11.7.21

How to Infuse Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Into Culture

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Consumers' podcast graphic with image of Ana Ramirez-Suaez

 

Fortunately, diversity, equity and inclusion has recently become a hot topic among businesses and organizations across the globe. In West Michigan, Ana Ramirez Saenz has been working on such issues for decades. Join Lynne for this week’s edition of Money, I’m Home to discuss the need for such initiatives and how it can benefit your company.

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0:00:06.6 Lynne Jarman-Johnson (LJJ): Money, I’m home. Welcome in I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. From finance to fitness, we have it all. And today we have a really great conversation that we’re going to have with Ana Ramirez Saenz, and she is the CEO and founder of La Fuente Consulting and La Fuente Communication. Thanks so much for joining us today, Ana.

0:00:29.9 Ana Ramirez Saenz: Well, thank you so much for having me, Lynne. This is great. This is great opportunity.

0:00:33.5 LJJ: I have known you for many, many years, but I was just so thrilled the other day, because I was in the audience of the Epic Awards for the Grand Rapids Chamber, and guess who dance right up and grabs her award? Oh my gosh, Ana, congratulations on everything that you’re doing.

0:00:51.2 ARS: Oh, thank you so much. It was an exciting event, certainly unexpected, but thrilled to be recognized by the community and my peers and having friends like you, so thank you so much.

0:01:04.4 LJJ: Well, I’ll tell you what, you have been working so hard in what is now a footprint that all CEOs, that companies and corporations are really taking a much needed deep dive in. And that is diversity and inclusion. Tell us a little bit about how you started and what’s going on with your company.

0:01:23.5 ARS: I started doing this work back in the… I’m going to date myself now, back in the late 80s, early 90s, where the conversation about diversity really didn’t exist. This was the sector was merely a conversation where employers began to look at the impending demographic shifts in our country in terms of population demographics, and so that’s where really the conversation around diversity started. And so as I went into my professional career, always being one of the ones or the twos in my area, corporate finance and in banking, it was natural for my employers to invite me into these discussions and help work through some of those conversations, some of those discussions about how do we get more Latinos or people of color in our lending ranks, in our branches, in our banking environment. And so I really began doing this work from the bottom up, actually having those hard discussions, actually looking at, “Well, why do you want to get more like me?” So I did a lot of self-assessment and my corporate background, my MBA in Finance and my years in banking really gave me, sort of the business aspect of it, but then it was really the other skills.

0:02:56.3 ARS: And so after about a year and a half of preparation, I decided that, yes, this is really what I want to do. And then I founded the company in 2000 and haven’t looked back.

0:03:06.8 LJJ: Well, you know what’s interesting to me hearing you say the fact that, okay, the demographics are changing so drastically and so fast, and you mentioned the words “hard conversations.” I shake my head sometimes because they’re still hard conversations. Do you find that surprising today?

0:03:24.0 ARS: I don’t find it surprising that they’re still hard conversations because I believe in people, I believe in their good intentions. And so part of the issue is, I don’t want to say something wrong, I don’t want to do something wrong, so that fear factor limits them and that creates a barrier for them to just engage in a conversation. And so that is why I think it’s still difficult because of that fear factor. But many, many folks want to have the conversation. They just don’t know how and they just need someone to, A. listen, help them to clarify what it is that they want, and then help them to define a path forward to begin to get there. And it is okay if they don’t have a clear, articulated answer for that, but entering into that discussion begins to get that clarity and that definition.

0:04:33.9 LJJ: You know, you make it sound, and I love this philosophy, that it’s a journey that we’re all on of learning. And when a company comes to you and they’re just starting out and they’re saying, “This is something that we want to start to have very open conversations about in our organization.” What are the steps that you suggest that companies do?

0:04:56.8 ARS: I think the important thing for me as a practitioner and as I deal and have conversations, really, I start really with the executive team. Many times is the CEO, many times is the HR VP or depending on how big the organization is, I usually start there. And many conversations start up with, I want to do a diversity training or I want to do some training. And I have to say to them, you know, let’s just start having a conversation about where you are. Where are you in this journey? If you are just beginning and you want to have some training, I think that’s great. But we have to understand where you are, we have to understand what your employees may and may not know, and the most important thing is why you want to do this. So there needs to be a build-up of information, a build-up of communication and a clear message to the organization as to why we want to do this and why it’s important to our business. My philosophy is I will meet you where you are, I will have that conversation with you, and then begin to identify what should be your most appropriate first step.

0:06:17.4 ARS: I work with my companies as collaborative partners and help them to come along to understand why these processes and procedures are important, so that you have a structure from which to create change.

0:06:36.5 LJJ: You know I love the fact that you just said it’s okay for an organization to have these pauses where you’re saying, “Okay, we’re on this journey, this is a commitment. Not only is it a commitment, it has to be consistent.” And is that something that you are really finding helpful, to help organizations understand you’re not going to be in the same place a year from now, but it’s okay where you are right now, let’s keep moving.

