Changing the music: diversity, inclusion and fostering success

Isaias Zamarripa speaks to the value of diverse talent in corporate culture

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. Now it’s time to change the music. What music do we need so everybody can succeed?”

That’s Isaias Zamarripa’s challenge to companies as they strive to make diversity and inclusion authentic components of their cultures.

As vice president of the diversity talent acquisition strategy at The Kaleidoscope Group, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm, Zamarripa helps companies diversify and transform their talent pipelines. He also has deep experience developing employee resource groups to attract and retain talent and drive ROI.

Zamarripa spoke at Securian Financial recently to help us honor National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15-October 15. His message focused on the importance of developing a diverse talent pipeline, why organizations struggle with diversity and inclusion, and how they can improve.

Diversifying the pipeline

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s workforce is becoming more and more diverse. In particular, the Hispanic share of the U.S. labor force is projected to increase more than any race or ethnic group by 2026.1

Statistics like this illuminate the need for companies to diversify their pipeline of employees — at all skill levels — so they can be ready for these workforce composition shifts.

When recruiting candidates for open positions, Zamarripa noted companies should consider their needs for the jobs they have today, the jobs they’ll have tomorrow and the jobs they’ll have in the future. This forward-thinking approach, he said, can help companies “embrace diverse populations that will be catalysts for economic growth and the next sources of intellectual capital.”

In a nutshell, recruiting for diversity helps build a more resilient company.

Why is it so challenging?

But recruiting is only one component of the multi-faceted diversity and inclusion challenge. Zamarripa noted that at the core of why companies struggle to build an authentically diverse and inclusive culture are what he calls the three Cs of diversity:

  • Course – knowing where you’re going on the D&I path
  • Commitment – being dedicated to make true change
  • Competence – having the abilities and resources to make it happen

“Often, companies have good intentions,” he explained. “They bring in people with different backgrounds and cultures, but then they want to treat everyone the same once they’re there. That is not inclusive. The goal is to allow for different perspectives and allow people to be themselves while creating equity.”

When companies do this — when they “change the music so everyone can dance” — he said, true change and innovation happen, and everyone benefits.

How to improve

As with most cultural transformations, diversity and inclusion are ongoing, conscious commitments. Zamarripa offered several ideas to help guide companies.

Meet people where they are

Zamarripa explained that meeting people where they are means engaging them in various ways and places to help them feel relaxed. When it comes to recruiting for diverse talent, develop relationships with schools and professional groups with diverse populations, he suggested. When it comes to internal efforts, understand that people identify with their culture in varying degrees.

For example, he explained some Latinos fully embrace their identity, others fully deny it, and others are in between — they embrace being Latino but don’t speak Spanish, for example — or, they have returned to their Latin American roots as adults.

A self-proclaimed “Mexirican” — his father is Mexican and his mother is Puerto Rican – Zamarripa often felt split in his identity as a child. When visiting relatives in Missouri, where he was born, he was seen as “the Puerto Rican guy.” At school, he was seen as Mexican because of his last name. As an adult, he identifies more as Puerto Rican because of growing up there.

The moral, he says, is to set aside what you assume to be someone’s identity. “If you want someone’s perspective, simply ask for their insight — not because of their race or ethnicity, but because of their human experience.”

Develop minority employees

Mentoring programs and employee resource groups can be especially beneficial for helping minority employees feel connected and build their careers. Zamarripa offered some suggestions.

  • Mentorships based on common interests: Connect diverse employees with a mentor who shares a common interest, regardless of racial or cultural background. They’ll instantly have something to talk about together.
  • Emphasize co-mentoring, where both participants are the mentor and mentee. A two-way street allows both parties to learn from each other, expand their perspectives and embrace differences.
  • Employee resource groups help people meet others of similar backgrounds and build a community at work. Everyone needs a sense of belonging, particularly those who feel underrepresented. And those who feel they belong are more likely to stay — which helps reduce turnover.

Give others a chance

Zamarripa noted that one of the most impactful efforts toward developing a diverse workforce is coaching management to give others a chance.

“Offer stretch assignments to grow the talent pipeline,” he said, “so that the next person in line doesn’t look just like the person before them.”

Similarly, he continued, “Diverse employees need to show managers that they’re competent. Raise your hand for new projects, push yourself outside your comfort zone and show you’re willing to do the work.”

Resource groups at Securian Financial

The Securian Diversity Network hosted Mr. Zamarripa and invited all Securian Financial employees to attend. The network is one of the company’s five employee resource groups, which are open to all and promote collaboration among employees with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences.

A global glossary

The Hispanic culture uses several identity terms. There are nuanced meanings to each, and acceptance varies between people. When in doubt – ask! Here’s what some of them mean:

  • Hispanic: This label broadly refers to someone who is a native of or descends from a Spanish-speaking country.2
  • Latino/Latina: This is understood as shorthand for people with ancestors from Latin America living in the U.S.2
  • Latinx: Pronounced “La-teen-ex”, this term is steadily gaining popularity. Latinx is a gender-neutral term for individuals of Latin American descent that is inclusive of gender identities.3

1. Green, Kathleen and Toossi, Mitra. "Hispanic labor force, past and projected: Entrants, stayers, and leavers," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2018.

2. Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. “The difference between Hispanic and Latino,” ThoughtCo.com, June 2019.

3. Steinmetz, Katy. “Why 'Latinx' Is Succeeding While Other Gender-Neutral Terms Fail to Catch On,” Time, April 2, 2018.

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