MARKETPLACE: Daniel Villao Knows the Smart Path to Diversity
Silicon Valley has a diversity problem, and judging from the small annual increase in the number of women and minority hires at tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook, progress has been slow.
One roadblock often cited by these companies is the "pipeline" problem: There are just too few well-qualified minorities to hire. And several companies' diversity initiatives include funding and programs aimed at the "pipeline," like attempts to boost diversity at elite universities or work with traditionally minority colleges.
Daniel Villao has a different idea: Why not start hiring outside the usual employee pool now, and teach them exactly what your company wants them to learn?
Villao is a labor-relations advisor at Intelligent Partnerships, a Seattle-based firm where he teaches business, NGOs and government how to broaden opportunities for the underrepresented.
He's figured out the way to make diversity and inclusion more than a zero-sum game, and has the track record to prove it. His last major project was working with governments, companies, and nonprofits in Seattle to help design the city's labor equity program for construction projects. Construction workforces average about 2.5 percent women and minorities throughout the country, according to Villao.
Seattle was better off, at about 4.5 percent. But Villao saw room for improvement. "When I concluded my work (in Seattle) this past March, they were at 14.8 percent," he said.
Diversity by Owning the Educational Process
For Villao, part of the reason technology companies have a diversity problem is because the education landscape is always changing, but the techniques they use to hire and train workers are too old.
Or perhaps, not old enough.
"They've been using internship modeling for a long time," said Villao. "They're fishing in very exclusive pools," he said, "and they're spending a lot of money to basically fish for new talent."
From the perspective of employers, you have to coax students from elite colleges to take on internships, which in Silicon Valley often pay close to what many seasoned professionals in other fields make. From the perspective of a talented technophile that can't afford to go to such elite schools in the first place, those "foot in the door" internships might as well be dead-bolted.
This problem can be avoided for some positions if -- ironically enough -- Silicon Valley thinks outside the box and dusts off a centuries-old way of educating professionals: the apprenticeship.
"You can take a high school kid who's a real good gamer -- or whatever your criteria would be -- and plug them into your system and teach him everything he needs to know," explained Villao. "Because here's the thing: no matter who you bring into your system, you still have to teach them your system."
Companies spend money on training and education no matter what, Villao pointed out, and it's a lot of money if they're paying for an Ivy Leaguer's internship.
But with an apprenticeship, retooled for the 21st century, he continued, "You end up with employees that know exactly what you need them to know, at a cheaper rate, and you create that opportunity in a much broader way."
"You can actually take anyone and create an earn-while-you-learn program," said Villao. "Saturate them in your internal processes and empower them to move through your training system at a reduced cost" for initial salaries and hiring.
"In the end, you can actually own a certification process for your internal employees that's recognized, and, by the way, the government offers advantages for doing that," he added. "There are tax benefits, supplemental workforce funds, that are available to employers that utilize these models."
"By using internal processes like that, all of a sudden, you no longer have to go to an Ivy League school to get somebody who is capable," Villao concluded. For young people shut out of the industry because of their socioeconomic background, it could be a game changer. "The beauty of apprenticeships is that they're earn-while-you-learn type programs."
A Career in Constructing Opportunity
Villao's focus isn't specifically on Silicon Valley's problems, but instead adapting creative tools like apprenticeships to any situation. "That's just one example where an ingrained process in hiring precludes you from being creative and using other resources to scale up opportunity," he noted.
"In a nutshell, my life's work is really about creating access" for Latinos at every stage of any career, said Villao, because he was fortunate enough get where he is without much of it.
Villao was raised by immigrant parents who moved to the U.S. from Ecuador. They were both middle class professionals. "My mother was a secretary, my father was an electrician," said Villao, but "they certainly didn't have the type of access that I've been able to garner over my career. I had to figure it out for myself."
As a young man, Villao started out on the same path as his father, but ended up following a very different calling. But his early experience informs the unique guidance he now provides clients to help broaden career opportunities.
"By trade, I'm an electrician like my father," said Villao. "I went through a registered apprenticeship program and spent time learning that," he said, "and worked in the field for several years as a journeyman electrician."
Villao told Latin Post he was drawn to his current line of work thanks to a bad experience in his early career. "I had an employer who I felt was not really effective, in terms of executing the work that the company needed executing. And I thought to myself, 'What's the difference between this guy and me?'"
One difference among several was a sense of entitlement his superior held, taking full credit and not acknowledging the efforts of those working under him. "That really irked me," Villao admitted.
But besides being bad form, that employer's attitude inherently closed off opportunities for his employees' careers. "And so that seeded this idea ... that began my exploration into how people actually get access and who really creates the opportunities."
Villao followed that inspiration and began working with labor organizations as a negotiator. He earned his college degree followed by an MBA from the University of Phoenix, arming himself for his new career.
Then, the State of California asked him to run a research program at UCLA on the evolution of the construction sector, which resulted in a book "Beyond Green Jobs," which coalesced many of Villao's innovative views on diversity and employment in contemporary America and earned him recognition as a unique thinker in his field.
Connecting Latinos & Spurring the Economy in Florida
"I believe that part of my responsibility as a successful entrepreneur, as a maturing Latino, is to not just hold the door open for the next generation, but hold it open and get as many Latinos through that door as possible," said Villao.
As part of that mission, Villao sits on the board of the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), a network of influential Latinos dedicated to developing careers and leadership across the country. Their latest project involves an alliance with the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund of Florida (HBIF), seeking to achieve empowerment of Latinos and economic growth in the region by creating new development programs for Latino entrepreneurs, which in turn will spur job creation opportunities in the community.
Full details on the partnership have not been released yet, but Villao revealed that the first steps come from opening opportunities for Latino entrepreneurs to find clients with Fortune 1000 companies represented by ALPFA's 48,000-strong membership.
"Those small and medium sized business owners who are experts at delivering their technical expertise can benefit from getting face to face with real purchasers in a large-scale environment," said Villao. "And that will allow their businesses to grow in a meaningful way."
The Smart Path to Diversity
The initiative in Florida is another example of the non-zero-sum strategic thinking towards diversity -- only in this case for supplier networks that benefit both established businesses and entrepreneurs seeking greater opportunities.
It's also the pragmatic attitude that has shaped Villao's career. An attitude based on the belief that inclusion in the workforce, business, and public policy -- galvanized by smart and sometimes unconventional strategies -- benefits not only those seeking greater opportunity, but also everyone's bottom line.
As Villao put it: "It's not just about diversity, it's about delivery."
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