Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC) Ep 7: Diversity and Inclusion – an interview with Rubén Cantú

ATC is proud to partner with Cendea to present the series, “Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC)”. This blog series addresses the questions and gives insight to the art of finding the RIGHT tech leader to hire at the director level and above. Thank you to our experts for sharing their knowledge with the tech community.

Diversity and Inclusion, commonly called D&I, is a major topic today, and there are lots of mixed perceptions and misunderstandings.  To help us look at this topic, I sat down with my good friend and resident expert on the subject, Rubén Cantú. Rubén is the Executive Director of The Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas in Austin.  For a great bio on him, go to  https://diversity.utexas.edu/innovation/about/ruben-cantu-bio

I’ve tried to capture Rubén’s primary thoughts on how D&I can influence hiring and retaining at the Director level and above in the blog below.  So many, many thanks for his time, and I give him full credit for all the insights because most of the verbiage below are his words. Rubén always has some great quotes.  Current leaders, as well as those we hire, must value solving this seemingly impossible Rubik’s Cube with more colors than sides.

Changes to how people think when looking for the RIGHT opportunity today

According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials became the largest generation in the labor force in 20161 and are more and more moving into senior management.  “They are a force to be reckoned with, and money is not their key swaying factor.  They have firm beliefs and concerns for Inclusivity versus Diversity – which, contrary to popular belief, are not the same.

Rubén explains that Diversity is more about broadening the workforce – whether that be via things like gender or color.  From that, you get the adage that “We’re OK because we have ‘some of each.’”  The fallacy is that few of the diverse groups talk with each other, and typically this new “included” group really can’t choose the playlist.  The bottom line, Diversity, by itself, doesn’t solve the problem.

Inclusion means making the journey together, sharing ideas, and taking them not only into consideration but leveraging everyone’s views as one unified thought process.  Rubén compared this to “a marriage where you don’t listen to your partner … the problem is they want and need to be heard and involved.

The newer generation wants to understand what the leadership make-up is today and what path they are on for a change.  Do Millenials hear, “We believe in D&I,” but feel from their research that the comment is more just verbal appeasement?  They want to know what influence they will have, and in what areas?

Rubén asserts that “putting your money where your mouth is when companies hire people of color into key innovation roles.  This action sends a statement that this is important, and our company’s future requires this change.

D&I is still considered “Other” – and not part of the decision process.  To have radical conversations about change, they want to understand the stance of the people above, below, and beside them on the organizational chart.

Company Stratification Concept when it comes to D&I

Rubén has a great four-level category stratification describing a company’s D&I position.  This short description provides a quick glimpse of the model. You can look forward to much more in-depth publishing on it from Rubén himself in the future.

Here are the four “S” categories that companies fit into:

Sleepers Either don’t care or aren’t fully aware.
Slackers Know they need to change but put it off because they’re comfortable since the business is going fine.
Serendipitous Do the best with what they can change – they don’t have the resources but are willing to ask for help.
Superstars These are the role models doing it, publishing, encouraging others, and have gone beyond just D&I training.  Their investors are starting to hold them responsible as well.

Go back fifty-plus years ago, and almost every company was a Sleeper because there wasn’t awareness, but now it is out front and center, and choices must happen.  People must recognize that ignoring or doing nothing is a choice. Where does your company fit in these?  Do they get it, and are they trying to change?

Rubén compares this to the “New Year’s Resolution to get in shape or not – is this just something on the list, like a flavor of the month, to be quickly forgotten or not?”  Note that these are questions being observed and asked from the outside as well.

Change of any kind is uncomfortable, but change is necessary as the Millennial mindset and beyond become the new standard.  Past attempts at affirmative action often resulted in tokenism, making it a faceless shell game. Slacker is no longer acceptable.  There are unknowns, but you need to move at least to be Serendipitous and listen, follow, and learn from the Superstars. Change won’t happen overnight, but the time to start is now.

Changes on how to hire the RIGHT senior talent

The key is that you need people who are looking to do things outside the box.  Whatever you want to call it, but the box is the old school mindset that still makes up many companies today.  So let’s look back at that getting back in shape.

A great way to commit to getting in shape is to hire a trainer to help you understand how to get better – something tailored specifically for you.  The fifty-thousand-foot view is the same for everyone, but how do you get there? Companies claim that their employees are the greatest asset, and sometimes it takes the leader to get out of the way.

Does the person talk about failure – what they learned – and how they’d do it differently?  You need a scrappy person who will share their lessons and not act out of ego – thus helping make it better for everyone.  That drives Inclusion and Retention because “People believe they’re included when they feel they can take stuff out of the refrigerator (and are no longer just a guest).

Otherwise, he declares it’s like saying, “Do you order a big meal and a diet coke?  SAY WHAT?”  Change almost means a commitment to the result.


You can’t make a corporate change until you hold the mirror to yourself and begin to model what’s right.  We learn from each other, and that’s when you create a better tomorrow. “Companies will die out if leadership is not willing to be vulnerable and change … especially if they stay egotistical and full of pride!

Change is not easy, but doing nothing for most companies will have negative consequences moving forward.  It is all about Talent-Leadership-Culture, and it’s up to you to make sure that you are doing everything that you can to maximize all of these.  Change starts with you!

Cendea has over 25 years of securing great talent for great opportunities.  Please feel free to call us at 512.219.6000. Wade Allen, President & CEO, x101, or Jim Bledsoe, Senior Partner, x121.

1 Pew Research Center – https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force