Embrace Ambiguity

The Goldman Sachs CDO on the positives of ambiguity, returning to the workforce, and intersectionality

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, who grew up in Puerto Rico and came to the United States to study at Princeton, has long been integral in promoting diversity at the financial firm Goldman Sachs. Today she is the company’s leader in this area, as managing 
director, chief of diversity, and global head of talent. Vazquez-Ubarri spoke with Diversity Woman about navigating multiple cultures and the challenges of promoting diversity in the financial sector.

Diversity Woman: What was your path to working in diversity and inclusion?
Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri: I was in corporate law before coming to the firm 10 years ago. But I have always been involved in diversity, either as a member of committees or in recruiting people of diverse backgrounds. And obviously, as a Hispanic woman, it’s personally very important to me.

DW: You’ve said that your cultural background has shaped how you respond to ambiguity. Can you talk more about that?
AVU: I grew up speaking Spanish but learning English. I now live in a world of English and speak Spanish at home. I think that ambiguity and moving fluidly from one culture to another, from one language to another, are the by-products of being comfortable in those situations. Many times I’ve just naturally become a bridge and a translator for different sets of people. I think of ambiguity as the sweet spot where opportunities and creation can happen.

DW: What are some specific challenges in attracting diverse talent to the financial sector?
AVU: The biggest challenge is continuing to reach people for whom we may not be top of mind and getting them interested. There’s no doubt that after the financial crisis, what people might have learned about this industry would have seemed in contrast with the people they wanted to be. I spend most of my time explaining the culture of Goldman Sachs and why I value it: the integrity, the teamwork, and the drive of the people who work here to better themselves every day.

DW: Talk about the Goldman Sachs 
Returnship Program, which brings people back into the workforce after a number of years away.
AVU: There is very well-documented research about the life cycle of employees and what happens when people have difficulties and challenges. We used that research to develop a program that would give talented people the opportunity to practice what it would be like to come back to work. We benefit from it because the people who come through that program are incredibly impressive.

DW: Are the participants mostly women who have taken a break to care for children?
AVU: We have had men, but it is primarily women who have taken time to tend to their families—children, but also parents or other relatives who have become ill. The age range is as diverse as the reasons and the time lines that people have experienced in their careers.

DW: What do you see as the biggest challenge in diversity and inclusion work over the next five to seven years?
AVU: Intersectionality will become increasingly necessary for firms to understand and to embrace. The employees we’ll be receiving at our doors will be of mixed backgrounds. Understanding the broad set of what makes a person and what makes people reach their potential at work is going to be a big challenge and opportunity. And I hope that more companies find what we have found, which is that diversity shouldn’t be an isolated practice, but should be integrated into the talent strategy in all aspects. Anyone who is a leader in the talent space needs to be an expert in difference.

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