Advancing DEI in the Workplace: Q&A With Alfredo Mendez, Vice President of Experience and Inclusion, Robert Half

By Robert Half on May 6, 2022 at 11:35pm

Welcome to the latest post in Robert Half’s Thought Leader Q&A series, which features insights from those who have made our company a great place to work and a premier provider of talent solutions.

This week, we feature Alfredo Mendez, vice president of Experience and Inclusion at Robert Half. In this role, he sets strategy and programs that support a culture of growth and inclusion, creating a positive experience for our 15,000 global employees.

Since college, Alfredo has lived and worked in 22 countries around the world. He’s learned what it means to be taken out of your comfort zone to a place where you may be unfamiliar with cultural experiences and languages — even though he’s fluent in Spanish and French. His passion for people, knack for systems thinking and intersectional identity led him to a career as a global human resources executive.

During his time at KPMG and Accenture, he consulted with Fortune 100 companies, and he’s held leadership roles at AECOM, Raytheon, Levi Strauss & Co, and Warner Bros. Entertainment before coming to Robert Half.

Here’s what Alf shared with us in our recent Q&A session:

What does DEI look like within organizations? What would you like to see businesses focus on as they improve DEI?

DEI is not going to look the same from one company to the next. There may be some common factors and themes, but it needs to begin with foundational goals. Answers to questions like — “What is it that our company is trying to do? Are we trying to increase representation? Are we trying to increase retention? Are we trying to establish a more inclusive organization?” — can help inform how to translate mission into action and devise strategies to reinforce the goal.

I’ve seen companies that have said their goal is to hire a certain percentage of employees from specific, historically underrepresented, populations by a certain time, or that a certain percentage of the leadership team will be from this group by this time. They’re giving themselves specific targets, which may be great for larger companies — but not for a company just starting its DEI journey. If people don't understand why they’re moving in a certain direction, then they're basically just going after hitting a goal without doing anything to ensure the goal is sustainable.

DEI needs to be fueled by grassroots efforts, in tandem with the organization’s support and leadership. Robert Half’s DEI journey was sparked by a community of individuals who shared the Black experience and started our Black Employee Network, with executive sponsorship. Subsequently, this mobilized our Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, female, and LGBTQ+ communities and their allies to form various employee network groups.

Company leaders are responsible for building and allocating infrastructure, governance, budget, and resources, so that the efforts come together. From there, what’s produced is a community and an environment that recognizes what employees want and are willing to work for. This also encourages accountability and support from the company’s leaders to drive it further within the organization, allowing the ecosystem to thrive.

Discover 10 tips for DEI program management and hiring strategies.

In the last two years, what has impacted efforts surrounding DEI?

The pandemic, coupled with the social injustice and unrest we experienced in 2020, shed a brighter light on the importance of inclusion and belonging. It seemed like companies were, reactively, posting jobs for chief diversity officers or VPs of diversity. Some companies participated in “performative activities,” as their intent focused on ticking off the boxes for the short term. Other organizations became transformative. They showed dedication to lasting change, a commitment reflected by dismantling outdated systems and integrating new structures to advance and include individuals and communities who have historically been disadvantaged based on their identities.

The work we’re doing at Robert Half to provide the sense of inclusion for everybody is strategic and valued. We are committed to creating a corporate culture where all employees can connect to each other, thrive through opportunities, and grow in the communities where we live and work. This commitment not only helps us best serve our clients, candidates, communities and employees, but it differentiates us from our competitors.

Learn about Robert Half's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

How did you start your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) career, and what do you find most challenging and rewarding about your work?

My background in business and human resources has consistently focused on people through talent development, organizational design and change management. About eight years ago, I was chosen for an executive leadership development program, and it was during our first cohort experience that the stark differences of my identities hit home for me. I’d always known I was a minority in almost any room, and this was overtly confirmed as I looked at the future leaders and saw that I was the only Hispanic man, and the only gay man, and that the majority of my peers were white males.

