Reaching Latinos: Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics

by Andrés T. Tapia – medicalhomearticle.LatFamily-300x208

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

In the last post, we finished talking about the second of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. In this post, we’ll cover the third and final strategy.

Strategy 3: Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics

A telltale sign that there is lack of clarity about how to best reach Latino talent and consumers is that many are confused by just the most basic terminology: is it Hispanic or Latino?

The very fact that these terms are often used interchangeably in the media, but have meaningful although not-so-simple-to-explain differences in their origins and who uses them and how, is telling in itself.

But which term to use is only the tip of the iceberg. When we say Latino or Hispanic are we referring to the first-, second-, third-, or fourth generation Latino? The Boomer, Xer, or Millennial Latino? The English-, Spanish-, or Spanglish-dominant Hispanic? The Peruvian immigrant or the Honduran American born in Wichita? Or any of the other hyphenated Latinos coming from 27 different national heritages? This is the demographic part.

Then, as marketers well know, there is a psychographic part—the drivers that influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Do they buy for comfort? For adventure? For status? For being on the cutting edge?

Latinos, like members of any other group, also have psychological drivers unique to the individual. Marketers have been able to group these individual psychological drivers to segment consumers. So even within the same demographic group they can go after segments such as hipsters, rebels, or security seekers. These are the psychographics.

The next step is to marry demographics with psychographics to create the most targeted approaches to attract talent and consumers. In other words, knowing the multidimensionality of demographic characteristics of Latinos is exceptionally important, but it is not enough without also layering in the various psychographic profiles.

This then gets us to the motivations of Latinos as it relates to cultural identity. How much do they or do they not want to identify with their ethnic roots versus how much do they want to embrace mainstream American culture as the core of who they are. Are they assimilationists? Are they Upwardly Mobile Aspirants? Are they Nationalistic in their ethnic country of origin pride?

The psychographic profiles that people will take are unpredictable to discern for individuals. But patterns do emerge. And now we can combine appealing to the demographic of the Millennial Puerto Rican to the psychographic or those who are Assimilationists or Nationalistic for example.

When the media zeros in on the undocumented (11 million) and the marketers on the Spanish speakers (34 million that is inclusive of the undocumented numbers), they are looking at important segments within the Latino umbrella but not the whole.

For example, they most often overlook the 26 million English-dominant Latino Millennials who paradoxically also tend to identify with the heritage of their parents’ country of origin (Colombian, Costa Rican, Argentinian, etc.) according to Pew Hispanic Research.

Marisela, my daughter, is a case in point. I think back just a few years ago, tiara perched on her jet-black hair, looking radiant and happy, surrounded by her friends and family. It was her quinceañera—her fifteenth birthday—a rite of passage in the Latino culture where a girl becomes a young woman. Mom, a European-American, and Papi, proud…and torn. Our daughter was coming of age and this joyous celebration with 200 people, a live salsa band, and a Peruvian food buffet, also marked one major milestone in Marisela’s passage toward independence and growing into her own identity.

So Marisela talks about being Peruvian American even though she was born and raised in the United States. She embraced becoming bilingual and multicultural as her friendships include young people who are Jewish, European-American, Black, and Latino. She spent extended time in Peru, where she found love and ended up marrying a Peruvian.

Adult choices

While Millennial Latinos are shaping their own Latino identities so are those in the older generations in the rapidly changing demographic landscape.

This was the lively topic of conversation at dinner in Boston’s North End, at the outdoor patio of Ristorante Fiore, an Italian restaurant on Hanover Street, after a successful diversity conference. A group of us Latinos sat, sipping our wine or espressos, began debating the role of accented English as it related to Latino identity in the workplace. Why is it that having a French or British accent is seen as a plus, but having a Spanish accent a drawback? And because of this, should Latinos who speak English with a Spanish accent work at reducing their accent? As the alcohol and caffeine took its effect, the conversation around how we sound dipped into a discussion about identity and success when one is in the minority.

The answers are not easy, the implications uncomfortable. Here we are a table of Latinos from different countries, different migration stories, different choices. What path should each of us take? I described facing ridicule and teasing at best, discrimination at worst due to my heavily-accented English during visits to the United States when I was young. This experience motivated me to work on my accent when I came to back to the United States to attend college.

As I did, the change in responses to my words clearly shifted toward more positive reactions as I calibrated my inflections, pitches, and tones. From that point on, it was as clear as the Peruvian brandy pisco that many English-dominant European-Americans heavily weighed their assessment of the value of words by the density of the accent of Spanish-dominant speakers.

But others around the table at Ristorante Fiore have made a different choice, equally valid. For them, how they sound, including their accented English, is part of their Latino identity. It is a marker of who they are culturally in the same way that Martinez, Ochoa, Jimenez, and Castillo are name markers of a Latino identity that is so paramount that even when offered a choice through different circumstances of a more Anglicized name, they don’t take it up. While others do.

