Michigan State University College of Social Science and School of Criminal Justice alumnus Carlos Cubia is senior vice president and global chief diversity officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance.
Upon graduation, the Pontiac, Michigan native applied for a position in the Secret Service. While waiting to hear back. He began a career in insurance, which gradually led him into human resources work. Without even realizing it, Cubia was beginning his work in diversity, equity, and inclusion before that work had a name.
“What I found along my journey through corporate America is that I was running into people who were just having a hard time being heard, moving through the process, and getting opportunities. I started on this journey to help people in corporate America to do better, to realize their dreams, and to be seen and to be heard. It wasn’t officially my job, but I was always advocating, speaking to supervisors, and challenging the status quo. Sometimes I got myself in trouble because at that time, it wasn't kosher to speak up. You were supposed to do what you were told.
“But that was never who I was. I was always respectfully challenging the status quo. Why were certain things the way they were? Why did so-and-so get passed over for an opportunity? And that eventually led to me leaving my sales and account management role and moving into a diversity, equity, and inclusion role.”
When defining diversity, equity and inclusion, Cubia says the key is to embrace our differences. He says there's value in embracing those differences. His twist on the golden rule is that we should treat others as they want to be treated, not necessarily how we want to be treated.
“When I think of diversity, I think of someone different than yourself. I know people sometimes equate it to black versus white. When I think of diversity, I look at all the dimensions of diversity. It's the things you're born with and then the things you acquire later in life, like your education and the knowledge and habits that you pick up along the way.
“We do measure some of the basic things around race, gender, sexual orientation, LGBTQ, veterans, disability. We pay attention to all of that. But again, we also look at education. Were you educated? What's your background? What experiences have you had in life? Because all of those things help to make organizations and the world better when you embrace and accept people for their differences and then understand that there's value in differences. And by realizing that, I think we could just make this world a better place.
“And not to sound hokey with that, but when you accept people for who they are and treat them not the way you want to be treated but treat them the way they want to be treated, then I think you have a more engaged and a more productive society.”
Cubia says DE and I work continues to evolve as more organizations realize that embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but sound business practice. He says that if organizations are doing DE and I correctly, that it impacts every aspect of the business and is embedded in everything an organization does.
“When I think about the evolution of DE and I and the role of the chief diversity officer over time, I've seen it really change. Back in the day, it was all about diversifying from an ethnicity standpoint. It was a people agenda back then. What's evolved over time is now it's a business imperative.
“Most CEOs and Fortune 500 companies realize the value of having a diversity strategy for the organization that touches every aspect of the business, whether that's how they market, how they communicate, where they recruit, where they open or close locations, or what products are on the shelves. The DE and I team and leaders across most companies are now part of all of those discussions. We're being brought into discussions with investor relations now.
“When investors are out there at a public company they want to invest in, they want to talk to the chief diversity officers and say, ‘tell me about your diversity, equity, and inclusion program. What are you guys doing to address A, B, and C? And then what kind of progress are you making?’ The evolution has been amazing. It's been fast paced. It's hard to keep up because our phone is now ringing from every part of the organization asking for time with us to help consult about an issue that may evolve around DE and I that maybe that leader isn't that well-versed on.
“We're being asked to be part of the training program within organizations and how we shape culture within the organization. If you're doing it the right way, then DE and I is embedded in everything that a corporation or an organization does. DE and I touches everything. I don't think there's anything in corporate America or in any major institutions that DE and I doesn't touch or shouldn't touch.”
When discussing challenges, opportunities, and goals for expanding DE and I work, Cubia says that, for him, DE and I comes down to two words, dignity and respect.
“The challenge is that there are still individuals out there who feel that this is social work and it has no place in business or in decision-making. One of the challenges is getting to those individuals and sharing with them factual data and showing them research where if you have a real strategy that's comprehensive in nature, that it does contribute to the bottom line and the success of your organization, regardless of what your organization is.
“It's really only two main words, and that's dignity and respect. If you just follow that golden rule and treat everybody with dignity and respect, most of the times things are going to work out for you around DE and I.”
For all of us, Cubia says the first step toward embracing diversity, equity and inclusion is to educate oneself and not to turn the other cheek.
“When George Floyd was murdered a year plus ago and we started to see the peaceful protest and then unfortunately some of it broke into civil unrest, a lot of white guys, like yourself, asked me the question, what do I do? I think the first step is educating yourself and getting information on how the experiences of others have affected their lives and the challenges and the situations that we see today. Learning is one. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don't know.’
“But the other thing that I would say is not turning the other cheek. Just because it doesn't affect you directly, doesn't mean it doesn't affect you indirectly. When these things happen, it affects all of us in some way, shape, or form. The sooner that we come together and work together and value the differences and understand each other's perspectives and point of views, the sooner we'll start to see the world differently and understand other people.
“Part of it is just education. We just celebrated Juneteenth a couple of weeks ago. And for some folks, that's the first time they ever heard of it. If we understand the past, hopefully we can prevent the same mistakes. Hiding it and overlooking it and pretending it doesn't exist is not going to get us there.”
Cubia followed his brother and sister to MSU. It's the only school he applied to and had any interest in attending. And Cubia adds that as big as MSU is, it always seemed small to him. The university had so much to offer him and he'd attend MSU again if he had to do it all over again.
“This is going to sound a little hokey, but I believe in full transparency. I went up to Michigan State this past weekend with my son. And as I got out of the car and stood in front of my dorm, I almost teared up. Because when I think about where I am today, had Michigan State not given me the chance and the opportunity to show what I can do, with help of course, I probably would not be where I am today. I have no idea where I would be today. Michigan State helped me because it gave me the services that I needed.
“Michigan State believes that they want to create an environment where everyone is welcome, where everyone can realize their full potential. I see Michigan State constantly striving for that. I believe in celebrating Michigan State because it's a great university that I’m recommending to my son. If I had to choose again tomorrow, I choose Michigan State all over again.”
Carlos Cubia's advice for today's MSU students is to be authentic and true to yourself.
“Being authentic doesn't mean not compromising or being flexible. It just means stay true to your values and your value system. I don't ever compromise my value system, but I compromise other things depending on the situation or the ultimate goal that I'm trying to achieve. Don’t hide and pretend to be something for someone else via social media. The hardest thing in life is trying to be something for someone else, trying to be what somebody else wants us to be. The easiest thing in life is just being yourself because that's truly who you are. Always be yourself, stay true to yourself, and follow your own dreams and I think you'll be fine.”
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