Being in a place where there is a constant battle within yourself to fit in the group can be exhausting. And this can also lead to burnout because changing who you are requires a lot of energy. As a team leader, how can you deal with this dilemma? Tricia Montalvo Timm shares her wisdom in cultivating a culture of inclusivity to break the barrier of creating a better space for everyone. Bringing cultural awareness to other celebrations in the workplace helps create a space where everyone can comfortably share. Tricia also shares that companies should foster a sense of belonging to obtain diverse talent within the team. If you wish to create a culture of belonging, tune in to this conversation!
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Creating A Culture Of Belonging At Work With Tricia Montalvo Timm
This is Latinx Heritage Month in America in the US, and I am featuring a series of interesting experts who happen to have a Latinx background. Before I get to the interview, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong by taking our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition you deserve.
My guest is Tricia Montalvo Timm. She is a Corporate Executive, Board Director, speaker, thought leader, and author. She’s a first-generation Latina who rose through the ranks of Silicon Valley, advising high-tech companies large and small, culminating in the sale of a data analytics software company Looker to Google for $2.6 billion. She is a General Counsel and a lawyer, so she helped engineer that sale. She’s one of the few Latinas to have attained the triple achievement of reaching the C-Suite, joining the boardroom, and cracking the venture capital ceiling where so few women and Latinos get funded. It is a great achievement.
Her career has spanned from working with some of the largest and most well-known publicly traded multinational companies in the world to stepping on as the first lawyer for several high-growth startups. She serves on the board at Salsify, a business-to-business software company who is a common experience management platform that helps brand manufacturers, distributors, and retailers collaborate to win on the digital shelf.
She’s been recognized as a woman of influence, a Latina Business Leadership Award from Silicon Valley Business Journal, and the title of Diversity Champion from the Silicon Valley Business Journal Corporate Council Awards. She’s an advocate for women and girls and serves as a mentor, advisor, and investor in female-founded companies. We had a great conversation about how you, as a manager, can foster inclusivity in your company if you have people who don’t feel like they belong. I’m sure you will enjoy it. Here’s Tricia Montalvo Timm.
Tricia Timm, I am so happy to have you as a guest on the show. Welcome.
Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
We are focusing on Latinx Heritage Month, Latinos and Latinas with that heritage. You are somebody I wanted to interview anyway, and I said, “We’ll bring her in here.” You have a lot of interesting things to share. Before we get to that, let me ask you who would be your dream interview. If you could interview somebody who’s no longer with us, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
The first person that popped to mind was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, professionally known as RBG. She was the late Supreme Court Justice of the United States. She is a trailblazer. As a lawyer myself, I admired her own journey as an attorney, but then achieving the highest position in the court as the only woman having to overcome obstacles all along the way and being a voice, and being unafraid to ask the hard questions and challenge. She brought women’s rights issues to the forefront. I would ask her how she navigated being the only Jew in the room. Being the first and the only often in the room, I love to get tips and understand how others do it because it’s not easy.
It’s funny how we have been talking about the phrase the only or the only one, the only woman, the only Latina, or the only Jew, and what it feels like to be the only one. That would be great. I miss her. I was such a fan of hers. I desperately wish we had her back. We still have the candle on the dining room table with her picture, praying for her. I would be at that one.
She still inspires us all. Her legacy continues.When you are part of the dominant culture, whatever is in that room, notice that everything is easy for you. Click To Tweet
As a lawyer, you do so many things. We are talking about how a manager can cultivate inclusivity, a culture of belonging among their employees, especially if you are not the only. A lot of my clients are the only woman or the only female manager. How can you make it easy to be included? How can you be empathetic to the people in your employees or team who are the only? That’s a great part of your work.
One of the things is to notice who you are in that room. If you notice that you are part of the dominant culture or whatever that is in that room, notice that everything is easy for you. You don’t have to change anything about yourself. Everything around you is made for you to feel comfortable. The first step is noticing what your role is in that room. You then can notice who might not feel comfortable in the room.
Oftentimes if in conversations as a manager, the person that isn’t speaking up, that person is a great person to include in the conversation. Maybe bring them. Lean into what their opinion might be. If you don’t want to ask them directly, another great strategy is to ask the group, “What is the opposite here?” If everyone starts giving the same opinion, let’s think about what the opposite or the different opinion might be here as we brainstorm because that allows that person that might be holding back what they want to say to bring it forward.
