Hispanic interns: we are family
Early in my career, I managed the internship and cooperative education program for the University of Texas at El Paso career center, a campus where over 70% of the student population is Hispanic. As students returned to campus from their work experiences, I spent a lot of time with each of them discussing what he or she had learned from applying their academic knowledge in a practical setting. I’d often ask about their respective projects, supervisors, co-workers, and the cities where they lived. When I asked students about their organization’s culture, a common response went something like “… the people I worked with were like part of a big family.” And while I was delighted to know that student experiences emphasized practical work experience in their area of study, I was just as pleased to see that some employers recognized the importance of “family” to our students. Whether these companies recognized it or not, they had enhanced these students’ internship experiences by tapping an important element of Hispanic culture – familism.
Familism can be described as a cultural characteristic where interests, choices, and activities are formed within the context of a larger network. In most cases, especially in Hispanic culture, this means a family network. If you ask any Hispanic American what is most valued in his or her life, family is usually the first or second choice. Familism is often illustrated as a “belief system” that incorporates loyalty, cooperation, and cohesion towards members of a family or network. Other elements of familism might include duty, support, understanding, and respect. Familism also values principles such as interdependence, camaraderie, and community. One can easily see how these attributes can lend themselves to a work setting.
In organizational environments, particularly internship opportunities, supervisors and interns assume particular roles, which are naturally found in traditional family settings. Hence, in the case of Hispanics, it would make sense to highlight this type of relationship by providing guidance and direction to student interns; mirroring the strong relationships they value in their own family networks. Assure interns are incorporated into all aspects of the department or team to which they’ve been assigned. Give them time to network and get to know everyone with whom they’ll interact. By and large, employers can benefit greatly by extending these family tie concepts into their Hispanic interns’ work environments. Aside from the positive emotional effects, employers will most likely see marked increase in their interns’ performance.