When Latinas Get Promoted

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Valeria works in the manufacturing industry. Hers is a white-collar job in a male-dominated world with a blue-collar ethos.

When she started at the company over 10 years ago — undocumented, fresh out of high school, with a toddler at home — she was little more than an office assistant/personal secretary to one of the bosses. Now she has people reporting to her in her very own office.

The promotion is still pretty recent, however, and she’s still growing into the new role. Some of the men are still adjusting to her new role, too, especially the men in the warehouse, who are nearly all Latino, like Valeria.

It doesn’t help that Valeria is under 30 and pretty. Pretty girls get no respect in business, mostly due to the false assumption held by a lot of guys that a woman can’t have looks and talent. An ugly female higher-up seems more acceptable to most men than a pretty one, because the men under her supervision will assume that the ugly girl attained her status in the company based solely on her skills, whereas a pretty supervisor will always carry the rumors that she’s winked her way into a corner office.

Pretty girls are given everything, or at least that’s what most people believe. And it’s that widespread belief which makes it so hard to be a pretty girl, especially in the man’s world of business.

But her being pretty isn’t really Valeria’s problem. She works in a company small enough that everyone knows what everyone else does and how they do it. To put it plainly, Valeria gets shit done, and everybody knows it. In fact, a lot of the people she works with come to her with their own work, knowing she’ll either help them with it or do it herself.

Valeria’s bosses aren’t Latino, but most of her co-workers — nearly all the guys in the back — are. And it’s the guys in the back who give her the most guff. Her bosses mistreat her too, but theirs is “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” as they still treat her as a glorified secretary. It’s what the warehouse guys do expect, however, that’s Valeria’s problem.

One of the temps in the warehouse, who speaks with an antillano accent, likes to call her mami and once told her he’d dreamt of her. She kept walking and never learned the details of his fantasy. It’s been made known to her on several occasions and in different ways that the men stop and stare whenever she or the other Latina in the office are spotted, which is meant to be taken as some kind of compliment.

Even still, Valeria accepts all of this as nothing more than the extremely annoying price of doing business for a young, good-looking woman. Boys are boys, and will be, unfortunately. So she ignores it, as best she can.

What she can’t ignore — whom, rather — is the warehouse manager, a fellow Latino who has been with the company a little longer than Valeria has. He works in the office, though his desk is in a cubicle, not in an corner office like Valeria’s. She knows he resents this, not only as a man, but as a Latino man. Her non-Latino bosses don’t know this, much less understand it; how could they? she figures.

This man, this warehouse manager, isn’t good at his job. On top of that, he doesn’t seem to care that he isn’t. He works slowly and sporadically, shipments are often delayed or botched due to his oversights, and his emails are practically hieroglyphic. He gets paid salary, like Valeria does, but he doesn’t work salary hours, leaving whenever the temps do. Valeria, on the other hand, often takes her laptop home to work after dinner and during weekends. This warehouse manager never takes his work home; some of the work Valeria does from home is his work, or at least work created by how poorly he does his job. As was said earlier, she gets shit done, almost to a fault.

Last year, this warehouse manager met a very mousy girl while visiting friends and family in Mexico, married her then and there, and brought her back to the states. They just had their first baby, a little baroncito.

Valeria is this warehouse manager’s boss, though few people in the company see it that way. As was also mentioned, the company is small — though it’s grown by leaps and bounds in the time Valeria’s been working there — and Valeria’s direct boss likes to keep the work environment casual and collegial. This worked well in the early days, but now that business is booming and more workers have been added on, there’s a growing need for a more formal structure wherein each person has set duties and responsibilities and is held accountable for their work.

Introducing that structure has to Valeria, as her strong work ethic, attention to detail, ability to multitask and vast knowledge of the company, including being able to do almost everyone else’s job in a pinch, makes her a natural taskmaster.

