Donald Thompson: Hey everyone, welcome to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. I’m your host Donald Thompson, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and CEO of Walk West in Raleigh North Carolina. On this podcast, we share diverse perspectives from leaders in their industry, and we get to hear what diversity means to them, why businesses should be focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives, and why D&I is not only the right thing to do, it is absolutely imperative to the growth of your company.
Before we get started, be sure to check out all of the diversity and inclusion initiatives we’re working on, including the online course, at TheDiversityMovement.com.
On the show today, Carlos Alva, Technology Consultant at Deloitte, comes on to talk about what diversity means to him and what he’s seen in his short but impressive career, why he started the group Peruvians in Tech, the biggest challenges he has faced, and why employers should be focusing on diversity.
For Carlos, his family moved to the United States from Peru when we was nine years old. He had to learn the language, learn the culture, and try to fit in. In high school, he played sports, partly because he enjoyed it, but he had another reason as well…
Carlos Alva: through high school, I was involved in sports. I ran hurdles and track and played football, and then eventually went back to soccer my senior year, just because I wanted to do something different. But the reason I did those two thing is because I wanted to prove the stereotype wrong as far as that, if you are a certain ethnicity group or you don’t have the history of being an athlete that you can’t do it.
Carlos busted through stereotypes throughout high school and finished in the top ten in his class. But instead of college, Carlos needed to focus on taking care of his mom and brother, and the job he had in high school at Chic-Fil-A, he started to take that more seriouisly, and at 20 years old, he was operations manager in charge of 70 people…
Donald Thompson: let’s dig into that just for a minute, like, tell me about that process. Tell me how you were able to do that at such a young age, by 20.
Carlos Alva: Yeah. I’m happy to share. So like, you’re right, it is a process. It was a process of being consistent of what I wanted. My longterm goal. And a process of keeping or acting above my age. I guess having that business mindset, always being a year old owner to make sure that I saw things the way he saw it.
Because if I can connect with him at that level and understand what keeps him at sleep at night, then it makes me a better leader and I can communicate that to my peers, which by default would make me a leader in my environment. So that promotion actually wasn’t something that I asked for it. It was something that I inherited because the team was looking at me as a leader, but I never had that title.
People see me as a leader, but because I don’t have that title, maybe it’s time for me to talk about that. And it just happened. You know, I was hitting the reins and I worked with a really great leader. Um, but even then, like I went from having, you know, you have this lifestyle in high school to working, all of a sudden you’re working a regular 60 hours a week because you’re working operations, you have to cover some of the day, some of the nights that you have personalities in the mornings who are more settled or established, have their families, and then you have the young crew in the afternoons and you have so many different personalities to deal with.
So many different histories. So it takes a lot out of you because you have to, I mean, you have to be human. Yes. But you have to know that your body language is so important when you’re leading others. They don’t really have to care what you’ve been through, and they just know that when they need an answer, when they need direction, they look to you for that.
Donald Thompson: That’s right. One of the things about you as a, as a leader, and you talked about this, staying focused leading by example, is really powerful. And then as we talked further, you ended up wanting to own a Chick-fil-A. How did that process go?
Carlos Alva: Yeah, so it didn’t go as well as I planned because my plan was to go to college like most people. Like my peers. Everybody was going in Carolinas, Dukes. I mean, it was like their best performing class, even to date for graduation, graduation, but I didn’t get that. I didn’t have that option. I had to choose career, family. I chose family, and I think to today, that’s one of my values that I hold on to.
It’s important. It keeps you grounded. It keeps you focused on what’s what matters in life. But I still wanted to win. So what I wanted, what I did is I worked any shift that they needed me to work in. I worked in the marketing side for the company. Even don’t even know much about it. I did hiring, firing.
I helped with interviews, I held sessions I gave, whatever you took. However, once I got to the point that I said, okay, I’m ready to go make this jump, the feedback I got is, Hey, the competition that you’re going up against, almost everybody at that point has a degree. Historically at Chic-fil-A there are some people that were able to get to ownership because the brand was still new, so they needed those people that were groomed in that culture and can, can build that brand onward. But in my case, it was a different world was changing. And so at that point, after I got I, I got married.
