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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Generations Face Change In Workplace

Generations Face Change In Workplace By BRAD SMITH Staff Reporter When Mike Moore (photo) entered the banking industry in 1973 as a brand-new business management grad from the University of Southern California, the “uniform” for his fellow trainees in a management track program was just that. “There were a handful of women, far less so than men,” said Moore, 53, who today is a senior human resources executive with Wells Fargo in Los Angeles. “And even though it was the Vietnam War era, flower power, the whole nine yards, there was still some of the man in the gray flannel suit stereotype, even then,” he said. “There was an expectation you’d wear the dark suit, white shirt, and tie, and for the women who were on the professional track it would be the same.” Moore’s peers, however, were reflective of what almost any cohort of young professionals in southern California, much less the United States, would look like. Not anymore. California’s labor force today is the most diverse on the planet, in both gender and ethnicity, and reflective of the general population of the state, while the San Fernando Valley and surrounding communities are just as diverse. Women and minorities are well-represented in the local workforce, as shown by federal labor statistics and anecdotally by the results of the Business Journal’s annual search for “40 Under 40” in which the editorial staff, aided by nominations from readers, identified some of the best and brightest professionals under the age of 40. The 92 nominees, 40 of whom are profiled in this issue, are from a variety of local employers, ranging from Valley economic anchors like the aerospace industry to high tech start-ups, the professions, and public service. This year, the average age of the nominees is 33; about one-third are women and approximately one-sixth have identifiably Spanish surnames. Eighteen hold the title of president, chief executive officer, or owner; ten are in education; eight in public service; ten represent not for profits; eight are in banking and finance; seven are with technology companies; eight in the aerospace industry; eight are business consultants; five are attorneys or accountants; four are in non-aerospace manufacturing; one each work in health care, insurance, or international trade; and three are in the real estate industry. Many of the nominees understand the opportunities they have seized would not have been open to everyone in their parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Marla Vasquez (photo), who grew up on a ranch in Montana, is the first woman in her family to graduate from college. “Most of the time people married someone around town and stayed in Montana,” said Vasquez, 34, who grew up outside the town of Wisdom, Mont. Population 100. Vasquez, a colleague of Moore and a district manager for Wells Fargo who oversees the banks’ branches in the eastern San Fernando Valley, is one of the 40 profiled. A Santa Clarita resident, Vasquez joined Wells Fargo as a part-time employee while going to graduate school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I’ve felt like Wells opened doors for me, and I never felt there was a closed door,” she said after Wednesday’s awards ceremony. “People just kept coming to me and saying we really want to get you to the next level and this is how you do it; it takes hard work, but they wanted me on the team.” Wells Fargo, like many American companies over the past four decades, has adopted diversity programs designed to encourage the recruitment and retention of women and minority employees. “Probably within the first five years of my career, this is the mid-to late ’70s, I started to see a change where women and minorities were provided more opportunity,” Moore said. “There were more people coming through executive training programs, and many of the laws were changing relative to expected behavior in the workplace; sexual harassment became a legal issue and you started seeing case law after legal challenges by women and ethnic minorities.” Pay problems Although salary equity between men and women remains a problem across the board, according to federal labor statistics, executives say equal opportunity has become something more than simply a legal requirement, especially in a region as diverse as southern California. Good business. “My goal is always to look at my market and to hire people in my local market who can help my customers,” Vasquez said. “We hire people for the Pacoima branch from Pacoima; the community embraces us and it is better for business.” As important as diversity is in an economic sense, that same sort of a commitment is vital for social justice and academic inquiry, honorees said. “Diversity is the sense of being able to realize that one can learn from someone unlike ourselves,” said Trae Cotton, 32, an associate dean at California State University Channel Islands and an African-American one of the 40 Under 40. “It should be the hallmark of higher education, and we embrace it and welcome it,” Cotton said. “If you say you are simply going to tolerate something, you are saying you will put up with something you don’t want (in academia) we have a commitment to try and create an environment where regardless of who you may be, gender, ethnicity, anything, you will find a place where you are welcomed.” A commitment to considering the “other” in a sense of intellectual honesty is equally vital in the sciences, nominees said. “As with any industry, but especially in science, you always need fresh ideas and perspectives to move forward,” said Michael Farris, 39, a physicist at Arete Associates in Sherman Oaks. “In order to change things or make them better, you need to be willing to question your current assumptions and think about the problem at hand differently; otherwise complacency sets in.” Needing diversity Farris, who earned his Ph.D at the University of California Los Angeles, sees the growing numbers of women and minorities in the sciences as almost a prerequisite for progress. “Every field, and every marketplace, needs younger people to take on new challenges, since they are sometimes the most willing to challenge those assumptions,” he said. “And with more women and minorities entering the workplace, an even broader infusion of new perspectives is introduced, which is even more beneficial for the sciences.” The reality of the shifting demographics that have led to California’s “majority-minority” population as of the 2000 census make yet another argument for valuing diversity in employment, officials said. “It just reflects the population, and the reality that everybody is treated equal,” said Greg Ramirez, 37, who grew up in agricultural Riverside County and today is city manager of Agoura Hills. The reality, however, is that even as California’s population has changed, some attitudes have not changed. “From my perspective, over my lifetime I have seen having a Spanish surname as something that can help you or hurt you,” said Ramirez, another finalist. “If all they see is your name, they may make a judgment based simply on that, even today; if they see me face to face, they may see something else I hope that is changing in Southern California.” It does appear to have changed for local elected officials; certainly for Thousand Oaks Councilwoman Claudia Bill-de la Pena, 37, the first Latina and only the second Spanish-surnamed resident to ever serve the city. “I don’t think Thousand Oaks voted for me because of my last name; they voted for me because of my qualifications,” she said. “But there was a political consultant who said I’d never get elected .” That kind of pathfinder status is important to many of the “40 Under 40” honorees, who are aware of their role as potential mentors for other young adults, no matter their gender or ethnicity. “Back home, they speak so proudly of me: ‘she’s a bank president that runs 10 branches,’ ” Vasquez said. “I’ve had people in the community call me and say ‘will you help my daughter see what you did?’ They see me as a role model.”

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