Archive for November, 2009

Latino employees make a difference

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
    AMEX_Hispanic_Card_8_27

Years ago, when Employee Resource Groups (ERGs, also known as Affinity Groups and Employee Networks) made their appearance in corporate America, the goal was to provide a space for diverse groups of employees to be heard and to offer support and networking opportunities which would result in an increased level of employee engagement.

As with most things, ERGs have evolved through the years and at a time when businesses need to leverage any advantage they have to earn market share, using the power of employees to reach an increasingly diverse population is key. In the words of Kerrie Peraino, Chief Diversity Officer at American Express: “We don’t want to loose the educational, informational and celebratory mandates of ERGs but we also want them to help with recruiting, orienting, training and retaining of talent and to share and develop business ideas that bring direct benefits to the bottom line.”

As a matter of fact, the AHORA network at American Express (their Latino ERG) helped develop the idea and the design for Amex’s new ¡Felicidades! gift card that went on sale recently and which will be available until January to account for the Hispanic community’s habit of buying gifts for Three Kings Day. ERG members voted online for one of the three designs that the company’s ad agency came up with after hearing AHORA’s input.

Ms.Peraino is not alone in her thinking. Recently, I moderated a panel called “Optimizing ERGs business effectiveness” at a Diversity Best Practices’s conference in Washington, DC. While discussing the different models ERGs are using to impact a company’s bottom line, one of the presenters on the panel, Claudia Mastrapasqua, Managing Director Client Executive Practice at Marsh, shared the innovative approach of her company’s Women’s network (WEBB.)

For the last few years WEBB has been hosting an event where Marsh clients and Marsh employees get together for some strong networking around a keynote speaker at a great venue. These events have helped the company develop new relationships with prospective clients and strengthen existing relationships. Most recently, I was the speaker at their event at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, where about 140 women got together at around 6 PM on a Thursday night.

Everyone networked until 6:30 when the 1/2 hour program started. First, Joseph McSweeney, president of Marsh’s US/Canada Division, said a few words and then I made a twenty minute presentation. That was it. The group went back to their networking, their shopping and having their hands massaged for free. No doubt that the wonderful hors d’oeuvres, the Holiday Martinis, the 15% discount coupon and the personal shoppers assigned to help the women shop privately (the store closed its doors to the public at 7 PM) helped make the evening a wild success.

But what I want to point out to you is this: through their involvement with their ERGs the members of AHORA and WEBB have found great opportunities to connect with senior management and gain visibility within their companies, which is often hard to do. By taking an active role in developing programs and products that affect your company’s bottom line you become part of a selective group of individuals who get recognized for their contributions. AHORA and WEBB have received lots of internal praise as well as external press and their members are preparing for wonderful year-end reviews.

So the question is: In this economic climate, what are you doing to stand out in your company?

Women leading women

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

dsc06735I’ve just presented at a Latina Empowerment and Development conference organized by Latinas Unidas de Harvard, a group of unbelievable young female leaders helping each other become our leaders of the future.

Many of the organizers and participants are the first in their families to attend college. When you add to that the fact that they are in Harvard, one of this country’s most prestigious universities, (and other top universities represented by many attendees such as: MIT, Wellesley College, Brandeis University) you can imagine the impact this has on their families and in our community at large,

I interviewed several of the students and here are a few tips they shared with me.

1. Although students admitted at Harvard have a strong academic profile, that is not the key element that admissions officers take into consideration. They look at the individual and in their quest for a diverse campus that offers a rich experience to their students, they admit students with unique and interesting life experiences.

2. Many students, both US citizens/residents and foreign students have taken advantage of Harvard’s Middle Income initiative and are getting a full free ride! You’ll hear them talk in upcoming clips we’ll post. Which means, these students are getting a 200,000 education for FREE. Leaving college with NO DEBT. How many of you, are either making the decision to attend or already attending a community college or state university because it’s less expensive than a private school?

I met several students who work at the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program and the Admissions office and they are willing to help any of you who is interested in finding out more about how to apply to Harvard, to give you feedback on your essays or anything you may need to consider attending a top school.

I hope you take advantage of their generosity and post comments here and through www.latinosincollege.com so we can connect you with them. It doesn’t matter if others say you are not cut for a Tier 1 school. It’s up to you to create a remarkable future for yourself.

A simple way to end conflicts

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
    habitacion-de-adolescente-2

I often hear friends, colleagues or clients complain that others don’t understand them. “He’s not listening to me,” or “She doesn’t understand what I want.” Sounds familiar? This kinds of misunderstandings happen in our private and professional lives all the time and more often than not, what’s behind them is a difference in unconscious standards. Let me explain what I mean through a story.

Marta is angry at her assistant Lisa because she frequently interrupts her while she’s trying to focus on her work. When she tells her: “Lisa, I can’t work if you are constantly interrupting me,” Lisa, surprised by her boss’ reaction responds: “That’s not true. I don’t interrupt constantly! I come in here once in a while to get answers so I can do my job well.”

What is true for Marta is not true for Lisa, and that is usually the case when the focus of our conversation is on who is right and who is wrong. What really matters is: is this type of communication producing a positive result for either one of these two women? If the answer is “no” then it behooves them to find a different approach regardless of who is right.

This situation can be easily resolved if Marta and Lisa sat down and discussed what constitutes “frequently,” “constantly,” and “once in a while” for each one of them. Say that Marta considers being interrupted three times a day as “frequent” and anything over three times a day “constant,” and Lisa thought that only five interruptions a day would be considered “frequent” and over that “constant.” Do you see how their differing standards (of which most of the times we are not aware) get in the way of producing positive results?

Once they sit down and clarify what each one of them means by these words, they can agree on new actions that help both of them achieve their goal: Lisa gets her answers and Marta feels that she’s maintaining her relationship with a valued employee. They can now agree on a new course of action: Lisa will accumulate questions and come into her boss’ office twice a day to get her answers and Marta will stop work at specific times during the day to focus her attention on her assistant.

Think about how many of these situations you experience in your life daily and ask yourself if there are certain “behind the scenes” standards about which you and the other person need to talk. What is “late” for you and what is “late” for your boss; what is “a clean room” for you and what is “a clean room” for your teenage child, what is “too much” work, talk, food, travel, for you and for someone else? The moment we start exploring these standards for ourselves and the people we interact with, a new realm of possibilities open up. I encourage you to try!