REDMOND, Wash., May 24, 1999 — Although initially weary from the long drive up I-5 from his Northern California home, Microsoft’s recently named Director of Diversity, Santiago Rodriguez, is now settling into his new environs, and he can hardly contain his enthusiasm.
Only a few days into a new job in a familiar industry, Rodriguez’s passion for his Microsoft role-borne of an amalgam of private struggle, professional accomplishment, and personal conviction-is already in full bloom.
Raised in an economically disadvantaged family that stressed education, Rodriguez has a firsthand understanding of how instrumental respect and compassion are to success, both personally and in business. When Rodriguez was 6 years old, his mother moved him and his four brothers from their native East Harlem to Northern California, where his mother worked as a maid and the family picked crops.
“We drove across the country in a ’53 Chevy, packed with everything. We didn’t have any money to stay anywhere, not $100 to our name,” Rodriguez remembered. “We stopped in Amarillo, Texas, at a diner and were thrown out because we were speaking Spanish. My mother spoke no English, so there was no other way we could have communicated with her.”
A straight-A student, Rodriguez-whose distant family members were natives of Puerto Rico-also recalled a time in school when a favorite teacher clapped her hands “because she was pleased with something I had done. She said, ‘Santiago, you can’t be Mexican-you’re too smart,’ in front of a class that was 90 percent Mexican students.
“These are my own personal experiences, and I’ve seen so many other examples with other people. I try never to judge people as groups, only as individuals, and I’m very intolerant of disrespect to other people, in whatever form that takes.”
Ensuring that a sense of respect thrives at Microsoft is one of Rodriguez’s key goals. And while he says he has already observed Microsoft to be a respectful environment, he hopes to further the company’s diverse culture.
“We need to stress that all human cultures have common needs, a common sense of humanity. But there are differences, too. How in the world do you please a customer, for example, if you don’t know what he or she values? That’s what culture is all about, that’s what differences are all about.”
Where people get in trouble, he added, is in the interactions and communications in which those values are not fully understood or appreciated.
“Diversity assumes not only that people are different-we know that-but that their difference is value-added,” Rodriguez said. “If you know how to harness that difference, you’ll be more competitive as a corporation than those firms that don’t-in the domestic marketplace and certainly in the global marketplace.
“To maintain our global presence, we need to constantly be aware of what various cultures need, want, or like, and how they should be approached,” Rodriguez added. “For example, not all cultures use technology in the same way. These differences must be taken into account.”
Rodriguez hopes to inculcate these concepts of difference into the collective consciousness of Microsoft and its employees, so that diversity issues are always in the forefront of every employee’s mind-whatever their job function.
“It’s these types of things thatI’d love the company to think about more systematically and get involved in, and I’m sure many people already do,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a question of tying this in to our everyday work and getting people to discuss the importance and impact of diversity issues.”
While he acknowledges that this kind of modification of corporate culture can be difficult to enact, Rodriguez’s track record suggests that it’s a likely outcome at Microsoft. During his tenure at Apple Computer Corporation, where he spent eight years as Director of Multicultural Programs, he said he never had to prompt a conversation about diversity, whether with employees or management teams.
“Success, to me, is when diversity is not a program, but a process,” Rodriguez said. “Cultural change is not easy to effect. But one reason I was attracted to Microsoft, as I was to Apple previously, is that it’s clear to me that the essence of this culture is amenable to the concept, because much of what we value in the way we treat our customer base really deals with aspects of diversity.”
Diversity and Education
No less important than this cultural shift, is Rodriguez’s commitment to maintaining and increasing Microsoft’s diverse employee population through aggressive recruiting efforts and continuing community outreach programs.
Rodriguez is currently working to familiarize himself with the company’s core recruiting efforts, and he said he is generally impressed with Microsoft’s approach to diversity hiring.
He said he’ll work to further promote Microsoft by tapping the many professional and educational organizations that serve various diversity communities, including African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and women.
“These contacts are important so we can continue to increase our talent base and diversify our workforce,” Rodriguez said. “But we invest in these relationships not just for recruitment purposes. We’re also working to strengthen educational curricula and the approach that students take to studying the technologies that, in the long run, are important to Microsoft and a healthy industry.”
Diversity at Microsoft
Microsoft’s Diversity group is already making great strides in these areas. Embracing the belief that diversity enriches Microsoft’s overall performance, the surrounding communities and the lives of its employees, the group has established a number of initiatives to promote diversity within its organization and to demonstrate this commitment in communities nationwide.
It is apparent Microsoft is on the right track. This past December, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) ranked Microsoft second on the NSBE 50 – a list of the top 50 preferred employers.
Additionally, several employees have received recognition for their work to promote diversity. Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of Microsoft’s South Pacific and Americas Region, won the Salute to Excellence Award from the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE). This award recognizes Hispanic/Latino executives who contribute excellence to their companies. It also recognizes the commitment of companies in advancing and developing Hispanic/Latino executives within their organization.
Marissa Martinez, a program manager, was also honored, with a diversity award at the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference. She was chosen because of her impressive record as a role model, encouraging students in the Hispanic community to pursue careers in science and engineering careers.