Twice named one of Massachusetts’ 100 most influential people for Latinos by El Planeta newspaper, the largest circulation Spanish-language publication in the state, Arnaez is a past president and Advisory Council executive of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, Boston Chapter. She holds a B.A. in International Business and Finance, and an M.B.A., both from Northeastern University.
Recently, Arnaez sat down with SHASS Senior Writer Kathryn O’Neill to talk about the School’s diversity vision.
How did you get interested in this field and what did you do before coming to MIT?
A catalyst to my interest in the field of diversity and inclusion was actively engaging as founder and president of the Hispanic/Latino employee resource group at my company. I remember how much I was looking forward to our first meeting, because I only knew one person there with a Hispanic/Latino background, and I hoped to meet more. I was amazed to see the group grow to 100 people over the next year. Our programs fostered new connections among individuals and had a transformative effect on both employees and the organization. I saw members become re-energized about their jobs as a sense of inclusion empowered them to be their best selves.
At that time, I was already working as a program manager in human resources implementing “Six Sigma,” a process-improvement strategy. In that role, I discovered that the biggest and most satisfying moments are when you see a positive change beginning for people — you see that breakthrough improvement. This is also true in the area of diversity, where we have the ability to help transform groups and communities.
So, when a diversity manager job opportunity arose at the company, I knew immediately that I wanted to continue this work. I am passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion because I have seen how it can make an impact throughout an organization in the areas of recruitment, retention and development.
What are the School’s goals for this new position, and how do they fit in with the Institute’s overall diversity goals?
One of our goals is to increase the number of minorities and women among the faculty, both on the recruiting side and in terms of retention. That will be a primary focus.
In 2004, the MIT faculty resolved to double — within ten years — the percentage of underrepresented minority faculty, and triple the percentage of underrepresented minority graduate students. We have made progress, and MIT is working hard to keep moving forward, recognizing that’s it’s not always enough to rely on the Institute’s strong identity and reputation.
At SHASS we intend to further strengthen our outreach to professional organizations focused on diversity, create more diversity faculty development programs and continue to foster an environment of inclusive excellence. MIT has a deep commitment to diversity, and I see these goals as something we can achieve.
The United States is changing significantly. Baby Boomers are retiring, and the U.S. Census projects that by 2043 we will be a majority-minority nation. Some states are already majority-minority. As MIT says in its literature: “We need to prepare our students to step outside their own worldviews, to appreciate other people's life experiences and to engage their perspectives.”
Our diversity and inclusion faculty goals at SHASS contribute to the overall MIT goals, which focus on MIT faculty, students, post-docs, and staff. Fortunately for me, countless individuals at the Institute have paved the way and laid the groundwork — notably through the "Report on the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity" — for what we need to do to move forward. President Reif put it best when he said he “wants to help the entire MIT community draw strength and energy from our extraordinary diversity of experiences and backgrounds.”
Ultimately, increasing diversity is a community effort. So we are working together at SHASS to advance our mission.
What challenges do you think the School faces in improving diversity and inclusion?
If you take a step back and look at the population as a whole, very few people get PhDs. In fact, only 3.2 million people age 25 and older have doctoral degrees in the United States, out of a population of 204.6 million. Within the population of women and underrepresented minorities, that number is even smaller. Therefore, the challenge is, how do we position MIT and SHASS among the organizations that are working to increase diversity? One of the things I’ll focus on is raising the visibility of MIT’s commitment to diversity, increasing outreach efforts, and creating programs that will help us reach our goals. We can do more to let people know about the great range of people who make up the MIT community, including the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
The MIT leadership is deeply aware that continuing to attract and draw on the genius of many diverse populations is critical to maintaining the Institute’s excellence in a global world. At MIT, we always want to find exceptionally qualified candidates, and the real question is: How do we go to all the right places to find the most talented and promising people?
Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand
Senior Writer: Kathryn O'Neill