Another strategy also is to create a culture where you cultivate storytelling. We learn from each other and create empathy when we learn about each other’s stories. Oftentimes we may be working with a colleague for 1, 5, or 10 years and you may know nothing about who they are, their whole full self. Once you start learning who they are, it starts breaking down some of those barriers or maybe some of those belief systems you might have about a particular race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion because you know this person as a human being, your friend, and your colleague. Some of those unconscious biases you may have may start breaking down. Curiosity is another important piece as a manager.
How can you ask the people who are in the minority? How can you gracefully ask them to tell you if you’ve made an assumption that wasn’t necessarily a good one? You are assuming on the basis of your background.
As DEI, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is something that is talked about more in companies. There might be some fear around getting it wrong. I can tell you. Being in spaces, especially in the Black and Brown communities where I spend some time, we are okay with you asking the questions, trying to do better, and learning in curiosity again. If you can honestly say, “I want to get your name correctly. Can you help me pronounce it?” Like, “Rosh Hashanah, please tell me more about that tradition.” People welcome learning about each other. If you are kind in the way you ask those questions and then genuinely try to get it right would be great. Pronouns is another perfect example. When anytime there’s a new group, start introducing yourselves and asking people to share their pronouns.
By that, you are talking about am I a she and her, like gender-specific or they and them. There are people for whom she or he doesn’t fit, and we are trying to do that. How do you help somebody feel more included if they are the only person in their category? Let’s say you are the only Jewish person, or you are the only Muslim. We are now doing this around Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year or the Jewish high holy days. Talking about having a Jewish holiday, there are places where it’s not safe to do that.
Those are two questions in there. One, how do you make people feel included? A lot of what organizations are starting to do and is good is cultural awareness. They are intentionally celebrating different customs and traditions in the workplace. That helps. Traditionally in the United States, for example, we celebrate Christmas and Easter. That was the predominant celebration. If you were Christian, you felt included because those were celebrations that you celebrated, but those who weren’t part of those celebrations would then feel like they couldn’t take that time off or talk about them because nobody else around them was.
When you intentionally start bringing awareness to these other celebrations, the employee will be more comfortable sharing it. That’s great for the employee. For example, as a Latina, I didn’t have National Hispanic Heritage Month when I was going through my career. We never celebrated my heritage. It was never talked about in the workplace. I wouldn’t share that my mom loves mariachis and tamales. I wouldn’t share that piece of myself because I didn’t hear about it. It’s nice for me to see this now. Let’s say you are in an environment because you said, “Is it safe?” If you are in an environment where that is not happening, that’s where you as an employee need to recognize where you are at because not all places are going to be welcoming and are going to be safe.
Unfortunately, that’s where you have to make a conscious decision about where you are in your own career journey, “Is this a place where I do want to bring my full self and bring awareness to my managers? Is that going to cause potential repercussions that maybe it’s too costly because I’m the full breadwinner, and I need to go along with it for now but find a path to maybe a different different job in the future?” This also goes to my point that as an employer, if you don’t start including all different types of identities, we are moving to a place where there’s going to be a lot of mobility because employees want to be seen and heard.
Seeing someone and hearing them who they are so important. That leads me to a phrase that you use a lot and that a lot of people have seen, which is code-switching, which started out as a linguistic phrase. I’d like to hear your definition.
I didn’t know about this term for most of my career and learned it a couple of years ago. It’s the phenomenon of adjusting one style of speech, appearance, behavior, or expression to conform to the dominant cultural norm. For me, how it showed up was I would straighten my hair because that’s what I saw as a professional hairstyle. I would wear very conservative black suits because that’s what lawyers wear. A lot of time, speech is also changed in order to conform. It’s this constant changing of who you are in order to form into the workplace.If you don't start including all different types of identities, we're moving to a place where there's going to be a lot of mobility because employees want to be seen and heard. Click To Tweet
It makes me think about when you are a teenager and you try to blend in. You don’t talk about who you are. You try to blend in with the popular kids, which is something I was never good at. There were people who wanted to hang out with me, but I didn’t recognize that until afterward because I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and I was not. I tried to change who I was. We all did. When it shows up in the workplace, that goes back to this thing of safety you were talking about.
What happens is if you constantly code-switch, over time, it becomes emotionally exhausting. One, because you are spending energy changing who you are instead of spending that energy creating, producing, or doing the job but instead, you are worried about how you are showing up and how others perceive you. It can be emotionally exhausting for a lot of people.
As a manager, can you teach yourself to notice when an employee is not being authentic? Can you make that easier? Is this something we have to do for ourselves?
