Diversity Town Hall

2021 Diversity Town Hall: David Ortiz – DEI Professional

David Ortiz is a highly collaborative D&I leader with a solid human resources background coupled with marketing communication expertise. He’s passionate about building effective D&I strategies from the ground up and engaging community stakeholders in an authentic way.  This is the transcript of his presentation for the Diversity Town Hall.

I am a diversity and inclusion professional and have worked with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. I’m currently with Oracle in their diversity and inclusion team. I also served on the board of La Paz Chattanooga, the local Latino advocacy agency, and I’ve got to say it’s interesting to see the dynamics shifting when it comes to diversity and inclusion. So, what I’ll share at a very high level is just some information related to my current role regarding DEI, so you know why community outreach and engagement with the community is important. And then I’ll share some of my perspectives and stories around how DEI has evolved in the workplace. I think most of us on this zoom call today can say that the expectations have shifted.

Organizations, and Eric Fuller referenced this, know there is a desire to have these conversations in the workplace. When I was coming up in corporate, we really didn’t talk about  things you did on professional time and then stuff individuals dealt with on their personal time after hours after 5pm.

But what I’m finding with this new generation in the workforce, they are on all the time, it is really hard for them to separate. So, you can get an email from a colleague in the middle of the night work-related, and then they’ll check in on their social media apps, you know, during their nine to five jobs. So, all the lines have been blurred so everything you thought you knew about the corporate environment we probably just need to throw that out the window.

And then we had this focus on racial equity with the murder of George Floyd, and leaders echo Eric’s sentiment. For the first time they’re having to have these really uncomfortable conversations in the workplace, and what I mentioned, is the fact that you’re uncomfortable means that you’re growing and so that’s a good thing, so we need to lean into that discomfort and then this whole concept of identity has evolved and changed in the workplace.

Even looking at myself growing up, I was conditioned, taught or observed to embrace only one of my identities, that being Latino. It wasn’t until recently that I really researched what it meant to be Puerto Rican. Both my parents were born on the island of Puerto Rico where the heritage in the island includes some indigenous roots,  some African roots and some European roots. So, I say a piece of this work is learning your history.

Deborah and I connected, I can’t believe it’s 15 years ago now, when she launched the American Diversity Report. She was a pioneer at this time. She was facilitating conversations on diversity before we knew what blogs were, and this was in early 2006, so before social media had become mainstream, and that’s the type of forward-thinking that is required to have these conversations about diversity and inclusion. So, in my role at Oracle, we do work with the strategic framework around diversity and inclusion, and our CEO gets it. She is one of only a handful of women CEOs, and I was in a session recently where she spoke to some recent college graduates, and she gave them two pieces of advice. She said, “Be yourself and ask questions.” And those really are the tenets of diversity in the workplace because she realizes that we’re an innovation company, that Oracle is a technology company.

So, we’re working on some really innovative ideas when it comes to machine learning, artificial intelligence databases and digital transformations to the cloud, and we know that employees have great ideas. How do we get them to share their ideas and perspectives? It’s when you create a culture that allows individuals to be themselves, a culture that is inclusive where individuals feel inclined to share their perspectives and ideas.

As a reminder of why I do what I do, I keep some Crayola Crayons on my desk, and this is one of the newer versions. I don’t know if you’ve been to Walmart or any store lately, but they have colors of the world now. This is really heartwarming to me, being in the DEI space, because when I was growing up, there were only two colors that you could use to color individuals, the brown crayon and the peach crayon. So now, they have up to 32 colors, and I share that because representation matters when individuals see people like me, that means that they can aspire to things like leadership.  One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling as though you’re alone and you’re not seen. And if you don’t feel seen in an organization, you’re just not going to be engaged. That’s why this diversity inclusion work matters, so we do focus on things like recruiting with an intention on diversity.

We are sharing data even externally because what we find is that you need to have data as part of the conversation regarding diversity inclusion. Otherwise, you’re just talking about a topic in an abstract fashion. We’re also investing in next generations of students through scholarships. For example, we’re recruiting with the intention on diversity and at the same time developing our talent leadership development programs. 

