How Diverse Cultures Shape Innovation

by Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published in Talent Management Magazine)iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchased

There is an urgent need for innovation to generate growth in a hypercompetitive global marketplace. It’s a rallying cry in companies regardless of location, industry or organizational maturity. But leaders today struggle to translate this strategic imperative into organizational reality.

This made me think of my recent three-hour walk through the streets of Hong Kong. From the elegant lobby of the Mandarin Hotel, through the quintessentially corporate HSBC headquarters, to the food stalls with cooks washing and chopping up vegetables in plain view at the North Point market on Chun Yeung Street, it’s simultaneously very Eastern and Western. It found a way to harness the diversity of cultures into a rich cultural environment and a highly prosperous economy.

But while cultures can enrich one another in the right conditions, a company culture can be an enabler or a detriment to innovation. Let’s compare and contrast three national cultures and their varied approaches to innovation: Japan, China, and the United States.

Japan has been a hotbed of innovation, particularly in the last half of the 20th century. It brought us instant noodles (1958), the bullet train (1964), the Karaoke machine (1971), digital cameras (1981), the PlayStation console (1994) and DVDs (1995).

China, the world’s second largest economy, is considered the factory of the world and struggles to be innovative. China’s leaders recognize this gap and seek in their current five-year plan to stimulate an innovation mindset.

While both Japan and China are influenced by a similar Confucian, communal philosophy — in Japan, there’s a saying that “the tallest poppy gets its head cut off” — why did Japan surge forward in innovation and not China? Why has Japan stalled in the early 21st century when it comes to innovation?

Now consider the U.S., which was founded on the concept of invention — of things and of new beginnings for individuals and their families in the new world. Many industrial era inventions came from the U.S. It was the nation that landed a man on the moon and now is leading the way in the digital economy.

American individualism helps unleash anyone with a great idea regardless of their status in society to start something big — hello Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. But individualism alone does not explain American innovation because Japan is the opposite but also innovative.

So, what gives? While Japan is a monarchy and one-party democracy, it is still a representative-elected government. This form of democracy pulls Japan toward the right of the spectrum between hierarchy and egalitarianism, which data shows is more conducive to new outlier ideas. In contrast, China’s authoritarianism pulls a predisposition toward hierarchy, and further ensconces it in the rigidity of the status quo.

Given its democratic values, combined with its group orientation, Japan gave birth to the concept of Kaizen, which led to the Six Sigma methodology. This collaborative, non-hierarchical approach allows a face-saving way for all to contribute regardless of status.

The U.S. innovation system is likely thriving more today than the Japanese system because Japan has become the poster child for what happens when there is a lack of diversity. It’s one of the most homogeneous societies in the world and is way behind in including female decision makers into the workplace. As competition surges forward from newly developed nations in a complex world, the inclusiveness of Kaizen is not enough without greater diversity.

Americans, who so much talk about inclusion, must confront the obstruction individualism offers its self-proclaimed quest to include all. The Chinese must confront the opposite challenge if they are to have an innovation breakout.

In short, each of these three cultures has something the other needs.

Reaching Latinos: Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics

by Andrés T. Tapia – medicalhomearticle.LatFamily-300x208

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

In the last post, we finished talking about the second of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. In this post, we’ll cover the third and final strategy.

Strategy 3: Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics

A telltale sign that there is lack of clarity about how to best reach Latino talent and consumers is that many are confused by just the most basic terminology: is it Hispanic or Latino?

The very fact that these terms are often used interchangeably in the media, but have meaningful although not-so-simple-to-explain differences in their origins and who uses them and how, is telling in itself.

But which term to use is only the tip of the iceberg. When we say Latino or Hispanic are we referring to the first-, second-, third-, or fourth generation Latino? The Boomer, Xer, or Millennial Latino? The English-, Spanish-, or Spanglish-dominant Hispanic? The Peruvian immigrant or the Honduran American born in Wichita? Or any of the other hyphenated Latinos coming from 27 different national heritages? This is the demographic part.

Then, as marketers well know, there is a psychographic part—the drivers that influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Do they buy for comfort? For adventure? For status? For being on the cutting edge?

Latinos, like members of any other group, also have psychological drivers unique to the individual. Marketers have been able to group these individual psychological drivers to segment consumers. So even within the same demographic group they can go after segments such as hipsters, rebels, or security seekers. These are the psychographics.

The next step is to marry demographics with psychographics to create the most targeted approaches to attract talent and consumers. In other words, knowing the multidimensionality of demographic characteristics of Latinos is exceptionally important, but it is not enough without also layering in the various psychographic profiles.

This then gets us to the motivations of Latinos as it relates to cultural identity. How much do they or do they not want to identify with their ethnic roots versus how much do they want to embrace mainstream American culture as the core of who they are. Are they assimilationists? Are they Upwardly Mobile Aspirants? Are they Nationalistic in their ethnic country of origin pride?

The psychographic profiles that people will take are unpredictable to discern for individuals. But patterns do emerge. And now we can combine appealing to the demographic of the Millennial Puerto Rican to the psychographic or those who are Assimilationists or Nationalistic for example.