We pick our cultural identity spots. ‘Este es quien soy’. ‘This is who I am’. Increasingly, for more Latinos, particularly Latino Millennials, the assimilation survival tactics of their parents are not as necessary or desirable.

Instead, our choices of how to let our Latino selves show up in American society are as diverse as the various peoples that make up the Latino/Hispanic fabric “en los United States de America.”

Promising future For Latinos—and the companies who hire them

I hope you have enjoyed and taken some good takeaways from this series. It takes two to tango. If Latinopalooza and corporate America can learn to dance together, the benefits of the reverberations of this multicultural choreography will be felt in the workforce and marketplace for a long time to come.

Reaching Latinos: Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent

by Andrés T. Tapia –iStock_4746494XSmall.HispBusTeam

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

So far I have written about the first of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latino talent pools. In the next two posts, I’ll share about strategy #2.

Strategy 2: Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent

Latino and European American cultures differ in some pretty fundamental ways, and corporate cultures often follow suit. Simply put, the average European American corporate world is not all that inviting to many Latinos.

According to a 2013 poll over 75 percent of Latinos feel people with their background are discriminated against in the form of not being hired or promoted for a job and being called names or insulted. We can’t continue to ignore the I-can’t-believe-it’s-still-true-in-2015 reality of pernicious discrimination.

But, there are also problematic cultural differences that create barriers to healthy Latino representation at all levels of an organization even when ugly discrimination is vanquished.

Cultural differences are more an Issue than most admit.

In Latino Talent: Effective Strategies to Recruit, Retain and Develop Hispanic Professionals, Dr. Robert Rodriguez, president of DRR Advisors, writes, “Along with discrimination, Latinos are also the victim of common negative stereotypes including being perceived as being too passive and lacking the conviction necessary to be a good manager, and of being too emotional to fill leadership positions. These stereotypes often are the result of a lack of understanding about how cultural principles and traditions common in the Latino community impact actions and behaviors.”

Let’s unpack Dr. Rodriguez’ assertion about cultural differences. But first, let’s have a crash primer on how to talk about culture comparisons. We are going to compare archetypes—the general tendency of a particular group to behave in certain ways without falling into stereotype, the assumption these tendencies are true for every member of the group. Sociologists and interculturalists have been able to trace the normative, bell curve behavior of groups fully recognizing there are many who, for a variety of reasons, do not adhere to these group norms.

So, archetypically speaking, let’s compare and contrast some of the many ways the normative behavior of Latino and European American cultures differ:

  • Sense of identity. For European Americans the value of individualism, where their sense of identity will more likely come from the self, contrasts with that of many Latinos who tend to be more group or community focused, where their sense of identity may come more from whom they belong.
  • Ascribing status. Latinos can be more hierarchical compared to the more egalitarian European American approach.
  • Getting work done. European Americans can tend to focus more on the tasks at hand to get the work done versus Latinos who tend to place greater importance on relationships.
  • Managing emotions. We all have them but Latino culture tends to value showing emotions while European American culture tends to value restraining the display of emotion.
  • Determining what is fair. European Americans tend to seek reassurance in the rules, while Latinos tend to be more comfortable with exceptions as they seek to address the uniqueness of each situation.
  • Belief of what can be controlled and managed. There is a prevalent European American belief that one can dominate the environment and external circumstances (“God helps those who help themselves”) versus the more common default stance by many Latinos that things may be out of our hands (“Dios quiere” or God willing)
  • Time management. European Americans tend to be ruled more by the clock whereas Latinos more by the event they are in.

These then are some significant differences that, at their most benign expression, lead to interesting cocktail reception conversation. But, applied to business, these points of view actually become the assumptions on which talent and leadership program competencies, development, and performance assessment get built.

For example, the career advancement assumption that each employee owns and can manage the creation of their own development plan. (I will elaborate on this on upcoming posts.)


Reaching Latinos: Understand and Embrace the Multidimensional Diversity Within the Latino Community

by Andrés T. Tapia – Mixed group of nations behind the American flag.

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

In my previous post, I mentioned three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. We’ll begin by discussing the first strategy in more depth.

Strategy 1: Understand and embrace the multidimensional diversity within the Latino community

First, we need to understand Latino diversity.

Though grouped together as Latinos or Hispanics, there are many layers of diversity within this population. Some are the same layers that every group faces, with their own unique twist, including:

Generational—For predominantly English speaking Latino Millennials, only 16 percent of them see themselves as white compared to twice as many older Latinos. They are less likely to have assimilated than their first-generation parents, who—as they faced discrimination due to their limited or accented English—chose not to teach their kids Spanish.

Plus you can add the dynamics of the creative tension among the generational diversity of Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z also shows up in Latino communities.

Language—There are Latinos who are Spanish English or Spanglish dominant. Seven in 10 young Hispanics report they regularly blend English and Spanish into a Spanglish hybrid.

