Serving diversity: Latino Professionals Association

Feature Important Latino Business Figures Panel

When it comes to diversifying the community and the workforce, Madison has a challenge that’s not much different from many mid-sized cities, especially those in the Upper Midwest. While the city values diversity, it’s not the most demographically diverse community in Wisconsin, let alone the nation, and the social opportunities for vastly outnumbered people of color are limited. That doesn’t necessarily make it more difficult to lure more diverse workers here, but it does make it more difficult to keep them here.

That’s why an organization like the Latino Professionals Association (LPA) is so valuable in helping Greater Madison diversify and hold onto those workforce gains. The LPA’s mission is to elevate and connect Latino professionals through programming and events related to career growth, leadership development, civic and public engagement, and personal enrichment.

Two local businessmen who serve on the LPA’s board, Daniel Guerra, CEO of SDM Analytics, and Rogelio Carranza, associate project manager at PPD in Middleton, can offer testimony as to the association’s multifaceted value.

Carranza says the LPA creates a kind of safe space for Latino professionals, better enabling them to pursue success, and local sponsors see the diversity value in that mission. “We have a lot of great partners that work with us — American Family Insurance and Summit Credit Union — that they see that [diversity] as a priority, not only for us in the community but for them in their businesses too,” Carranza states. “So, having those great partnerships where we help each other put on these events so that these professionals, if they come in from out of state, from out of town, it’s not just a 9 to 5, go home, and wait for tomorrow [existence].

“There are things for them to do and people for them to engage with in the Latino community and beyond that as well.”

Dan Guerra Premire

Daniel Guerra

As Guerra notes on the diversity front, getting people to Madison to diversify the workforce is the easy part. “Keeping them here is the hard part,” he notes, “and so organizations like the Latino Professional Association that push issues forward and are supported financially by Madison and Dane County employers are beneficial.”

Part of its value comes in recognition for career milestones, which not only benefits the individual honorees, but the broader community as well. Each year, the LPA puts on a Brindis event, in which Latino professionals are recognized for the success they have had in their careers. When people climb the career ladder, perhaps all the way up to the C-suite, that also brings diversity that’s good for business. “It’s good for the minority community,” Guerra notes, “and it’s good for the businesses because the businesses now have more even contact with their customers. So, there is a lot of win-win, and that’s a critical role that we play in networking and helping to retain that talent so that everybody wins.”

Propping the value prop

During the pandemic, the LPA’s mission was hardly aborted. Like many organizations, it pivoted to virtual programming. While there was some membership erosion when it came to business members (thanks to the pandemic’s economic carnage), individual and surviving business members continued to find value. In October 2020, the first completely virtual event it held was its Yo Soy program, titled “Investing on Latinx Talent,” to highlight Hispanic Heritage Month.

Rogelio Carranza Img

Rogelio Carranza

“From there, we were only able to go up because with the pivot from the in-person to virtual, each event was better and better and smoother and smoother,” Carranza notes. “In the beginning, it was rough, but it just kept getting better and better for us … We also would play games online or just find openings for people to feel comfortable and still be able to connect.”

When it came time to show up in person, the 2020 presidential election provided a compelling reason for members to get outside. “We don’t take political positions. We’re a not-for-profit organization, but we do believe in issue awareness and getting folks out and knowing they have the ability to vote,” Guerra notes. “Following strict COVID protocols, our team was out at Breese Stevens Field encouraging folks to come out, get registered, be active in their communities, and to give back.

“It’s not just the social aspect of it,” Guerra adds. “It’s not just the professional development. It’s the civic engagement component and that’s something that often gets missed. That’s another value the LPA brings to the conversation.”

In pivoting during the pandemic, the organization necessarily had to change its value proposition without changing its mission. Guerra gives much of the credit to Board Chair Norma Gallegos Valles, who was dealt a tough hand on her first go-round, in determining how to change the value proposition, or perhaps more accurately stated, its social value proposition for events like its Building Our Legacy Conference, its Level Up programs, the now virtual Conexiones [after-hours events], and a series of new professional development webinars.

“One thing that I have a lot of respect for, for our board members, is that we have not been careless folks,” Guerra states. “We have tried to model what it means to be good leaders in our community by making sure we’re not promoting events that would actively spread COVID. We have chosen to be online. We’re trying to set a good example, but that also changes the value proposition of a group that is just inherently social. We are inherently huggers. We are inherently kissers. We inherently love to be out talking loudly, and when you have to move into a virtual environment, your value proposition changes and ours did too.”

In so doing, the LPA — again, like other organizations — found that virtual programming offered some limitless features. “We had on an incredible Latino entrepreneur [Ricardo Carranza] last week who talked about his journey. He started the jiujitsu gym on South Park Street. He went to California with nothing, managed to wind up at some startups, and is now doing crypto and block chain technology and real estate investment … Those are the kinds of stories we need to tell our community. We need successful Latino entrepreneurs to come back and say, ‘This is what’s possible. This is what the LPA can do to really engage and show the Latino community what is possible.’” 

The elevator pitch

Both men were straightforward in explaining their elevator pitch on the benefits of joining the LPA. No need for deceptive curveballs, here, although Carranza did liken it to cultivating a vegetable garden. The result, he notes, can be a social chain reaction that drives Latino advancement.

“If you have a small garden, and if you have one good carrot, you don’t throw away your whole garden for that one good carrot and just base everything on that carrot,” he explains. “You cultivate that garden so that you can produce more, and to me, that’s what the LPA is about. It’s the space where we can get a lot of Latino professionals together, and because there is always that one great Latino, a rising tide raises all ships. That one person can help another person, who can help another person. That’s what we’re in the game for — to be able to elevate and raise as many Latino voices as possible to make Madison that much better and that much more efficient.”

For Guerra, the value of membership is in spending time where he can have the most impact and in building relationships, in part because he does not believe it’s realistic to separate his business life from his personal life. He cites an example of how the LPA has benefited him professionally. This year, his company launched a COVID-19 shared decision-making product directed toward vaccine hesitancy in the Latino and African American communities. In developing the product, SDM Analytics used data from the Local Voices Network, where LPA board member Mathias Lemos Castillo serves as head of Spanish conversations and partner engagement.

“One of our board members [Castillo] is part of a national startup that has to do with conversations,” Guerra explains. “So, his startup had done eight or 10 conversations in cities like Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Philadelphia over issues related to vaccine hesitancy. We have a relationship with somebody who is doing that but also is the foundation for the work that we’re doing to combat vaccine hesitancy. That is a direct example of how we took a social activity that we had no idea we could benefit from, and I was able to take that information, apply that information to my professional career, and create a product that has impacted thousands of people. That is the value of the LPA.”

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.