When the media zeros in on the undocumented (11 million) and the marketers on the Spanish speakers (34 million that is inclusive of the undocumented numbers), they are looking at important segments within the Latino umbrella but not the whole.

For example, they most often overlook the 26 million English-dominant Latino Millennials who paradoxically also tend to identify with the heritage of their parents’ country of origin (Colombian, Costa Rican, Argentinian, etc.) according to Pew Hispanic Research.

Marisela, my daughter, is a case in point. I think back just a few years ago, tiara perched on her jet-black hair, looking radiant and happy, surrounded by her friends and family. It was her quinceañera—her fifteenth birthday—a rite of passage in the Latino culture where a girl becomes a young woman. Mom, a European-American, and Papi, proud…and torn. Our daughter was coming of age and this joyous celebration with 200 people, a live salsa band, and a Peruvian food buffet, also marked one major milestone in Marisela’s passage toward independence and growing into her own identity.

So Marisela talks about being Peruvian American even though she was born and raised in the United States. She embraced becoming bilingual and multicultural as her friendships include young people who are Jewish, European-American, Black, and Latino. She spent extended time in Peru, where she found love and ended up marrying a Peruvian.

Adult choices

While Millennial Latinos are shaping their own Latino identities so are those in the older generations in the rapidly changing demographic landscape.

This was the lively topic of conversation at dinner in Boston’s North End, at the outdoor patio of Ristorante Fiore, an Italian restaurant on Hanover Street, after a successful diversity conference. A group of us Latinos sat, sipping our wine or espressos, began debating the role of accented English as it related to Latino identity in the workplace. Why is it that having a French or British accent is seen as a plus, but having a Spanish accent a drawback? And because of this, should Latinos who speak English with a Spanish accent work at reducing their accent? As the alcohol and caffeine took its effect, the conversation around how we sound dipped into a discussion about identity and success when one is in the minority.

The answers are not easy, the implications uncomfortable. Here we are a table of Latinos from different countries, different migration stories, different choices. What path should each of us take? I described facing ridicule and teasing at best, discrimination at worst due to my heavily-accented English during visits to the United States when I was young. This experience motivated me to work on my accent when I came to back to the United States to attend college.

As I did, the change in responses to my words clearly shifted toward more positive reactions as I calibrated my inflections, pitches, and tones. From that point on, it was as clear as the Peruvian brandy pisco that many English-dominant European-Americans heavily weighed their assessment of the value of words by the density of the accent of Spanish-dominant speakers.

But others around the table at Ristorante Fiore have made a different choice, equally valid. For them, how they sound, including their accented English, is part of their Latino identity. It is a marker of who they are culturally in the same way that Martinez, Ochoa, Jimenez, and Castillo are name markers of a Latino identity that is so paramount that even when offered a choice through different circumstances of a more Anglicized name, they don’t take it up. While others do.

We pick our cultural identity spots. ‘Este es quien soy’. ‘This is who I am’. Increasingly, for more Latinos, particularly Latino Millennials, the assimilation survival tactics of their parents are not as necessary or desirable.

Instead, our choices of how to let our Latino selves show up in American society are as diverse as the various peoples that make up the Latino/Hispanic fabric “en los United States de America.”

Promising future For Latinos—and the companies who hire them

I hope you have enjoyed and taken some good takeaways from this series. It takes two to tango. If Latinopalooza and corporate America can learn to dance together, the benefits of the reverberations of this multicultural choreography will be felt in the workforce and marketplace for a long time to come.

Reaching Latinos: Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent


By Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

In the last post, we started talking about the second of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. In this post we’ll cover two more points that support this strategy. If you missed any of the previous posts in this series, click here.

How cultural assumptions get embedded in talent systems

So what is actually happening in today’s businesses? Let’s look at just one current talent management philosophy commonly adopted among highly successful and knowledgeable human resources professionals that may inadvertently have an exclusionary impact on Latino talent: “Everyone owns their career progression.”

This talent development philosophy gets operationalized through mechanisms such as career maps, online universities with “developmental maps” that employees can read, follow, and fill out as they chart their own course. Then there are conversations for them to initiate: How did I do? How will I be rewarded? What do I need to do next? It all then gets codified in the performance and development review.

This has worked quite well for many and this is not inherently a bad or good thing. It’s actually a good thing—if your workforce is homogeneously reflective of this particular worldview.

But too many have been left behind through this approach, which via unconscious bias gets codified right into the talent system and for different cultural preference reasons. Latinos are among the groups that are negatively affected disproportionately by this approach. The problem emerges with a lack of awareness of the cultural bias in this seemingly “fair” approach to development and advancement. It is premised on an individualistic, internal control, sequential, task-oriented worldview.

Latinos face additional differences with corporate America’s (European-American) archetypical worldview. When choosing between employers, many Latinos prefer companies that show cultural competency and sensitivity toward people like themselves. They value opportunities to network, grow professionally, give back to the community, and achieve work life balance. Interculturalist, Brenda Machado Koller, describes a Latino sensitive workplace as one that promotes “familia and simpatía,” one that is family-like and warm and friendly. Such an environment can be leveraged to promote greater loyalty, trust, and engagement.

With such disparate views of how to get things done, it should come as no surprise that Latinos have made very few inroads into leadership positions in corporate America.