Identity—Many Latinos straddle the fusion of more than two identities. Millennial Latinos are more likely to be in mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds and they self- identify with the blended identities of “Blaxican,” “Mexipino,” or “China-Latina” and more. These young Latinos epitomize the new Latino-American multidimensional identity.

History in the USA—Latinos in the USA can be recent immigrants or be fourth or fifth generation. Latinos in the USA can either be economic or political refugees. Or be ancestors of families that were of that part of Mexico annexed by the United States in the Spanish American war.

Country of origin—Latinos come from 27 different nationalities with a wide range of races and ethnicities. Spanish speaking Blacks come from the Caribbean, Colombia, Perú, Panama, and other countries. Millions of those characterized as Latinos come from indigenous backgrounds from Tierra del Fuego in the farthest southern reaches of Latin America to the Rio Grande border with the US.

 Given all this variety, Latino identity cuts across a wide spectrum of choices, so individual Latinos face complex choices of how much of it to embrace. This cultural identity spectrum can go from the fiercely nationalistic to the fully assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture.

Next, embrace this diverse multidimensionality of Latinos in talent and marketplace penetration.

We need to differentiate among the various Latino talent pools and segmented markets. There is no one Latino market in the same way there is no one Latino talent force; therefore, we must be wary of jumping to conclusions about your talent attraction materials. In order to have effective strategies for sourcing, attracting, hiring, engaging, advancing as well as selling to Latino talent, we must differentiate and define whether we are targeting the first, second, third, or fourth-generation Latinos. The Boomer, Xer, or Millennial Latino, The English-, Spanish-, or Spanglish-dominant Latino.

Be crossculturally agile. Ensure you don’t inadvertently use slang, cultural references, and pictures that are meaningful to say, Puerto Ricans, when you are trying to reach those who are mostly Mexican.

Don’t be paralyzed by fears of offending. By feeling you have to guess what the identity choices are of Latino talent or consumers. Watch, study, observe. And then, when necessary, which will be often, ask.

Be Latino diversity savvy by grasping the vast diversity among what often gets lumped under the simplistic umbrella of “Latinos.” Learn this and shape your talent attraction and marketplace penetration strategies accordingly. Just by doing this you will go a long way in enhancing your attractiveness to this highly desired talent pool.

My next post will zero in on “Strategy 2: Become Self Aware of how Corporate Cultures Are and Are Not Attractive to Latino Talent.” Stay tuned.

The Senses of It All: New Insights on Disability Diversity (Sidebar)

accessibilityMy visit to Serasa Experian  that prompted the blog post, “The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy,” led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
It’s so easy for sensitive and inclusive diversity practitioners to not forget to include “disability” in the laundry list of diversity issues that must be addressed. But how well do we, plus business and HR leaders and managers, truly know how to best meet their needs? My sensory disorientation during my lunch time conversation with Felipe, Diego, and João was indicative of my being blind to the subtle needs of those who couldn’t see and unable to truly listen for the needs of those who couldn’t hear.

For the organizational gyroscope on disability inclusion to be properly calibrated it’s vital to have a leader or change agent involved who also has a disability to ensure the readings of the visible and invisible oscillations are true and helpful to navigate through them. It’s no surprise then that under a diversity leader with a disability such as João, that Serasa Experian’s has become a benchmark for best practices for creating inclusion for salaried professionals with a disability.

The Environment Has to Be Deliberately Nurtured So All Can Collaborate in Creating Inclusion for those with Disabilities
To break bread over a meal is always a choreography as we sit, serve, chew, talk, listen, gesture, sip, swallow. Food is cut, drink is poured. Plates, cups, silverware, napkins come and go throughout the various courses. Our hands and arms poke, slice, bob, weave, undulate as we intermingle conversation with consumption. The choreography then becomes much more complex as a deaf, blind, quad, and clueless guy sit down to for white bean soup, sole, and filet mignon.

And here’s where waiters in the Serasa Experian dining room sprung into action. Without missing a beat, they joined the dance in anticipatory ways as they put placemats, salt and pepper shakers, glasses within the reach of the one who has blind, at times guiding his hands toward the desired object, ensuring line of sight with the one who was deaf so he could read their lips, cutting the meat into bite size pieces for easy access. Conversely, as tuned in as the waiters were to the special needs they needed to tend to as part of their job, the executives at the neighboring table carried on with their business, not in a oblivious or neglectful way, but rather in a casual way that indicated that the extraordinary choreography nearby was an ordinary part of life at the company.

This scene did not happen by happenstance. It is the result of an explicit, deliberate strategy that has been well communicated and where all employees have been properly oriented to best create an inclusive environment for those with disabilities.

Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
As much as Serasa Experian is a values-driven organization that believes in diversity, inclusion, and the financial power of having an engaged workforce, the catalyst for their extraordinary story around disability diversity was the law that set a quota for the percentage of people with a disability that should make up Brazilian companies’ workforces. It was in response to this that they brought in João who then had the powerful combination of a compliance mandate plus a leadership team that wanted to go beyond doing just enough.

And here’s a telling contrast between disability-related laws passed in Brazil and in the US, not only how compliance brings about change, but also on how the law is framed impacts the outcomes. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) focused on accessibility and accommodation. But unlike Brazilian law, it did not address representation. At its core it was about mandating that companies be appropriately proactive in creating architectural accessibility to anyone who may show up on public sidewalks, lobbies, hallways, and restrooms so that those with disabilities could get around. It also mandated that reactively accommodations be made to enable someone with a disability to do their job.

So with this compliance framing, the US ends up with wheelchair accessible buildings and handicapped parking sprouting up systematically throughout the country yet not with very many people with disabilities in the workplace.

Conversely, through compliance Brazil chose to emphasize representation but not so much accommodation in public spaces. And guess what? Brazil ends up with a much better workplace representation story but poor accessibility of public spaces.

Everyone Needs Accommodation
As I heard the stories of Nancy, Diego, Felipe, Lais, João and observed their working environment it reinforced for me that in this upside down world we need to redefine what we need disabled and accommodation and instead talk about being differently abled.

Before I elaborate, let me insert this caveat: In making the point that follows, I do not intend to equate all limitations as being equality difficult or easy or equally costly or painful. Rather I suggest that instead of looking at this as being an either/or of being able bodied or having a disability that we instead look at the issue as a continuum.

So back to my point. I see organizations and society resisting proactive and reactive accommodation because of cost and inconvenience, But let’s get some perspective about what accommodation really is. Because don’t we all, in one way or another require some form of accommodation? And are there are myriad ways in which society, the workplace, those around us accommodate our needs without question? So why should we suddenly question request or needs that may be less common but are just a serious and important as those we address without question.

Walk with me through this thought process. We can’t be in two places at once so we need telephones. We are limited in how much we can handwrite so we have devices with keyboards.. We are limited in how many tasks we can tend to so we need administrative assistants. We don’t work very well when its too hot or too cold so we need heating and air conditioning. We can get physically I’ll so we need healthcare coverage. Most of us aren’t inheritors of wealth so we need retirement savings benefits. We can’t work without resting so we need breaks during the work day and weekends every 5 days, and vacations at least once a year. We need to find babysitters so we get childcare referrals on the web. We have bodies that get fatigued and need the proper support so we have ergonomically sound chairs.

So how is this any different from the reality of a having some form of disability? In essence all things above have to do with an element of limitation of the human body and mind. We are always providing accommodation to all types. Those with disability at some level have the same need to address some physical or mental limitation that may be less prevalent than, say. our susceptibility to hot or cold. Addressing disability is simply providing what workers need to be as efficient and effective as possible and with their talents have the best chance to come out flush for the sake of the organization and the individuals.

The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy

by Andrés T. Tapia

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Andrés Tapia, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

SÃO PAOLO — My synapses were crossed. In the executive dining room, engineer Felipe Trigueros could not hear me because he is deaf, so I turned to face marketing assistant Diego de Castro who could. But it was Felipe who needed me to look at him so he could read my lips while Diego couldn’t even tell which way I was facing. Then Diego turns to Felipe to say in Portuguese what I had just said in a combination of English and Spanish. But why was Diego soundlessly mouthing the words rather than speaking aloud? Oh, yeah, duh, Felipe is deaf!

A little later a sign language interpreter comes in to further facilitate the conversation for Felipe’s benefit, particularly as I am asking questions of my new acquaintances. But after a few communication gestures he stops and Diego picks up again with the silent mouthing. I don’t get it. Oh, yeah, duh, the interpreter is a Brazilian Sign Language interpreter and we are all mostly talking in English!

So let me back up. I’m at Serasa Experian, a leading Brazilian global information services company, at the invitation of their diversity leader, João Baptista Ribas. I had met João and his boss, Tomás Carmona, the head of Sustainable Development, on a previous visit. On that trip I learned how Serasa Experian’s holistic diversity and inclusion strategy had the its start in disability due to the need to respond to a law passed in 2003 that required companies in Brazil to have, depending on their employee size, anywhere from 2-5% of workers with disability.  How different to the genesis of holistic diversity in the US which has had its start in race and gender.  João, who has paraplegia due to a congenital malformation and is in a wheelchair, was hired to lead that effort. Once he had implemented what is a truly groundbreaking approach with salaried professionals with disabilities he has been building out the more comprehensive diversity and inclusion efforts.

