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How to Reduce the Education and Attainment Gap for Hispanic Students and Employees

By Mariela Dabbah, author and founder and CEO of Latinos in College

I often hear educators say that Hispanic parents are not involved in their children’s education and that’s why they don’t go to college. Corporate executives frequently make a similar comment — Hispanic employees are not interested in advancing in their careers as much as others. On the other hand, I also often hear Hispanic parents say that their children are not afforded the same chances as other students, and I hear Hispanic employees complain about not being offered the same opportunities for advancement as other groups.  What gives?

It’s hard to change attitudes when you keep looking at a problem through the same lens you’ve always used. The truth is that all groups could use new distinctions (definitions of concepts that enable them to see things they couldn’t see before) to understand what’s happening and to make appropriate adjustments to get better results for everyone involved.

If you consider that everyone sees the world through the distinctions they have, then not having distinctions in a particular area will limit your ability to act in that area. For instance, if parents and students don’t have distinctions for acronyms such as SAT, ACT, AP, GPA and IB, they won’t hear these acronyms when guidance counselors or teachers mention them. Unless somebody specifically defines for them the meaning of these acronyms and their importance in the students’ future, it is unlikely that the students will be prepared to apply to college when the time comes. When schools assume that parents and students know things they truly don’t, the schools fail to make distinctions that would enable these parents and students to act in ways that would produce positive results.  When educators assume that, because parents don’t show up for parent-teacher conferences they don’t care about their child’s education, these educators act according to their assumption and very likely stop caring about that student.

But if educators were to realize that Hispanic parents are involved with their children in different ways – through providing good moral values, a strong work ethic, family stability, a strong culture and tradition – educators might begin to work with parents and their children differently. If guidance counselors understood that not all Hispanic students want to go to a local community college or need to contribute financially at home, and that those who are academically talented might be better off financially attending a four-year private school, they would start suggesting options to seniors that they tend to offer only to more affluent students. This change of attitude in turn would produce better results in terms of parent involvement and college readiness.

Something similar happens when companies look to develop their professional pipeline.  When corporations ignore the fact that Hispanics tend to be first generation college graduates and the first in their families to work in a corporate environment, they fail to offer customized scholarship and internship programs to support them. By not connecting these young people with mentors who can guide them through the unwritten rules of their organizations, they miss the opportunity to retain and promote top talent.  These are people who may be a bit rough around the edges because of the environment in which they were raised, but they can become loyal employees who contribute greatly with only a small effort from the corporation.  And this effort will result in much greater diversity at senior levels in the organization.

Acquiring valuable cultural distinctions that enable educators and corporations to adapt their programs and advice to Hispanic students and employees is a very effective way to reduce the performance and attainment gap. The key is that in order for things to change, both sides need to commit to changing the lens through which they see the other.  Strive to learn as much about the Hispanic community as possible so you can avoid letting your personal filters get in the way and you can provide the appropriate guidance to those who are not yet well versed with the education system and the corporate environment.

Mariela Dabbah is an award winning best selling author of several books that help Latinos succeed through education and empowerment. Some of her titles are Latinos in College: Your Guide to Success, and The Latino Advantage in the Workplace. Her new book Poder de Mujer (Woman Power) comes out March 6. She’s also the founder and CEO of Latinos in College.

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