Navigating a new worldview

When companies wake up to these differences and obstacles in their current efforts to attract Latinos, it can quickly become an exercise in futility. Conversely, organizations with the courage to truly assess where culture change is necessary and then make the changes will be well-positioned to win the Talent War by attracting their unfair greater share of Latino talent.

Yet, even as I plant a cultural flag of difference for the sake of Latino identity where corporate America needs our differences, I also plant another flag regarding European American and other cultures within the corporation: we need theirs.

With this stance, those of us who share archetypical Latino worldview also need to choose to learn the skills and ways of a linear, sequential, task-oriented, European-American-dominant culture—not only to better understand, and by that get along better, but also to add more tools to our professional toolkits.

I can thank both my Latino worldview and the exposure I’ve had to the European-American worldview through colleagues, with their individualistic task-oriented, internal-control approaches. As I adapted it has made me a better and more effective professional because I have diversified my skills toolkit.

Conversely, many colleagues have told me that they have come to more greatly value the times when a more improvisational, communal, and holistic approach has led to different and, at times, better results than had we followed the directives of a more structured worldview.

But note the phrase “adapted to it.” The line in the sand for many multicultural Latinos is right here. One can adapt without losing one’s cultural identity. “Assimilation,” on the other hand, is where the loss happens—which is to give up those things that have made us unique, to bury them alive, and to only operate within the confines, rules, and expectations of the majority culture we are in.

But what has to stop is the expectation that the full responsibility of adaption is on Latinos. We must have reciprocal adaptation or else, game over.

Reaching Latinos: Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent

by Andrés T. Tapia –iStock_4746494XSmall.HispBusTeam

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

So far I have written about the first of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latino talent pools. In the next two posts, I’ll share about strategy #2.

Strategy 2: Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent

Latino and European American cultures differ in some pretty fundamental ways, and corporate cultures often follow suit. Simply put, the average European American corporate world is not all that inviting to many Latinos.

According to a 2013 poll over 75 percent of Latinos feel people with their background are discriminated against in the form of not being hired or promoted for a job and being called names or insulted. We can’t continue to ignore the I-can’t-believe-it’s-still-true-in-2015 reality of pernicious discrimination.

But, there are also problematic cultural differences that create barriers to healthy Latino representation at all levels of an organization even when ugly discrimination is vanquished.

Cultural differences are more an Issue than most admit.

In Latino Talent: Effective Strategies to Recruit, Retain and Develop Hispanic Professionals, Dr. Robert Rodriguez, president of DRR Advisors, writes, “Along with discrimination, Latinos are also the victim of common negative stereotypes including being perceived as being too passive and lacking the conviction necessary to be a good manager, and of being too emotional to fill leadership positions. These stereotypes often are the result of a lack of understanding about how cultural principles and traditions common in the Latino community impact actions and behaviors.”

Let’s unpack Dr. Rodriguez’ assertion about cultural differences. But first, let’s have a crash primer on how to talk about culture comparisons. We are going to compare archetypes—the general tendency of a particular group to behave in certain ways without falling into stereotype, the assumption these tendencies are true for every member of the group. Sociologists and interculturalists have been able to trace the normative, bell curve behavior of groups fully recognizing there are many who, for a variety of reasons, do not adhere to these group norms.

So, archetypically speaking, let’s compare and contrast some of the many ways the normative behavior of Latino and European American cultures differ:

  • Sense of identity. For European Americans the value of individualism, where their sense of identity will more likely come from the self, contrasts with that of many Latinos who tend to be more group or community focused, where their sense of identity may come more from whom they belong.
  • Ascribing status. Latinos can be more hierarchical compared to the more egalitarian European American approach.
  • Getting work done. European Americans can tend to focus more on the tasks at hand to get the work done versus Latinos who tend to place greater importance on relationships.
  • Managing emotions. We all have them but Latino culture tends to value showing emotions while European American culture tends to value restraining the display of emotion.
  • Determining what is fair. European Americans tend to seek reassurance in the rules, while Latinos tend to be more comfortable with exceptions as they seek to address the uniqueness of each situation.
  • Belief of what can be controlled and managed. There is a prevalent European American belief that one can dominate the environment and external circumstances (“God helps those who help themselves”) versus the more common default stance by many Latinos that things may be out of our hands (“Dios quiere” or God willing)
  • Time management. European Americans tend to be ruled more by the clock whereas Latinos more by the event they are in.

These then are some significant differences that, at their most benign expression, lead to interesting cocktail reception conversation. But, applied to business, these points of view actually become the assumptions on which talent and leadership program competencies, development, and performance assessment get built.

For example, the career advancement assumption that each employee owns and can manage the creation of their own development plan. (I will elaborate on this on upcoming posts.)


Reaching Latinos: Understand and Embrace the Multidimensional Diversity Within the Latino Community

by Andrés T. Tapia – Mixed group of nations behind the American flag.

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

In my previous post, I mentioned three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. We’ll begin by discussing the first strategy in more depth.

Strategy 1: Understand and embrace the multidimensional diversity within the Latino community

First, we need to understand Latino diversity.

Though grouped together as Latinos or Hispanics, there are many layers of diversity within this population. Some are the same layers that every group faces, with their own unique twist, including:

Generational—For predominantly English speaking Latino Millennials, only 16 percent of them see themselves as white compared to twice as many older Latinos. They are less likely to have assimilated than their first-generation parents, who—as they faced discrimination due to their limited or accented English—chose not to teach their kids Spanish.

Plus you can add the dynamics of the creative tension among the generational diversity of Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z also shows up in Latino communities.

Language—There are Latinos who are Spanish English or Spanglish dominant. Seven in 10 young Hispanics report they regularly blend English and Spanish into a Spanglish hybrid.

Identity—Many Latinos straddle the fusion of more than two identities. Millennial Latinos are more likely to be in mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds and they self- identify with the blended identities of “Blaxican,” “Mexipino,” or “China-Latina” and more. These young Latinos epitomize the new Latino-American multidimensional identity.

History in the USA—Latinos in the USA can be recent immigrants or be fourth or fifth generation. Latinos in the USA can either be economic or political refugees. Or be ancestors of families that were of that part of Mexico annexed by the United States in the Spanish American war.

Country of origin—Latinos come from 27 different nationalities with a wide range of races and ethnicities. Spanish speaking Blacks come from the Caribbean, Colombia, Perú, Panama, and other countries. Millions of those characterized as Latinos come from indigenous backgrounds from Tierra del Fuego in the farthest southern reaches of Latin America to the Rio Grande border with the US.

 Given all this variety, Latino identity cuts across a wide spectrum of choices, so individual Latinos face complex choices of how much of it to embrace. This cultural identity spectrum can go from the fiercely nationalistic to the fully assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture.

Next, embrace this diverse multidimensionality of Latinos in talent and marketplace penetration.

We need to differentiate among the various Latino talent pools and segmented markets. There is no one Latino market in the same way there is no one Latino talent force; therefore, we must be wary of jumping to conclusions about your talent attraction materials. In order to have effective strategies for sourcing, attracting, hiring, engaging, advancing as well as selling to Latino talent, we must differentiate and define whether we are targeting the first, second, third, or fourth-generation Latinos. The Boomer, Xer, or Millennial Latino, The English-, Spanish-, or Spanglish-dominant Latino.

Be crossculturally agile. Ensure you don’t inadvertently use slang, cultural references, and pictures that are meaningful to say, Puerto Ricans, when you are trying to reach those who are mostly Mexican.

Don’t be paralyzed by fears of offending. By feeling you have to guess what the identity choices are of Latino talent or consumers. Watch, study, observe. And then, when necessary, which will be often, ask.

Be Latino diversity savvy by grasping the vast diversity among what often gets lumped under the simplistic umbrella of “Latinos.” Learn this and shape your talent attraction and marketplace penetration strategies accordingly. Just by doing this you will go a long way in enhancing your attractiveness to this highly desired talent pool.

My next post will zero in on “Strategy 2: Become Self Aware of how Corporate Cultures Are and Are Not Attractive to Latino Talent.” Stay tuned.

What Does the Latino Boom Mean for Business?

by Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

In my last post, I shared a teaser with some head turning statistics oniStock_4746494XSmall.HispBusTeam Latinos that I was launching in this series. So let’s get started.

Consider this. The United States continues to be in the midst of a Latino population explosion. In the first decade of the 21st century, Latinos grew at three times the growth rate of the rest of the population—becoming the largest ethnic minority group. This has accounted for half of the overall United States population growth. At this rate, it is estimated that one in four U.S. nationals will be Latinos by 2025 and one-third by 2050. By 2060, the U.S. Hispanic population is estimated to reach 128.8 million.

So, what does this mean for businesses? There’s a largely untapped pool of talent available, who can bring ideas, connections, and information that will help to grow the Latino market as well your business. To seize the many opportunities offered by the growing Latino talent pools, corporations must heed three key principles:

  1. Understand the multidimensional diversity within the Latino community.
  2. Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent.
  3. Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics.

In this blog series, I will explore each of these principles with facts, strategies, and practical tactics. I invite you to comment along the way.

The Latino Talent Boom and How Not to Miss Out

By Andrés T. Tapia –medicalhomearticle.LatFamily-300x208

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page:

Latinopalooza is a multi-stage, multi-ethnic, multi-age phenomenon that is already having great impact in the marketplace, political landscapes, and talent.

Organizations that don’t anticipate the implications of #Latinpalooza will miss out in many ways. Here are some facts you need to know:

  • Latinos are projected to be one-third of the U.S. population by 2050 with Latinos today already accounting for 21 percent of the Millennial number. This is not a niche market; it is the market.
  • Twenty-five million eligible Latino voters nationwide and over six million in places like California. This is not a side constituency; it is the margin of victory.
  • Sixty-nine percent of Latinos are currently going to college, the largest percentage of any ethnic group including whites. This is not just a student body ratio; it is the future workforce.

In this series of posts, #Latinopalooza, we will share strategies corporations can start doing now to capitalize on as Latinos become one of the biggest societal and talent stories in 2016.

Diversity of One

by Andrés T. Tapia –DiversityBusPeople.dreamstime_xs_54345011

(The following article was originally published in the Korn Ferry Briefings on Talent & Leadership.)