This warehouse manager doesn’t see Valeria as his boss, supervisor, or anything like it. He still reports to Valeria’s boss, going around Valeria in the chain of command. Not only does this keep Valeria from fulfilling her role as best she can, it causes tension, leading to occasional flare-ups. Valeria is supposed to be in charge whenever her boss isn’t in (which he often isn’t), but this warehouse manager regularly ignores her authority, doing his job whenever he feels like it and running his department however he sees fit. This leads to warehouse work getting backed up, which leads to Valeria doing some of that work from home after hours and on weekends.

Valeria has tried explaining the issue to her boss, but he remains reticent to impose a hierarchy. Plus he’s been friends with the warehouse manager for over a decade. Plus Valeria can’t really explain the problem she’s having in fulfilling her duties without explaining the intricacies of machismo to her non-Latino boss, which she’s reluctant to do in the first place, since she doesn’t want to give the impression that she’s a weak person, or a bitch.

She’s damned if she speaks, and damned if she doesn’t.

I tell this story in light of the revelations of a culture of sexual harassment at Fox News and how it has persisted in the shadows for so long. When Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, was forced to address the allegations against its star offender, Bill O’Reilly, it prefaced its statement by mentioning “the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously.”

Monday saw an article in the Times by Claire Cain Miller on “why women don’t report sexual harassment,” in which she writes:

Some women who experience harassment confront the perpetrator or confide in friends or family, the meta-analysis found. But the most common response is to avoid the person, play down what happened or ignore the behavior. …

Many victims, who are most often women, fear they will face disbelief, inaction, blame or societal and professional retaliation. That could be hostility from supervisors, a bad reference to future employers or the loss of job opportunities. Their fears are grounded in reality, researchers have concluded. In one study of public-sector employees, two-thirds of workers who had complained about mistreatment described some form of retaliation in a follow-up survey.

‘They become troublemakers — nobody wants to hire them or work with them anymore,’ Ms. [Jennifer] Berdahl [of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business] said.

Machismo adds yet another thread to the sexual harassment web. It’s hard for a Latina like Valeria to explain to her non-Latino boss the sexist treatment she receives from the Latino men who are (nominally, though not actually) under her authority. There are ways in which a machista speaks and acts toward a Latina co-worker that he wouldn’t otherwise speak or act toward a non-Latina female co-worker, especially a white one. And it may be difficult to convey that to a non-Latino white boss, even a well-meaning one. It’s a cultural thing — which is a trite statement, but true.

In Valeria’s case, there also may be a bit of self-discrimination occurring on the part of the warehouse manager. Because nearly all of the men in the warehouse are Latino, and because nearly all of the patrones in the office are white men, the warehouse guy — including the warehouse manager himself — might tend to view themselves as merely the help. (They’re the Eloi to the bosses’ Morlocks, the proletarians to their capitalists, the enlisted men to their commissioned officers, and so on.) And that label, in the eyes of the Latino warehouse workers, applies to all the Latinos who work in the company, including Valeria and the other Latina who works in the office.

To be fair, there was a time when Valeria viewed herself and her role in that way, too, but not anymore.

This self-discrimination on the part of the warehouse manager might also explain why, even after Valeria has risen to be one of the higher-ups in her own right, the warehouse manager continues sidestepping her authority and reporting only to Valeria’s boss. Since Valeria is a fellow Latino, the warehouse manager doesn’t think he needs to be taking orders from her, which means Valeria would probably still be having trouble exercising her authority and imposing a structure even if she were a male Latino.

Latino men have no problem taking orders from a HBIC, so long as that B is white. Valeria’s being Latina makes her the help, and being a woman makes her a Latino man’s help. Hence, all the work left to her to take care of. Add to that the fact that Latinas are over-sexualized in the mainstream and Latino cultures, and you have the reasons for all the mamis and the rumors about how Valeria’s been able to climb so high up in the company so quickly.

It’s no secret that women in the workplace have it bad, especially in a male-dominated industry. But Latinas have it much worse.


Featured image: darkday/Flickr

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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