Building Diversity Starts in the Classroom

Kathleen Martinez, senior director of strategic relationships for BP

As a first generation high school and college graduate, Kathleen Martinez firmly believes in the power of a quality education. As BP’s senior director of strategic relationships, Martinez strongly supports minority business owners. Through this combination of helping minorities achieve in both their academic and business endeavors, Martinez is building a pipeline for diversity now and for years to come.

Below are edited excerpts from Martinez’s interview with Diversity Executive.

Last year you were honored by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for your work in championing the success of minority-owned businesses. Why is this type of work important to you?

I sincerely believe that diversity fuels innovation. In the case of supplier diversity, it increases competition and brings new ideas and solutions to the conversation. BP’s diversified supplier base has contributed to a reduction in operating costs, provided the company with quality goods and services, and contributed to the local economy.

Ultimately, collaborating with minority and women business enterprises allows BP to do business with a supplier base that more closely mirrors the communities where we operate. In my opinion this is an essential piece of our business strategy and simultaneously supports BP’s commitment to helping create sustainable communities.

How do you use your leadership role at BP to help minority business owners?

My role at BP is to lead national strategic relationships with partners like the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which shares BP’s goal to promote supplier diversity. Through this partnership and others including the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, our supplier diversity team is able to meet with M/WBEs, discuss business needs and begin a dialogue that could lead to a service contract. BP’s Supplier Diversity team helps steward diverse suppliers and actively serves as a strong internal advocate with BP business units.

You’re also involved with community outreach organizations including Teach for America and Communities in Schools. Why do you believe it’s important to support education?

If there was one gift I could bestow to each student across America, it would be the gift of a quality education. A strong education can change the trajectory of a life, opening doors for children from all backgrounds and circumstances.

Our global economy demands a highly skilled workforce and one that is equipped to lead innovation in a high tech world. Students not only need a quality education, they must have a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The truth is that almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM. That said, for students to be truly be prepared, they need to be equipped with a strong educational foundation. This will not only open doors for them but ultimately support the ability for the U.S. to remain a global leader.

Supporting education is not only important, it is our responsibility. I am proud that BP is committed to improving STEM education opportunities with a focus on girls and underrepresented minorities.

Do you believe education is an important factor in promoting the success of minorities in business?

I strongly believe that education is essential to advancing the success of minorities. Whether in business or in pursuit of other career ambitions, a strong educational foundation increases opportunities for success in entrepreneurship, innovation and within corporate America.  

How do your own experiences as a first generation high school and college graduate shape your outlook on diversity?

When you grow up as the 14th child in a Hispanic household in South Texas, everything seems out of reach. I remember daydreaming about traveling abroad and then talking myself out of the possibility of that ever becoming a reality. Self-doubt and fear are frequent visitors when there is no clear precedent to the dreams you are dreaming. 

We have to dare to dream but more important than that we must have the courage to follow our convictions. I believe that every individual has something unique to offer. We are truly better when we welcome new opinions, ideas, and recommendations.

Ultimately what shaped my outlook on the need for diversity was my father’s steadfast commitment to entrepreneurship. Although he never graduated from high school or college, many local business leaders constantly sought his counsel and business expertise. He was ambitious, hungry and committed to helping those less fortunate. I was blessed to grow up as his youngest. I can only imagine what he might have accomplished with a strong education.