As minorities become majorities, organizations must rethink the conventional dimensions of identity and inclusiveness.

Deep in the pristine laboratories of pharma giant Roche in Basel, Switzerland, molecular scientists are experimenting with and achieving breakthroughs on a new understanding of diversity. Not that they would characterize their quest for blockbuster designer drugs in terms of understanding diversity. But their work is now guided by a scientifically evolved understanding that human beings are so genetically diverse that the future of curative and palliative care lies in moving away from the manufacture of mass-application drugs, in favor of drugs that are personalized to each individual patient’s chromosomal profile. In their parlance, this is “precision medicine”—in essence, it is individualized medicine.

What the scientists are witnessing at the genetic level is also taking place in society. Demographic changes have been so massive in the past generation—in nearly every country in the world—that while diversity is more relevant than ever, the way we think about it is obsolete. The stalwart paradigms of group identity based only on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability no longer cover the scope of our multidimensional identities. No one is just black. Or Latino. Or female. Or gay. Or blind. We are much more complex than that. We have entered the age of ultradiversity.

This ultradiversity leads to intersected identities such as GayVeteranXer. Or an ElderlyPersonwithaDisability. Or a MillennialIntrovertedFemaleManager. Or a BoomerAfricanAmericanGeneralManagerMalewithAdultKids. Or a LesbianSingleMother.

Or …

In this era, we need to invent “precision talent” strategies applying principles analogous to what pharmacologists are doing with drugs. We must be ready to address the “Diversity of One.”

But there is a counter-force that seeks to minimize differences. The intentions may be benevolent or sinister, but either way they have a damaging effect on societal wellness as well as talent strategies. If we ignore the reality that these differences exist and are only getting more complex, and that they must therefore be addressed, we will contribute to mounting social and work force pressures. Think #Ferguson#BlackLivesMatter. #ArabSpring. #GlassCeiling. #HigherTurnover.

As we grapple with Diversity of One, we must rethink basic assumptions about diversity. What does “minority” mean when “minorities” are majorities? What does it mean that those who are young have more experience with the supernova-hot trends of digitization, social media, and globalization than 25-year careerists do? What does it mean that it’s still a “man’s world” when two-thirds of undergraduates in the U.S. are women and by 2025 in the U.K., for example, women are expected to possess 60 percent of all personal wealth? What does “disability” mean when there are plentiful examples of people with disabilities outperforming those who are supposedly able-bodied? What does it mean to be “closeted” in sexual orientation when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the biggest, most valuable and arguably most influential company in our daily lives, comes out as a gay man? Or that the president of the United States is biracial?

The answers to these questions also challenge many current talent strategies that are failing to address the implications of ultradiversity. Let’s look at some of these new aspects of diversity within three well-established dimensions (race/ethnicity, gender, and disability) and what new and innovative human capital strategies are needed to address them. These then can serve as templates for exploring the implications for a much broader set of diversity issues such as globalism, nationality, faith, generational thinking styles and personality, to name just a few.


Why Corporations Need to Pay Attention to #BlackLivesMatter

by Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published in Huffington Post Black Voices)

As outrage over young, unarmed black men being shot by law-enforcement officers fuels marches in America’s streets from coast to coast, there’s an awkward silence among corporate-diversity champions on how best to engage on the issue.

The discomfort is understandable. While corporations can have social impact when they choose to, they have very rarely been at the vanguard of social-change movements and, by definition, must act according to self-interest, considering what is best for their brand and place in the market. Given this, the bar is set very high on when company leaders feel they can and should weigh in on polarizing topics without risking a hit to their bottom line.

So yes, General Mills, with its family-friendly brand, chose to recast Betty Crocker’s highly traditional father/mother nuclear family in the vein of Modern Family/Black’ish/Cristela. Starbucks stood up for LGBT rights in the state of Washington. Many companies are making glass-ceiling-shattering decisions when it comes to who leads them (#IBMGinniRometty, #YahooMarissaMayer).

But when it comes to race, and especially when it comes to violence on the streets, the terrain gets so much more complicated when it comes to how corporate decision makers feel they can and should respond.

In conducting my diversity and inclusion consulting work in corporate C-suites this past year, I have experienced a growing cognitive dissonance between what are genuine commitments on the part of leaders to achieve more diverse and inclusive workplaces on the one hand and, on the other, a near complete avoidance of reflecting on the implications of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin on their work.

Sure, it can feel like a leap to many. But here’s where we need to make the link. While some may say that the issues between the police and low-income urban youth are too far removed from the corporate dynamics facing college-educated professionals of color, scratch the surface and there are significantly more psychosocial links than meet the eye.

In saying there are links, I am not saying these are parallel situations. The dynamics of law enforcement, public safety, and incarceration disparities have a life of their own that don’t show up in corporations. But the realities of unconscious and conscious bias that lead to racial profiling and racial marginalization, which manifest in very different ways on the street, have a way of showing up under different guises in the corporation.

Take a moment and reflect.

The black male executives or high-potential talents swiping their ID card as they start their work day have just come in from a real world outside where they have a significantly greater chance of having been stopped by a police officer on their way to work, either driving or walking, than their white counterparts.

Check out these statistics about how real this kind of racial profiling is, and then ask yourself how much this may be weighing on the minds of Black and Latino employees. As reported by the ACLU in 2013, around 525,000 New York residents were stopped and questioned by police. Of those, 56 percent were Black and 29 percent were Latinos, though Blacks and Latinos collectively make up just over than 51 percent of New York City’s total population. Eighty-eight percent were found to be innocent.

It does not take a great leap of logic to consider that the level of paranoia this may induce on the street is likely to show up in some ways at work. I saw this firsthand when I was the chief diversity officer at a global human resources consulting and outsourcing firm headquartered in a white neighborhood. African Americans were indeed pulled over not infrequently as they were just trying to get to work. They were also more fearful of leaving after dark, therefore often showing less willingness to stay longer to finish a job.

And beyond fearing being stopped for driving or walking while Black, there are the too-many-to-name instances where a highly accomplished professional gets given the keys by a driver at valet parking, or gets asked for the aisle number for the paprika, or gets tapped for a glass of wine at a reception. Just ask President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who shared with People that even they have not been spared from this type of indignity.

Back to the workplace. Even with the consistently dropping unemployment rate, there is a persistent discrepancy between the unemployment rates for various racial groups in the U.S. In November 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for whites and Asians was 4.9 percent, while the Latino rate was 6.6 percent, and for Blacks the rate is 11 percent.

And for those who are employed, the prospects of leadership promotions are dismal. According to DiversityInc magazine and the Alliance for Board Diversity, in the Fortune 500 only 1.2 percent of CEOs and 6.3 percent of board directors are Black. The representation of Asians and Latinos among Fortune 500 CEOs is no better, at 1.8 percent and 2 percent, respectively, and board membership has been reported at just over 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, out in broader society, compared with whites, Blacks and Latinos experience disparate results in health carelong-term savings, and educational achievement and face greater obstacles to being able to vote easily and suffer greater discrimination in housing and bank financing.

What does it mean to say that race still matters? It means that race has an influence on individual outcomes. From the moment a person is born in America, his or her race matters. Race matters at birth, and it matters at death. Race matters in the food we eat and in our health. Race matters in education and in justice. Race matters in politics; it matters in housing. Race matters in employment; it matters in wealth. Race matters in the U.S.A. from cradle to grave.

If we declare that we value diversity and inclusion in our corporations, then we must face this moment-of-truth question: Today, as protestors step into the streets, football fields, and basketball courts declaring that #BlackLivesMatter, are we ready to do the necessary soul searching and organizational changes to bend the narrative that race still matters in the workplace?


Muslims are in the Workforce, but Some Companies are Being Proactive When it Comes to Inclusion.

by Andrés T. Tapia
— muslim woman with her daughter lying

(This article was originally published in Talent Management Magazine.)

While extremist Islam gets all the press, an extraordinary number of ordinary Muslims are going about their lives around the world. They are in every blue-collar and white-collar industry, with jobs ranging from entry level to the executive suite. They are religious or secular, and they are growing in number nearly everywhere.

As of 2010, Muslims were 1.6 billion, or 23 percent, of the world’s population. In contrast, there are 2.2 billion Christians (32 percent), 1 billion Hindus (15 percent), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7 percent) and 14 million Jews (0.2 percent). According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, the world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35 percent to 2.2 billion by 2030. Europe is expected to be 20 percent Muslim by 2050, and the United States is projected to have a larger number of Muslims by 2030 than any European country other than Russia and France. The growth is fueled by higher birthrates as well as religious conversion. But most workplaces — even those known for having inclusive cultures — are not ready for Muslims’ presence.

A global financial institution I worked with, whose credit cards are ubiquitous around the world, was caught off guard when it discovered a group of Muslim employees had been gathering underneath a stairwell to conduct their daily prayers in its U.S. global headquarters. Human resources got them a prayer room.

A global management consulting firm had to address complaints from western employees that someone was doing feet washing in the bathroom sink. They addressed it by installing a stall with a hand-held showerhead. A Muslim woman in one of my audiences called me to task because in every photo in my Power-Point that included Muslim women, they all had head coverings. This depicted a narrow range of Muslim cultural expression.

Andres- Regional D. of Muslims

Corporations aren’t ready largely because wider society has not yet accepted this greater Muslim presence. In 2012, France forbade hijabs, the head covering many devout Muslim women wear in public. In 2013, Switzerland forbade construction of new minarets. Also in 2013, a Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding survey showed 60 percent of U.S. Muslims said they faced prejudice from most Americans. The U.S. government has had to be vigilant during the Bush and Obama administrations about hate crimes against Muslims.

But a growing number of companies are proactively being inclusive of Muslims. For example, at American Airlines, the Muslim employee resource group addressed both workplace and marketplace needs by helping get prayer rooms for Muslim passengers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; the group also recommends vendors to provide halal meals on flights, and provides training for flight attendants on Muslim practices. When I led diversity at Hewitt, a group of Muslim employees suggested an infoshare where those from different faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — could share with each other about Eid, Hanukkah and Christmas.

