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Taking a Seat at the Table: How I Learned to Use My Voice to Champion Diversity and Inclusion Programs

Samantha SantiagoBy Samantha Santiago, Claims Strategy Director, Liberty Mutual Insurance

A proven asset to all companies, diversity of thought is the idea that our thinking is shaped by our culture, background, experiences and personalities. It is also about different work styles and approaches. In short, each of our unique perspectives is our currency—we all have what it takes.

Yet as a young female executive, I did not bring my authentic self to work. For almost 15 years, I did not contribute my full self, and as a result, I experienced tremendous self-doubt, missed out on sponsorship, lost opportunities for promotions and endured a whole host of uncomfortable conversations. What I held back: the fact that I am gay. I did it out of fear of being pigeon-holed, which led to a fear of being outed, which, in turn, made me hold back even more, refusing to join any employee resource groups.

I thought I was merely keeping a part of myself to myself. But then about four years ago, I realized that I was holding back more than my sexual identity—I was holding back me. And when I realized how much more I could be giving to the company by bringing my authentic self to work, I decided to take action—and finally take a seat at the leadership table.

My First Steps

I started by joining and taking an active role in Amigos@Liberty, an ERG dedicated to the Hispanic/Latino community. Then to help me stay strong, I developed a mantra. This is what I still often say to myself and what it means to me:

  • Be you: Take your mask off and show people the real you. They will love it.
  • Be bold: Ask yourself “why not?” If you don’t have a compelling answer, go for it!
  • Be heard: Don’t lose your voice. If you have something important to say, someone usually needs to hear it.

Five Steps to a Seat at the Leadership Table

Next, I developed a five-step process to achieving a leadership role. It can be used for any goal actually. All you need to add is your relentlessness! Here it is with an example of how I have put it to work for me:

#1. Decide what table you want to sit at. I decided I wanted a leadership position in Amigos@Liberty so I could have a voice in how we connect employees to the Hispanic market, the fastest growing demographic in the country.

#2. Be clear on what you want to contribute. I had three things. First, I wanted to be involved with long-term strategic planning, how we were linking our work to the top strategic initiatives facing the Hispanic/Latino population. Second, I wanted to be in on employee development, accomplished by creating a pipeline of Hispanic/Latino talent at every level. Finally, I wanted to be celebrating and teaching others about the Hispanic/Latino culture.

#3. Share your goal with others. I reached out to ERG members and the Amigos leadership team to let them know I was interested in a leadership position. I reiterated what I wanted to contribute and how my background made me well suited for it.

#4. Humbly seek feedback, but stay your course. I sought feedback from exiting co-chairs and my immediate manager.

#5. Try and try again if needed. I applied and continued to reiterate my goals. I sought additional ways of contributing to the ERG in the meantime. Going the extra mile always helps!

As a result of following these steps, I was promoted from strategic advisor to co-chair of the Amigos leadership team last June. I’ve learned that to change any narrative you have to have the courage to step out of your comfort zone, try relentlessly and fail occasionally. Success is a numbers game. Find the table you want to sit at, pull up your chair and make an impact!

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