How to Bring Your Full Self to Work as a Latinx in Tech with ALPFA's Damian Rivera
Elias Torres: Hey, this is Elias Torres, co- founder and CTO of Drift. Did you know that Drift is part of the just 2% of VC- backed startups led by Latin- American founders? Well, I am aiming to change that. I want to highlight stories of underrepresented leaders and help change the face of corporate America. Once a month, you'll hear inspiring stories from other underrepresented leaders as we work to build our own American dream. Hit the subscribe button to make sure you get the new episodes when they drop. In the meantime, follow me on twitter @ eliast and subscribe to get quarterly updates at drift. com/ american- dream. We're going to introduce our guest today, Damian Rivera, CEO of ALPFA. Please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Damian Rivera: First, again, thank you for having me. I am super excited for today. A little bit about my background. So Puerto Rican or New York- Rican, right? Born and raised in New York City for most of my life. Lived in Spanish Harlem for most of my life. My life trajectory, what I've been able to do has been based on my values, my culture, all the things that allowed me to be able to achieve anything in life has been because of growing up being Latino. And so mostly lived in Co- op City in the Bronx, for those that know Co- op City. Lived then in El Paso, Texas for a few years because of my dad's job, he worked for the post office. Then back to New York. Lived in the Wagner Projects in the New York City. Went to Rutgers University, studied Biochemical Engineering as a background. And I was lucky, very fortunate, very fortunate that my dad put a computer in front of us in the'80s. And if you think about it today, everybody has computers, right? But this is 1980s. My dad had a Commodore VIC- 20 computer in front of us, and started to learn how to code. Started to learn what was out there, took Lotus Notes courses, right, to learn that stuff. In the summer, he would put us not in sports camps. He loved sports, we did our baseball, football thing. He put us in computer day camps. So in the summer times, while we were kids, my brother and I were in a computer day camp learning how to code, learning etiquette courses, and it really positioned us to be able to feel like the possibilities were endless. Went to Rutgers, after Rutgers, went to work for Accenture. I was there for 21 years, managing director, a partner in their utilities practice, also led up Accenture's Hispanic American ERG for six years, learned a ton while there. Then most recently, I stepped into the role of CEO of ALPFA. And I could go into that in a little bit. I am extremely privileged and honored to be able to serve as the CEO of ALPFA, for those that don't know that acronym, Association of Latino Professionals for America with a focus on empowering Latino leaders, helping grow Latino leaders across all industries. So again, it's very glad to... I'm ecstatic to be here today.
Elias Torres: Yeah, same here. Amazing intro, amazing trajectory. And what we're going to talk about today is really about how do we bring ourselves to work, right? How do we bring our authenticity? How do we bring our values? How do we bring ourselves that's really important, right? Because we struggle a lot in our companies and our workplaces to really flourish, right? And we struggle and we need to be successful wherever we are, so we can then get even better opportunities in other places. I want Latinos to climb up the ladder, right? What's going on? Look at me, I'm here like barefoot. Just in this like, wrinkled shirt. What about you, tell me what... I see something. This does not even look like a traditional suit. Does not look-
Damian Rivera: Yeah. No, I appreciate it. And I will say I went all out. I even put the pants on, right? So I didn't go half way with it. I even went with the pants, the full suit on, I even have the socks that go with it. There's a reason why I wore the suit today. And it actually it goes back to when I was in middle school. So when I was in middle school, we didn't have much money, right? So I was one of the kids that had holes in shoes. I was one of the kids that would get made fun of for. I didn't own a pair of jeans until high school. The first time I ever wore a pair of jeans to school actually was a friend of mine lend me his jeans, so I could wear jeans to school. The school shifted its policy in the'80s so that everybody had to wear uniforms. And the uniforms, when I did that having to wear that suit and tie, it did something for me. It removed the barrier that I didn't know was even there, right? And it positioned me to be able to just start that whole process of really being who I am there. Now, there was no comparison to somebody else having the new shoes or things like that. Right? Everybody had that same uniform. And it's something that stuck with me to this day. But to the point of bringing who I am, this isn't a black suit or a blue suit, right? It is a suit with patterns. The inside has pink flowers in it. This is me, right? And it's a way for me, it is my armor, if you will, that allows me to have confidence when I walk into any room, but at the same time, it is still a reflection of who I am, and what my journey has brought to today. And so it is a huge part of what I call the power of your origin story. And I know we're going to talk more about that here. But that's why I wore this suit because I wanted to talk to people about, you don't have to wear a suit. But what is that thing that helps you have the confidence personally? It could be a coin, it could be a rock that you found one day that you have in your pocket, it could be anything. But for you, it translates to you being able to say, I have my inner confidence, and I'm going to let that shine through. Because that confidence piece is hugely required to be able to make a difference.
