I first met David Gonzales in the SMU Cox Business School dean’s office about ten years ago when he brought the dean of SMU’s Meadows School of Fine Arts in to talk about an opportunity to develop an executive leadership program for Latino managers in Fortune 1000 companies. David has a long and distinguished corporate career in the high-level global supply chain, diversity, and inclusion, business strategy, and operations. He’s held positions at Eastman Kodak, ExxonMobil, FritoLay, PepsiCo, and he currently is the global head of diversity and inclusion for Bristol Myers Squibb.
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The deans agreed that the leadership development project should be a business school opportunity, and it fell in my area. The first thing I did was hire David, who was between jobs, and we worked together to found a corporate-sponsored center of excellence in Latino Leadership at SMU. After the center was launched, David moved on, but we remained good friends. What we started remains in place at SMU.
David is Mexican American, a native of Dallas. His family history from the fifteenth century on is one of migration and immigration. I learned a lot from David about an immigrant’s mentality—risk-taking, entrepreneurship, commitment to education—and Latino culture. One of the most important cultural insights I gained from David is “additive.”
SMU’s Latino center research showed that Latinos advance to mid-level corporate positions faster than others, but then they get stuck there. One reason is that certain characteristics of Latino culture look to others as well-suited to mid-level jobs but not to executive positions. For example, a Latino may turn down an opportunity due to the importance of family. This looks like a lack of ambition. Many Latinos prefer to let the quality of their work speak for itself rather than engage in self-promotion. This can appear to be a lack of assertiveness. And when a Latino gives up a seat in a meeting to another or serves everyone when coffee needs refreshing, such consideration for others can be seen as overly deferential.
In our program, Latino participants became aware of how such behaviors can be misinterpreted. They were taught to use their culture intentionally rather than intuitively. They were coached to speak up for the unique value that they brought to their businesses as Latinos. Then they were able to articulate distinctive contributions to customers, products, revenue, cost, quality, and efficiency. As a result, their “additive” contributions were rewarded with promotions and significant developmental assignments.
Being additive is not zero-sum. It unearths new perspectives to help solve problems and generate innovations that benefit the business.
It makes it easier for others to recognize the unique business value that Latinos bring. Demonstrating unique business value enables Latinos to obtain sponsors and gain access to the organizational power structures that result in new and higher-level opportunities.
It is wise for anyone in an organization to try to differentiate by their contributions to the mission. However, when people differentiate based on the intentional use of their culture, especially when their words and actions can be misinterpreted according to stereotypes, they can be included without sacrificing their cultural authenticity.
Resources: I recently interviewed David Gonzales during a session of Highland Park United Methodist Church’s Affirmation class. You can hear about his family background and his Additive concept here: