Latinas have reported a 29 percent rate of burnout in the workplace (Hispanic Star, 2022) which, as I noted in my previous article [about Latinas exiting the job market], has had disastrous consequences for our career advancement.
Burnout is one of the biggest stressors affecting all women at work, which makes us more likely to take on or stay in smaller roles, forces delays in our long-term career growth, and contributes to further gender inequality (McKinsey, 2022).
When we consider that only one in four C-suite leaders are women and that only 75 percent of Latinas are promoted from entry-level to management, it is not difficult to connect the systemic and personal issues weighing on Latina professionals and leaders.
Why Are Latinas So Susceptible to Burnout?
While the systemic reason includes bias, discrimination, microaggressions, and being underestimated while being given bigger responsibilities than most, etc., I have noticed a personal pattern among Latinas (me included) that is also to blame: perfectionism.
Latinas have received the message that they have to work harder to prove their worth and that nothing short of perfect will be accepted from them. For Latinas, perfection is the baseline.
Perfectionists, unfortunately, are more prone to burnout and its many symptoms including irritability, brain fog, lack of motivation, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and more. According to Dr. Gordon Parker, professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, perfectionists are more susceptible to burnout because they set unrealistic standards for themselves that can trigger harmful behaviors like overworking and validation seeking.
What Contributes to Latina Perfectionism?
1. Cultural Expectations
Immigration and acculturation can, of course, play a role in perfectionism. For many Latinas, perfectionism was never seen as a negative trait but was often celebrated as a superior characteristic that helps them get ahead. It is seen as a tool, not an obstacle to be overcome.
For many of us, the desire to be the best at everything is also nurtured in our upbringing before even arriving to the country. Generally, we are made responsible for living up to family expectations; take, for example, being señoritas.
A señorita is a young lady that always looks clean and pretty, who is the best student in her class, who is the most polite and well-behaved, and one who would never raise her voice against an adult. Does this sound familiar to you?
The result is often a grown woman who can’t express her opinions without second-guessing herself and who constantly feels the need to prove herself.
2. A Culture of Service
Thanks to an article by Damary M. Bonilla-Rodriguez, a professor at St. John Fisher University, I learned about the concept of marianismo, which forces Latinas to become the sole caretakers for their family and community. It influences the thought that Latina women should live to satisfy or please everyone else rather than themselves.
An ideal that has been growing inside their minds for so many years, making a perception that performing this role with complete devotion was the only righteous way to be, then transcends into all aspects of their lives.
Let’s Break the Glass Ceiling
Perfectionism is one of the biggest burnout triggers for individuals and the leading cause of the continuous talent loss for organizations. If remedial actions are not taken, we will continue stifling talented future leaders of all backgrounds from reaching their full potential and our collective dream of having workplaces that are diverse and representative of our society.
And while companies create better working conditions for Latinas and women in general, we can start working on ourselves and the internal misconceptions fueling our perfectionism.
We can transform our self-perception, little by little from within, to change the world around us. As a recovering perfectionist, I have developed programs, speaking engagements, and a course especially focused on helping other women prevent themselves from continuing to strive to the point of self-destructive behaviors and achieve what they want.
The first step is understanding what makes us perfectionists in order to make the necessary adjustments. Do you want to take the first step together?
The original version of this interview appeared in Hispanic Executive