What are the requirements for success? We have conversations about career growth and progression even with the diversity that we have in the mix. What I find is some individuals may be hesitant to get feedback because of diversity, but when that happens, the individual is missing out on the development opportunity.  Another piece is community, both internal and external. Part of our outreach efforts is to connect with our communities as a way of giving back good faith efforts for outreach. But we also have internal communities, our employee resource groups, and these are groups that gather around a common dimension of diversity and talk about issues that are important to the group. Now, these groups are inclusive, so you don’t necessarily have to reflect that dimension of diversity to participate and they’re voluntary so you’re not required to participate.

We also have an executive sponsor of each employee resource group, an executive at the organization, who lends their social capital and expertise to help the organization. The employee resource group delivers initiatives with impact in the organization, and what I instruct individuals to do is to connect with an employee resource group if they want to increase their cultural competence. Whether your company is a multinational corporation or US-based corporation, we are working in a global environment.

I’ve got five kids at home, and it just amazes me how connected online they are all the time. I have to educate them on stranger danger in a virtual environment, but they’re engaging with individuals from around the world, having conversations playing online games, accessing content that is developed again from anywhere in the world, and this is the reality.  We need to embrace this and also look at diversity and inclusion with that lens as well, watching organizations and doing differently when it comes to diversity inclusion.  Instruct individuals to focus on the impact, so that it’s not activity for activity sake. Focus on the outcome, what you want the impact to be.

And I have to say that some of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had as a DEI professional are those moments when we’re engaging with the community and really making a difference in individuals’ lives.  And I’ve had it across my career in both BCBSTN and Oracle. It’s a student who receives a scholarship, and because their life situation change or their financial situation change, they were considering not furthering their studies, but because they receive the scholarship funds, they’re now able to pursue those studies.  So that’s the part of the reason why I do this work, because it is the impact of the work we coordinate.

I also think we need to be comfortable having these uncomfortable conversations because the learning is so rich for you, and it’s not a conversation to necessarily change your opinion.  It’s a conversation to raise your awareness, to broaden your awareness. And when you first have these conversations, they may feel different or wrong, you may think I’m not supposed to have these conversations in the workplace, but what I’ve heard from some employees I’ve been engaging with, especially after George Floyd, they just wanted to feel seen, they want to feel heard. They wanted to have an opportunity to have this conversation in the workplace. My charge to leaders was, we need to make space for these conversations and questions.

You don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to create the opportunity to engage in these conversations, so it is going to require a lot of stepping out of your comfort zone. I actually walked people through an exercise to illustrate how difficult doing something new or different could be and ask them to clasp their hands together thumb over thumb. If you’re able to do this, feel free to do, so and you’ll notice that one of your thumbs is going to be on the top and so, in my instance, my left thumb is over my right thumb. So now, I want you to unclasp your hands, and then when you put your hands together the thumb that was on the bottom put that on top.  So, I have my right on top of my left and then go back to the original way and then back to the new way and what you’ll find is when you are changing the way you do things when you’re doing things differently.

It feels awkward it feels different and you may even feel inclined to say it feels wrong, but when it comes to Dei work, we are asking you to do things differently, get that new perspective. It’s always assessing who’s at the table and asking yourself what perspective is not here currently that I need to embrace or add to make the best decisions.

And the final piece I’ll leave you with is the importance of diversity and inclusion and equity and it’s even beyond a corporate environment. If you’re engaging with individuals in any capacity, you’re engaging with diversity, differences of thoughts, differences of opinions. So we need to be able to work together to understand each other, respectfully challenge each other’s points of views, and just embrace this concept of working inclusively. Even beyond our nine to five it’s our houses of worship, it’s the communities we live in, it’s the schools our children go to if you have children. So realize that inclusion starts with the individual and start having these conversations.

One final thought is this whole connection between business and community.  What I share is that you know items can’t happen in isolation anymore. When we’re recruiting for talent, we’re recruiting from the communities and we’re coordinating efforts and outreach. If it’s just the organizations showing up, there won’t be really that much attendance, so we need to create these authentic relationships with communities in all aspects: nonprofit organizations, colleges, and universities. Leveraging our employees to connect with these organizations is where we have the best outcomes because there’s a more authentic engagement and there’s learning from all the parties involved.

CLICK for the transcripts of other Town Hall presenters:

Eric Fuller: U.S. Xpress

Lorne Steedley: Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce

Deborah Levine: ADR Editor 


Photo by John Schaidler on Unsplash

David Ortiz
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