Elias Torres: You said so many key things here. The power of your story. The power of your origin story. When it comes to diversity, when it comes to bringing Latinos and Latinas and Latinxs into the companies, right? What is it? If I were to be compared as an engineer with any other engineer, what are we going to compare? I can code just as well as any other engineer, a white engineer, an Asian engineer, an Indian engineer, so we can code, we're smart. There's nothing different about our abilities when it comes to writing code. When it's writing marketing, selling. We all as human beings with the same training have the same abilities. There is no difference. What makes us different? What is it that we bring? What is this power? What is the story? I know we overlook who we are and where we came from as a community as a contrast society, especially the Latino culture, right? How do we explain that for ourselves? What is it that we bring?
Damian Rivera: Yeah. So very much action oriented, right? And one of reasons why I love this is when we talked about what we could do here is helping folks understand specific things that they could do to help with that. So to your point of how do you even really, truly identify what is your personal superpower? One of the things I suggest is people creating their journey lines. For those that haven't heard the concept before, it's literally imagine that XY axis, on one axis is your level of happiness. On the top is super happy. The bottom is sad, right? You can even go negative on it if you want to, in terms of the axis. The bottom is time. And what you're doing is you're drawing out different events in your life, things that have happened, the highs and the lows, because it is in those highs and lows that we learned our biggest lessons as individuals, and where we are able to really see how our values in life came out in those difficult moments or in those best of times. And when you do that, when you create that journey line for yourself, what you're doing is you're allowing yourself to really see the power you have, and the things that you've done in your past that can contribute to what you can do moving forward. And so it's really critical that people understand that their values, because that's what it means. So the journey line helps you see what your values are, and put words to them. Because when you put words to them, it sticks quite a bit more for yourself. And then that translates to the whole thing of what does it mean to bring yourself to work? People talk about, be your authentic self, right? Bring your true self to work. But what does that really mean to do that? And to me, it means stick to your values. Stick to your values every single day when you come into work. So I tell people, am I the exact same person I was growing up in Spanish Harlem? No, I'm not. I've evolved over time. My expectation is that I will continue to evolve. And I joke a little bit about this and knock on wood, I live a long, long time. But I want to continue to evolve until 24 hours before I die, because I want to have one day of being my perfect me, right? To know what that feels like. But until then, I want to continue to evolve. Continue to figure out what does it mean to continue to grow and find that next thing? But what has not changed from where I grew up are my values. And that is what allows me to bring myself to work. So when I walk in every single day, I am that same person, my values in terms of words are legacy, opportunity, diversity, justice, courage, fortitude, energy, industriousness, right? Those are the things that make me, me, that my parents instilled in me, my community instilled in me and the people that I have had the privilege of working with over the years have seen in me. And it's allowed me to be myself in that office. So I know I just said a lot there. I just probably going on along, but crosstalk.
Elias Torres: And it's high level, I'm going to confess. But what we have here, I want you to thread the needle here and let's get tactical. We have a hot question and hot topic. I hear on the chat that I'm going to read some stuff to you. So a lot of stuff this morning, I was reading on Instagram, talking about tone aggression, right? Where especially, they just mentioned it right here on the chat that if a male is aggressive and passionate, it's like that seen as a great thing, great leader. But if a woman does that, it's not good. So we brought that up here, right? But then let me tell you this, look at these questions. foreign language Look. How do you guys handle the urges to make white folks feel safe and diminishing who you are as a Latinx in the corporate workplace? How do you deal with the disappointment, frustration when you try to advocate for issues affecting PRC when they just don't get it? So there's two parts of this. How do you deal individually in the moment? And how do you deal with a company when they don't want to listen? Right? So now we have, I have found my passion gets labeled as aggression or anger, inaudible right? Same behavior is valued as leadership qualities in white peers, right? Boom, there it is, what is the right way to handle microaggressions in the workplace, like the ones people are mentioning here? It feels like it's hard to bring it up without becoming that guy. Okay, there we go. Hit it. Tell me about microaggressions crosstalk.