The first time around João and Tomás had shared their holistic diversity strategies with me and sought my reactions. On this visit we were going to dive specifically into their disability diversity work by, most importantly, meeting and having in-depth discussions with the talent with disabilities Serasa Experian had hired. Joining João, Felipe, and Diego in the conversation were Nancy Galvão who is a journalist and whose right hand withered when she contracted polio, and Laís Kari, who is a proofreader and blind — yes she is, and is among Serasa Experian’s best doing that kind of work.

These individuals were not the token representatives of disability diversity. As I walked the hallways later I met and saw dozens of employees in wheelchairs, dozens who were blind, dozens who were deaf, carrying about the business of accounting, programming, writing, marketing, etc. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.

What unfolded during the conversation was a narrative about the intersection of disability with identity, prejudice, humanity, career, autonomy, freedom, and ambition. Some highlights, first about their own experiences and beliefs and then some new thoughts they triggered for me:


Autonomy and Independence Is the Greatest Desire; Freedom the Greatest Outcome
Whether in words or in their stories, Felipe, Diego, Nancy, Laís, and João said the same thing: for those with disabilities, autonomy and independence which lead to freedom to pursue their goals are their greatest desire and what they pursue relentlessly.

Of course, they avail themselves to technology such as the cochlear implant, the screen reader that magnifies text on computer screens, the TDD telephone, as well as other support mechanisms such as the sight dog, the translators, ramps, and doors that always open outwardly. Explains João, “People say ‘poor you, confined to a wheelchair.’ But they don’t understand. I’m not confined. Rather, my wheelchair means freedom.”

“When my hand withered due to polio,” says Nancy, the writer, “my mom wanted to kill me and herself. But I wanted to be a journalist. People said that I couldn’t, because I was the one with the disability, the poor little one. Today I earn more money than any two-armed person in my family and I think I can say I am one of the happiest.”

Laís picks up on this narrative, “The attitude on the part of society is ‘No walk. No study. No work.’”  But each of these professionals has ambitions as big and mundane as any able bodied person’s. Felipe has sought career advancement and gotten it, having been promoted three times in 2009 and 2010.

“One of my dreams has always been to go to university,” says Diego who started to go blind just five years ago. “I wanted to have a house and a family and I was not going to let my going blind stop that.” He can now scratch these three items off his to-do list and he’s ready to add a couple of new ones: go to business school and become a leader within the company.

Work Is Empowering and Humanizing
“When you don’t have a job you don’t feel like a human being,” says Laís. “And it’s not just about the money. It’s also about making friends, and discovering things about yourself you did not know you could do. And it’s also about our families changing their view of what we are capable of.”

And it’s in this last statement that the key to disability diversity lies. Family members and co-workers stop seeing the disability and start seeing the person. “The best moment,” says Felipe, “is when my co-workers don’t see me as deaf but rather as a very good engineer.”

Work also allows each of these individuals to pursue their inner passions and to now make a living off of them. When I ask Laís how she ended up being a proofreader she tells me enthusiastically, “I have always loved to read. I love the Portuguese language.” And with the help of a digital replayer which is software that reads aloud what is on the screen, Laís and Priscila Neves, another blind employee I met who is a psychologist, crank up the replayers to read back to them at 10 times normal speed — so fast that it sounds like gibberish to my untrained ear. Laís zips through the document she is proofreading and, like finding a needle in haystack, plucks out the typos and misspellings.

Their stories make clear how affirming and dignifying it is to have a job, not just for those who have a disability but, when seen through their eyes, really for all of us. Think about the power of the following statement by Laís: “Now I can buy a new refrigerator for my Mom.”

As I wrap up, let me give the final word to one of my newfound friends at Serasa Experian: “Disability is not a problem,” says the blind proofreader. “What’s a problem is convincing others that it’s not a problem.”

In the battle of the senses, this makes a lot of sense.

Sidebar: New Insights on Disability Diversity
My visit to Serasa Experian led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

Click here for sidebar.

Scrabble Accepts Slang to Score Inclusion Points

by Andrés T. Tapia –


In a bow to diversity and inclusion, the makers of Scrabble have added 3,000 new words to the  Collins Official Scrabble Words list including some street slang to appeal to Gen Xers and Yers such as “innit,” “thang,” “blingy,” and “grrl” as well as some Islamic, Chinese, and Japanese terms such as “umma,” an Islamic community, “wagyu,” a breed of Japanese cattle, and “qin,” a Chinese musical instrument. So reports the United Kingdom’s Sun newspaper and Canada’s  Globe and Mail.

Scrabble is known globally, with more than 4 million sold worldwide each year and it’s produced in nearly 30 languages. The Collins list governs acceptable Scrabble words outside of North America. For the US and Canada, approved words are still found in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, which is produced by Merriam-Webster, the folks most known for producing dictionaries used in schools and colleges.

As with any significant change, controversy has ensued. In a Slate post, one ardent fan argued that slang should never be allowed.  Good luck with that stance. Not only is it exclusionary in an elitist way, but also not in touch with reality. Language must evolve or it dies. What has made English so enduring and widespread globally has been this very elasticity. And that’s cool by me.

