Rafael Gutiérrez: “We have many opportunities to educate each other and embrace our differences.”

Tom Witta • Star Tribune,

On the Job with diversity advisor Rafael Gutiérrez

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH
  • June 10, 2013 - 9:23 AM


Most companies these days would agree that committing to diversity is ethically the right thing to do. Increasingly, there is evidence that diversity is also good business. According to a 2011 report by Deloitte, organizations with greater racial and gender diversity showed better performance across a range of measures — revenues, total customers and market share.

The study is quick to point out that diversity isn’t a direct cause of business health. Rather, diversity is an indicator of an organization’s openness and vitality. Rafael Gutiérrez would be quick to agree. A native of Venezuela, Gutiérrez went to college in the U.S., and then spent over five years opening markets for a Fortune 500 company in South America. In 2005, he moved to his wife’s home state of Minnesota, and has been engaged in building business among multicultural customers in the U.S. for Minnesota-based financial services companies.

“What is the make-up of the company? Internally, are we looking like the markets we serve? If not, the prospective customer will see that. The desired connections won’t be made,” Gutiérrez said.

The Deloitte report notes that demographics are only an external measure of diversity. The real goal is to have diversity of thought, experience and perspectives. That’s why increasingly organizations are using the word “inclusion” instead of “diversity.” An inclusive organization values the unique perspectives of individuals, which come from race, gender, religion, education, communication style, regional differences and more.

“Having different ideas is healthy and provides lots of opportunities learn from each other,” Gutiérrez said. “Say I’m going through the interview process to hire someone. I narrow it down to my final two candidates. Both have the qualifications to do the job. Do I hire the one who is most similar to me? Why not pick the one who will bring in different background and experience?”

Why should companies be concerned about diversity?

It’s more than the right thing to do — it’s what we need to grow the business. The United States is becoming more and more diverse. Immigrants used to try to quickly assimilate, but increasingly, they want to preserve their culture, language and customs. Companies need to adapt.

What are some ways for companies to better address diverse audiences?

We need to go beyond direct translation of materials. It’s about understanding diversity within major racial and ethnic groups. For example, the U.S. Hispanic market is made up of Venezuelans, Colombians, Hondurans, and people from many other Spanish-speaking countries. More than half of U.S. Hispanics are from Mexico, but that doesn’t mean all of us are. The same is true with the U.S. Asian market. It’s made up of people from China, Japan, and other Asian countries.

Can you give an example of marketing successfully by understanding the culture?

When I worked in the Hispanic market, we conducted focus groups among Hispanic women in different locations in the U.S. We learned they were very open to working with non-Hispanic financial advisers. That was an interesting finding. They would rather learn from advisers who have worked in the U.S. for their whole career, regardless of speaking the women’s native language. That provided a tremendous opportunity for all of our company’s advisers who were interested in the Hispanic market.

What advice would you give people who are trying to create a more inclusive work environment?

Part of inclusion is to be open enough to share with each other. We have many opportunities to educate each other and to embrace our differences.




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