The Meaning Of Diversity & Inclusion For Hispanic Heritage Month
An executive leans on personal experiences to drive commitment to diversity and inclusion.
For more than a decade, Kathy Martinez has been at the forefront of the fight for workplace diversity and inclusion, shattering ceilings in both government and corporate America. In her current role at Wells Fargo, she oversees the development and execution of business and marketing strategies supporting people with disabilities and their families. She is focused on delivering an experience that recognizes disability as a natural part of the human condition and helping people with disabilities fully engage with the bank to succeed financially.
“When you’re a person with a disability the world is not built for you, and so you have to be very strategic, you have to be innovative, you have to figure out other ways to do things. I think that mindset is a huge benefit to a company,” says Martinez. At the core of Martinez’ effort is disability employment, including the emergence of disability as an essential component of workplace diversity and inclusion and the importance of expectation in ensuring youth with disabilities grow up with an assumption of work. A topic on which Martinez, who herself was born blind, offers compelling and personal perspective. “I was very lucky because I had parents that expected a lot from me. The type of parents that didn’t want to see me overprotected and allowed me to have a lot of different opportunities. I grew up with kids kicking my butt in a way, but always with the expectation that I would be part of their world, instead of in a different special separate world.”
“When I walked into kindergarten for the first time, none of my classmates had ever interacted with a blind person, so for the first week, it was a little awkward. Then, they got over it. What’s amazing about that experience is that they didn’t have low expectations of me, they always made an effort to include me and figured out ways that I could play and participate in most activities. They tried to integrate me the best way they could,” Martinez adds.
Martinez is in a unique position to understand the need for diversity and inclusion given her experience as a Lesbian Latina with a visual impairment. “When I first came out to my Mom, she said ‘I can’t believe you want to be a Lesbian—don’t you have enough barriers to manage—being a Latina woman with a disability?’ I told my Mom it wasn’t a choice for me. My whole adult life I have worked to integrate all my multiple identities, and I feel very lucky that I am able to bring my whole self to work every day,” says Martinez. Working with business leaders across Wells Fargo and across the industry, Martinez defines internal and external strategies related to online and physical accessibility, hiring and promotion of team members with disabilities, national non-profit partnership programs, and disability-owned suppliers.
Martinez joined Wells Fargo in March of 2015 from the U.S. Department of Labor where she served as the assistant secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). Martinez led ODEP in putting policy priorities into practice through several innovative grant programs. These include Add Us In, through which a nationwide consortium worked to increase the capacity of small businesses to employ people with disabilities. The grant program also included the Employment First State Leadership Mentor Program, through which several states received support to promote community-based, integrated employment as the primary outcome for people with significant disabilities. “I’ve worked for both Republicans and Democrats, because disability is an across-the-aisle issue,” says Martinez.
Prior to being nominated to the Department of Labor in 2009, Martinez was executive director of the World Institute on Disability, where she successfully managed a number of initiatives, among them Proyecto Visión, a national technical assistance center to increase employment opportunities for Latinos with disabilities in the U.S. She has also served on the National Council on Disability, the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the State Department’s advisory committee on disability and foreign policy.
Even though Kathy has enjoyed a successful career in both the government and private sector, she recognizes there’s still much to be done. “It’s fair to say that no matter how high up the ladder we go; we still have to deal with people’s reactions every single day. Good and bad. When I’m with my partner at a restaurant, even though I’m paying the bill, they’ll give her the check. When I tell people about my position at Wells Fargo, they’re often incredulous. As a blind person, I often have to explain that I’m held to the same standards as everybody else. They don’t just give SVP positions away. Hopefully, in five to ten years, there will be ten times the number of us in these types of positions so it’s not so rare.”
About the author:
Kathy Martinez, Senior Vice President and Head of the Disability and Accessibility Strategy for Wells Fargo .