Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Stephen Cornejo Garcia of Allstate

Today, we’re continuing our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Stephen Cornejo Garcia, Director of Inclusive Diversity and Organizational Effectiveness at Allstate. Stephen executes the enterprise strategy around diversity and inclusion and oversees the organizational effectiveness solutions designed to impact the people side of change and transformation.  LCW has worked with Stephen and his colleagues for several years to support some of these strategies and solutions, which we discuss in this episode

Prior to his role, Stephen held other leadership positions within Allstate across Talent & Leadership Effectiveness, Technology & Operations, and Agency Sales. Prior to his career at Allstate, Stephen held leadership roles at Bank of America and Arthur Andersen. He serves on the boards of Mujeres Latinas en Accion, DisabilityIn in Chicago, and he’s also a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago.

This conversation is great because we not only talk about some of the newer Changemaker programs we’ve released across the enterprise, but Stephen also brings up a really critical component of this DEI work – continuous self-reflection and examination.

Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 18:46) or scroll down for the full transcript. 
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Show Notes & Highlights

(2:07) Stephen’s DEI journey.

(5:03) Introducing the Changemaker Series at Allstate

(9:07) A time for self-reflection in the DEI field.

(13:00) The journey shifts toward measurable progress.

(14:19) The hope for a more DEI-integrated future.

(15:50) Valuable advice for new DEI practitioners & champions


Show Transcript

Tanya Stanfield:

I like to start these conversations just by getting to know you a little better, and specifically, learning more about your journey into the DEI field.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

I’ve always been involved in work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion – going back to when I was in high school and then also in college and student organizations. It wasn’t until recently, about seven years ago, where I took on a formal role with a specific focus around diversity, equity, and inclusion. That was at Allstate Insurance Company, which is where I am currently.

For me, it was a great intersection of my personal and professional interests coming together in a way that was different, because it was in a professional setting and ignited a lot of energy and creativity and a whole new chapter in my career. It changed things substantially, because my background is in organizational development. DEI is culture change work. It’s systems transformation. It fit nicely with my skills and background.

Tanya Stanfield:

What is the nature of your work right now at Allstate? I know we work with several people over there on the great team, so tell us a little bit about that.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

I have overall accountability for Inclusive Diversity at Allstate, a team of people that focus on championing the cultivation of a diverse workforce and the creation of an inclusive environment. I also currently serve as the Director of the Organizational Effectiveness Group. Actually, both my worlds are combined right now in a real way. I’m serving as the interim Director of that team as well. I’ve been doing that the last year and a half or so in addition to my ID responsibilities.

Tanya Stanfield:

So, when did you first start working with LCW?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

It coincided with when I started working in Allstate’s Inclusive Diversity Department, so about seven years ago. Yeah, I’d say about seven years ago. That’s about how far back it goes.

Tanya Stanfield:

Are there any stories or any unique highlights that come to mind when you think about LCW? What really stands out for you?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

LCW has been a partner and an advisor in the truest sense. They’ve helped us grow, have grown with us, and have been a part of our diversity and inclusion story. They’ve helped us lay some foundational elements at Allstate and leverage their expertise and thought leadership in a way that helped us integrate with where Allstate was in terms of our journey around the DEI space. They have guided us in that journey.

Monica I’ve known a long time, ever since we started working together with LCW, and Jeffrey as well. There are always small anecdotes from different sessions we’ve been on, because they’ve done all kinds of learning solutions, certifications, train-the trainers, and things of that nature.

I’ve always enjoyed working with everyone. Not just because of your expertise, but also because you get the journey, that not everybody is in the same place. Everybody has their own starting point. I think the key thing is that you always want to be growing. You always want to be learning and doing that without judgment, without making people feel like there’s something wrong with them because of the way they have been brought up or the way they think or the way they learn. I think that’s been a healthy partnership and a philosophy that I think we live into at Allstate, that it’s very compatible with what LCW does in their work with companies.

Tanya Stanfield:

I was just thinking about all the projects that you’ve done in the past several years. What are some of the most exciting or the ones that you think have just been more, the most moving, whether it’s moving the needle or just making a big impact over at Allstate?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

We’ve instituted a change maker series that Monica and Jeffrey have participated in. Those have been really powerful. We recently did a session talking about racism, inequity, and social justice at the kitchen table that was very well-received and very powerful. Monica and Chuck did a great job. I couldn’t stop taking notes – I was learning so much from them! I think that’s another real benefit. They bring so much expertise to the table and so many powerful examples, having worked with so many different organizations. It’s so easy to learn from them and their experience.

Tanya Stanfield:

The title of that one is quite a mouthful, but it was “Unpacking Racism at the Kitchen Table: Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat.”

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

It was a powerful session. I even participated in one of the sessions they had at another organization. They allowed us to sit in, which I think was great. They’re always willing to share their network with us, which we find really beneficial.