Real World: English – The Ticket to Advancement for Individuals and Efficiency for Organizations in a Global Marketplace

by Andrés T. Tapia –global workers As a global diversity leader, I must admit that it’s been a bit uncomfortable writing recently about the importance of English in the midst of the greatest diversity movement in history. But as the posts revealed, we are experiencing a huge irony– greater global diversity drives the need for a common language for transacting work.

Organizations must follow the logical thread of what this means for how they go to market. Clearly tailoring products and services to the local market with local languages, images, and internalized concepts is the winning ticket for that part of the global supply chain. But for detailed transactions that are business to business–and the permutations of business to government, NGO (non-governmental organizations) to NGO, NGO to government, and NGO to business–English is often required.

Increased use of technology also plays a role. According to the British Council, 80% of the electronically stored information in the world is in English, and 66% of the world’s scientists read in it.

My concern from an inclusion perspective is this: the elites in various emerging economies take knowledge of English for granted–and so do their colleagues from developed countries when they interact with one another in the context of their organization’s work. Taking English for granted this way leaves employees from marginalized groups who either don’t know English or are not dexterous with it excluded from career opportunities and advancement.

Parochial Talent Development Strategies Lead to Exclusion

Which brings us to talent development strategies. How are global organizations thinking inclusively about talent development for their employees worldwide as it relates to various competencies, including English proficiency? This is an important question if we are serious about being  inclusive in terms of opportunities for all the talent we are mobilizing worldwide.

Our talent development practices have not kept up with our organizations’ globalization of talent. How well do we know this talents’ aspirations and current level of English competence?

indianemployees2Chances are, not well at all. True, leading edge companies such as IBM, Colgate-Palmolive, Ernst & Young, and Accenture have been nurturing their global talent for multipolar global assignments, having long broken away from the paradigm of only looking to US and developed country employees to send on expat assignments. But most companies have not done this, especially those who are just getting into the global marketplace.

A recent study by GlobalEnglish, a provider of online English language instruction to over 500 top multinationals worldwide with currently 130,000 enrolled learners (nearly 1 million over ten years), reveals that 91% of employees in global corporations say that English is critical or important to their current jobs. In addition, 89% said they are more likely to climb the corporate ladder if they can communicate in English.

However, only 7% of respondents felt their English skills were sufficient to perform their jobs successfully.

This gap often goes unnoticed by multinational corporate leaders who assume most everyone in their company speaks English well because of their many interactions with people around the world where language is rarely an issue. What they don’t see is what’s happening at the layer of talent just beneath the managers and leaders they interact with. They don’t feel the pain because the pain is local.

Multinationals at Risk

This poses a big risk for multinationals who are accelerating their expansion plans in emerging economies.

The McKinsey Global Institute found that only 13% of university graduates from low-wage countries are suitable for employment in multinational companies, and the number one reason cited is lack of English skills. Furthermore, as talent gets absorbed by the ever growing number of multinationals in first tier cities such as Shanghai, Delhi, and Manila where English proficiency is much more prevalent, multinationals must increasingly source talent from second and third tier cities where the English gap is even greater.

There is a growing recognition of this need in the emerging markets. According to the Hindu Business Line, “It’s time Indians shake off the English language smugness. . . . Only 20% of the candidates evaluated met the overall English criteria required by the industry” on an accepted skill barometer called the MeritTrac National Index of Communications Skills. “With call centers, no longer is speaking English one of the important skills to get a good job,” Raghu Prakash, who runs an English-language school in Jaipur, told Newsweek International. “It is the skill.”

How Companies Are Profiting from Better English Skills
laptop employee

GlobalEnglish customers on average say that employees who have improved their English skills have saved 1 to 2 hours per week in reading and responding to email and other documents. Deloitte puts that number at 3 to 5 hours a week. Employees who receive just one email per day in English and take 10 minutes less to read and respond to it gain 40 hours of productive work time over the course of a year. General Motors says deploying their business English initiative three years ago was the “shot in the arm” they needed for globalization.

Not only are these businesses reaping the benefits, but so are their employees, who now are much better positioned to be noticed by more decision makers. To be noticed you need to be understood, and inclusive organizations understand this. It is, after all, a pretty basic concept.

As we say in beginning English classes: Hello?



Featured Post: With the Rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, How Relevant Is English? (Part 1)

Featured Post: With the Rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, How Relevant Is English? (Part 2)

Chinese or English: Which Will Become Dominant in a Global Marketplace?

As More of the World Speaks English, Who Is a Native Speaker?

As More of the World Speaks English, Who Is a Native Speaker?

by Andrés T. Tapia

ESLlogoAs the US becomes less dominant, ironically English becomes even more ubiquitous as the global trade language. The language of US and British imperialism now has become the language of emerging markets going global at the expense of the US and Europe.