It’s both. For yourself, it’s your own self-journey to self-acceptance. It’s embracing who you are, acknowledging why there may be reasons you were hiding, whether there’s a safety issue or biases that are very real, and giving yourself grace. You put on armor to succeed and survive, and that’s okay. It is recognizing that armor might not be serving you all the time.
For you as the employee, there’s this own journey of coming into embracing who you are. As managers, it is doing the work of recognizing how others may be struggling in the workplace. For example, there are situations happening in the outside world. We had a large anti-Asian hate happening. You can reach out to your Asian employees and say, “I see in the news this is happening. How are you? Do you need some time?” It’s recognizing that while something may not be impacting you, it may be impacting someone from a different ethnicity or a different identity in a different way and giving them space to process that. Continue to learn and be intentional about it.
You can train yourself to reach out. One of the things that I have found is to have an ally. You have somebody you trust and someone who will say, “Glare at me if I say something thoughtlessly.” My whole life and my big mouth is what have gotten me in trouble. The times I get in trouble are when I say something that I thought was going to be funny, and it was not funny. If you can have somebody with you or around you, in your team or a colleague, watch out for each other and pay attention. Another thing I have noticed in so many areas is how important it is to be aware. Awareness is everything. Start noticing that there’s something going on that is making people uncomfortable rather than living in your bubble where you think you understand everything.
I thought of another good tip. A company has an employee resource group, and here’s one strategy we used at one company. Oftentimes you want to have an executive sponsor for the group. Oftentimes they pick the person that shares that identity. For example, at my last company, we had a mom’s ERG, and the first go-to was, “Let’s pick the highest ranking working mom to be the executive sponsor.” We did the exact opposite, and we picked the highest-ranking male, who was our CEO, to be the executive sponsor.
What that does is that he puts him in the room with an identity that is different than him. He sat and heard the challenges of working mothers in the workplace and what it was like to go out on maternity leave and fear that your job will still be there when you get back. It’s the transition back into the workplace, and you have a colicky three-month-old at home and what that challenge might feel like, and the struggle around benefits and fertility medicine, all that he heard and sat in the room. When the time came when he said, “Let’s review the annual benefits,” he now had a different perspective and could empathize. “How are our parental benefits for our employees? Let’s look at them.” That’s another way to learn about a different identity that you might not have had previously, and it creates more empathy.
The ERGs are Employee Resource Groups. You can also sit in on someone else’s group that you don’t know.
Ask permission because sometimes they want to stay safe.
“I’d like to know more about my colleagues. May I join your group? May I sit in? May I listen?” It’s like guesting in another department and learning something about what makes the accountants happy. It’s things like that.
Another challenge lots of mixed-race folks have is not belonging anywhere. For example, sometimes I feel like I’m not White or Brown enough. If you flip that on the other side, I call it the third space, which is I now can exist in both environments. The benefit of that to what you are saying is I hear both sides. I understand and how the perspective of both sides, which has helped me create empathy and allowed me to support and advise leaders as they think and walk through some of these difficult conversations.Diverse leaderships produce better results. Click To Tweet
Why does it matter? I have had people say, “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” These have all been people who are White. They have comfortable incomes, and they are part of the dominant culture. They don’t understand why people make such a fuss. Why does it matter?
It matters for a lot of reasons. First of all, data shows that diverse leaderships produce better results. At the end of the day, from a business perspective, a diverse team will show you your blind spots. It will show you where you may not be moving into markets or directions that you need to be. Having diverse perspectives in a leadership team will make for a better company and how you do that.
Diversity is one piece of it. Inclusion is a more important piece of it because you will not retain diverse talent if you haven’t created an inclusive culture. In order to create an inclusive culture, you need to foster a sense of belonging with all of your employees, and that’s the hard part. That’s where companies often fail because they say, “I’m looking at the diversity statistics. I have hired some people. I’m good.” They then drop the ball on the inclusivity piece. Putting time, resources, and tension into a sense of belonging will help with the retention of this important employee base.
We are still in a situation where there aren’t enough people who are willing to work, and companies are still looking for talent. I had a friend of mine who runs a restaurant and was told that there was someone who had applied for a job as a waiter, but they wanted to work from home, “I will be a waiter in your restaurant, but I’m going to do it from home.” She said, “Maybe you shouldn’t come in for that interview.” I heard that one. Where could someone start? As a manager, if you want to learn more, there’s a lot out there about how to be inclusive. What would be the first thing that you can do?