Tanya Stanfield:

This is a great segue into talking about this past year and getting your perspective on a year where we’ve seen so much change. How do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you entered the field seven, eight years ago?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

Well, overnight we’ve become the most popular department. I’m sure other professionals in the field have now suddenly seen the interest in their support and services magnified tenfold, easily. I’m sure LCW has experienced that as well. The way I describe it to my team is that everything we ever wanted in terms of engagement, interest, and the need for our work has suddenly happened at the highest levels of the organization – the Board, the CEO, and senior executives. It almost happened overnight! There’s been a huge shift in the desire, need, and interest in getting support on very critical issues that, frankly, for us have always been critical. We’ve always been focused on these things. I would say just not as overtly pointed at systemic racism, inequity, and injustice.

Now, there’s just a laser beam focused on those areas, which I would say definitely has been a part of the journey, but not anywhere near as focused for us at Allstate in the specific areas of systemic racism, inequity, and injustice. That definitely has been a big shift. I know everyone’s experiencing that. Everyone in our field is going through that.

We’re also feeling the weight and the magnitude of that too, in terms of holding the space, having conversations, creating a brave space for people to share personal experiences and stories, which is really hard. It’s not only hard for those individuals, because they’re reliving those experiences as they tell the stories of what they’ve gone through. But also realizing for yourself, for myself even, where I’ve actually contributed to this situation because of the systemic nature of racism and inequity.

In some ways we’ve all participated in it, maybe unknowingly, at least that’s what I feel for myself, but I have. So, coming to grips with that reality in a real way and saying, “Wow, I, even me, the Director of the area, needs to take a step back and reflect on how I’m contributing, how I could be doing things differently, and helping to encourage others to get on that journey.” Before, the journey seemed optional, like if you to do it, that’s great. But during your performance review, no one’s going to change your compensation, your incentive plan. And now, we’re actually looking at that. We’re putting that on the table. It’s going to affect people’s performance reviews. It could affect their compensation. Those were big, big issues that certainly we have talked about in theory here at Allstate.

Tanya Stanfield:

I think a lot of organizations are heading in that direction. Under Armour is an organization that recently came out with some pretty aggressive standards very similar to what you’re talking about.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

And JP Morgan Chase. They’re effecting executive comp. So a lot of organizations are heading in that direction. For me, the journey has shifted from, “These are things that we think are important, these are things we should be focused on,” to, “How are we actually progressing? How good are we actually doing? What are the actual objectives we’re trying to achieve? How do we know it? Do we have any evidence to support that?”  We were asking those questions before, but now it’s well, what are the targets? What are the objectives? How are we progressing? There’s much more of a focus on, are you getting lift with the things that you’re doing? It’s great that you’re training people, but is that changing the culture? Is it changing behaviors? Is it making a difference in a way that you can speak to with evidence, not just anecdotal feedback? That’s not to minimize the importance of having anecdotal feedback, but what else? What else can we say that demonstrates real progress? Leaders are going to be held accountable to that. That’s very different than what the conversation was even back in January, February, March. It wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd, where the conversation pivoted immensely.

Tanya Stanfield:

What do you think or hope this field will look like 10 or 20 years from now?

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

My hope is that there wouldn’t be a need to have a separate field. My hope is that in our humanity, we could find a way that everyone would be treated equally and there wouldn’t be a need to have to intervene systemically. That is a long-term hope, but I think what I envision for us in the future is being so intertwined with business objectives that you cannot separate it. There won’t be a separate thing. It will be more integrated and consequential to the business results that we’re trying to achieve. Again, all these are things that we have aspired to for a long time. I think that will become more of the reality versus the exception. That’s what I envision for our future.

Tanya Stanfield:

To close things out, what’s one piece of advice you would like to share with any DEI practitioners, whether they’re new people getting into this work or DEI champions? I think we have a lot of new people who want to do this work well.

Stephen Cornejo Garcia:

No doubt. With any career I think you must think about the “why” for yourself. What is the real motivation for you? In the DEI space, that is table stakes. You must be clear on what it is and  why you’re going after it.

And I would say, have a long-term perspective because this is not work that you in one year and you get better, and it’s all great and you just keep getting better. There’s lots of ups and downs. I think that you have to be prepared for that. Part of it, the preparation, is that “why” being clear to you that will carry you through those days when you’re down more than up.

Because there are things that I think as practitioners, you must be willing to face about yourself – your perspective, your mindset, your behaviors – that you’re held to a different standard. You need to be able to face that reality head on. Sometimes that’s not easy. Some of this work is very exciting in terms of getting to know different people and the differences that we all bring to the table. That’s all energizing and exciting. But also, the shadow of that is that difference creates tension and requires confrontation and productive resolution. That’s not easy. That’s hard work. You have to be up for that. So I think all of those elements need to be in place if you want to be successful in this field and make a difference.

Tanya Stanfield:

Perfect advice. Well, Stephen, this has been an excellent conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time today. And, of course, thank you for your partnership to LCW. We really appreciate working with you and your team and wish you the best in the new year, 2021.

 

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