But the ironies only multiply from here. For example, after generations of British and US English being considered standard English, in today’s globalized use of English, what is standard English? who is a native speaker?

Consider the professional in Krakow who is just starting to interact regularly with professionals in India and is as unlikely to learn Hindi as her Indian counterparts are going to learn Polish. She needs to brush up on her English. But this time rather than listening to the British pronunciations she was likely exposed to during her Polish equivalent of English 101 highschool class, through her headphones linked to an English language online learning site she is hearing the proper pronunciations by that new English native speaker, the Indian from Bangalore.

Or consider the English-dominant Mexican-American Millennial whose grandparrents three generations ago, migrated from Nogales, Mexico to El Paso, Texas.  He is fluent in English, is a full US citizen, but there is a distinct Spanish-ized inflection in his fluent, English-as-a-first-language inglés.

Or consider the Korean American New Yorker who grew up bilingual Korean and English and who in the same way has a side of kimchee with with her burger also has Korean tones in her flawless English.

Redefining English

English then is being shaped and re-shaped both by these new native speakers plus by the growing legions who have learned it as a second language. Today nearly a billion people around the world speak English — which means that more people speak English as a second language than there are native speakers. In Asia, the number of English-users has surpassed 350 million–this is as many people who live in the English dominant countries of the United States, Britain and Canada. More Chinese children study English–about 100 million–than there are Britons. “There’s never before been a language that’s been spoken by more people as a second than a first,” says David Crystal whose numerous books include English as a Global Language (also click here to see him in a 2 min video)

The reshaping entails both pronunciation and vocabulary and in the process, “English will no longer privilege the native speaker,” states the voiceover in this mini (4 min) British documentary, “The Future of the English Language.”

“The new English-speakers aren’t just passively absorbing the language–they’re shaping it,” writes Newsweek reporter Carla Power in a prescient article, “Not the Queen’s English,” written a few years ago. “New Englishes are mushrooming the globe over, ranging from ‘Englog,’ the Tagalog-infused English spoken in the Philippines, to ‘Japlish”… to  ‘Hinglish,’ the mix of Hindi and English that now crops up everywhere from fast-food ads to South Asian college campuses.” As an example of this she refers to an Indian ad for Domino’s pizza: “Hungry kya?” (“Are you hungry?”).

Spanglish would be another. Novelist, critic, and professor at Amherst, Ilan Stavans makes the case in his book, Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language. “Latinos are learning English,” he said in an interview on NPR. “That doesn’t mean that they should sacrifice their original language or that they should give up this in-betweeness that is Spanglish. Spanglish is a creative way also of saying, ‘I am an American and I have my own style, my own taste, my own tongue.'” (Also see earlier posting, “As Español-Language Media Grows, ¿Qué Me Dices about Spanglish?“)

“English is an open-source language,” says GlobalEnglish’s CEO Deepak Desai. “There is an academy in France that decides what constitutes a French word. But there is no academy that decides what an English word is.” Continuing Desai’s technology metaphor, this makes English a language platform on which many idiomatic speaking “applications” can run.

How does this phenomenon play out on what is proper English? Let’s hear some examples from reporter Carla Power:

Researchers are starting to study non-native speakers’ “mistakes”–“She look very sad,” for example–as structured grammars. In a generation’s time, teachers might no longer be correcting students for saying “a book who” or “a person which.” Linguist Jennifer Jenkins, an expert in world Englishes at King’s College London, asks why some Asians, who have trouble pronouncing the “th” sound, should spend hours trying to say “thing” instead of “sing” or “ting.” International pilots, she points out, already pronounce the word “three” as “tree” in radio dispatches, since “tree” is more widely comprehensible.

How Much Does an Accent in Speaking English Matter
While Arizona is trying to put a finger in the dike regarding accented English by contemplating legislation that would forbid teachers with an “accent” from teaching ESL, others are fully embracing this phenomenon effectively and profitably.

GlobalEnglish is a business English language online instruction organization that uses voices of people from a variety of different nationalities who are positioned as native English speakers coming from certain parts of the world. “Global companies are increasingly made up of non-native speakers of English,” says Les Schmidt, COO of GlobalEnglish which includes mega multinationals such as IBM, Deloitte, and Hilton. “As a consequence, an enormous number of business interactions that occur in English are between two non-native speakers. Our goal is to help support the development of a common communication tool -‘a global English language.”

To this end, GlobalEnglish’s service includes a database of accents and dialects of English which provides an opportunity for learners to recognize native and non-native English accents as well as the differences in tone and appropriateness, while also mastering practical business expressions as they choose a from over 60 countries, dialects, the gender of the speaker’s voice, the speed of the reading, and whether or not to follow the transcript. Additionally, their text-to-speech tool allows learners to hear any text read aloud in a variety of “English accents.”


