Joelle L. Martinez on the Journey of Inclusive Leadership, Economic Vitality, and Creating Spaces of Belonging

Journal of Financial Planning: July 2021


WHO: Joelle L. Martinez
WHAT: Executive Director, Latino Leadership Institute
WHAT'S ON HER MIND: “Our economic vitality is going to depend on our ability to create cultures of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within all organizations.”


Tell our readers about the work that the Latino Leadership Institute does in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

In 2018, we were approached by a number of our partners wanting to get our expertise around changing workforces and demographics. That led to conversations around how to support organizations so that they can retain, recruit, and elevate a diverse workforce. That conversation really led us to explore what prevents us from having diversity, equity, and inclusion really stick in organizations today. And that was the birth of our Insight to Inclusive Leadership badged course because at the end of the day, we realized that we had to begin to change mindsets. We had to bring greater self-awareness and establish cultures of trust so that organizations could truly amplify uniqueness and belonging.

Our work was really created as a collaborative effort to solve the problem of why current diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts haven’t led to the results that we’ve hoped for.

Why is this type of leadership team relevant or the future?

It is relevant for the future for a few reasons. The first is that 92 percent of America’s population growth is attributed to the BIPOC [Black, indigenous, people of color] community—and specifically, Latinos accounted for nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population growth just between 2010 and 2019. So that means that America—and America’s workforce—is becoming more diverse by the day.

But from a financial lens, the United States’ economic vitality will be fueled by BIPOC and Latino consumers. If organizations across sectors and industries are going to understand the market of the future, they will need the expertise and insight of BIPOC and Latino leaders in every space.

What we have to do in order to create that space and place is make sure that organizations rise to address the challenge of today. The challenge is that despite all the demographic growth, organizations are still struggling to increase a true sense of belonging in their workplace for BIPOC leaders.

Many organizations are now understanding the shifting demographics of our country. They are also seeing the economic advantage they will have in the years to come if they invest today in building inclusive organizational cultures.

Tell our readers about the Insight to Inclusive Leadership badged program and what they should expect if they get involved.

We call it a journey because it really is a journey. We wanted to create a different type of programming. Most DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] work comes out of a basic framework created in the 1960s. This was an important start, but it is a framework that has driven compliance rather than change. The results speak for themselves: nearly 70 percent of all leadership positions in America today are still being held by white men. The way we have been doing DEI is simply not working.

We took a step back, and we said we can’t keep doing DEI the same way. What do we need to change in order to change outcomes? We knew from the data that the big changes were not going to come from just providing tactical strategies or “here are the 10 things you have to do”; instead, organizations needed support in going to the root of the problem. That is what drives our approach to DEI. How have our thoughts around diversity been shaped over the course of our life? Over the course of our professional experience?

Our work is to help people gain some self-awareness around how they think about DEI so that ultimately, they could lead differently with DEI.

We’re excited because not only does it take this approach, but it takes history and context and combines it with neuroscience. The six-module program that we’ve developed really focuses in on building self-awareness, working through implicit bias, activating people around DEI, making sure that we have cultivated empathy—because that’s important—and that we really understand the role that trust has to play with individuals to create the spaces of uniqueness and belonging.

We have partnered with Dr. Stefanie Johnson out of the University of Colorado, who wrote the book Inclusify, which participants will get a copy of, to develop a personal assessment that’s going to help people understand what strengths they bring to this DEI work and what opportunities for growth they have as well.

When people ask me why this program is different, I will honestly say it’s a game changer. Most people, when they start this program, probably can’t define diversity, equity, and inclusion. But by the end of the program, not only can they define it, they’ve personalized it. It’s that personalization, the focus on self-awareness, and understanding our implicit biases that creates a new way of thinking about and leading through DEI.

What is expected of participants as they go through this journey?

There are six 90-minute virtual modules. We begin with orientation, which is called the Journey to Inclusive Leadership. The important thing to know is that we’re going to plant some seeds, but they have to be nurtured over the course of the program. This is not something you can just attend and expect that at the end of this there is going to be a full transformation. This is really hard, purposeful work that individuals have to go through.

Then we’ve got module one, where we’ll explore diversity and the many layers to diversity. Once we do that, we add in a conversation around equity—not just what is equity but what are the microinequities that take place in the workplace all the time that could have huge impacts on one’s ability to belong.

Then, in module three, we’re going to unpack bias and, more particularly, implicit bias.

Module four explores what it means to be an inclusive leader and what is it going to take. That’s where that assessment comes into play.

The final module is all about the science of change. Most programs that you go through will teach you something, but they don’t teach you how to make it stick, especially through the neuroscience.