Damian Rivera: There's a lot to unpack there, right? So couple things, I'm going to start off with an example. So the whole point of microaggressions. Let me give you an example. This is a real life example. So imagine walking into a room, you are the more senior person, you're the partner. That's what I was, I walked in with a white male colleague, who was the analyst. Good guy, we're both walking in to see the client for the first time. The client who was also white male, addressed the analyst first, shook his hand first, gave me a little bit of a head nod, and then started the conversation with the analyst. Right? So in that moment, that's a micro... The assumption was that this other person was the more senior person, I couldn't be the senior person. It couldn't be me. And at the time, I also had a goatee. So for those that don't know me for a long time, I used to wear a goatee all the time. So I had my goatee on. A couple of things, right? So one, we do have a shorter window to address that microaggression. Right? So here's the issue that you have in that exact moment. If I make that client or prospective client feel awkward about the mistake that they just made, then they're not going to want to work with me, that relationship is going to be impacted. And then potentially, I can't get a deal there. If I can't get that deal there, then it could be viewed as Damian couldn't figure out how to make that deal happen. There's a problem with me, not a problem with the microaggression that happened there. So I have a split second to deal with it. A couple of different things. One is, being prepared for those types of events when they happen. There are certain things that we just know are going to happen, because they've been happening for a long time. And that's where key piece, having mentors who are senior that have been there done that, and having conversations with them to understand what are some of the issues that may come through. Now, in that moment, what I did, and there was a comment in there about we have to make them feel okay about it. So did I try to make him feel okay? I did, in a specific way, no different than what I do with anybody else that I'm engaging with, where I know, there was a mistake made. I think it's important to be able to let people off the hook from a business standpoint, if they did something incorrectly, as long as they're aware that you're letting them off the hook a bit. And they're learning a lesson with it. So in that session, it was a nope, hey, completely just so you're aware, I'm the partner. Again, nice to meet you. He shifts his focus, you could tell from the eyes that it's like, oops, my comment was, I get it. I look super young. I get it. Yeah, that's probably what that was, a little bit of a chuckle. We go straight into business. He recognized my value pretty immediately based from the conversation that we started having. He also started to learn a lesson, right? The lesson he learned is don't make that initial assumption based on how people look. The other piece that's important there is over time, the relationship that I had with him was one that I was able to continue to help him understand where he was looking at things the wrong way. You can only move somebody a couple of points off of where they are. Let's say if a 10 is being extremely benevolent, you'd love everybody. A one, is someone who is super racist, let's say, right? If someone is at a five, you're not going to get them to a 10 in one conversation. You can hope to get them to a six, a seven, then when they're at a seven, you can hope to get them to a eight or a nine. That is where we are right now in this country a bit. There are a lot of people out there that didn't understand that unconscious bias was real. Didn't understand that when they look at Latinos, they look at us and assume we're all one thing and not really appreciating that we are so many things. And so there's an opportunity to start helping people shift, based on the conversations we have with them.
Elias Torres: Right. This is important because I think this needs to be explained better. And it needs to be packaged and outlined step by step. I mean, I can see us making a video and practicing it, right? This is a really amazing YouTube tip right and say, we got to do this. So I'm coming in, I want to understand the why of every one of your decisions in your department.
Damian Rivera: Yeah. Absolutely. First thing is, if you're waiting till that moment, to figure out how to deal with it, you're too late.
Elias Torres: Too late. Come prepared because it will happen.
Damian Rivera: That's right. Come prepared. So what that means is, to the point of we have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. Right? You got to do a lot more homework earlier on. Who you meeting with? What are they about? All that stuff that a lot of people do, we got to do it even better, we got to walk into that room, understanding how we are going to engage. If that type of thing happens, how are we going to deal with it? The key point here is, this is where getting help is so critically important, right? Because beforehand, if you talk with a mentor, hey, this is the first time I'm going into speaking with a client where I am the lead person, I understand that there may be some challenges that I don't even know. Talking to a mentor who can help you with that, who's experienced that beforehand. So you are prepared for I can go four different directions if I need to, based on the conversation. So one, preparation, have those conversations. It's the reason why watching webinars like this, so critically important. It's the reason why I am super proud of being the CEO of ALPFA because we focus a lot on connecting people so that the students and early professionals are connecting in with people that are literally on board of directors of Fortune 500 companies, and are able to have these types of conversations, learn those lessons, and then apply them in their day to day work. Right? So that preparation, one. Two, you were joking a little bit about you can play off a scenario, we could do a YouTube video on this, literally do that with people, literally do that. I have done that many times with people that I trust that are on my personal Board of Directors, right? So people that I trust to be able to have those conversations. I've had that conversation. So I've gone through the example. It's one thing to think about, I think I know how to deal with it. I heard that advice. I think I know how to deal with it. It's a whole nother thing when you actually start trying to give words.
Elias Torres: It's like you have to roleplay?
Damian Rivera: That's right. So those two things are critical.
Elias Torres: You said, I mean, there's so much right there that I want to dive in. No problem. No worries, this happens to me all the time. I look very young, right? Why do you use the words very young? Why was that and not something else? Are you picking something that is not racial on purpose?
Damian Rivera: In that moment, absolutely. In that moment. Right? And you got to understand how psychology works. So check this out. And this is why, one, the book, Just Listen, I would highly recommend everybody reads that book, Just Listen. Understand how the mind works. So the way the mind works, is kind of have three components of the brain, fight or flight, emotion, then rational thinking. If you ever had an issue, and then all of a sudden, you feel like the pit of your stomach is like you start getting scared, right? That is your body going into fight or flight mode. Before you can rationally think about anything, you have to go through that emotional phase to then get to a rational place. If I go into I get it, I'm Hispanic, you wouldn't think that I'd be the partner here, that is going to put him, he's already in the fight or flight stage, his eyes told me that. He's already in that stage, the only way he could get to rational thinking is if he first goes through emotional. So I have to now find a way to connect with this guy on a little bit more of an emotional level to then get to the rational place so that he can actually see me for me, before I can really help him start shifting his thinking. If I try to go into I'm going to help him shift this thinking right up front, it's not going to work. Is it a lot more work on my part to help him get to that place? Yes. Is that one of the reasons why you look at the number of Latino executives and it curves down, because all these additional challenges are out there. You got to do this other work to be able to get, again, half the credit. So I went to the very young, one, because I look kind of young. So I think we have a similar type of thing there. It is not something that's going to be controversial in his mind. I'm pretty sure about that. What does that do? It makes him be able to exhale. Okay, he now feels a little bit more safe. He feels emotionally at a place where he can now have a conversation, then you start going ahead, start shifting a little bit more, having a little bit of banter. Side note, as the conversation was going on with this analyst, I let it go for a few seconds. What am I also doing? I'm scanning the room to understand what type of person is this? Does he have family stuff up, where I can relate to him again, on that emotional level. I'm taking him from the fight or flight to the emotional side, and then talking through the reason why I'm there. The fact that I actually made him feel like he got off the hook, while still helping him learn a lesson, makes him feel more connected to me as an individual, which then translates to a better relationship, which translates to a better client relationship, which translates to other opportunities.
Elias Torres: Right. No, that's awesome. Question. Could you give us an example that, they were posting here, I saw one where she's Mexican and she's being asked right away, how do you make the best Mexican food? Do you have a quick... How would you deflect that and bring-
Damian Rivera: Yeah, so couple, one, I'll just real quick, Lindsey. It is by Mark Goulston. So Just Listen by Mark Goulston. Absolutely, that is the book. It is very situational. I'll tell you, one of the first times where I was just stunned when somebody said something like that to me. And it was a client, she didn't mean any harm by it, but my passion was coming through, and I was the spicy Latino. Depends on who the person is, you could go ahead and address it directly. I tend to more address directly, but doing it in a way that will help them actually understand why they were wrong, because my goal is to help them move. So if somebody says something like, " Hey Damian, how do you make the best Mexican food?" My first thing will be like, you know what? I don't cook very well. But a couple things, well, I'm Puerto Rican. So I'm not Mexican, Mexican food's awesome. Curious, why you asked about Mexican food. Are you thinking about having a party or something? What's going on there? Right? So what did I do? One, I let him know he did something wrong. Two, I gave him an opportunity to take a breath when I said inaudible are you having a party? Is there something going on there? So I corrected him. A little bit of a hand slap, right? Understand we're not all one thing. We are multiple things. Two, you shouldn't go that direction. And then, what's the reason why? I'm giving him opportunities to explain himself, right? And then depending on who this person is, and my relationship with him, I may go down the direction, I'm assuming it's a guy, I probably shouldn't assume it was a guy that had that question for, I start going on the thing of, hey, look, side note, right? Just so you're aware what you said there could actually be really offensive, like really offensive. Well, let me know, more than happy if you'd like to go grab lunch, we could talk about why it was offensive. And so we could get a better common understanding. I'd also love to learn more about you. Right? So, do you have to do a little bit more effort? Should you have to? No. And again, it's up to you. Do you want to? I've always gotten on the path of I want to help move him a bit. I just got one more example. Even if it's somebody that is not talking with me. It was one day I was out on a business lunch. There was two ladies in the table next to me talking about Harlem and not necessarily in the best way. And so at the end of the business lunch, I told the person they had to go, I was like, look, I'll go ahead, I'll take care of it. I figured out a way to get into their conversation, and I jumped into their conversation and I'm talking with them. I was like, hey, I heard you guys talking about Harlem and this and that. And so we start going. And then when we started getting a good rapport after a few minutes, I was like, by the way, that's where I grew up. That's my community. What did I do there? I started shifting their view of Harlem must be what I saw in'80s movies and things like that, versus it is a beautiful place. And so you can find ways and it's going to be up to you to decide how much do you want to jump in there and not. And if you don't want to jump in, find advocates, people that will be willing to help be that voice for you.
