Diversity is making history like never before: London Breed is the first African-American woman elected Mayor of the City of San Francisco; Frances Arnold is the first female at Caltech to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize; Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice and third woman on the United States Supreme Court, and Beth Ford is the first openly gay Fortune 500 CEO of Land O’Lakes.
One hears the terms “diversity and inclusion” more and more as society grapples with equality and inclusivity and what it means to be truly diverse. These topics have been trending and for important reasons: progressive, forward-thinking leaders see the business benefits of investing and building a diverse and inclusive organization that mirrors its clients, customers, and the world at large.
According to research from Glassdoor, 67% percent of job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor to them when considering companies and job offers. Research from Josh Bersin shows that more inclusive companies have a 2.3x higher cash flow per employee over a 3-year period, and inclusive companies are 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.
Here at Larta, the organization truly embraces diversity and inclusivity and the numbers speak for themselves. 89% of Larta staff includes women and minorities, while 54% of the companies participating in our commercialization programs are women and minority innovators and entrepreneurs.
With these stories, we proudly honor the rich heritage and contributions of our staff to the Los Angeles community:
Carlos Gutierrez, Chief Strategy Officer, employed for 17 years
Carlos’ parents met in New York City, although they are both of Costa Rican origins. They met at a soccer match, married and moved their family out West. Carlos’ father had a successful career in animation and produced many animated series such as Charlie Brown and the Pink Panther. Carlos is a native Angeleno as he and his sister were born and raised in Encino.
When asked about diversity, Carlos says:
“Business is global and to survive in business, you have to understand the makeup of customers is changing dramatically. You can no longer view the customer as a homogenous group. Companies that want to survive, have to internally reflect their customers. To the degree that companies can have a more diverse team or board, will ensure they can withstand shifting customer patterns.”
Carlos and his family are active members of their church and are involved with service projects in Baja, CA, where they help build houses and support work programs that create sustainable and meaningful lives for the people who live there. For three years, Carlos has volunteered his time to support this important cause, and this year he took his 14-year old son along for the experience.
“This is a cause that I’m close to and enjoy. I rather dig a hole, measure, and cut than talk, and I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the results of hard work. This year I took my son, and I hope it will help him have a heart, compassion, and to think about helping others.”
Isabel Casillas Guzman, Senior Advisor, employed for 1.5 years
Isabel hails from 4 generations of Texans who fled the Mexican Revolution from Aguas Calientes and Jalisco, Mexico. Her father and multi-generational family were prominent landowners in Texas, but her father couldn’t tolerate the violent racial tensions between Mexicans and whites in the 1960’s. His perspective on race relations changed when he decided to study veterinary medicine at Tuskegee University in Alabama. At Tuskegee, he shared classes with mostly African-American students and was deeply affected by the South’s non-violent equality movement, and decided to never return to the confrontational violence of Texas. He moved the family to Los Angeles and Isabel was born in Burbank. Isabel also shares Jewish and German heritage, and possibly some Chinese.
Isabel became familiarized with Larta through her work within the Small Business Association (SBA) federal program, which includes the SBIR. She was impressed with Larta’s scope of work and that Los Angeles held the largest commercialization experts and pioneers in the innovation space. She was equally impressed with Larta’s diversity, commitment to inclusivity and promoting economic development through entrepreneurship.
For Isabel, equity and inclusion are defined by the following:
“We must continuously grow our social and emotional intelligence, the ability to change and learn conflict resolution, and to be truly open to conflict of thought without being offended, so that different people are represented at the table expressing themselves. It’s been proven that businesses with more diverse boards and personnel succeed because they have diversity of thought and better solutions to problems.”
Ashley Molina, Director of Operations, employed for 7 years
Ashley was born in South Pasadena, CA to a Guatemalan mother and El Salvadorian father. Her maternal great-grandmother immigrated to the US in the 1950’s and her mother followed in the 1970’s. 100% of Ashley mother’s family lives in the United States as they were very poor and came seeking economic opportunities, In fact, at the age of 13 her mother worked two jobs to help the family make ends meet in their adopted country.
Ashley’s father on the other hand, comes from a wealthy, educated family made up of engineers and elected officials, where 95% of the clan stayed in El Salvador due to their privileged circumstances. In fact, a second cousin was elected Vice President of El Salvador. Through a twist of fate, her father left El Salvador and immigrated to Guatemala as an infant.
Her parents met and married in Los Angeles and have lived in the Highland Park community since the 1980’s. Ashley speaks to her parents’ experience as a pivotal time for her family, and how their unique story has impacted her own decision to keep her LA roots.
“My family has maintained their LA roots because they are only the first generation to succeed, purchase homes and businesses, and achieve the American dream, whereas multigenerational Latinos who have more established stability, are not afraid to take the next step and move around.”