Through that, that journey, that phase of life, and what I decided to. Pick up my education. So while I was working those years, I would say that I did, I tried to go to school at least one class per every other semester, mainly because I knew that I was good enough. But the problem is when you stop schooling and you go back to school, everything is different.
Whether it’s one, two, three years. And so my plan was to, okay, let me earn this degree. Go back to Chick-Fil-A and say, all right, this is what I have now. This is what I want to do, let’s do it. But everything that I had built, all the relationship, all the branding, all the relationships with the customers, with the business leaders around the area, I had to literally start over in Raleigh, which was a lot more difficult when I had to split my mind into being in the business, being a family man, being a college student and dealing with that, all those changes in life and being a new husband. Yeah. That was hard.
Donald Thompson: You got a lot on your, on your plate, and so just to be clear, you were working full time while you were going to school full time.
Carlos Alva: Yes.
Donald Thompson: I mean that’s just like, I want to stop right there for a minute and just like, that’s just commendable, but not surprising, right?
Based on what you’ve been able to accomplish. It just lets people know that when you put your mind to something being a little bit tired temporarily is okay. When you’re chasing a goal and a set of dreams that mean a lot to you, and that’s really, really powerful. And you didn’t just go to college, right?
Tell me some of the degrees you got. Tell me some of the honors you got while in school, like you crushed it out.
Carlos Alva: Oh yeah. So for me, I understood that when you’re at degree, like I wasn’t going to get financial aid because it, that I didn’t qualify for that. So every single set that I was putting into school, I wanted to get an ROI from it.
So when I went to college, back to school you could say I technically, I earned a life MBA first, and then I went back to get the theory, right. So I went and I chased the things that I did not know well, but I wanted to know more about. My degree was in finance, information technology, and then I had a minor in accounting.
And data analytics honors program, which was our first undergraduate honors analytics program in the country at the time, and which was really exciting. I was like, okay, let’s solve problems. Right? And you have to incorporate all these different things, case studies, different angles, and see how you can come up with this plausible solution that not only makes sense, but is actionable and that company could run with once you leave. So to me, that was the most exciting thing I got in. But yeah, so I took on all, I didn’t waste my time.
Donald Thompson: That’s right. That is awesome. Now, one of the ways that we got to know each other is, uh, you were an intern at a small technology…Marketing company, excuse me, that I invested in a few years ago that is now Walk West.
How did that happen? Like how did you, how did you get connected with Walk West?
Carlos Alva: Yeah, it’s actually a really interesting story. So. As I was learning the new college life, you are told or you’re instructed to find an internship. The more internships, the more exposures you get, the higher chance of you finding a better job once you’re graduate.
But when you’re working full time and going to school full time, it’s kind of hard to do that. But yet I still was able to get involved with clubs and started networking and so on and so forth. But I feel like I just didn’t have it in for some reason. One day when I was working in afternoon at Chick-Fil-A Jennifer Hoverstad, who I believe was also one of the key first members at that time called O3 now Walk West. She had just transitioned out of Chick-Fil-A to something else and I was like, Hey Jennifer, how are you? Hey look guys, it’s my junior year and I’m looking for opportunity. I like numbers. I like, I’m really good with people.
I can solve problems. I heard you move something. Can we talk later? And she’s like, Oh yeah, they were looking for an intern. Let’s talk. So I kid you not that 30 second conversation led me to land at O3 and meet you.
Donald Thompson: That’s awesome. I mean, I think it’s a, it’s just phenomenal. Just how the small threads of life given mean so much.
But you weren’t really prepared for your opportunities. And one of the things I wanted to ask you, when you think about your journey and being from Peru, being Latino, what are some of the things that were a little bit more challenging for you that were different, that were difficult? Not being….you know, not being looking, talking like everybody else.