Your company already doesn’t have it. Starting with training around unconscious bias is a good place to start. Many of us don’t even know the biases that we might hold. Unconscious bias means that there are beliefs that you hold that are unconscious around a particular group or identity, like stereotypes. From there, create a safe space for your employees if you haven’t created an employee resource group or other. A lot of companies use technology such as Slack and other communication tools so that people from the same shared identity can create a community to support each other, especially if there are only a few in the organization of a particular identity. Meeting and having each other is an important benefit for them.
The third is mentorship and sponsorship. I was a first-generation professional. My parents are immigrants to this country. I didn’t know the protocols, politics, job interviews, and all of the things to be a successful leader in Corporate America. As a Latina, unfortunately, I also didn’t see or have any Latina leaders to ask for guidance. I needed a mentor and a sponsor to show me the ropes. I was fortunate to have lots of wonderful White male colleagues who sponsored and mentored me. Find that performer in your company, particularly the one that may not look like you, and sponsor them, mentor them, and help them navigate because they might not have sponsors that other folks might naturally have.
That brings me to the subject of pipelines. I have been talking about this a lot in several conversations about how you encourage and develop the upcoming leaders or the next generation of leaders. The Latinx community has very few in leadership positions. Do you have any thoughts about that, why that is, and what we can do better?
It’s something I’m trying to be more involved with. One of the challenges that we have as Latinos is we are diverse within our own culture. Latinos come from all different countries, dialects, and customs. Some are first-generation immigrants, some speak English and Spanish, and some don’t. Some are White-passing, some aren’t. Even within our own community, we need to find a way to get together better. We are trying to do that.
Help and support those in your organization and look at Latinas to align themselves with those organizations supporting them because there is a shared experience that we all have. I’m part of a few Latina organizations. When we get on the call together, we have the same stories. All of us have been mistaken, instead of leaders, as the assistant, or I have been mistaken as the nanny. You’ve got all these little things and experiences that you’ve shared that help you as an employee understand why. You might have some of the Imposter syndrome and other things that you might have. Support them.
I have so many things to ask you. Talk to us a little bit about the courage it takes to be your authentic self, to claim who you are from your point of view. How did you manage to step into claiming your Latinx identity?
For me, it was very hard, to be honest. I grew up with a family that faced a lot of discrimination. Their message to me was, “Assimilate as quickly as you can because that will make your life better.” My parents didn’t want me to suffer some of the pain they were suffering. I internalized that and hid and downplayed a lot of that. When you put up all that armor for so many years, it’s hard, and there’s a lot of fear that you have created over the years. For me, for example, if I was passing as White, I, unfortunately, found myself in many conversations where there were derogatory comments about Latinos.
I heard these things, so I have created fears around, “If I came out and said, ‘This is who I am,’ that I would be thought of as lesser than. I wouldn’t be respected. I wouldn’t be invited into the C-Suite or the boardroom.” It took a long process of unpacking some of those external messages that I had internalized, truly believing that who I am and where I come from are beautiful and that it’s valued. It takes a long time to go through that. I also created a community of people around me that I could turn to when things didn’t go well. You need a community, people, and a support system to get you through some of those tough times.
This is so very interesting. Tricia, I’m glad you joined us. I hope we are evolving as a society. The more people speak up about who they are, the better because the more inclusive we can be. Certainly, the numbers show that if you have diversity, especially in your leadership team, there’s more profit. Companies that are intentional about diversity have better profit, better return on investment, and so forth. This is an ongoing conversation. I’m going to have you back in a few months, and we’ll talk about this some more and a little bit more about ways that we could be more inclusive and make sure that the people around us feel more inclusive. Tricia Timm, thank you so much for having been a guest.
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me, Elizabeth.
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About Tricia Montalvo Timm
Tricia Montalvo Timm is a corporate executive, board director, speaker, thought
leader, and author. She is a first-generation Latina who rose through the ranks of Silicon Valley advising high-tech companies big and small, culminating in the sale of the data analytics software company Looker to Google for $2.6
billion. Tricia is one of the few Latinas to have attained the triple achievement of reaching the C-suite, joining the boardroom and cracking the venture capital ceiling.
Her career has Ranged from working with some of the largest and most well-known publicly traded multinational companies in the world, to stepping on as the first lawyer at several high-growth start-ups. Tricia currently serves on the board at Salsify, a business-to-business software company whose commerce experience management platform helps brand manufacturers, distributors, and retailers collaborate to win on the digital shelf.
Tricia’s industry recognitions include the 2020 Women of Influence and Latino Business Leadership awards from Silicon Valley Business Journal and the title of Diversity Champion from the Silicon Valley Business Journal Corporate Counsel Awards.
Tricia is also an advocate for women and girls and serves as a mentor, advisor, and investor in female-founded companies.