Comcast NBCUniversal's Juan Otero: Diversity & Inclusion Have Always Been at the Heart of My Journey
Otero talks with DiversityInc about his new position, the importance of mentoring and sponsoring, and offers career advice.
Otero's impressive career has included many roles, such as serving as deputy director at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, and working in various positions at Comcast, all of which helped inspire his advocacy for inclusive environments.
“As I think about my professional journey, and the opportunities that have come my way, diversity and inclusion have always been at the heart of it," he said.
“I think a lot of that comes from my parents, who grew up in a world where they were not so welcomed when they came to the United States."
Otero's parents came to New York City from Ponce, Puerto Rico, and he was born and raised in the South Bronx. Otero explained that his father was identified as a special needs student by the public school system, simply because Spanish was his first language. This created obstacles for him throughout his education, and had a strong impact on how Otero was raised.
“That's what they did with Spanish speakers," he said.
As a result, Otero's father did not want his son to speak his native language, because he wanted him to assimilate into American culture. It wasn't until later in life that Otero learned to speak Spanish.
“So, it's a very personal thing for me to see this transformation of the United States — how we now talk about the ties that bind us and the things that make us unique," he said.
“Diversity & Inclusion is that important piece that helps drive the conversation."
'Placing D&I in the DNA of a Corporate Entity'
Otero oversees the strategy and implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives across Comcast NBCUniversal in five focus areas: governance, workforce, procurement, programming and community impact.
He also works closely with Comcast's Executive Internal Diversity Council, its Workforce Diversity & Inclusion team and the external Comcast NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Advisory Council.
Otero, who has been with the company since 2009, previously served as vice president of federal government affairs responsible for federal legislative advocacy with members of Congress and the Administration. He was also responsible for developing strategies for achieving corporate legislative objectives.
“Having been a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, having worked in various roles at Comcast, it's always been, for me, a fascinating dialogue watching the intersection of public policy and issues around diversity and inclusion, and how they manifest themselves into American life," Otero said.
He will continue to utilize his legislative skillset of “messaging, educating and supporting efforts to make change."
Otero added that he has been “very close to our D&I efforts from the beginning, when we started this journey at Comcast," and he has been fortunate to see the company's growth and evolution to becoming an innovator in the D&I space.
In 2017, Comcast moved up 10 spots on the DiversityInc Top 50 list.
“With the support of our senior leadership, David Cohen [senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer] and Brian Roberts [chairman and CEO], D&I is embedded in our business and culture."
Otero also said the process involves “having strategic engagement, both internally and externally, with national leaders and our joint diversity advisory council."
“It's many, many moving parts that have so many of our business leaders driving it," he added. “But it's certainly a commitment that is here to stay and one that we have to continue to always make progress on."
Mentoring and Sponsorship
Otero admitted that when he was younger, he was “an absolutely dreadful" mentee.
He explained that he initially fought the mentorship process because “I always thought that I didn't need it."
“But once I got involved in the process and went through the process," Otero explained, “There were so many key learnings that I still hold today."
Now, Otero said he seeks the advice of his mentors and sponsors everyday.
“In my Comcast life, I've had amazing friends, leaders…I still do," he said. “They have really helped guide and shape my path."
Otero currently serves on the executive committee of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, providing leadership development programs and educational services to students and young emerging Latino leaders.
“I was a product of CHCI," Otero said. “Candidly, I was a poor kid from the South Bronx. I wanted to go to D.C. and I wanted to experience that world. Because companies like Comcast sponsor fellows and internships, people like me get the opportunity to spend a year working on Capitol Hill."
He said being on the committee “is a labor of love."
“CHCI has created so many amazing leaders," he said. “And touched so many kids."
Otero works with the students in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal.
“I don't believe you just write the check," he said. "I think that you make sure that you connect with these kids and stay in contact with them and help give them the network that they need."
Otero also serves on the boards of Make Room USA and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute.
In regard to advice for those just starting out in their career, Otero said it's important to figure out what you're passionate about.
“I knew that I loved the law and I wanted a law degree," said Otero, who holds a J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a M.P.A. from American University.
“I knew I liked public policy, so I worked toward those things."
He also said to be a continuous learner.
“It's knowing what you're passionate about and educating yourself about it over and over again," Otero said. “Never get stagnant in terms of your brain power."
The advice he offers to those already in the workforce is to know when it's time to reinvent oneself.
“I had a really amazing job in D.C.," Otero explained. “I think I was pretty good at it. I enjoyed the work, but I needed that next challenge."
He said when the D&I opportunity came forth, he asked himself the question, “Am I ready to challenge myself with the next role?'"
If you're considering a new challenge, Otero said to also reflect upon the question, “Am I working in place or am I managing my own career?"
As managing one's career is “something that only you are responsible for, at the end of the day," he said.
Coleman, talks with DiversityInc about his journey transitioning from life in the U.S. Navy to working for Kaiser Permanente as an Assistant Hospital Administrator.
Anthony B. Coleman, DHA, is the Assistant Hospital Administrator (Operations Support) for Kaiser Permanente, Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers.
He was born at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. At 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy serving aboard the USS Pioneer (MCM 9) and USS Ardent (MCM 12). After completing a full sea tour he was transferred to shore duty, and earned a Bachelor's degree in Workforce, Education and Development, as well as a Master of Health Administration. He later earned a commissioned as a Naval Officer serving in various roles overseas and afloat, including Chief Financial Officer at U.S. Naval Hospital Beaufort SC, Human Resources Director at U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan and Medical Operations Officer onboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75) nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
Anthony retired in 2016 with 20 years of honorable service and holds a Doctor of Health Administration Degree and currently serves as the Assistant Administrator (Operations Support) for Kaiser Permanente Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers.
DI: What was the initial transition like going from the armed services to a civilian career?
My initial thoughts on transition brought unnecessary anxiety. However, when I learned that my preceptor was a retired Air Force Colonel, it helped put me at ease about the transition. On my first day at Kaiser Permanente, the staff and physicians welcomed me and ensured that I had the support I needed to make a successful transition.
DI: What are some skills or habits you developed while serving in the military that have helped you in your current role?
Two things stick out in my mind as important.
The first is transitioning mindset from duty to desire. I joined the navy at 17, and during the first 3-5 years of my military career I didn't realize I was part of something bigger than myself so I competed tasks out of obligation (duty). After completing my first full sea tour, I realized how my efforts contributed to the overall mission of the U.S. Navy and the duties I carried out started to come from a desire to do so. This realization helped shape my leadership style and how I groomed young sailors early on in their enlistments. I wanted them to realize their very important part in the overall U.S. Navy mission and motivate them to bring their "A" game every day.
This has helped in my current role overseeing nine non-clinical departments (Housekeeping, Food and Nutrition, Engineering, Construction, Parking, Safety, Property Management, Telecommunications, Security and Supply Chain Management) where the majority of the employees I oversee are entry-level and can feel disconnected to health care because they are not physicians or nurses. However, I stress to them as often as possible that whether their job is to nourish the patient, clean and disinfect a patient room, make sure life-saving equipment is in working order, or any other of the hundreds of non-clinical functions they perform day in and day out, they too are vital to a patient's health and healing.
The second is attention to detail. Most times, my staff are the first and/or last interaction our members have with Kaiser Permanente. It is crucial for them to pay attention to every detail about the patient they encounter because each and every detail about the patient, large or small can help us do a better job in serving them. Sometimes, it may be as simple as a smile or word of encouragement that could make all the difference in the patient experience.
DI: What career advice can you offer to veterans or current military folks who are looking to pivot, and what types of jobs should they be looking for?
Stay current in world health affairs, as well as the political climate in the US. Now more than ever, politics are shaping our approach to health care and vice versa. Veterans and current military members should make sure they have an idea of where civilian health care is, as well as where it's going in the future, so they can demonstrate their value to potential health care employers.
Devote time to discovering their passion and allow it to lead them to a profession. So often, when military members plan to transition to civilian life, they tend to focus on their ability to continue providing for their families beyond military service. This can cause us to accept positions for the sake of securing post military employment, or accept positions that are not aligned with our core beliefs, or passion.
DI: Did you always have an idea of the type of career you wanted to pursue after the military?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I began planning my exit from the military in 2005 when I discovered my passion for eliminating health disparities however, because I was a single father of a 5 year old girl, my mom convinced me to complete a full career first.
In 2004, the Navy sent me to graduate school to learn how to be a health administrator. During the summer of 2005, I interned at Wallace Thomson Hospital in rural Union County, South Carolina. While there I met a kitchen worker who impressed me with her skill in preparing meals for all of the sick patients at the hospital, specific to their individual needs. Her name was Pee Wee and even though she never finished high school, and worked a second job to make ends meet she somehow found a way to show compassion for each patient while contributing to the healing environment.
After the rotation was complete, I went back to finish graduate school and learned that Pee Wee died of a stroke. She was 52. Her death really affected me and a began to look at how a person in America could die so young of a preventable health issue. That's when I learned about health disparities and discovered my passion for eliminating them. I understand that I may not be able to complete this task in my lifetime however, I am completely comfortable with making it my life's work at Kaiser Permanente.
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