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What is diversity, equity, and inclusion? with Roberto Martinez

A live interview with onomy and Roberto Martinez, Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Development at Rhino, as he discusses diversity, equity, and inclusion — what it means, why it’s important, and how can you practice it.

Roberto Martinez

onomy.co x Roberto Martinez

Roberto Martinez is the Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Development at Rhino, with past experience working in different roles at Bonobos and Walmart, among other organizations.

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onomy: Hey Roberto, would you like to give a quick intro about yourself?


Roberto: I’m Roberto Martinez. Born in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve had a pretty wild career, but it brings me to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at this point. I’ve spent time in multiple roles, sales, customer experience, HR, and now DEI. There’s a lot of pit stops along the way.

What is diversity equity inclusion as it pertains to the workplace?

I kind of look at it as a math equation. It really breaks down to a few pieces and I’m going to add a piece to that because I think it’s important. But diversity is basically everything that encompasses differences that make us unique. So that’s demographic diversity, cognitive diversity, or just experiential diversity. What makes us unicorns, because we’re all not necessarily the same person, is really what diversity is. 

Equity, in terms of the workplace, is making sure that you’re giving people what they need to be successful at their job. That can look like a few different things. So that could be, policies from an HR perspective that can also look like, making sure, especially now with a lot of people having the privilege to work from home, that they’re being offered the same type of perks and benefits for them to be successful at their role. Also kind of gets into, from an organizational standpoint, making sure that individuals have career paths and that they have the ability to grow at a company at an even pace. 

Inclusion is really around the attitudes, behaviors, the actions that lead to individuals feeling safe, welcomed and celebrated for exactly who they are. Not somebody that they are trying to be, I guess. The bit that I want to add to that is that the summation of all this is belonging. So if you’re doing all this right, diversity, equity and inclusion, the sum of it is belonging and that’s really the sense of feeling that you are wanted as a part of the group or organization that you’re working for. So I don’t know about you, but I’ve had times where I wake up in the morning, I’m like, I’m actually really excited to go to work today because I can be my full self. And that’s really the gist of it, if that makes sense.

Would you agree with the fact that this is becoming more important now as a part of companies, as people are searching?

Yeah. It’s important on a multitude of levels. And the thing is that DEI, in general, is very fluid. So it’s from the moment that you experience from the get go all the way to the point where you apply for a job, to the point where you’re leaving and going onto your next opportunity. It’s kind of a fluid motion throughout, but the importance of it is paramount. To answer the question why it is popular, I’m going to explain two sides of it. There’s a talent and business case around it and then just like the societal case around it. 

Firstly, a study that was conducted recently is that 80% of job seekers right now that are out in the market right now are looking to companies that have DEI practices as a potential landing spot for their next opportunity. So the market is commanding it and demanding it. And without that, without talent effectively, then your company is kind of shot in the foot. There is an overall desire by companies to make sure that they have something like this, woven through their culture. 

Secondly, it’s not just about that. There’s a demand for it, from the people who are looking for jobs. It’s also about the business impact. Diverse teams contribute to bottom line revenue. They can innovate quicker. Having a group of individuals who are exactly the same, let’s say that are all trying to solve a problem will lead to groupthink and lead to a stale or static product. So having diversity of thought is super important towards business success. And I think that’s probably, I would say one of the bigger points to really hit home is that, if you think about executives and you think about boards and all the chief people or executive offices that are out there, they care about the numbers and these numbers don’t lie. So that’s really one of the bigger critical pieces as to why it’s reached that level of popularity, I guess, for lack of a better term.

The idea of popularity to me is an interesting word because the popularity of this, societally, is somewhat rooted in the continued marginalization of many minorities in this country. So I don’t want that to be left unsaid. We got to a boiling point after the George Floyd murder where, everybody was looking for an outlet. And unfortunately it’s not to say that, not to get too political or whatever, but if you don’t have somebody in office at the time who’s promoting healing, who’s promoting peace and ultimately some action behind what’s going on in the world, people are going to look elsewhere. They’re going to look intrinsically at themselves, they’re going to look at their community. And then you’re also going to look at it. They look at companies, especially when you’re at home and being after COVID and all that stuff. You’re on Instagram all the time anyway. Companies saw that as an opportunity. 

To add to that point, what’s really cool about the new generations that are coming into the workforce, is that they care about this and they can sniff out performative efforts, like in a heartbeat. So there are plenty of times when these efforts have gone awry because a lot of times people look at it as like a commoditization of, let’s take advantage of this wave and put something out there that’s either ill-conceived or just downright racist. So just to make sure that like, you know, DEI effectively makes sure that you, people are doing it for the right reasons effectively. So that’s what I would say to that. 

What do you look for in a company that actually has DEI policies that you personally align with and how do you sort out if it’s real or more greenwashing?

I think it’s about value. As an individual, you value yourself. And then when you’re doing all your preliminary research, looking for jobs. Does a company even have values beyond what they’re trying to sell you and how do they approach their work? And if those values do align with what you’re doing and what you want in a job? 

The second bit is, what is their product? No disrespect to cut knives, but if they’re just selling knives and you want to change the world, your values are probably not aligned. But like looking at their product and if it’s actually a mission based product, if they’re trying to actually create some positive change in the world, whether that’s climate change or whatever. That’s something to look at. The other bit is just around representation. If they all look like dead presidents on the dollar bills, then it’s probably not the place for you, if you’re looking for diversity. 

It’s also important to look at their representation and then specifically what’s really important is looking at representation and leadership. So having a woman in the executive suite is a start. If they do have DEI at their job, do they have somebody actually in a position to do that, who’s getting paid to do that work? 

And if it’s an HR person. Who does that person report to? And if they report in to a chief, human resources officer, or a people officer, who does that person report in to? Because effectively you want to make sure whoever’s in charge of the people, let’s say, it’s called [11:25 inaudible] has the same seat at the table as a chief financial officer, chief operating officer, et cetera. They have to have equal footing in order to be able to elicit the change that you want. 

Situation: you really like this company, you really wanna join, but they don’t have a diversity equity and inclusion policy. How do you [12:57 inaudible] a leader and actually start to change that with a company that you really care about?

If they don’t have it, I think going back to that idea of presenting the business case, you want people to pay attention, you have to present the business case as to why this stuff matters. It’s all good to be like, I’m probably more of an emotional person, more passionate about the people side of it. And I can talk to you all day about that, like having some black and white numbers that can basically turn the ears of the individuals who actually hold the keys to the car is super important. The other bit is that sometimes places don’t have a DEI team or person or policy or whatever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They just could be a small company that is just trying to get their stuff together and keep the lights on. And in those situations, raise your hand, speak to HR about it. Companies are dying for this. They want to bring in unique talent. They want their business to go well. So raise your hand and you’d be surprised, people would be like, yeah, absolutely, what kind of ideas do you have? 

So if you are joining a place that you love and you really care about it, speak up about what you think they could be doing better and provide some numbers around that.

Can you tell us a little bit for people who might be interested in DEI as a career, like what’s a path that they could potentially look at?

You mentioned that not every career is linear. I would say that a majority of careers are not linear. There are tracks of doctors, lawyers, et cetera, that are a bit linear. But even in that case, there are still pivots that people have to deal with because life is just crazy that way. There are different entry points for different people, but for me, I’ve always been in people-centric roles. Even in my first job of selling cookies at King’s Plaza in Brooklyn, I was still providing something to somebody. I was a camp counselor. I was in sales. I was in HR.

So I always had a relationship with people and that’s really my entry point, that I cared about the wellbeing of the people I worked with. Then to boot, if you are effectively a minority, you’re born with this stuff. I’m born like this. I know what it feels like to be marginalized. I know what it feels like to not be able to be myself in certain settings. All of that could lead you down this path.

I’ve always shied away from doing this work for the past, what five years I would say. Because I thought I had to be this scholar on critical race theory or something like that. I’m not, but I am able to bring people together. I’m able to have difficult conversations when they present themselves and really just use my experience that I’ve gained in HR, especially around rolling out programs. Being a learning and development facilitator, to be able to start to cultivate change in this specific area. So it’s really just like an organic way that I kind of found myself in this space. And I think the good news is that there’s plenty of room and organizations that need this, that people can effectively use their life experience to put it to actual work.

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