Ashley dedicates her free time to refereeing women’s basketball throughout the LA area. She has interesting insights on being a woman, and a woman of color in a male dominated space, “Being female in the predominantly maIe profession of refereeing, I deal with issues of diversity and inclusion all the time. It’s assumed that I don’t know what I’m doing or I’m not as qualified as male counterparts, simply because I am a woman. The communities I work in are 95% African-American, so sometimes my knowledge is questioned because I am a Latina too, but I use these experiences to help guide and educate young woman on the court.”
Amber Davalos, Operations Associate, employed for 6 months
Amber was born and raised in Los Angeles and lives in Santa Fe Springs in the home where her maternal grandmother raised all her children. Amber’s grandmother and family are originally from Mexicali, but her mom was born in LA and their family has enjoyed economic opportunities in the U.S.
Amber’s father and his family originate from Leon, Guanajuato and were very poor, until her entrepreneurial paternal grandmother started a thriving family business. She founded a taxi company and financed loans, and her savvy business sense led to the family’s wealth and expanded ownership of other profitable businesses. In fact, Amber’s father owns a successful manufacturing company in Mexico, while other members of her family are professionals, business owners, and pilots.
Amber attributes her strong work ethic to family experiences and influences. Since high school, she has always had a job, and now works full-time at Larta and has a side job as well.
“I have always held down a job, even when I was in college. I was the first in my family to graduate from college, but I didn’t have anyone to help me through the process or help answer questions about career choices, so I am really looking forward to sharing my experiences with my nieces and nephews. I want to guide them with college choices and professional advice too, so they can benefit from my experience.”
Amber was attracted to Larta after visiting an Open House and meeting the team. She saw a great opportunity to meld her human relations and operations background into her current position, and felt an affinity for Larta’s mission: “I was attracted to Larta because it’s a small staff, but the nonprofit mission is huge. I fell in love with the feed, fuel, and heal mission, the technologies we help grow, and Larta’s culture of diversity.”
Josefina Correa, Programs Associate, Life Sciences, employed for 2 months
Josefina and her husband have lived in the United States for only four years as they decided to temporarily leave Uruguay in South America, to study here in the US. They spent the first two years at Georgetown University, where they received Masters Degrees, and moved to LA to get their first glance at diversity.
“I love diversity in all its shapes and forms. That’s one of the reasons I love LA. I lived most of my life in a tiny country, where everyone is the same and I was never exposed to diversity until I came to the US. LA is an explosion of flavors, food, people, religions, culture, and fashion. Larta like LA, is super-diverse and so many different perspectives make this organization so rich. There are four people on my team and we all come from different cultures and countries, and this experience has really expanded my mind.”
– Josefina Correa
Also, Josefina was attracted to Larta’s important work in the life sciences as she is a scientist. The Larta way of bridging the gap between pure scientific research and bringing technologies to the business world though a virtual accelerator, is right up her alley. She was particularly impressed with Larta’s network of experts and principal advisors, “Network is everything now-a-days. You have to have the right connections to get ahead, and Larta’s network is one of the best.”
Josefina volunteers once a week with the Miracle Project, an organization in LA that helps kids and young adults with autism and other disabilities to improve social and job skills through art. “I get to interact with folks who sometimes are not included in society. When you see someone evolve and grow and be better every day, you realize we all get a chance to be better. Sometimes I think I volunteer to help them, but they’re helping me.”
“The Miracle Project is an amazing organization as they also help young adults with job placement skills too. I am so proud that some of the young adults I work with have been casted for the last season of the Atypical series on Netflix.”
Ileana Sarafian, External Engagement Director, employed 1.5 years
Ileana and her family fled Cuba as political refugees after the Cuban Communist Revolution of Fidel Castro. She was born in Cuba, but emigrated to Pasadena, CA in the late 1960’s as an infant. Although part of a large family in Cuba, the only members to leave were Ileana, an older brother, her parents, and paternal grandmother. Grandparents, seven aunts and uncles, and many cousins remained, making life in their new country a lonely experience at times.
“Diversity and inclusion is what this country is all about to me. Although inequalities still exist, Los Angeles and many parts of the country are pioneers in breaking down barriers and opening up access to economic opportunities for underserved communities. I come from very humble beginnings, but was taught the value of hard work, education, and grit by my parents, who also recognized the benefit of keeping our multilingual skills and multiculturalism. Before diversity was a trend, they saw inherent value in being different, having a different language, culture, perspectives, and opinions.”
Ileana was drawn to Larta’s mission and passion for innovation, and to the technologies commercialized that provide solutions to some of the planet’s most pressing problems: clean water, feeding the world’s growing populations, alternative fuels, and disease prevention and cures. The organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was a huge positive for her as well, “I was very impressed with Larta’s diversity, both on staff, but also within Larta’s network of companies and principal advisors.”
Ileana volunteers her spare time to the very personal cause of Alzheimer’s research, advancements in prevention and curing the disease. “I am always fascinated by the companies in Larta’s program areas that are using amazing research and technologies to cure and treat Alzheimer’s, because it shows the caliber and societal impact of the companies we help bring to market and to consumers.”