Maria G. Arias, Comcast Corporation’s Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion, shares how her experience as a woman of color in corporate America helped her build an inclusive culture for multidimensional diverse talent.
I was a young girl when my family moved from Mexico to Chicago, and I knew early on that the classic “doctor or lawyer” career question set the parameters for success in my parents’ eyes. So, I decided to pursue a degree in law.
When I arrived at law school in the late 1980s, I didn’t see many women of color. And when I joined a major Chicago law firm upon graduating, I faced a familiar void again. I did what so many other others do, I kept my head down and worked harder than anyone I could compare myself to, and eventually I made partner.
I strived to assimilate to the norms and values of the majority culture, but I faced an internal struggle about being my authentic self. At times, it was isolating, and I felt compelled to downplay my multicultural background and femininity. Soon, I traded my bright dresses and chunky jewelry for black pant suits paired with pearls. I traded time spent salsa dancing for time at the driving range.
Back then, I thought I had to trade authenticity for success. But, over the course of my career in law and business, I’ve come to learn that success is truly achieved when you are able to combine authenticity with talent.
Here’s the good news—a lot has changed in thirty years! I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the value I bring as both a woman and a person of color. I’ve learned to embrace my unique experiences, and use them to my advantage. Both parts of my identity make me an asset to any company looking to reach a diverse customer base.
Here are three things you can do to make authenticity an advantage:
- Talk About It: Raising awareness is important, and you can’t do this if you’re not sharing experiences. Employee Resource Groups are fantastic ways to help employees build community, but they’re also a great place to share experiences with communities outside your own. I don’t lose my identity as a woman when speaking to members of our Hispanic ERG, and I’m no less Hispanic when attending our Women’s Summit. I bring my whole self to each of these communities, and learn different things from each of them. We should encourage our ERGs to collaborate and communicate across communities, in order to strengthen our employee networks and understand how multiple dimensions of diversity can improve our culture and our business.
2. Cultivate Diverse Allies: The concept of the male ally is nothing new—in order to be successful, we need men to understand the importance of diversity, and have a vested interest in moving the needle. But, as a woman of color, I needed to expand my network of allies to include all communities of men and women. Just as we need to improve awareness and mitigate unconscious biases, we need to educate people on the unique challenges of identifying with multiple diverse communities. Help your allies be better champions by helping them understand you.
3. You Can’t Be Who You Can’t See: Get involved. Raise your hand. I have a woman on my team who asked for my support regarding a leadership position with one of the ERGs. She was already actively involved with multiple groups, but when she saw there were no women of color currently in leadership roles with one of the ERGs, she wanted to step in. Through her involvement, she has helped ensure people of color in our workforce see colleagues who look like themselves on panels, leading events, and in ERG leadership roles.
Authenticity and talent are hallmarks of the great leaders I’ve worked with throughout my career. The lessons I’ve learned shaped me into the leader I am today, and hopefully, the tips I’ve passed along help you become the leader you are meant to be.