COMPANY CULTURE

How Latinos Have Changed U.S. Business Culture

In ways big and small, argues one author, Latino culture is leaving its mark on the way people do business in the U.S.
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There are 52 million Latinos in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. And they're making their presence felt.

"We're getting to the point where it's entering a lot of people's radar," observes Mariela Dabbah, the Argentina-born author of Find Your Inner Red Shoes: Step Into Your Own Style of Success. "There's a tipping point where you start getting attention. More elected officials are Latinos, and we've proved our voting power in the last couple of election. And Latino culture influences everything from the foods we eat to the music we hear."

That cultural influence extends to American businesses, she adds, noting that in her 20 years in the United States she's watched business practices evolve in tandem with growing Hispanic influence. Here are four ways Dabbah, who's now an American citizen, says we are all becoming more like Latinos in the way we conduct business:

1. We're more personal.

"Latinos are known for being approachable, friendly, and interested in others," Dabbah says. "If you have a Latino in your company, that person will know something about everyone in your company, and will say things like, 'How's your grandmother? She was going to have surgery this week.'"

Likewise, Dabbah says, Latinos tend to nurture personal connections, and use those connections in business. "Any HR person will tell you that once you place one Latino in a company, within a couple of years you'll have a group of them as they recruit the people they know."

2. We're less rigid.

"We're all a little more relaxed around doing business," Dabbah says. "Even in the way we dress to go to work. When I came here 20 years ago, the dress code was much more formal than it is now."

She also says business conduct in general is more flexible than it used to be. "Flexibility is something Latinos have brought into this country, and I see how much more flexible people in business are now than they were 20 or even 10 years ago." For instance, she says, rather than letting stringent deadlines stress an entire company or team beyond its capacity, businesses today are more likely to try and relax the deadline so that people can re-energize. "I'm not saying these changes are all due to Latinos, but it's a reflection of how one culture influences another," she says.

3. We drink better coffee.

Not only that, business meetings in cafes have become part of our business norm. "The evolution of coffee drinking habits has a lot to do with Hispanic culture," Dabbah says. "In Latin American cultures you find a coffee shop every half a block. When I came to this country, I couldn't get a cup of espresso anywhere. I couldn't sit down and talk to my friends. There were only bars, and I don't drink, so that was a problem for me."

All that's changed, she says, thanks to chains like Starbucks, and the proliferation of independent coffee shops. And Americans have quickly taken these spaces as offices-away-from-home. (So much so that a popular new app imitates coffee shop sounds which have been shown to boost creativity.)

4. We're more family oriented.

"One thing Latinos are known for is that they really value their time with their families," Dabbah says. "That gives them a more balanced outlook on life."

It also gives them the opportunity to look at problems from many different angles, she says. "The nature of being an entrepreneur is that you consult with your partners, but Latinos do it to a bigger extent," she says. "They'll ask their mothers-in-law, their cousins, the friends they grew up with who aren't cousins--but they call them cousins." And that's a strength, Dabbah says. "You get a diversity of opinions."

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jul 10, 2013

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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