Please describe your current and/or previous roles that relate to your work for justice and equality.
At Forté, I oversee 52 corporate partnerships within Forté’s network. I joined Forté in November 2016 as director of corporate and major investors, responsible for fund development from private donors, and private and corporate foundations, in support of Forté’s mission of advancing women in business. Prior to Forté, I was managing director and chief diversity officer, Citi, from 2002 through 2016, and led the development and integration of Citi’s global workforce diversity strategy for hiring and developing diverse talent, fostering an inclusive work environment and ensuring management accountability. During my tenure at Citi, I established a framework of policy and practices that advanced the organization’s recognition as a top company for diversity and inclusion. I joined Citi in 1995 and held previous roles within global diversity. Before coming to Citi, I held leadership positions within educational opportunity and higher education at Passaic County College and the New School for Social Research.
At the New School for Social Research, I led the higher education opportunity program and worked closely with students who were very talented yet were socio-economically and academically disadvantaged.
As the director I would lobby the state education department on behalf of the students to request greater appropriation of funding to support the program, which introduced me to government policy considerations. I also designed training programs for faculty and staff to foster greater inclusion of the students who were primarily from underrepresented backgrounds, and as such minorities within the student population. I then moved into diversity work, first at an investment bank which we generally focused on talent acquisition of women and diverse talent, and then went onto Citi where I held several leadership roles in diversity, culminating in serving as chief diversity officer for 16+ years. Within diversity I led the company’s efforts to support equity and inclusion for our employees globally. With a footprint of 100+ countries, the work was complex yet in light of Citi’s commitment to diversity, beginning with the board of directors, we were able to make progress in fostering workforce diversity at all levels, and creating programs and practices that resulted in a more inclusive workforce.
What about your work brings you the most joy or gives you the most pride?
Knowing that the work makes a difference by removing obstacles, and helping someone reach their potential. I am of Latin American national origin, and I know what it’s like to be different from the majority and to be treated differently and/or assumed to not have the same motivation, intelligence or capabilities simply because of your personal characteristics.
What is your most meaningful moment or significant accomplishment as it relates to your work for justice and equality?
At Citi I was part of the leadership team that presented a proposal to our CEO to consider signing onto the Amicus brief in support of Edith Windsor (U.S. vs. Windsor), which considered the legality of section 3 of the defense of marriage act. The company decided to sign on despite other big banks not doing so, and the Supreme Court went onto to support Windsor and same-sex couples who were legally married would now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples. I felt like we were on the right side of history in supporting equity for our employees in same-sex marriages, and that this was a tipping point toward greater equality for a community that faced so many obstacles.
What is the greatest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
Probably not having people care enough about fairness and equity to make a difference. When people don’t have any experience around being treated differently simply because of who they are, it’s possible that you just don’t feel the motivation to engage. This is quite different from being opposed to diversity efforts, whereby someone is thinking about the work and doesn’t agree.
Several years ago when my daughter and I were touring colleges we visited the Holocaust Museum. There was a powerful presentation of marketing propaganda the Nazi party used to stereotype people of Jewish heritage. At the end of the exhibit, the narrator shared that indifference was what made the marketing successful. People just didn’t care enough. That’s a powerful message—then and now.
How do you empower those around you?
I believe in what I do—and I meet people where they are, respectfully, to try to influence them to see the world differently.
What short phrase would you offer others to inspire them to have hope and/or to take action?
I love Maya Angelou’s quote, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or what you did. They will remember how you made them feel.” That’s something to consider in our everyday interactions.
How has this summer’s civil unrest and calls for equity impacted you?
There’s a global drumbeat for social equity and change—and some of it will be ongoing as companies reexamine their diversity and inclusion policies, and organizations like Forté, where I now work, consider how we are supporting the advancement of Black/African American talent.
We’ve had several very thoughtful discussions with the women participation in our programs. They are passionate and want things to change for the better, and it was very inspiriting to be part of the town halls and other programs we ran. I moderated a panel for our network of over 100,000 women, “Real Talk: Women of Color” and guided a discussion among 3 black executives at our partner companies. Their stories and courage to success despite obstacles were timely lessons of leadership for our community.
Personally, I am hopeful that we can continue to move forward with determination, and peacefully, and achieve greater understanding for the experiences of others who have had different, less positive life experiences. Our country feels very fractured right now on the issues of racial equity which is challenging. I am hopeful we can continue evolving, as a society, toward civility and respect for all.
How has your perspective changed since the time you were a Lafayette student?
My world view has broadened. Lafayette was a fairly insular community, and while overall I loved it, I went to Columbia University for graduate school and I was immersed in a very diverse student body. Several years later I was in roles that had global responsibility and required travel across the UK, Europe, Asia and Latin America, so my understanding of cultural differences expanded.
I now have a deeper appreciation for the spirit of Lafayette College. Last year I visited Savannah with several classmates, and we learned about the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Savannah in 1825 as a revolutionary war hero while touring the Owen-Thomas House & Slave Quarters. While I knew something of Lafayette’s legacy, I was unaware of his lifelong commitment toward equality and the abolition of slavery. It makes me very proud to be a small part of Lafayette’s vision to foster equity in society.