Carlos Alva: Hmm. Well, I think the first thing we got to talk about is the culture differences. What’s acceptable? I guess me growing up in a third world country versus what’s acceptable in the U S first world country, and then you had a different generation, so you have, you know, I’m a millennial, how we think.
Or how we were going to think. Cause there’s definitely a range, but definitely some of the changes that challenges that I faced is some of the simple stuff like being confident, understanding the lingo and the slang, whether you’re talking in your peers, at work, in school, in a professional setting, what those slang words were.
How do those things mix? What do you say? What do you not say? Because me being Latino, being from Peru. We’re very, I guess outspoken, and you can be very social, very trusting and some spaces that may be looked as a weakness or a strength depending on how you leverage that, you know? And now in a business world that I’m in, I feel like all of those experiences combined have allowed me to navigate to those relationships in scenarios and really read situations better.
And when you don’t have that exposure going up, you have to literally self-teach yourself and you fail a lot like you’re going to upset people. Or you know, if you have someone in a different culture, you don’t do your research ahead of time, you may offend them by saying something or saying something that’s natural to you as a joke.
But today it was offensive. So those things were key. And I think the topic that we’re talking to today on diversity inclusion has to do with that. And just being aware. And sensitive that others communicate differently.
Donald Thompson: That’s very, very powerful. I think a lot of times when you’re learning something new, you want to have all the answers, and in my opinion, diversity and inclusion is about being open to the different views and experiences of others and not letting your experience creating a judgmental tone, and then we can all learn together as we go, but if we have that right tone that right openness, it’s been amazing how easy it is to get along with people of all different backgrounds, ages, colors, ethnicities, and, and I feel that come across in the way that you look at things, Peruvians in tech. You started a group. Tell me about that. What is that, tell me about this group? What led you to start that?
Carlos Alva: Yeah, so well I found the problem, the problem was it didn’t exist and it didn’t exist because I was being very drawn to innovation and disruption.
Why? Well, because I just like breaking and fixing things and making them better. And so I was seeing those different, this Latino professional groups or so on, so forth. But I didn’t see something specific to Peruvians. And it’s still growing, it’s hard to grow something when you have another commitment.
But I’m still planning on developing and coming up a platform where I can connect folks that don’t know, certain technologies or they need to move into a separate industry. And that’s my vision for it. But the whole idea happened because I saw a story of a gentleman of a guy who was actually from Peru who made it through Stanford on scholarships and was this guru at Google.
And I was like, okay, so you can be successful. But if you don’t go through all that, like how do we help other people? How do we help the ones that come afterwards? How do we create a legacy? How do we create a network? Because without that, intelligence can only get you so far. And networking is one of those skills that you need in business to succeed.
And so I felt like just for me, starting at this is going to be come a point where someone’s going to find it. Or I’m going to connect them with it and I’m going to be able to help them. And who knows what the exchange is going to lead me to such as you and I, right? We connected. We didn’t, I mean, who knows?
Two, three years ago we’re going to be here speaking, right? And we’re talking about a big topic. So for me, that’s, that’s why I created it. I saw a need in the market. Yes. It’s a networking group. And actually, funny as soon as I created it, I got an email. Um, I reached out from some recruiters asking, Hey, can we, can we get in, wait, can we get it?
And I was thinking this is a time that I need to say no and really focus on this is not about getting people jobs, this is about connecting people and eventually educating them so that they can pick what they want, I don’t want vultures in my group because I can find them anywhere. That’s right.
So I want quality individuals, so
Donald Thompson: no, that’s awesome. That’s a great answer. And powerful. Why should businesses look at nontraditional prospects, people from diverse backgrounds, like what’s the business reason that a CEO, a leader, a manager, should want to build a diverse team?
Carlos Alva: That’s a great question.