But being Muslim is not just about religious identity. It’s also cultural. Individuals choose what being Muslim means for them. Recently, after an all-day executive session with a client in Zurich, as we were walking the cobblestone streets in the center of town, I came across a sidewalk billboard announcing pisco sours from my native land, Peru. I met the host: a Muslim bar owner serving Peruvian cocktails in Zurich, which he discovered on a trek to the Andes.

Muslims have many faces.

The Desolate Streets of Ferguson

by Andrés T. Tapia –ferguson_500x279

This commentary originally appeared on the New America Media website.

FERGUSON, Mo. – The protesting crowds have thinned. The 24-7 news army has packed up its equipment and moved on to the next hot spot. But Ferguson is still simmering.

It’s breathtaking enough walking through the business district along Florissant Ave. to see one storefront after another still boarded up either because of broken glass or as a prevention against vandalism or looting. But that scene does not ready my companion and me for the devastation a few streets over on West Florissant Ave., the epicenter of the worst violence in the wake of the non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson for the deadly shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The destruction stretches for nearly a mile on both sides of the wide avenue. I see for the first time the extent of the spillover rage that the TV cameras somehow did not fully capture. There’s the Walgreens, the McDonald’s, the Little Caesars, the Phillips 66, the Toys R Us, the local beauty salon, the local auto shop, the local diners — all torched, with smashed windows and dumpsters in the parking lots used to throw away the burnt, wet, broken debris of those chaotic nights in August and then again in November.

A National Guard armored vehicle rumbles down the avenue. Another is parked near an underpass. Police cars are tucked in business driveways throughout. A large lit up construction sign declares that a key intersection in the area will be closed after 5 pm that day. It’s the intersection where protestors gather nightly.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Ferguson try to go about their daily lives. They walk the streets to the boarded up grocery store for the day’s ingredients or to the deli for the day’s coffee. An artist advertises his upcoming CD release party.

Flashbacks to my growing up in a military dictatorship in Lima, Peru pop up for me. This is what a State of Emergency looked like. The surreality of the mundane of day-to-day life against a backdrop of militarization, physical destruction, deep distrust, and a feeling that further conflagrations lie just below the surface.

At the same time, just as Mother Nature revels in the green shoots that suddenly emerge here and there in a vast expanse of forest decimated by a massive wildfire, there are signs of resilient hope surrounding the armored vehicles, cop cars, and burnt out and boarded up stores.

Nearly every single plank of protective plywood nailed to storefront windows were tagged by peaceful protestors with messages of affirmation. Ferguson Strong. Keep Calm and Pray On. Peace in Ferguson. Natalie’s Cakes and More [Is] Open. Love More. Love is Blk + Wht.

Hundreds of ribbons with more messages of hope and affirmation are tied to wrought iron fences along the avenue. They flutter in front of desolate burnt out buildings as well as a neighborhood school where the students are back at their desks.

I’m in town to meet the Chief Diversity Officer for a national corporation with headquarters on the edge of Ferguson. She tells me about various inclusive events her organization is proud of having conducted inside corporate walls. But just down the street, the still-shuttered restaurants, shops, and bars speak to a tense reality facing the citizens of metropolitan St. Louis who walk through her company’s doors every day. She sees an opportunity for healing dialogue that she has been testing in one-on-one conversations, though she has yet to figure out the best way to go about it organizationally.

She understands the fragility of it all; but also the need to keep pressing on in bringing a torn community together. The task feels enormous since it’s not just about Ferguson but about the still very unfinished work of racial reconciliation and inclusion in America.

But as the positive graffiti and ribbons testify, it can also be brought down to a simple message: “Peace and Justice are two sides of the same coin.”

And these require a people and a nation who care. Do we and can we?

Creating Unity in a Broken Community: Eradicating Violence and Discrimination

This is a guest post by Candi Castleberry Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer, UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. The piece originally appeared on her Facebook page.

by Candi Castleberry Singelton — Mixed group of nations behind the American flag.

Until now, I’ve avoided my deeply personal thoughts about all of this news. My heart is so, so heavy.

At age 12, on my way home from school, I was confronted by six  White LAPD officers who pointed guns at me and accused me of robbing a hamburger stand on 8th Ave. This was clearly not the case. When they were done harassing the 12-year-old me, they just left. Long story short, I’m grateful to be alive.

At age 18, two Black men mugged and dragged me down an alley on Century Blvd. Inglewood PD arrived and caught one of the two. My mind and body were bruised. Needless to say, I’m grateful to be alive.

Years later, I married a police officer, who served for 16 years in the Bay Area. I’ve prayed for him every day because he was a police officer (he’s no longer an officer), also because off duty, he is a Black man.

I’ve spent many days worried about both sides of this situation. We all know that there are both good community citizens and good officers. There are also bad citizens and officers. We simply CAN’T stereotype ALL people, roles, or functions; this doesn’t move any of this forward.

Today, I pray for families, police, collaboration, and peace in our streets and neighborhoods. I pray community leaders and elected officials will listen and hear the voices and concerns of the people they serve.

I pray we will share our point of view responsibly, vote, and do our part to hold each other—including our friends and family—accountable to make our world a better place for ALL to live—with ALL of the differences.