Elias Torres: I think that we could do easily like a three- hour podcast like Jocko Willink like this super long podcast.
Damian Rivera: Yeah, yeah. This is great.
Elias Torres: I'm going to pivot a little bit. I guess this is the subject we're in right now. What about examples of when it happens at work? So some people were saying like, this happens to me, not with customers. That's okay, but how does this happen at work? We're in a conference room. I don't know if this is correct, but this has happened to me. No, I can't say, it's too much. I was in a room. There's like, half white, half of color, and then I had two Black people, Black Drifters with me and myself. And there was like two or three other white people. And you know what happens, right? They confuse my Black associates names, right? They mix them up. But they were both in the room. Right? And so like, when that happened, I was a despised Latino. I just lashed out. And I said, " How could you mix them two, when one is like six feet? And the other one is my height?" One works in tech, one doesn't. One is my business partner. So I'm like, I pointed it out here. I mean, I brought it to the table. And I said, how would you like it if I confuse you with another white person here in the room? But I was in a special position. And I showed them after. And they were shocked. Their eyes were like this, right? Because boom, I just put it on the table. And they were like, shocked. Wow. And they said, you went there, Elias. You went there. And I said, of course, I went there, you went there. Look at what you just did. Right? You understand that this hurts us every time that this happen to us, right? And so I said it. But then what I did is I tried to bring the bridge, I said, at Drift, I want us to be able to talk about this, right? I said, don't worry, we love you. We respect you. But we have to talk about it because when we don't say anything, we of color have always just swallowed it and just be we just carry on. We can't say anything. So I love what you're doing, obviously your finesse is way better than mine. I just crosstalk.
Damian Rivera: But you're pointing out though. So what I think... It's there is no one answer to any of this, right? There are different ways based on who you are, going back to be your authentic self. Right? Don't try to approach how you engage with this in somebody else's fashion. And context matters so much with all this. When something is happening at the workplace, I tend to be a big fan of pulling people to the side and having a conversation with them one on one, because I think they receive it better that way. However, that is not sufficient. Right? And so to me, you can't stop with that action. Because if in the workplace, it seems like it's a systemic thing, where it's going to keep happening. This is where your advocates and allies within the organization come into play. Right? It is engaging with some very senior people to say we need to do something about this. Because here's what happened in that meeting. Yes, I did address this one off with the person. However, other people need to hear from you leadership that how you feel about this, and really pushing this forward. I could give you example after example, so when I was at Accenture, the building bridges sessions that would happen there with senior leadership, the CEOs, everybody being part of that to make sure everybody understood that diversity and inclusion was a huge part of what made the organization great. And so to me, it's two pieces. One is, you should address the issue. If you are worried that the person you're going to address it with is senior, and they could come back at you, that's where having your network and your sponsors is so critical. That's why none of this stuff is a one off thing. One of the reasons why I was able to voice my opinion at Accenture so much was because I had really great sponsorship within the organization. I had very senior leaders. And so I knew that if I said something, I had backup. Side note, none of those senior leaders that were in my specific group were Latino, they were everything else, but they cared. They were part of the diversity stuff. And they enabled me to continue to move up. I also had part of the Hispanic Group, a extremely senior leader there, that also provided me additional coaching. So I was able to get inputs from multiple different angles. So to try to recap this piece, if something like that is happening in the office, you have choices, you can go ahead and just say something right then and there and let everybody hear it. Right? Absolutely. That is an option. Another option is, you could go ahead and pull the person to the side and say, look, what you did was wrong. And here are the reasons why and have that conversation. But if you do the pull to the side, you also need to find a way to make sure everybody is hearing the message, at least that you gave, which is this is wrong in front of everybody. And that could be by bringing in senior leaders, etc. You're in the position in that room where you were that senior leader so you could make that happen in a heartbeat. Others that may be coming up the ladder, may need to pull in more senior people to create something for the organization as a whole.
Elias Torres: Wow, this is so critical to us. And it's so timely. I think I see questions here. What happens when it's your boss and I think you're already starting to touch upon the area, and I'm wondering here, this is what I'm trying to figure out, how do we do it, right? It's like, you gave a very good framework that I'm extracting out of it, right? To use levels of escalation. Right? On how do you address it. If you're dealing with just the group of people that are closer to you, your peers, maybe you can do it... And it also depends on your seniority in the company. Right? crosstalk If you're starting your career and you are with peers, and then maybe we got to get the confidence that you were talking about initially. My personal attitude philosophy is, it's like, if I can't be myself at this place-
Damian Rivera: I don't want to be here.