This experience fueled my understanding of the unique opportunity that the DEI space presents. It is not just to create voices for those who do not feel they are heard, but to create an environment where every one of us feels like we belong. I dove deep into the work, which took me to new roles at different companies, where I cultivated and led DEI strategy with the goal of building a more intentionally integrated workplace.

Advancing DEI in the workplace can be challenging because not everyone is going to share the same experience or the ability to relate to the experiences of others. Some, it seems, may not understand the importance of why various strategies or the need for DEI initiatives exist. My experience is that these beliefs are held by many leaders who have never had to worry about their voices being shut down or their contributions minimized.

This brings me to one of the rewarding aspects of my job, which is being able to help individuals, teams, leaders and organizations see things with a different lens and discover that all of us have a personal connection to this work. This collective understanding allows us to work together in addressing and solving issues in the workplace and to create a culture where every one of us feels like we belong.

Read about how inclusion and diversity can make your business better.

Can you tell us about intersectionality and how it impacts DEI? How has it impacted your personal experience?

Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that people can be disadvantaged by more than one marker of their identity, such as class, gender, religion, apparent or non-apparent disability and sexual orientation. For instance, I’m a Mexican American born to immigrant parents; I grew up in a Catholic household in a rural part of the country; I’m also a gay male. My identities, values and approach to work is a combination these diverse attributes.

Intersectionality illuminates the notion that we shouldn't have to identify with one primary experience or category that dictates everything about us as individuals. It’s the encouragement for us to combine our experiences into one, whole self, along with the unique perspectives that we bring to the table.

There is an element of intersectionality that exists within the majority population as well. Let’s say there is a group of 10 white males:

  • How many of them lived in a small town?
  • How many of them grew up in a large city?
  • How many of them speak with an accent?
  • How many have gone to a small liberal arts school?
  • And how many to a large public university?

These components contribute to a person’s values and perspectives. Intersectionality is that presence of differences, whatever they may be, and how they interplay with one another.

How has your educational background and work experience prepared you for a DEI leadership role?

My business background has given me a foundation for understanding the nuances of how companies set strategy, a vital piece of the puzzle for DEI practitioners. What I remain vigilant about avoiding is creating an environment or a program that’s just an “add-on” to a job or a “flavor of the month.” A sustainable DEI strategy is integral to the company, with support from senior leadership. Established systems should reinforce hiring, promoting and retaining historically underrepresented talent, while fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging for all employees to experience, daily.

During the seven years of my career that I lived abroad, and throughout my life as a first-generation American of Hispanic descent, I experienced what it’s like to be the minority in a room. My time abroad exacerbated my differences, as I was unable to properly communicate, and noticed feelings of defenseless in some instances. At the same time, I gained a global perspective and was able to see the different DEI needs and demands in other countries.

My understanding of people and the differences between them, paired with the ability to harness those differences to foster compassion and understanding, is truly what my work is all about. I am confident these experiences set me up for success in the DEI space, specifically within corporate organizations like Robert Half that have pledged to advance inclusion and diversity in the workplace and community.

Given you are an avid traveler, what has been one of your favorite trips or experiences, and why?

The place I would go to time and time again — and where I’m hoping to retire one day — is Spain, specifically Barcelona. There’s something incredibly magical about this city, along with its vibrant culture and amazing food. Its waterfront, beach feel and history as an autonomous region with its own dialect combine to make it one of my favorite places.

I'm a full believer that if you get the opportunity to travel, you should do it. Chances are, you are going be rewarded with an experience that expands your whole world.

Follow Alfredo Mendez on LinkedIn.

Meet other Thought Leaders at Robert Half, such as Greg Detter and Stephanie Dolmat. And be sure to subscribe to the Robert Half newsletter for future installments of our Q&A series and to discover more unique stories, experiences and perspectives on the latest hiring trends.

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