0:07:03.2 ARS: Exactly. So, let’s understand where we are today, what we want to accomplish today, and think about what is the next step that we want to take in the next 30, 60, 90, 12, 18 months, and begin to lay that foundation for taking those steps. And it is always prudent when I help companies develop a plan to say, we’re going to take this first step, we’re going to give it a little time, we’re going to monitor it, we want to see the impact. And then if we have to adjust, we’ll adjust and then continue to move forward. So, it’s never linear; sometimes we’re doing two or three parallel initiatives that are intricately connected. But it’s never a linear path. We have a strategy that we develop and we work towards achieving that strategy, but as we all know in our just lightning fast changing world that we need to adapt. We need to be flexible. We need to recognize where it is important to do a little shift to make sure that we are having that goal that we want to achieve in sight.

0:08:20.5 LJJ: Can you give me an example of a company… You don’t have to mention names or anything, but a company that you just are so proud that you are working alongside.

0:08:30.2 ARS: Oh, absolutely, there is a company here in West Michigan that I’ve been working with for four and a half years, and this company in their space, they are leading. They are one of five companies in the country that are doing some very, very good foundational work. They’ve been at it for quite a while, more than 10 years. They have a very strong diversity, equity and inclusion committee made up of more than 53 people. The company is 300 strong, 300 employees strong, and they are engaged, very engaged. They have a committee charter, they have goals, they have a structure. Their culture really speaks for itself in terms of what they’ve been able to achieve and been able to create. What was so meaningful and what is so great about this company is that they have diversity, equity and inclusion as part of their core values. And that’s the key, Lynne. This is not a side deal, this has to be part and parcel of everything that you do and how you do it across your organization. And they’ve done that, they’re on their way, they’ve been at it a long time. And for those that are listening, remember, you always have your own starting point. Do not compare yourself with others, there is value in benchmarking and understanding what have you gone through that would help us but you can start in your own place and begin to advance in your journeys.

0:10:24.8 LJJ: Can you tell me… You said the word inclusion, and sometimes I think that I know I have thought, well, invitation is it. And invitation doesn’t mean inclusion. And yet people that I’ve spoken with have said, “Well, I’ve invited this person to the table and that that’s a win.” Well, it’s a start.

0:10:48.2 ARS: Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of misconception about invitation and inclusion. You can invite me to the table, but if you notice that I’m quiet, I’m processing, I’m looking around, and I make an attempt to speak, but someone else takes the turn. Inclusive means if you’re at the table, ensuring that, “Well, Ana, what do you think?” Even though I haven’t said anything, I haven’t been raised my hand. It is an intentional action that you have to take to include somebody in the conversation. And so being observant is really critical to ensuring that we don’t miss someone, because nine times out of 10, Lynne, I am in meetings, I’m facilitating educational programs and as a facilitator, you want to make sure that you hear all voices. And so ensuring that you demonstrate what inclusion is by inviting everyone around the table to talk.

0:12:04.9 LJJ: Well, and all voices are so critical to any type of conversation where you are moving forward and the listening to what all voices have to say is, I think, so important. How do people get in touch with you, your company?

0:12:20.3 ARS: Sure, we have a website, www.lafuenteconsulting.com. There is a Contact Us link. The website will tell you a little bit about who we are, what we do, the different aspects of our services. From doing survey, climate assessments, all the way to strategic plans for diversity that are integrally linked to the corporate strategic plan. Please feel free to give me a call, send me an email, we can schedule a time to just have a conversation and to decide whether this is an appropriate step for your company, no matter where you are.

0:13:02.5 LJJ: Well, thank you so much. And I know you also have the communication firm that is really focusing on helping those who need a Latino Hispanic translation.

0:13:14.6 ARS: Right, just a little bit of background: La Fuente Consulting started in 2000, and immediately after we launched, I began to get requests for… Well, do you do translation, do you provide interpreters? In 2003, I formalized the language services division of La Fuente Consulting, and that began to grow and grow and grow. So, January of 2021, I launched La Fuente Communications by migrating the language services into its own company, and so we do have a website, lafuentecommunications.com. And so today we are now providing translation in over 250 languages. We provide interpreters in the educational business settings. We are looking into moving into the medical and legal area. And we do have the translation, we have the interpretation, and we have multimedia. So, on the multimedia, we are helping companies, particularly marketing and communication departments, do all of their videos and sales training and other types of training, and doing voice overs or doing captioning or taking their marketing assets and expanding them into various languages, so that they can reach broader audiences. On the interpreting side, we do in-person, we do remote, we do conferencing, so lots of different ways that people can access language services.

0:14:58.3 LJJ: Well, Ana, I can’t thank you enough. Number one, congrats again on your Epic award. Obviously, it is so well-deserved. And thank you for the commitment that you’ve always had. It’s not just now, when this seems to be what everybody wants to talk about, but it is decades in the making for you. And I just want to say thank you so much for helping us all help ourselves become better at diversity, equity and inclusion, and bringing this to the forefront to companies in West Michigan and all around the world.

0:15:29.7 ARS: Well, thank you, Lynne, and kudos to you too and your organization for having a focus on that and helping to drive this as a community partner, so thanks for the opportunity. This has been fun and let me know how I can help.

0:15:45.5 LJJ: Thank you so much. Hey Money, I’m home, if you have a topic that you’d like to share, please just send it our way. We’d like to say a shout out to Jake Esselink our producer. Thanks, Jake, for all that you do. Everybody, have a great week. I’m Lynne Jarman Johnson with Consumers Credit Union.

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