Elias Torres: ... why am I going waste my time? I got to say it because if I want to get fired for saying, I'm not going to get promoted for saying something, then why the hell am I going to be there, right? And so like, I tell this to people in my company, where they're like, don't speak up when they're not performing. There was a question about underperforming, right? And so people are afraid to address that with the whole company with people. Hey, I'm underperforming. Guess what? Everybody knows you're underperforming. Right? It's pretty clear. But if you don't address it and say, help me, because you're worried that that puts a spotlight on you, guess what, it never gets a dress? So I think in the same way, if we don't say, right? If we don't speak up against that, because we're worried of the repercussions, then we're going to be held back forever. So your levels of escalation are extremely important, right? Depending on your seniority and your stage in your career, depending on your accomplishments in the company, depending if you're with peers, depending if you're with your boss, then you do the pull aside, then you got to bring that communication, you got to do it in stages. Then the next one above that is the sponsorship. And then if the sponsorship what it's like, go to the Latino executives, right, and say Latinx executives let's just go grab those, but then you're saying, even expand that. Go to all the underrepresented community of the company, and then at least they'll be able to understand. If a person will say like, okay, I'm Indian, and I went through all of this, and I'm a VP here, I'll help you, right? We can make connections with so many people. And we're stronger, because of how many people of color in total are in this country, right? So what they're saying is that, do that, and then I'm going to take it to another level and say, go work at companies where you have a network. And like, you said, you're not like, I cry when people say to me, I'm the only Latina in this company. And I'm just like, wow, right? Like, that's so hard. Go find a place where you can have people to sponsor you and support you.
Damian Rivera: I agree. And if you are the one that's there, then I go back to the same phrase, again, equity of opportunity is not the same as equity of responsibility. In that place, you have an additional, you could call it a burden. But it's an opportunity to be able to grow the diverse population within that organization. A couple of I think, points I want to make based on what you were saying there, right? Confidence is key, in all of this, having confidence is key. Oftentimes, people will stay away from risk, because let's say we got a job at a nice company, it feels good. You don't want to cause too many waves, and you just want to continue to go up, put your head down. We need to not do that. We need to be willing to take the risks. One of the most important things there, and I'll tell folks is understand your BATNA, right? And so it's a negotiating term, BATNA, best alternative to a negotiated agreement. So with respect to your workplace, what that translates to, is understand your worth in the market. Right? Continue to network out there, not saying that you're going to go anywhere, but understand that if you need to, you can. And you're not worried about I have to go someplace else. It gives you enormous strength to be able to have more of these conversations. Because you know if you need to go someplace else, you can, no problem, you can get your next thing. The other piece is the help part. Within the diverse communities period, I think this happens a lot. We tend to not ask for help as much as we should. I've come to this conclusion in my head, it's the reason why we don't ask for help a lot. And I hate making generalizations. And so I'm trying not to make this a generalization in of itself. But oftentimes, we don't ask for help because one is the imposter syndrome. We feel like if we ask for help, then someone's going to know that we actually don't belong at that level. So I shouldn't ask for help because they assume that I'm going to know this. The other piece of it is the whole fake it till you make it, right? So people feeling like, well, I need to pretend I know stuff in order to be put into a position and then hopefully I could learn it. And that translates to not engaging with a network in the way you should, not asking for help. I encourage people to try to go against those grains, right? Fake it till you make it to me means have confidence. It's like when you walk into the boardroom, it may be the first time you walking in there, but pretend like you've walked into that boardroom before. Right? Have that confidence, that swagger, if you will, when you walk into that room, like you've been there before. Have the confidence to know that you're there because of your journey. And if you've done your journey line, you know all the things that you can contribute to that room, you know that. And so making sure you're understanding those pieces and asking for help, because that's how we're going to make the change happen. And then making sure you make yourself available for others that are coming up the pipe so that you can help them. A lot of times when people get to the workforce, after a few years, they might disconnect maybe from their school or from their alumni network, could be the Latino alumni network that they have there. And they're disconnected a bit from it. But you need to make sure you're getting back there.
Elias Torres: Right. At Drift we just started ERGs. We're a growing company, over 350 people. And we now felt that we have enough diversity in the company. And so we just created that. So I'm a little bit early on that right, I can tell you a little bit about my experience of ERGs and IBM. And IBM to me what they did was, I was like an entry level engineer, working in Southbury, Connecticut, 22 years old, and didn't know anything about this 400,000 person company. Seeing Latino vice presidents right, dress like you, that they were like, I had a connection with and they said, I'm here to help you, boosted my confidence, like nothing else, right? To know that I had somebody that had my back, I wasn't alone. So at IBM, such a big company, diversity is much further than smaller companies. Right? It opened so many doors, and I felt like I had somebody to go talk to and they were there for me. So that was what ERGs did for me. And now I'm supporting that and bringing that into Drift and we have about six already. Right? But we're early in our journey. What can you tell us about ERGs and the impact that they make?
Damian Rivera: Yeah. So I think ERGs are critical. And different organizations are at different stages, like you described there. And I had the privilege of leading up Accenture as Hispanic American ERG for six years for North America, right? So lots of great opportunity to be able to see how when you're executing correctly, you could have significant impact. The people that I spoke about that were my sponsors through my career that really made a difference, I met all through the ERGs, right? And so, my ability to survive the 2001 downturn when a lot of people were getting let go and the 2008 downturn a lot of people were getting let go, was my relationships with these people. In order for the ERGs to have impact, my perspective is, you need to have senior leadership invested in those ERGs, right? You need to have senior leadership that are leading them, and that are tied into what the strategy of the organization is. Right? To me, we will know that diversity and inclusion has made it to where it should be when DNI work is part of a company's strategy. I view DNI as being something that is a strategic differentiator if leveraged the right way. And I'll go into in a little bit why I feel that way. And my answer to people when they ask, how does diversity translate to innovation? I have a very specific view on that. So for everybody on here, what I'd say is, make sure you are pushing your ERG leadership to engage in a more deliberate way within their organization. Engage in the promotion processes, engage in the ratings processes for employees, engage in the strategic planning processes, because that's how you make sure that it's going to be impactful, versus it's the group that gets together for Cinco de Mayo. And it's the group that gets together for Hispanic Heritage Month.
Elias Torres: I agree.
Damian Rivera: It can't be just that.
Elias Torres: The way that I explained I was asked is, I had a one on one with somebody outside Drift, who asked me for some advice. And I said, I'll just tell you, as a founder of a company, as the leader of a company, we got to align this to the value that we bring to the business, right? And so what is it that I want in my company? I want to bring diversity. And so what I want the ERGs is to serve two purposes. One, is to retain the employees of diverse backgrounds. I said that's what I want. You have no idea how hard it is to retain the talent because it is difficult. It's not just about the diversity numbers. Oh, look who I hired. I hired, I'm at 6. 7%, I'm at 7. 8%. That doesn't matter. If we don't allow these people to be included and welcome, and help them grow their careers, which is not easy, not even for me. It's like I cannot be every day in every relationship with every one of the people in my team, right? It's almost, 353, 380. And so I want the ERGs to help. So they can be included because I need to retain them. That is the power of ERGs, not for a party, not for Cinco de Mayo, right? Then other one is to attract. I want this community to attract and to have a goal that they can say, look how many people we brought to apply. And we helped shepherd them through the application process, they can serve as panelists in the interview, right? I want that. So those are my two things that I want. If you present that in the company, says like, you want diversity? I'll go bring it. White people are promising stuff they're not doing anything, well, will say, will do it for you. Support us. crosstalk Should we be having both Latinx executive sponsor and a white sponsor in the company?
Damian Rivera: Great. I think the ERGs definitely need to be inclusive of people that are not Latinos as well. Give an example from an ALPFA perspective. One of things we talked about is we are Latino focus, but we are not Latino exclusive. And so we're very welcoming of everybody. And it's through those conversations so that we're not an echo chamber, right? We don't want to be an echo chamber, just talking to ourselves and not having others understand what it is that we're going through. And that's one of the phenomenal things that's happening right now, where people are more jumping into diversity conversation, so that they can listen and understand. Right? So it's a fantastic, and it's a good opportunity for everybody on here. If your company has an ERG and you haven't had a conversation about what's happening right now, do it. If you are a junior person, and you're saying, I don't know if I have enough power, you know what? You absolutely do. Now is a time and it can help you from a career perspective, as well as doing the right thing. You can, as an individual, go to a senior leader and say, we need to have this conversation, I'm going to help you create it. And you can get yourself a very senior sponsor in a heartbeat, because they're seeing how you are helping the company through this process of making it more inclusive and encouraging diversity. To the point of how does diversity help a company, right? So people talk about diversity creates innovation, right? And so through innovation, you're going to be better off. I actually learned this particular concept, which makes total sense to me. If you think about it for a second, each of us knows what we know, right? You know what you know. You know a fraction of what you don't know. And then there's a whole world of things out there that you have no idea you don't know. But when you get people together from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, there are different knowledge points, there are different ways of thinking. And what they do is you start reducing the unknown unknowns. Why is that so critically important? Because when you reduce that, it means now you can address risk associated with business initiatives. If you're able to reduce the risk of a business problem, while increasing the return, or even if you keep the return the same level, what you are doing is creating business value. You are enabling the company to make a decision that says you know what, this project isn't worth it, because the risk is too high, even with the new things we found. So that's the key piece. Now, you can only see the power of that diversity if individuals are feeling comfortable actually expressing themselves. And that's where it goes back to making sure that you are speaking up. And if you feel that you cannot speak up in your office because of a boss or because of whatever. That's where the power of your network in there comes into play when you leverage your network to make something happen. Think of it like playing chess, you want to make sure that you are using all the pieces at your disposal. It doesn't have to be you yourself that's actually taking the action. But you could be the catalyst for an even bigger action if you put the right pieces in place.
