Rosa Estrada, controller at Gentex, explains how she helped create a new program to help Spanish-speakers work at the company.
When Rosa Estrada first started working at Gentex, she worried that her limited English-speaking abilities would get her fired. Now, she’s helping to make sure that Spanish-speakers can thrive at the company regardless of their English skills, with a revolutionary new Limited English Proficiency Line.
“It has been super fulfilling to me to know that 20 years ago, that was me walking in with the exact same challenges that we have these employees walking in, and fast forward 20 years and we are removing those barriers for these employees,” Estrada shared.
In this episode of Speak Up for Equity, Tennessee Diversity Consortium Executive Director Robert Lawrence Wilson talks with Estrada about the process of implementing this program, which involved translating every resource and sign into Spanish and also providing Spanish-speaking recruiters and interviewers.
Employment Challenges for Non-Native English Speakers
Estrada currently works as Gentex’s controller, but when she first applied to the company, she couldn’t even get past the interview process. Estrada had moved to the U.S. at 18 to work, but because she spoke little English, she wasn’t able to interview at Gentex.
“Once I learned enough to apply again and could make it through the interview, I started working at Gentex,” she explained. “I remember the anxiety of coming to work and really hoping that, in essence, I wouldn’t get caught that I didn’t speak English.”
Estrada started out working on the production lines, but as her English improved, she used Gentex’s tuition reimbursement to go to college. She started working as a Gentex accountant, got her master’s degree, and has since been promoted to corporate controller.
Building a Solution for Spanish-Speaking Employees
Even in her current role, Estrada has often received forwarded calls from people who wanted to learn about production line roles and couldn’t speak English. But there were few resources in place to help those employees navigate the interview process. And if they did get jobs, all of the training and other communication was only in English.
When the Gentex team realized they were struggling to recruit new employees, they decided to expand their efforts to include those Spanish-speaking individuals.
“Our Latin community was the fastest growing population in the area. So once we started looking at census data, we found that so many people had challenges with English not being our first language,” Estrada explained.
Gentex decided to create a cross-functional team who could start developing a dedicated production line for Spanish speakers, as well as all the resources a person might need to succeed at the company.
“For us it was beyond the manufacturing lines. Everywhere from the moment the employee walks in to apply, the application has to be in Spanish, the recruiter has to be in Spanish,” Estrada explained. “At the end of the day, we wanted to make a change in our community and we wanted to solve this business issue as far as adding more to our labor force. Everybody just rolled up their sleeves, and for different reasons it was an initiative that everyone felt so strongly about.”
Though the process required more work than Estrada initially expected, she’s convinced the effort was worth it.
“The first time I saw this line and everything was in Spanish, it was so emotional to me just because the project became so personal.”
Providing Growth Opportunities for Spanish-Speaking Employees
Estrada and her team were overwhelmed with support from Gentex employees, and the positive feedback from other companies in their community. What they didn’t expect, however, was the response from the Spanish-speaking employees themselves.
“When we started the program we thought, everyone is going to feel comfortable, everybody can communicate with each other, and they can find a home line,” she explained. “But they wanted to know, ‘How soon can I move with everybody else?’ They actually wanted to make sure that this line wasn’t the end destination for them.”
With this feedback in mind, the Gentex team is working to expand their program to other buildings. They’ve also embraced the opportunity to develop bilingual employees who are skilled in areas like recruiting.
“We want to make sure employees have the possibility to move to where they can be most successful.”
To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit tennesseediversityconsortium.org/join-tdc. And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.