What is required to complete this program—that is designed to build one session after the other—is that participants are expected to attend all six 90-minute virtual sessions. They’re expected to do the pre-work, which is usually less than 10 or 15 minutes and includes watching a video and doing some self-reflection. Sometimes there’s post-work that gets participants to continue to think about what was discussed.

In addition to doing the work, it’s about being an active participant throughout each of those modules using the “I” statement—I feel, I’ve learned, I see, I think—participating in the group breakouts, and really sharing and elevating your perspective and voice. That’s really important.

At the end of the day, the most important thing for individuals to earn the badge is to really make sure that they’ve transferred that knowledge and begin to grow more self-awareness and empathy, and learn to activate and recognize the importance of trust.

Can you speak about the program’s cohort model and how that helps participants lean on each other to do this work?

Especially with the FPA audience, our hope is to cultivate many cohorts over the coming months and years. The magic in what we’re doing is we maintain each cohort at about 30 people. We do so purposely because we want you to be success partners throughout this journey together. We want you to experience it together from start to finish—from orientation to module five. We want you to practice establishing trust with strangers by talking about really sensitive issues. We’re going to model that in this program.

What’s so great is that everyone gets a participant guide for every single module, so you’ll walk away with six participant guides. These guides give you guidance on what else you can be doing, the conversations you can continue to have, and the activities you can continue to do.

How will this program help our members and leaders in attracting and retaining top diverse talent?

It’s bigger than that for FPA. It goes back to why we got started in this. One of the motivating factors is that the demographics are shifting, and the economic vitality of the country will depend on what we do today to make sure that this is integrated in all of our systems. Especially in the financial world, we are talking about changing demographics, changing investors—we have to begin to understand, to explore, and to feel comfortable with different populations. There is an economic imperative for organizations to build an inclusive culture today as they prepare for their financial future.

I think the business model for FPA members is going to be entirely dependent on the ability to amplify DEI experts because we have to understand, and we have to feel comfortable. That is going to be really important for us to bring diverse populations in as clients.

The second piece of the puzzle is how do you build a business that’s going to get you that kind of diversification of clientele? You’ve got to have diverse teams. You’ve got to be able to reflect the population that you want to serve. This work helps you think through that. It helps you really begin to think through the connection between having a diverse workforce that is then going to create better connections to a diverse client base. That’s what this work is going to help participants think through; what are those opportunities, and how do we address the challenges of doing that?

As we look particularly at the rapidly growing Latino population and our economic superpower, we also look at data from McKinsey and others that say organizations that are more diverse are more productive, more profitable, more creative, and they’re able to attract diversity in their clientele. We know that. The facts prove it. But how to do it, how to actualize that—that’s where we can come in and provide FPA support.

Can you explain the significance of having a badge awarded to participants who complete the program?

When you go through this program and complete all of the requirements, you’ll get a badge. That badge is so important. Think of it as an electronic stamp, a signature that can go on your LinkedIn or email. What’s really important about that is not only does it say I completed it—which is great—but it tells other people about the journey you’re on and the commitment you have as a business owner and as a financial leader in the DEI space.

I think it gives you a competitive advantage to say that this is something that you have done for yourself, for your business, for your employees, and for your clients.

Can you speak to the misconception that people might have that the Latino Leadership Institute provides only training to Latino leaders?

The Latino Leadership Institute is often only known for the work that we do to identify and prepare Latino professionals. Our Insight to Inclusive Leadership program is made for all organizations of all shapes, in all industries, and for all folks. We have done so intentionally because, again, we’re in the business of changing leadership, and that requires changing mindsets and really working through some of these things.

We built Insight to Inclusive Leadership specifically to make sure that we were able to work hand in glove with the pipeline that we’re developing and the organizations that have to be prepared to really receive that pipeline to create spaces of uniqueness and belonging.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?

Often, I’m asked what is the number one takeaway for participants.

There’s a reason that every single module is called something “insight”—diversity insight, equity insight, bias insight, inclusion insight, and, ultimately, change insight.

The word “insight” is kind of a play on words. We think about “in sight” as something being within view. Everything that we have to do—even big, lofty goals like bringing DEI—still has to be within reach. We’ve created a program that helps build on itself so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming, because it can be.

We want it to be realistic, but we also play on the word insight because insight is what we do. It isn’t just teaching content around DEI; it’s about helping individuals personalize their own ah-ha moment around this work—that’s what it means to me, that’s what it means to my business, that’s what it means to my employees. When we personalize it, when we are able to take content and say this is what it means to me, it’s more likely to stick and penetrate down. For us, that is the foundation we want to build into the efforts; from the actions to the strategies and tactics that need to be built on, we’re helping you build that foundation. We’re helping you gain that insight so that you can continue this work in this journey after the program ends. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion