News Column

The Influence of Diversity

Oct. 18, 2011

Broos Campbell, Staff Writer

This year's crop of The Hispanic Business 100 Influentials fits in nicely with the launch last month of HispanicBusiness magazine's new Diversity Partnership section.

Last year, the list focused on the influence of Hispanics on the Information Age. In 2009, it looked at the influence of Hispanics on the Obama administration. This year, the focus is on diversity and inclusion. Hispanics by nature -- and culture, politics and national origin -- are a diverse and inclusive group of people.

The power that some members wield is immediately obvious: The Archbishop Jose H. Gomez; labor leader Baldemar Velasquez; Monica Diaz of Microsoft; and Rear Adm. Samuel Perez, USN.

As shepherd of the three-county Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez ministers to 5 million Catholics -- more than two-thirds of whom are Hispanic, according to the Wall Street Journal. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Gomez as a consultant to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in 2008. During that year and the next, the archbishop was chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' new Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. A native of Monterrey, Mexico, he is now the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the U.S.

"My life's ministry, or work, is to lead people to Jesus Christ," the archbishop said. "So, the terms 'influence' and 'success' carry somewhat different meaning for me. ... To me, it is more important to be able to answer 'yes' to questions like: Am I being a faithful shepherd each day?"
Mr. Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), AFL-CIO, was born into a family of migrant farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley in 1947. The first of his family to graduate from college, Mr. Velasquez earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Bluffton College, now Bluffton University, in 1969. Two years before graduation, however, he began organizing migrant and seasonal farm workers in northwest Ohio.

"You don't have to be a superhero," said Monica Diaz, global diversity and inclusion director at Microsoft, when asked about her influence as a role model, "just a person who is able to skillfully manage situations and leverage opportunities to succeed." To young Hispanics she offers the same advice she gives her sons: "Explore your options, determine what you would love to do, make sure you are good at it and never stop learning. If you remember this, you will find happiness and success."

And, of course, the 100 Influentials are quick to praise those they lead. Rear Adm. Samuel Perez, commander, Carrier Strike Group One, told the Hong Kong Times earlier this year: "(There are) 5,000 sailors on board this ship, and they are some of the most amazing Americans that we have in our nation." The ship was the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that performed last rites and buried Osama bin Laden at sea.

A Subtle Influence
Academics exert a seemingly subtler influence on their fellow Hispanics than their more visible contemporaries do. Yet, students who are suitably impressed with hope and industry go on to live productive lives, exceeding even those dreams they may not otherwise have known they had.

"I believe my most satisfying contribution to education has been my commitment to mentoring young women and men to aspire to their highest dreams," said Darline P. Robles, professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California. Many of her protégés "did not have access to mentors and would have not pushed forward without support."

Patricia Gandara, professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, points to a great advantage that educators have: an impressionable audience. From the road in Washington, D.C., where she and the National Research Council were discussing education policy for Spanish-speaking Hispanics, she said:

"I am sure that there have been times when people have called on me for advice or opinion because they wanted a 'diverse' perspective. There have also been times I know when my perspective has been discounted because it was perhaps viewed as not very mainstream, i.e. 'diverse.' I think it cuts both ways!"

The Key to Influence
"Innovation is key" to exerting a positive influence in the Hispanic community, says Joaquin Alvarado, senior vice president, digital innovation, American Public Media | Minnesota Public Radio, "because the Hispanic community and the minority communities in this country are oftentimes the early adopters of new technologies."

The increasing affluence of Hispanics means that diversity is finding an increasingly powerful voice in the marketplace as well. Diversity and inclusion aren't just the law, as Frank Jimenez and Kim Rivera can testify. Companies sell more cars and beer when their workers and leaders speak the same language as their customers.

Mr. Jimenez, chief legal officer at ITT Corp., is the son of parents who came to the U.S. "with little English and even less money." Before joining ITT, Mr. Jimenez was general counsel of the U.S. Navy under Presidents Bush and Obama.

"Attention to diversity in each setting along the way ... has made it easier for others to see me for who I am, instead of what they might otherwise have expected me to be," he said.

Not that all is rosy yet. As Ms. Rivera, chief legal officer at Denver health-care provider DaVita Inc., said: "All the talent, education and ambition in the world are hard to build on if you never have access to opportunities. Unfortunately, access to opportunities is still unevenly distributed."

We do have a long way to go. However, Alma L. Guajardo-Crossley, director of diversity initiatives at General Motors, says her position "has provided a direct voice from the Hispanic community to corporate America." Not only that, but "my cultural background and personal heritage have often provided creative and colorful solutions to problems.

"Diversity is America," she said. "Together we are stronger."

Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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