As graduate schools struggle to attract Hispanic students, a new challenge looms: the relevance of focusing on domestic diversity in an increasingly global economy.
This economy requires skills and perspectives that domestic diversity doesn't automatically imply – or supply. While the big picture in the United States has been to offset the social and political wrongs of the past, the new picture concentrates on a cultural literacy that eases the entry of U.S. businesses worldwide.
Ironically, in filling this void, companies are increasingly hiring foreign nationals – some educated in the United States, some overseas – who are considered Hispanic but often lack the cultural experiences of the struggle for diversity shared by U.S. Hispanics.
And while Hispanic graduate students stand favorably to fill this new need, getting them into the education pipeline and keeping them there remains difficult, since the dismantling of affirmative-action admissions and financial aid programs at colleges.
In addition, although programs exist to give students a global education, they are slow to advance; and colleges just now are considering corporate relationships not only for advice on what to teach, but also to line up employers for new grads.
"As baby boomers retire, the talent pool of minorities will shrink," says Gilbert Casellas, former chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who practices law in Washington, D.C. "The marketplace is one aspect of attracting minority talent, and the other is being a desirable place to work. If you're viewed as an employer of choice, one that's more accepting of individuality, you will have a greater ability to draw from the minority talent pool.
"The background issue, though, is the idea of the pipeline. Fundamentally, that pipeline is leaking. Ultimately, we have to go back to grades K-8 to increase the numbers of minorities making it all the way through college and into the workforce."
The benefit of encouraging Hispanic students hasn't been lost on U.S. corporations or professional associations that reach out to children as young as grade-school age, says Samuel Betances of Souder, Betances & Associates Inc. His Chicago-based firm serves as a diversity trainer and consultant to clients including AT&T, Intel, Pfizer, Sara Lee, Grupo Telemundo, and Wal-Mart.
"Everybody knows the Hispanic market is growing, getting wealthier, and getting stronger economically and politically," Mr. Betances says. "People who deal in the global landscape seem to appreciate diversity as leverage in their businesses. But Latin American markets require certain cultural competencies from U.S. corporations that want to compete in them."
These competencies can be as simple – and as complex – as understanding employees' behavior. "When we get angry, from the Anglo side it's viewed as irrational, but from the Latino side it's viewed as passionate about whatever's being discussed," Mr. Betances says.
U.S. companies are beginning to look abroad for executives who meet their global needs while fulfilling their diversity goals, says Patrick Prout, president and CEO of The Prout Group Inc., an executive-recruiting firm with offices in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and New York. Minorities and women have comprised 70 percent of the company's placements in the past five years.
"We're experiencing companies becoming broader with their definition of diversity," Mr. Prout says. "They're looking for someone who could bring international experience to the table while still counting that person as a Latino.
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