Diversity has always mattered to me. But back in 2014, I was one of very few Hispanics working at Cognizant. As a friend and I brainstormed about ways for more diverse talent to find their way to the company, he suggested I join the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC), a professional association for senior business and technology executives with an Hispanic heritage.
My experience at the first annual summit I attended had a profound impact on me. Like me, the attendees were all first- or second-generation Americans. They represented top brands like Apple and Facebook. It gave me not only a place of belonging but also a new perspective that inspired me to lead change in the workplace and create more of the diversity I’d longed for.
Over the course of the two-day event, attendees shared their personal stories and talked about everything from advancing in IT leadership to the sensitive topic of speaking with an accent – all issues I had encountered in the workplace but questioned whether they were appropriate to discuss openly. I discovered the answer is an emphatic “yes.”
That openness took me far from my roots, as it does for many of us, I suspect. Many of us shortchange the role our cultural heritage plays in our approach to work. As I was coming of age in the Mexican culture of the 1990s, it was taboo to discuss issues related to authority or challenging the status quo. The unspoken message was that discussing hard topics would make people uncomfortable; rather than enhance organizational trust, it would diminish it.
The Power of Belonging
Returning to work after the summit, I was encouraged by HR leaders to start an affinity group. I discovered that, like me, many of my Hispanic coworkers were hesitant to acknowledge and proudly display their heritage at work for fear of discrimination. It seemed like the safest way to achieve our career goals was to suppress our heritage and to conform.
I understood their inclination – and I had encountered the kind of experiences that shaped it. In early 2015, I had the opportunity to present our company’s portfolio of analytic services to a new prospect. Key to the presentation was the leading-edge work by a client using data to innovate and transition its business. Because the work was from a different industry, the client partner for the pitch thought the presentation had missed the mark – and added that my accent had made a bad presentation worse. (Funny thing is the client found the presentation compelling, seemed to have no problem with my accent, and we won a sizable chunk of the business.)
Turning Thoughts into Action
In May 2016, 22 Cognizant associates with Hispanic ancestry came together to form the Hispanic affinity group. We identified five goals for our group within the company:
- Increase Hispanic talent.
- Increase opportunities for promotion for associates.
- Neutralize cultural barriers.
- Accelerate collaboration between the U.S., Latin America and Spain/Portugal.
- Make Cognizant more competitive in the marketplace by harnessing the power of a diverse team.
Later that year, we merged with the African American affinity group to form the African American and Latinx Group (AALG). Together, we advocate for career progression, provide greater community and help to make the company more competitive. Diversity conversations have now become part of company-sponsored events, and the Rooney Rule is being implemented in our hiring policies for management and executive candidates.
To me, diversity is a big part of what makes a company tick, and it’s one reason why some companies create vibrant work cultures while others struggle. When people of all backgrounds, stories and experiences mix together, we create a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts.
I still try to attend at least one HITEC conference a year. But I’m proud to bring my heritage to work every day.
In 2018 and 2019, HITEC named Noe to its list of the top 50 influential and notable professionals in the Latin American technology industry.
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in 2020 from September 15 to October 15.
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