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Not a one-size-fits-all: Laura Ramirez’s insights from leading diversity, equity and inclusion at Trinity Industries

  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Expanding Equity program helps workplaces become more racially equitable places of opportunity. The program supports and inspires actions that advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion among leaders, within companies and within industries. This interview is part of a series highlighting individual leaders’ personal racial equity, diversity and inclusion journeys, and the impacts of those experiences on their careers. 

    Laura Ramirez is the Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Trinity Industries – a premier provider of rail transportation products and services, dedicated to being socially responsible and environmentally conscious. In her role, Laura created the three-year DEI strategic framework and works towards implementing the strategy in a meaningful way. She strives to positively enhance the overall employee experience, retention and employee engagement. This has included creating an Inclusive Culture Training for senior leaders and hosting DEI Focus Groups and Safe Space Sessions for employees to have small group discussions on key DEI topics or social issues that may affect them. Prior to Trinity Industries, she has had experience working in diversity and inclusion at multiple other organizations and has held roles in sales, finance, marketing and HR.

    Q: Can you please introduce yourself and discuss your career background?

    “I actually started my career at AT&T. I was there for 17 years, and I did a lot of different roles there. I did sales, marketing, finance. For me, my last stop at AT&T, I always knew I wanted it to be in human resources – because I love people. I think people are the number one asset for any organization.

    “And then I had Ericsson North America reach out, because of all the roles that I was doing within diversity and inclusion at AT&T. They reached out, wanted to have some conversations, and I was just sharing some best practices with them […] They offered me the position to go in, and so I was able to join Ericsson with a clean slate – D&I function from scratch. It was exciting for me to be able to go and take everything I had learned and try to implement something of that scale and magnitude within Ericsson.”

    “In my own career, I wanted to tap into a new industry, and so when Invitation Homes reached out and they approached me with a brand-new role as well, and gave me the space to also create something, build something from scratch. It was exciting as well to learn a new industry and to be able to build something for them – something meaningful, like I did at Ericsson North America.”

    “I was really wanting to be able to make a greater impact, and so when Trinity Industries reached out to me about the role – it was exciting. For me, having the opportunity to really tap into over 9,000 people, make a difference for them, that spoke to me.

    Q: What personal experiences have been meaningful for your DEI work and have impacted how you show up in the DEI field?

    “My parents immigrated from Mexico, and I remember being in school and helping another fellow student who didn’t know how to speak English. I was helping translate for her, and I remember my teacher very firmly scolding me and telling me, ‘Laura, do not speak Spanish. You’re in America: assimilate’ […] I’ll never forget that […] Because as a child, I’m trying to find my identity. And then for me to know something and to appreciate being bilingual, learning two and knowing two languages, and then made to feel ashamed of my culture, was just so confusing for me at the time.”

    “And so the work that I do within diversity, equity, and inclusion is really important to me […] I’m doing it because it matters. It matters to me, for my employees that sometimes don’t feel that they can speak up and for employees that feel that they aren’t seen or aren’t heard.

    Q: What kinds of characteristics and skillsets does a successful DEI leader have, and what is your personal approach?

    “As a DEI practitioner, I encourage you to really learn the work that you’re doing […] You have to stay on top of things that are happening, whether it’s policies, laws, changes that are happening, incidents and tragedies that are going to happen as well […] Something’s going to change, and how does it affect my people? How does it affect my employees? […] You don’t know everything. And you never will, and that’s okay. But you have to stay on top of things so that you can continue to be the conscience of the company.”

    “Even though I’ve been in diversity and inclusion for a very long time, I want you to know that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. I don’t just take a strategy, go and put it in place at a new company, it doesn’t work that way. You have to get to know your people. You have to get to know the industry that you’re working in. You have to get to know the communities that you’re serving as well.”

    Q:  What is the structure of DEI at Trinity, and what is it like being a DEI team of one?

    “So for my team structure, I report to my CHRO, but from a DEI perspective, I am a team of one […] I don’t have a team where now I can go say, ‘Go and execute on these tactical things.’ For me, I roll up my sleeves a lot of the time. For me, it’s also partnering with important stakeholders, because I’m not doing the work by myself.

    “If I think about it from a talent acquisition perspective, partnering [..] to make sure that we are looking at, and we are hiring, we’re interviewing diverse candidates for potential roles. It’s working with organizational effectiveness, again to ensure that we are providing equitable opportunities for career development, for all of our employees. Also for my ERGs, partnership with nine wonderful ERGs to ensure that anything I want them to help advocate or amplify, any work that I’m doing, I want them to also then be able to share and cascade that with their members as well.”

    Q: What is your advice to DEI practitioners to find balance and sustain themselves in the work?

    “Sometimes you have to take a step back and make sure that you’re good – whether it’s from a mental standpoint, your health […] is important. So make sure you’re taking a step back to really address and focus on that. Because the work that we’re doing, from a DEI perspective, it’s hard [..] It’s a long haul, it’s going to be a long journey for us to make these changes sustainable over time.”

    “But know that you can lean on other DEI practitioners […] We’re all navigating through this, we all want the positive change within our organizations.”

    “If you’re feeling like it’s a lot of work that you’re needing to do, take a step back. Pause, regroup – self-care is really important. I’m a huge advocate of that. So make sure that you’re taking care of yourself before you can honestly and authentically take care of other employees and others.