Elias Torres: Yeah, good stuff here. We're getting some good questions. Manuella Peris Luna, she put in something that she went and she reached out to a VP in her department, and she was more than honored to be heard, their sponsor, and she says opportunity is just one door knock away, right? I think I came to this country, and I wasn't going to be saying, hey, you're supposed to understand about anti- racism, you're supposed to open the doors for me, you're supposed to do all these things for me. I didn't come with that expectation. It is what it is, in my opinion. I am lucky to be here. And so we're going to have to do our part. It's not going to be easy. But I think this moment in time, is probably one of the best moments in this country. Right? The amount of doors that are opening, the amount of ears that are listening to what's happened with Black America from the very beginning, and that people are interested in educating themselves and learning, it's a great opportunity for Latinxs as well to use this moment to be able to speak in a very smart way. Right? We have to at the end of the day show results. Right? We have to show what we are accomplishing in the company. I get questions here. Like why you don't get promoted, what kind of stuff like that. We have to balance that, besides just like telling them what they're doing wrong, right?
Damian Rivera: It is, to your point, right, one of the most difficult times in our country, that is also creating space for it to be a huge inflection points in our country. And as a community, we need to make sure we're doing our parts to support others that are feeling the same way. Right? So from an ALPFA perspective, we were very vocal in terms of Black Lives Matter. And making sure that people understood that it is critically important that we are supportive as an organization and as a community. In the same sense, when the DACA decision was made, we made sure that people were aware, this is a fantastic thing that, I'll say have more time, right? Because it's not over yet. We need to make sure we're paying a lot of attention to that. And to make sure that we are giving all of our efforts, so that we can continue to rise up together, the Black Lives Matter impacts the Latino community as well, in a huge way, because we have so many people in our community that are Black as well. And we are everything in the community. There was a question with respect to DACA. My suggestion is if you're looking for a job in a company, first, understanding the company's policies with respect to that before... Even if they're okay with it right now, you really want to talk to some people within the organization to make sure how are they really with respect to DACA. Engage with mentors who are senior, who are seeing the back ends of things that are happening in organizations. Develop a plan, right? Work with others that you know, here's how I'm going to look to engage with companies in the community to make sure that as someone who is leveraging DACA, to be able to work right now, you're able to continue to progress up and you have the right support system in place. Because if it gets turned off for any reason, you want to make sure that you have your plan set to be able to get the help you need, to make sure that you are taken care of.
Elias Torres: Thank you so much for coming. I really feel that I think we didn't talk about this with Damian, right? But Damian was working at Accenture all his life, 20 years, and then he decided to go outside of the company and just working in helping Latinxs inside the company and helping Latinxs outside. I was in the same boat. We have a similar journey where a couple years ago, I realized that I've been focused on execution and chasing The American Dream. When I realized that there was so much I could give back and offer and maybe do it in parallel, not wait till I'm successful to then help, but what can I do right now? And the more I talk to people and get together with folks, I'm figuring out how to make it scale. And thank you very much for being here. Thanks for listening to The American Dream. Let me know what you thought of this episode by tweeting me @ eliast. Be sure to hit subscribe and leave a five star review. foreign language. If you're looking for more leadership insights and stories like the ones you just heard, sign up for my series, The American Dream at drift. com/ american- dream. Every quarter you'll learn how Drift is progressing towards our mission of remaking the face of corporate America. And you will get insights from amazing Latin American and entrepreneurs of color. And leaders like Manny Medina of Outreach, Maria Martinez of Cisco and many others, along with curated content, news, events, and ideas delivered straight to your inbox. Muchas gracias and don't forget to sign up.
Be confident, and do whatever you need to do to let that confidence shine. That’s the CEO of ALPFA, Damian Rivera’s, motto – and why you’ll always see him wearing suits with fun patterns on the inside.
In this episode, Elias and Damian talk about what it means to bring your full self to work, especially as a LatinX employee. They cover important topics like how to confront microaggressions, how psychology influences relationships, and the importance of employee resource groups (ERGs).
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