Sep 11, 2012
NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — Recruiting and retaining Hispanic employees is increasingly important to NAVAIR, given the growing U.S. Hispanic population and their potential to enter careers vital to NAVAIR’s mission, said diversity experts at an event commemorating National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 5.
“If we wait for people to come to us, we aren’t going to get the rigor or representation we need for diverse thought,” said keynote speaker Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education. Regarding NAVAIR’s efforts to increase its pipeline of Hispanic job applicants, Santiago said, “If you are interested in recruiting them, go to where they are.”
More than 150 employees attended the event, entitled, “Diversity United, Building America’s Future Today” at the River’s Edge Conference Center in Patuxent River and via video teleconference to the NAVAIR sites. The event, hosted by NAVAIR’s Hispanic Engagement Action Team (HEAT) and Equal Employment Opportunity/Diversity Office, also included a cross-cultural training session with experts from Kochman Mavrelis Associates, Inc.
Hispanics in the NAVAIR workforce participate at less than the rate of their availability, according to the U.S. Census National Civilian Labor Force. In response, the HEAT has been focused on recruiting, retaining and developing Hispanic employees; identifying potential hiring barriers; and increasing awareness and morale since September 2009.
“Diversity isn't just a buzzword in our organization,” said HEAT champion and NAVAIR Deputy Assistant Commander for Test and Evaluation Gary Kessler. “As leaders and managers, our role is to create and support a diverse work environment that values all our employees and accepts and encourages their contributions so that they and our organization are working toward full potential.”
As of July 1, 2011, Hispanics constituted more than 16 percent of the nation’s population, according to U.S. Census data. Hispanics are projected to account for 75 percent of the growth in the nation’s labor force between 2010 and 2020. Santiago noted that many of these workers will choose careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which are vital to NAVAIR’s mission.
Her research for her “Finding Your Future Workforce” project includes a focus on STEM and strategies on how to funnel Hispanics into STEM positions: college preparation, outreach, academic support, retention and completion. According to Santiago’s projections, for the U.S. to maintain its historic preeminence and benefits in the fields of STEM, it must produce 1 million more STEM professionals than are projected to graduate at current rates by 2020.
Because Latino degree attainment in STEM is concentrated at the bachelor level, Santiago said managers could consider a tiered hiring approach. For example, an employee with a certificate or associate degree may be a good fit for a NAVAIR job now and can then participate in a developmental program later, leading to a higher degree while working.
To be successful, Santiago said organizations must be competitive in the existing hiring pool, as well as expand the hiring pool. “It doesn’t have to be either-or; it can be ‘and-plus,’” she said.
The afternoon’s interactive training session on Latino and non-Latino cultures explored differences in communication styles, responses to authority and leadership styles from the perspective of cultural anthropologist Jean Mavrelis and psychologist Dr. Luis Vazquez. Event organizers said the session helped employees understand the natural tensions resulting from cultural differences and raised awareness of individual perspectives that influence cross-cultural interactions.
“When you understand culture, you are going to increase comfort and fit, employee engagement and productivity,” Mavrelis said.
For example, Hispanics, as well as other groups, tend to have a traditional outlook, which is hierarchical, interpersonal, and includes a strong sense of family and community, while the U.S. mainstream culture has an individualistic, self-motivated and institutional outlook, Vazquez said. To combat any misunderstandings arising from this difference, “all your processes now have to be more inclusive,” Mavrelis said. “Multicultural leadership is looking at the whole.”
The event also included a reading of the St. Mary’s County Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation from St. Mary’s County commissioners Jack Russell and Todd Morgan. Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
To learn more about NAVAIR’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, watch the video.