Deciding to use inclusive language is easy. Deciding on the most inclusive term is not.
People of Mexican, Central American, South American and Caribbean heritage encompass over 20 (!) different countries. And yet historically they have been grouped under one term: Hispanic, Latino, and recently, Latinx.
How do you capture such richness and variety of human experience with a single word? Should you even try? After all, labels can also exclude, confuse, and “other” people who don’t identify with them.
First, a (very) brief history lesson
Before the 1960s, people of Latin heritage didn’t have a separate designation. Individuals and communities referred to themselves by nationality (Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadoran, Cuban).
The term “Hispanic” was introduced by labor activists to unify Spanish-speaking groups and finally made it onto the U.S.Census in 1980.
“Latino” emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s as a way to separate Hispanic heritage from Spain and colonial past.
“Latinx” developed shortly after, but grew in popularity in recent years. The term was created by Hispanics in the queer community as a gender-netural alternative to masculine “Latinos”.
All three terms received some criticism. In fact, surveys and polls also show that many in the Hispanic community don’t identify with any of the terms commonly used to describe them.
So, which term should you use?
Choosing “Latinx” can feel obvious because it’s newest, generates the most buzz and seems to be a hit with universities and corporations. However, only about 3% of Hispanics currently use it to describe themselves.
It’s difficult to pronounce in Spanish and some have criticized it as an example of English-speakers forcing conventions onto another language.
The easiest and most equitable way is to delegate the decision to your employees.
If your organization already has an ERG (Employee Resource Group) for Latinos, ask their leadership for insight!
Or send out a survey or poll asking employees who consider themselves Latinos for preference. Make sure to include all employees on your send list. Don’t assume that someone identifies as Hispanic based on their name and appearance.
While it makes sense to choose one term to be used in your communications and your brand style guide, allow room for fluidity and preferences.
Hispanic women on your team may refer to themselves as Latinas. Others may prefer the gender neutral Latinx. Individual employees may refer to themselves by their national origin.
Giving employees a chance to self-identity and share their experiences and preferred labels or language with their team shows them that you care about them as an individual, not just a line item on a diversity tracker.
What really matters
Language is fluid. New movements and ideas emerge and language changes. At the end of the day, what matters most is your commitment to actively reaching out and supporting all of your team members.
Here are some ideas:
- Encourage employees to participate in ERGs. Compensate employees who step into leadership positions in these groups as a way of acknowledging their contributions. Include ERGs in your DE&I strategy planning and most importantly, listen to their feedback!
- Push for diversity in leadership positions. Actively work toward promoting diverse leaders. Make sure that Latino, women and employees of color don’t get siloed and receive meaningful projects. Organizations like the Latino Corporate Directors Association, work directly with company boards who want to diversify their membership.
- Work with a DE&I consultant to help you build a business case for diversity at your organization. Here at PowerToFly we help companies connect with qualified candidates from all backgrounds and offer solutions to help you document the impact diverse hires have on your business.
For more information about celebrating the diversity of Latin and Hispanic employees on your team, take a look at our report.