundamental issues such as communication, personal relationships, and success. For many American drug and device companies who employ people from Spanish-speaking countries, this can be a particular challenge.

On occasion, even when materials and instructions are translated well, employers do not get the response that they need from Spanish-speaking employees. This happens not because of a lack of desire to be a valuable employee, but because of Spanish speakers' misconceptions about what it takes to be a valuable employee in the United States. Overcoming the challenges of engaging Spanish-speaking employees can have a positive and long-lasting impact on your company's success.
Hmmm... the above paraphrases some of Melissa Burkhardt's advise in an well-attended conference that she did for us. It's a timely and important topic; pharma and medical device companies expend significant resources to hire and retain "diverse" employees (for an example, see BMS' web site).

It makes me scratch my head, though. Where is the line between giving useful insight on the topic of Hispanic employees and demeaning another culture through generalizations?

Melissa and other cultural consultants provide a valuable and much needed service. The challenge, I believe, lies with the companies that get that advice. How it is heard and implemented affects the company's bottom line but also the morale of Spanish-speaking employees.

So, what do you think? Is it possible for companies and employees to bridge cultural gaps without resorting to generalizations? Or should we see generalizations as a good, helpful thing?

And while you're here, take a look at the following:
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  1. Anat Harrel said...
    Unfortunately for us marketers (but fortunately for the Hispanic world), the Spanish speaking market is diverse and generalizing about them shows our ignorance.

    We have the Cuban American culture of south Florida, the Puerto Rican Americans in New York, the Mexican Americans in California and Arizona, the Tejanos in Texas, and many more micro-cultures around this country.... all speak Spanish, yes, but their historical , their economic, educational and immigration experiences are very different.

    Generalizing about the "Hispanics" doesn't bridge a cultural gap.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    amaxson said...
    Let's not forget that just because someone is an English speaker doesn't mean there might not be cultural differences as well. Generalizing any portion of a population could be risky.
    Victor Paredes said...
    The question is very broad as I do not think anyone would ever categorize generalizing as a good thing. I do think however that there is merit in identifying the commonalities among Latinos and embracing them. Sure there are nuances to our language and traditions, but there are very many common elements.

    From a marketing perspective I believe that cultural nuances may be a factor that affects consumer behavior. It can be one of a number of reasons why a Latino consumer behaves a certain way. So from a marketing perspective it is monumentally important to identify the behaviors themselves and then consider how culture may be affecting the behavior. But as marketers our primary responsibility is to develop unique selling propositions that are anchored on a consumer behavior.

    I think then the matter of regionalisms, nationalities then plays a tactical role at a market level.

    As a Latino, I see value in the common values I share with other Latinos. I feel more connected to a Latino of a different nationality then any other US ethnic group. I do believe that in the US we are forging a new US based Latino identity and culture. It is based on the myriad of Latino nationalities we come from and the aspects of the US reality that we most embrace. We may not all self identify as a Latino, but when you look closely, you realize there are indeed many things that bind us. Sure there are nunaces, differences, etc. No question. And I do not propose ignoring them nor blanket generalization. I just offer that we have far more in common than we do differences.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Elaine Alvarez said...
    Unfortunately, even with medical terminology (which is standard) each particular region has its own slang. The patient may only know the slang term and may be unfamiliar with the medical term being used. Knowing where the patient is from, may give you a clue to the term they are most familiar with to describe their condition.

    Even among Central Americans, the slang term from Costa Rica (for female genitalia) is likely unknown to a Honduran (I tested this at the office on a coworker). So the medical translator should still use the correct term, as the Costa Rican might be offended by the "naughty" inappropriate term, and the Honduran (or other non Costa Rican) would have not idea that what was said was nasty and would think they are referring to something from the mercado rather than her lady parts!

    I got after the produce guy for labeling the exotic fruits and vegetables as Hispanic!

    In advertising, I would use the formal rather than the slang term for something, to avoid confusion.

    I used to get after my ex (from Mexico), told him he did not speak Spanish, he spoke slang! Since he worked in painting/construction, his speech was peppered with dirty "guy" talk that was inappropriate to use in front of me!

    Linguists would love this thread! The speech can be so colorful, but can also be confusing if you work with mostly Mexican folks and you are from a Central or South American country, fortunately (or unfortunately) bad words are learned fast and hard to remove from the vocabulary!

    [Via LinkedIn]

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