In my opinion, a leader should look into diversity of skillset and backgrounds, not just because it sounds good or because it sells or because you could, you can maybe generate more leads, but mainly to challenge what you think or the orthodox way of doing business is. A lot of times you hear the expression, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Yes. Until you get something completely out of left field that disrupts an industry. Such as I was actually reading a book, an audiobook, called The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s just, it goes on and talks about different ways that industries were disrupted. One of sections talked about Netflix coming into the play and disrupting the way streaming media comes in, but that’s what happened, right?
But if you think about it, it was an entrepreneurial mind who challenged the norm or who you wanted to think differently. And got on board when people that thought like them, while he’s wanting to challenge an idea, and I think from a business perspective, you got to take that particular business case and scale it out to what it means to you or find people that are not, they have strengths that you don’t have or see things that you don’t have, but don’t just stop at that one person.
Build that out. Allow that person to grow and challenge that person to be diverse in their own way. Challenge them to overcome any, uh, fads that they’ve grown up with or, or things that they are scared about or even with the gender neutrality, all those kinds of topics because that discomfort is going to yield a result and that result is going to field more ideas.
Ideas can lead to new concepts, and those concepts become revenue generating. And so to me, that’s the value, but you have to see that long term. The initial real will be okay. You have to add perspective. Yes. But I say I think it’s a mix, honestly. Cause you got to have skill and you also have to have that diverse perspective.
Donald Thompson: Oh, that’s super powerful. And one of the things that you said that I just want to repeat for our listeners is diversity is also about diversity of thought. Diversity of background, diversity of perspective. The easy answers are you’re Hispanic, right? I’m African American. That’s easy. But we also have different flavors to us as individuals, different things that we think about.
But then one of the things I found is most people are open to the concept of diversity, but they just want to know how to think and do better. And the more that we create those diverse environments at work, the more that we can really chase that big idea together for our company, for our firm, for ourself.
And so I really liked the feedback that you gave there. If somebody was going to take a diversity course training, what would you want them to learn? What are some of the big things you’d want them to take away as they went on their journey to really understand both diversity and inclusion in their own way?
Carlos Alva: Well, I think if you’re going to have a course on it, it’s great to get that theory, that concept, but it doesn’t matter until you act on it until you literally put yourself or at least challenge yourself. Okay. Once a day, I’m going to talk to a random person in a weird spot, like, I’m going to grab food.
I’m going to talk to. A police officer, I want to get their perspective. I want to talk to, if you meet, if you go to politics and you have somebody that, an opposing mindset, okay, let’s talk about that. Or Hey, I see a kid in high school, or he’s getting food or something, or in the library or getting gas, you know, say, Hey, you know, just say, say hi, get uncomfortable or whatever, but try to make a connection.
And once you build that connection, what was your takeaway like if you didn’t take that chance of that step to engage. What would it be different from today? Because I think a theory is great, but if you don’t act on it, then what did you actually do? You know? What was your, you know, what? Did you get away from it?
Yes. Oh, okay. It sounds good on paper. Let me take a note. Diversity is a great idea, or diversity allows me to meet more people. Meeting people is not being diverse. Connecting with people allows you to get into inclusion and diversity in thought,
Donald Thompson: Oh, that’s really powerful. I mean, like.
I’m an action oriented person just like you are. And that makes a lot of sense, right? It’s one thing to understand the theory, but to use your words, right? You’re, you’re amazing. Ideas don’t matter until you take action. And that’s a powerful takeaway. And one of the things with any type of education that has meaning is when you incorporate what you learn in your everyday life.
That’s just a great, great comment. So Carlos, one, it’s been amazing to talk with you and catch up and I appreciate your thoughts. What things would you like to leave us with? Like what question that I didn’t ask on the diversity inclusion topic that you’d like to share? As we look at building out our course, as we look at doing more teaching and training, what perspective would you like to leave us with?
Carlos Alva: Don’t be afraid to take a chance. I think action is great, but you also have to take the chance. And the reason why, I mean you didn’t really talk about, um, the chance has to take afterwards. But I think the action piece is so, I mean, it sounds easy, but it’s really difficult. And I think whoever’s taking his class needs to be in the mindset that this is not an easy process.
