Jorge Alcaraz (he/him/his) is the Global Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Allison+Partners. Jorge leads the global DEI strategy, in collaboration with senior leadership and key stakeholders, to transform Allison+Partners into a more equitable agency. Simultaneously, Jorge is a PhD Candidate at UCLA in the Higher Education and Organizational Change program.
Jorge is passionate about reimagining agency operations to cultivate more equitable processes for the evaluation, career pathing, and retention of minoritized populations. His approach to DEI work includes meeting people where they are at, asking critical questions, and being an active listener.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
I was lucky to have a supportive mother in life, Martha. My mother was a feminist, an immigrant, and an optimist. Whatever my mother put her mind to, she would do. Now, this was a woman who knew little English, but she was confident and determined; she had tenacity. From an early age, she translated her life lessons into support for everything and anything I did. She always said I could do everything, such as win class president in 7th grade. However, I didn’t win, but it was the fact that I tried that mattered. Part “B” of her philosophy is that losing or falling short isn’t bad; it is a learning experience. In everything I do, I aim for the stars and enter spaces with humility which results in genuine connections and a disarming presence for discussions on DEI work.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
The passing of my mother, Martha, was a life experience I could highlight on my resume because it was life-altering. It is difficult to lose a parent and take the time to process it while finishing a PhD and working a full-time job. It was a lot to process, and the experience reminded me of my resilience but also became a pivotal moment for me that challenged me to reflect on my take on life. I now live a life focused on making an impact through personal connection, living in joy, and making time for people no matter how busy I am.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
This is a difficult question because I am not at the stage where I am hiring someone for my team. However, when the opportunity arises, there are two qualities I look for in a candidate. One is the ability to reimagine processes. Doing DEI, in my philosophy, requires that we reimagine everything that we do, from hiring to evaluation because previous processes have not worked. Two is a predisposition to take bold action. Imagination is great but works best when paired with bold action. I like a team member who can say, here is what everyone else is doing, and here is the trailblazing action we will take to push DEI into a new direction for our agency and industry. As it pertains to qualities I avoid, I tend not to work as well with people who aren’t receptive to feedback or who are unable to self-reflect.
One frustrating element of corporate DEI initiatives is committing to increasing racially minoritized populations without any infrastructure to support and assess them effectively. We are so quick to produce ‘good outcomes’ that we fail to recognize that you need ‘good processes’ to do so.”
Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?
I struggle with this question. As a queer person, up until college, I kept my queerness to myself. There’s a lot of fear and self/collective work that comes with this experience. For a long time, I took the external cues signaled to me via conversations about religion, politics, etc. in both academic and workspaces to “hide” that portion of my identity or keep it to myself until marked “safe” for me. However, I found that an existing challenge of sharing my queerness is that I quickly become positioned as the expert on all things queerness.
My reaction to the environment has shifted in my professional career. I do not feel that sharing my queerness is hiding, but instead self-preservation. However, at this point in my career, I share my queerness as I see fit, using storytelling and community-building opportunities as moments to do so.
Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
I will forward this academic piece which helps reposition organizational change with a new framing—a Theory of Racialized Organizations by Dr. Victor Ray (2019).
As for podcasts, I am a huge fan of NPR’s Life Kit, which produces new episodes consistently. It helps me understand how to communicate a practice or idea in simple, tangible actions. It is also helpful in general because you are learning something new. I also recommend the 5-episode podcast series Nice White Parents produced by The New York Times. This podcast is good at situating the influence of privileged identities and their ability to shape and influence existing systems, which links to the work we are trying to do in the DEI space.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
In my professional life, I express my DEI commitment through building foundational infrastructure and transparency. For me, that includes systematic learning training across the agency at all levels, including agency-wide microaggressions training and more focused equity-driven supervisor training. Moreover, it also includes establishing equitable processes (i.e., hiring) and criteria (i.e., evaluation, career pathing) across all operations for our agency. Lastly, ensuring that we are transparent and providing clarity for each process or criteria is critical to my mission.
In my personal life, I express my commitment by talking to my friends about our collective experiences and helping one another navigate difficult situations. I also like to attend events put on by local artists, including drag shows, outreach events, and seminars. There are a lot of activists and grassroots organizations that do a lot of good work, and I want to be supportive.
What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
One frustrating element of corporate DEI initiatives is committing to increasing racially minoritized populations without any infrastructure to support and assess them effectively. We are so quick to produce “good outcomes” that we fail to recognize that you need “good processes” to do so.
One action item is to assess your existing culture while ensuring that you are using accurate demographic data to pinpoint the discrepancy in experiences across groups. This assessment cannot be your annual experience survey; it must be a focused culture or DEI assessment. It is problematic to hire racially minoritized populations and let them experience a hostile work environment and have them decide to endure or leave an organization.
An additional action step is to stop saying “they are diverse” or “they are a diverse candidate.” Everyone is technically diverse; be more focused and nuanced in your language.