It’s time for lunch and your colleagues ask you where they can find good “Spanish” food. Or you’re sharing childhood stories with your cube mates and one asks when you came to the United States. Maybe you just finished a presentation and someone comments that you speak English very well and hardly have an accent. You’re not alone. But perhaps in your office, you are. The absence of Latino men in the professional and managerial ranks is glaring. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Latino men represent 3.4 percent of the professional workforce and only 2.1 percent are in management positions.

As a result, you’ve become the Latino “expert,” expected to interpret and represent the male Latino experience. The problem? Latino men, like everyone else, are multi-dimensional with vastly different experiences. While there are labor laws that protect against workplace discrimination, these questions, while annoying, do not fall under in that category.

So what do you do when you’re asked to represent the Latino voice, show up at a corporate sponsored function or voice your personal opinion on a current issue? Seize the moment of course! Find ways to represent. Here’s a short list of suggestions:

  • Assess the opportunity and find ways to educate others on experiences that have shaped our perspectives and opinions – just stay away from topics of religion and politics since either area can lead to heated discussions instead of intelligent conversation.
  • Share significant life events that have shaped who you are so people can begin to understand the similarities and differences amongst Latinos – speak about your college experience, your first job and what you’ve learned along the way.
  • Communicate the details of your professional journey to other aspiring Latinos to enlighten them about opportunities and potential pitfalls that can help make or break a career.
  • Know your history, traditions and customs so that you can articulate your experience in a manner that will help dispel negative assumptions or stereotypes. Choose your words carefully so that come across as open minded and inclusive as oppose to divisive.

Francisco, a young, professional Latino I know, found himself in this position early in his career. He felt like he had two jobs: his daily role as a financial analyst and the other as his job’s Latino poster boy. Although he was initially uncomfortable always being asked to represent the company at diversity related venues, campus recruiting efforts and community related events he knew senior management would not be pleased if he declined these invitations.

After discussing the issue with mentors and friends, he decided to be more selective in the events he participated in. He continued attending activities where he could speak to other Latinos about the company and career opportunities to help others charter a course to success. At the same time Francisco declined invitations where he felt his participation would be less impactful, like marching with his company float in the Puerto Rican parade. It became a win-win situation.

It’s important to choose your workplace battles wisely. You don’t want to be told you’re not a team player or viewed as difficult to get along with because you choose not to address questions about your personal life as it pertains to your culture or ethnicity. And while building relationships is key to advancing your career, being a team player is valued but it shouldn’t come at the risk of sacrificing your privacy or comfort.

The fact is, you don’t have to lose your identity to be successful. But it does require a delicate balancing act. So the next time you’re tapped for your cultural expertise remember that with great success comes great responsibility so do your part to positively shape the perception of aspiring and professional Latino men in the workplace. Own up to the role of a trailblazer and know your presence is paving the way for others Latinos coming behind you.

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