It takes time and it takes time to get to know yourself. How you are going to engage in those situations, both professionally, socially, within your family because you can make a step forward and that’s great. But then getting other people around you in your circles, diversifying your circles, that creates a ripple effect that’s gonna really drive change across any market, any business.
Donald Thompson: I mean, that’s pretty powerful. Diversifying your circles. To have that ripple effect, and that’s the responsibility for those of us that are proponents of diversity inclusion, want to be good examples. It’s getting out of that comfort zone and continuing to get to know people and connect with people that are different than you now.
You moved from team member at Chick-fil-A, store manager at chick-fil-A, rockstar academic titan at NC State University. And what are you doing now? Tell me a little bit about your career right now and the company that you work for.
Carlos Alva: Sure. So my career right now is in the consulting space. So I work for one of the big four companies in professional services, Deloitte Consulting.
What I do on a day to day basis is solve problems for clients or project teams. I work on projects that deal with implementing large scale enterprise systems or strategy projects with telling the current state of a current business and where they want to go. Creating a roadmap, deal with change management within the team.
So a lot of different things. And I’m kind of blessed to be in this industry in this spot because I know there’s so many people like me in my current office. I’ve been in a projects where I was the second Latino in the entire company, and I’m like contractor, because technically I’m a consultant.
So I mean, for me it’s really interesting because I’m being valued not by what, how I look at, but what, how I think. And what solutions, I can yield to that to the client, not just any solution, not just saying, Oh, this is a logical one, but it maybe it’s defending that argument. How did I get to that point?
And what are the risks and assumptions that I took to get there? And here’s what I think would happen next should you move forward. And if you don’t here arefd the other alternatives, so being exposed to those concepts and those methodologies. And shape an idea and being able to take different cases, business problems, different clients, and be able to logically think.
Cause there’s times where we’ve got, we’re going into projects. Why go on a projects? And I don’t, I’m not exactly sure what the answer is going to be. And I think that makes it interesting because that’s the value, right? The people, the minds, that’s where the value is. And I really enjoy working with my clients and helping project teams be successful using the right technologies to deliver quality.
Because if you can’t deliver quality work, then guess what? You’re not going to come back and ask for more. So I think that piece is really, really important. And so I’m very fortunate to be in a position that I am right now.
Donald Thompson: Congratulations on your career success. Congratulations on the powerful story that helps you build that foundation.
Uh, I’m super happy that your family is doing amazing and, uh, I really appreciate you taking some time and just connecting with us on this very big topic. And, uh, and wish you absolutely nothing but the best, my friend.
Carlos Alva: Thanks DT. Appreciate it.
That was Carlos Alva, Technology Consultant at Deloitte, and former intern at Walk West. It was such a pleasure catching up with him, and he’s an inspiration to so many.
Carlos had a few amazing points here that I want to emphasize.
- The cultural differences were the toughest for him, so he wasn’t sure how to act in certain situations. What that means to me as a CEO is I need to ask questions of my team in scenarios where they might be confused, so I have a better understanding of what’s going on and they can learn as well.
- Taking a class on diversity and inclusion is fine, but you need to make sure you take action afterwards.
- Take the time to get to know people who are different. You’ll learn something, and you’ll be a better person and professional for it.
Thanks for tuning in everyone. As I mentioned at the top of the show, be sure to check out TheDiversityMovement.com for all of the D&I initiatives we’re working on.
If you like this show, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Leave a rating and review and tell a friend as well.
This show was edited and produced by Earfluence. If you’re looking for information on full service podcast production, head on over to Earfluece.com.
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time on Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox.
In this podcast with Carlos Alva, Technology Consultant at Deloitte, learn why diversity is not only the right thing to do, but is good for business. Carlos explains what diversity means to him and what he’s seen in his short but impressive career, why he started the group Peruvians in Tech, the biggest challenges he has faced, and why employers should be focusing on diversity.