November 10, 2021 • By Brian Nguyen
On October 15, 2021, the Merage School Latinx Initiative (LXi) hosted its inaugural conference, a virtual event providing inclusive programming for Latinx business leaders, students, alumni and key stakeholders in the Orange County and Southern California region. It was a unique opportunity for all participants to connect with some of today’s Latinx business leaders.
The conference was hosted by Assistant Professor Maritza Salazar Campo and featured a keynote from Lucy Santana, CEO of Girls Inc. as well as panelists from companies such as Microsoft, Experian and Health Net. A networking session followed the panelist presentations.
UCI: A Hispanic-Serving Institution
The conference kicked off with a welcome from Dean Ian O. Williamson delivering opening remarks focused on his goals for diversity, equity and inclusion within the Merage School. He said: “I want to make it very clear that one of the goals that we have for our environment, for our institution, is to really thrive on inclusive excellence.”
As he came to the end of his opening statements, Williamson handed the event over to Campo, who laid down the underlying theme of the conference: embracing community and leading to inspire.
She gave context to the appropriateness of the event, emphasizing the need to serve the ever-growing Latinx community that surrounds UCI, which has been designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) since 2017.
Campo stated: “All of these different factors—shifts in the university, changes in demographics, a changing marketplace, a growing number of Latinx alumni—motivated us to create this initiative and to come together today in conversation and community with the hope that we might plan programming and further development for our community.”
To do this, Campo cited four primary goals: building community, culture, career connections and core competencies.
Keynote with Lucy Santana
The first event of the day began with a keynote address from Lucy Santana of Girls Inc. that addressed the importance of support systems for professional success.
Santana began her address with an introspective look into her journey, both toward her position as CEO and toward a more self-confident mindset. She mentioned how, when she was growing up, many of the people around her didn’t have faith in her ability and how she refused to be trapped by the low expectations that were forced onto her.
After speaking on her experience navigating the corporate world Santana said this:
“Along the way, I found my voice, which had been quieted for a long time. And I found my voice for the most important reason, I feel, and that was to really advocate and speak up for kids that didn’t have a lot going on.”
Even though many of the mentors in her life did not believe in her, Santana and Girls Inc. are hoping to empower girls that may be going through the same thing that she went through. She compared the work that Girls Inc. does to the mission of the LXi and said: “it really is about providing intentional programming for girls to find their voice, to learn early on about how to build self-esteem and how to become self-confident, and how to really learn about what’s out there for them and what opportunities they have for them.”
Girls Inc. now serves as a community of mentors to a large group of young women, 85% of which are Latinx or have Latinx heritage.
Breaking out of the Box
The next event of the day saw panelists Javier Orraca of Bloomreach, Luana Okumura of Experian, Arturo Litvin of Intel Capital and Arturo San Vicente of Microsoft in conversation with Campo on topics involving diversity, equity and inclusion in digital tech workplaces.
After a brief introduction to all the panelists and an overview of each of their stories, a general theme started to emerge: Latinx professionals, especially those that are first generation, need to break out of the boxes that others put them in.
Litvin commented on the unconscious bias that may hinder recruiting efforts for companies in digital tech, citing the term “network bias.” To combat this, Litvin affirmed the importance of network diversification and the need for more Latinx representation in company leadership.
Campo elaborated on this topic stating: “As members of our community are opening these doors and they’re the only ones in the room, all you know is that you’re making more than your parents, you’re making more than anyone you know, but you don’t really have a reference…Is this actually what I deserve to be paid for this skill in this job?”
Okumura then described strategies that could benefit both employees and employers in digital tech. For example, educating everyone on unconscious biases and the importance of diversity, focusing on recruiting outside of traditional networks and working to empower mindsets that realize the full value of one’s ability.
ERGs and Why they Matter
The inaugural event came to a close with a panel focused on the usefulness of employee resource groups (ERGs) as a way of not only bridging the gap in representation in the professional sphere, but also a way of driving Latinx success.
The panel agreed that ERGs can be places that mirror the four goals of the LXi since they foster sentiments of community, act as safe spaces for cultural celebration, connect peers professionally and provide spaces in which professionals can mentor and be mentored in their core competencies.
One of the panelists, Andrew Gonzales of Jam City, spoke on his personal experience joining his first ERG at Apple: “That was the first time that I began to build relationships with corporate professionals, corporate professionals that were Latinx, corporate professionals that had similar experiences to me.”
Nearly everybody in the room agreed that being able to form communities in the corporate space, especially those that provide mentorship and intimacy within shared cultures, was a benefit unique to employee resource groups. This shared experience and proximity to mentorship is what can lead to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.
The LXi Conference is available for viewing here.