In my work as Chief Diversity Officer at Hewitt Associates, I consult with many of our clients on various dimensions of diversity and inclusion.  In the process, it’s not unusual for the issue of how to handle requests for accent reduction come up. Is that an inclusive thing to address or not? Well, it depends. The issue is not accent but the ability to be understood.And there are plenty of employees who have an “accent” that traditional native speakers may not like, but who are intelligible. And then there are those who, because of their accent, really have a hard time being understood. We need to distinguish between the two. Not only is lack of intelligibility a detriment to all parties concerned but it will assuredly limit that individual’s career advancement no matter how talented they are. This issue should be seen in the same category as a professional who, say, needs to improve her presentation skills in front of large groups. It’s about effectiveness.

But when people are intelligible regardless how they sound when they speak English, let’s guard against ethnocentric or even prejudicial attitudes that are demanding accent reduction just because they don’t like how they sound. And keep in mind that in an upside-down world, it’s the native English speakers who may have to brush up on their comprehension of English a la Hindi, Spanish, Polish, and Arabic.

“In the future,” suggests professor David Crystal, “there could be a tri-English world, one in which you could speak a local English-based dialect at home, a national variety at work or school, and international Standard English to talk to foreigners.”



Featured Post: With the Rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, How Relevant Is English? (Part 1)

Featured Post: With the Rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, How Relevant Is English? (Part 2)

Chinese or English: Which Will Become Dominant in a Global Marketplace?

Chinese or English: Which Will Become Dominant in a Global Marketplace?

by Andrés. T. Tapia —

Last year there was a raging debate on Chinese social media sites about which language was going to be more important, Chinese of English?

Chinese online commentators debated with passion on both sides of the issue. With the help of a Chinese national, Billy Chan, who is a social networking specialist and technologist in Canton, China I present some of the arguments made on behalf of both languages.

Those supporting English as more important cited these reasons:

  1. Chinese has too many words with the same pronunciation. It takes more time for the decoder than the encoder to understand the communications exchange.
  2. Children take more time, some say 3-5 years, to learn a language.
  3. Chinese grammar is less definitive than English. Tense and word form need to be defined by context, often generating blur of intended meaning.

Learning English online

Those making the case for Chinese made these points:

  1. Chinese characters are two-dimensional hieroglyphics, taking less time to scan to absorb meaning. English is scanable, but it’s based on remembering letters with no logical pattern. The human brain more easily sees patterns.
  2. Chinese is convergent, meaning it has remained cohesive by not incorporating words from other languages, while English is divergent, meaning that it is always co-opting words from multiple languages. This has led to English having over 1 million words which makes things such as interdisciplinary research very difficult.
  3. Chinese takes fewer words and pronunciation to convey meaning. There are no letters in Chinese, only words in one syllable. One syllable could convey one or more meanings. And many words has same pronunciation. Many Chinese parents report their children are good at math compared to English speaking children. They believe this is because the Chinese numbering system is easier to remember and practice. 11, 12 13, 14, for example, have all have different spelling structures in English, and so do the days of the week like Monday, Tuesday compared to the Chinese 1st, 2nd, 3rd days.

For more on the debate in Chinese (score a point for those making the case for needing to learn Chinese!), go here and here. (You can get a difficult to understand web translation by pasting the url in a Google search and when results come back click on the Translate button next to the search result.)

A few more points: If we compare just the sheer numbers of the 750 million people who speak English compared to over the 1 billion who speak Chinese, Chinese has the edge. But when comparing how widely distributed English speakers are not only in the official English-speaking countries in Europe, the Americas, Oceania, Africa, and South Asia, English wins on that point. In fact, non-native speakers — according to linguistics professor David Crystal’s estimate — outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1. It’s no wonder then why English is the official language of transnational organizations such as the UN.

To me, having experienced the benefits of being fluent in English and Spanish and with a working knowledge of French, there is no question that learning Chinese will provide a competitive advantage to any worker doing business within China and with the Chinese in a pub, bistro, cafe, ballroom near you as they expand their global reach.

The Great Irony

But there is something ironic about English gaining greater power even as the English-speaking countries decline in their economic power. The more the Chinese, Brazilians, Russians and others get into the global business game, the more there is a need for a common language.  I wrote about this in a couple of earlier blogs (“With the Rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, How Relevant Is English?” (Part 1) and Part 2) where I outlined that English will remain a dominant force even as, and in fact because of, the global bazaar becoming more multilingual and multicultural. Also, with the US still leading in innovation, the importance of English will keep increasing.

The winning combination, of course, is the use of a global shared language yet  having business and personal practices of learning other languages and honoring and respecting native language use locally in employee communications, benefits explanations, etc.

So if it is the case that English is going to become even more dominant in our global world, how ready is the global workforce to be English competent? I will write about why there is a lot at stake in the answer in my next blog post.

In the meantime, what do you think about the strategic role of languages in global business?