Aurelia Flores: Why Culture is Important at Work

As we kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, people are discovering the importance of Latinos in the U.S.

As we kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, people are discovering the importance of Latinos in the U.S.  (Getty Images)

As we kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, we see a flurry of articles about Latino history and culture – and the importance of Latinos in the U.S.  

I am a strong believer in pride in one’s culture, and knowledge of one’s history, as well as recognition and exercise of Latino power – political, purchasing, media, etc.

In addition, I am a strong advocate of understanding not only the variety of Latino cultures, but the variety of ways WE as individuals embody our Latino cultures.  

Those of us who live in the U.S. are ALL cultural hybrids.

We all enact various components – values, beliefs, practices – of our culture in a variety of strengths and in numerous combinations.  And we mix our Latino culture with a very American one (which itself is a mix of cultures).

What this means is that during Hispanic Heritage Month we get to celebrate the huge diversity among us as Latinos – in a multitude of ways, and not just connected to our countries of origin.
But is our culture important at work?  I was asked this exact question by a young Latina college student last week during a speech I gave.  I regularly speak around the country at colleges and universities, as well as at professional events.  I thought this question a perfect one to answer this week.

I told this young woman that yes, I believe our Latino culture is very important for us to bring to the workplace, this is true for everyone. 
Here’s why:  The more we all bring a diversity of views, values, insights and practices to the workplace, the smarter we all become.  Assuming, of course, such views are appreciated and valued.

If you look at the research coming out of leadership literature, you can see a deep understanding for how diverse voices make our strategy and actions better.  The more views we can incorporate, the better our business game becomes.  (See The Next IQ by Dr. Arin Reeves for an excellent overview of how and why this works.)

The important key:  this diversity of voices, and the importance of valuing such voices, is not just applicable to Latinos.  However, we as Latinos get to be on the leading edge of championing this transition.  Why?

As Latinos, we are getting very good at what in my leadership programs I call ‘dual vision.’  We know we live in two cultures, and we consciously choose to retain elements of both.  Part of this is because of the historical/political/social context of Latinos in the U.S. today.  Regardless of whether your family has been here one generation or ten, as Latinos in the U.S., we are seen as having two cultures.  

And to whatever extent we utilize those two cultures – we have been given the opportunity (even if inadvertent) to exercise both.  We eat foods from both cultures, listen to music from both cultures, engage in traditions and festivals from both cultures.  

But more importantly, we also understand there are competing values in both cultures – sometimes drastically competing – and as Latino professionals, we learn how to combine, integrate and use the best of both worlds in our daily practice.  And this makes us stronger in the workplace.

Let me give a simple example from an interview I did for .  I was interviewing Arisa Batista Cunningham, a Vice President at Johnson & Johnson, and she was explaining how it was easier for her to understand and learn Asian cultures, and the different ways they communicate and the cultural meanings therein, because she had previously had to navigate her Latinidad in coming to U.S. corporate culture.  She had experience in understanding meanings that were not part of the ‘mainstream.’

But it’s not just our ability to understand and navigate difference that is enhanced.  We approach problems differently, we strategize differently and we lead differently.  And these unique differences are also our strengths.

The more we can showcase how this works, and the value and brilliance of this practice, the better our workplaces become – not just for Latinos, but for everyone.   And the more we can encourage others to bring their cultures to the office – whether those cultures be derived from religious, gender, or any other kind of diversity – the more powerful our workplaces can become.
How do YOU bring your culture to work?

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website,, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.


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