Let Diverse Leaders Take Center Stage

I’ve become good friends with Javier, a top Latino executive at one of my client organizations. Javier has excelled at his career and now stands at the top of the corporate ladder. He recently confided in me that throughout his career, he never leveraged his Latino ethnicity as a source of strength because he didn’t see it as being relevant to his career success. Plus, he worried some would label him negatively for being Hispanic.

Javier now realizes the corporate environment has changed dramatically and that one’s ethnicity, race and gender can be assets. He understands that being able to bring your whole self to work allows you to bring all your unique talents into the workplace. Javier also said had he been more active in diversity initiatives during his career, not only would he have achieved success earlier, he would have had more fun doing so.

He recently asked for my advice on how he could better connect and re-engage with diversity initiatives so he can make up for lost time and give back. First, I told him his story is not unique. Many executives now find they no longer need to shy away from their diverse identities. Then I shared five things I hoped would resonate with him and other executives who may be looking for ways to re-engage and to give back.

Executive associations: Top minority executives should actively seek out associations that include senior leaders from their community. Membership in groups such as the Executive Leadership Council for African Americans and PRIMER for Hispanics is exclusive to top corporate executives. Success at the top comes from having established relationships with peers at other companies and industries. These organizations work to enhance diverse executives’ contributions and help them thrive in their respective industries and sectors.

Internal sponsorship: What young diverse professionals often need is not someone talking to them, but rather they need top corporate executives to talk about them during critical talent review and promotion discussions. This is a great way for diverse executives to wield the power and influence they have earned.

Recruiting: One of my clients recently shared that when it came to recruiting African-Americans with MBAs from top schools, they did quite well. However, recruiting Hispanics with MBAs from those same schools was proving to be quite challenging. The key difference was the level of engagement by top diverse executives. The top African-Americans at the firm had always been actively involved in helping to recruit, and their involvement made a tremendous impact on their hiring process. However, the top Hispanic executives at the firm had never been actively involved, which turned out to be the key reason their success rate was much lower within the Latino community. Once I convinced their top Hispanic executives to become actively involved in the recruiting process, their success rate in recruiting top Hispanics with MBAs improved drastically.

Thought leaders: Every diverse community has authors, speakers and thought leaders who are actively addressing the most pressing issues impacting the community. Corporate executives can help to raise awareness of these thought leaders by inviting them to speak at their corporations or introducing them to their peer networks. Thought leaders do much to advance the discourse about minority professionals, but they can’t do it without minority executives’ outreach and support.

Employee resource groups: The work employee resource groups (ERGs) leaders do is always above and beyond their regular jobs. That is why these ERGs need support from their top diverse executives to help them develop robust strategies, identify funding sources, find ways to align ERG initiatives with business objectives and serve as advocates on behalf of ERGs to the senior management team.

I am proud of Javier. He made a commitment to more actively connect with his ethnicity and followed my suggestions. Now if we can only get more diverse executives to do the same.

Robert Rodriguez is president of DRR Advisors LLC, a management and diversity consulting firm, and author of Latino Talent. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.