As a Berkeley grad, I’ve done my fair share of protesting and advocating (but nothing compared to those before me.) What I’ve come to believe is we CAN find common ground when we recognize that issues can often be resolved by working together and respecting others. Differences are ONLY barriers when we allow them to be. We can accomplish more working together than alone, meaning Black & White, police & communities, citizens & leaders, etcetera. There is power in the “&”!

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” — John Lennon


For Diversity to Work, Recognize Differences, Not Just Similarities

by Andrés T. Tapia —Multiracial Hands Making a Circle

There is no question that embracing diversity by finding common ground with others has been a good idea. It has been a key to transcending racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices. Societies that have found a way to discover or create shared values to reconcile cultural clashes have experienced much healing and prosperity.

But this approach, heavily shaped by the gospel of tolerance and sensitivity, can also have a shadowy side. Assuming sameness can mask ways in which we are different. If key gaps are not recognized by assuming differences, it can lead to a different form of bias. When we assume that everyone is the same, we are assuming that everyone is “just like me.” This, ironically, is the very essence of self-centeredness.

Tolerance is an antidote to defensiveness on the part of majorities toward those who are different. It’s manifested in statements such as: “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” “We’ll agree to disagree.” “Live and let live.” It’s the answer to, “Why can’t we all just get along?” But tolerance does not delve into differences. It maintains a “truce,” rather than “seeking the truth” and the awkwardness that often accompanies uncompromising candor.

Sensitivity takes the cultural “cease-fire” a few steps further. It finds its voice in statements such as: “I will work at understanding that you have unique needs and preferences.” “When you say something bothers you and it doesn’t make sense to me, I accept that it is important to you.” Between the lines, it says, “I’ll let you have that, ‘gimme’.”

But sensitivity and tolerance are not enough to guarantee progress after a “culture war” ends. Ignoring or glossing over differences won’t make them go away.

Here is one example of how I made a mistake in assuming similarity, and my co-workers erred as well.

I was working on the leadership team for one of the largest human resources consulting companies in the world. Most of my colleagues were white, Midwestern and female. I was a male from Peru. We liked each other personally and professionally. We seemingly wanted the same thing, which was to serve the organization well with our best thinking while living by the company’s values of collaboration, integrity and respect.

So when the breakdown happened, none of us saw it coming. It played out like this: I would present an idea to the group, and I would hear responses such as “Andrés, I agree with you 100 percent.”

So after the meeting, I thought I had gained agreement from the group and took the next steps with assurance. But then the e-mails and voicemails started flying in: “What are you doing? This is something we did not agree to!” Confused, I replied, “What part of ‘100 percent’ didn’t I understand?”

Cristina: A Latina Comedian Lands Prime Time TV Show on ABC

by Andrés T. Tapia –Cristela.980.16x9

Below is a special message from Juan Andrade, president of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, that I’m passing on to you. The USHLI is a national organization that promotes civic responsibility and empowerment by conducting voter registration initiatives and leadership development programs across the country.

On Fridays, America will see a Latina law school student and her multi-generational family on network television! CRISTELA, a family comedy co-created, co-executive produced, written by and starring Cristela Alonzo is loosely based on the life and stand up routine of the Mexican American comedian.

As advocates for the Latino community, this is a moment that we can come together to combat so much negativity against our community. Whatever your roots, this is a story all Latinos can support. This is our story. It’s about an American family that happens to be Latino. Make no mistake, this is a big deal for us and a lot is at stake.

Cristela Alonzo is uniquely aware of the influence her show can have on the viewers. She is dedicated to sharing our stories (real stories) and tackling the issues that are important to our community like only a show like Cristela can do. She chose the profession of her character (Law school student) as a means to be able to bring light to the issues as an intern in a law firm in Dallas.

The power of media to change hearts and minds is very real. It is a well- known fact that media influences how white people view people of color. It won’t surprise to know we are grossly under represented on TV – save the negative images we see on the news. The very fact that this show is on the air will combat the onslaught of negative images we see every day.

In Cristela’s family – Americans will see a Latina going after her American dream to become an attorney, a small business owner working hard to support his family and a Latina Mom juggling career and children. Then there is the traditional “old school” mom that had the courage to bring her family to this country.

Cristela is the FIRST Latina to co-create co-executive produce, write and star on a network show. Her writer’s room consists of 6 Latino Writers and 2 women. This is unheard of in Hollywood.

We have a unique opportunity to come together to support portrayals of positive Latino images that are the focus of the family comedy. We have the power to make this our COSBY SHOW.

What is at stake? If we do not watch and support on social media we send a message to the halls of power in HOLLYWOOD that we don’t think it’s important to see our stories and ourselves on network TV. We know this isn’t true, but it’s just like GETTING OUT THE VOTE! If you don’t show up your not counted.


A Discussion on the Global Relevance and Potential of Hispanic ERGs

by Andrés T. Tapia –  Check out this video spotlight where Dr. Robert Rodriguez, president of DRR Advisors, and I discuss the global importance of Hispanic Employee resource groups (ERGs). Diversity professionals are well aware that ERGs play a crucial role in helping organizations improve diversity in recruitment and retention, talent development, management, and reach a broader group of consumers.

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