11:39 AM

Promoting workplace diversity by being an ally

Today’s consumers are placing a greater importance on social responsibility, and that includes a focus on diversity. Beyond the ethical imperative to do the right thing, the business case is clear: a diverse workforce brings varied perspectives, aids employee engagement and enhances a company’s performance.

Consumers and business partners are making decisions on who to work with based partly on whether a financial services firm hires and promotes a diverse workforce and whether they see themselves represented among that firm’s professionals. They often select a company based on how inclusive and engaging the culture is. Nationwide® is strongly committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace and has received recognition for its efforts. Most recently, Nationwide once again scored in the top 10% of companies on the 2020 Diversity Best Practices (DBP) Inclusion Index.

As co-workers and colleagues, most employees want to help cultivate an inclusive culture, but they may not know where to start. Being an ally, mentor or sponsor is one way to build relationships and an inclusive culture.

Kristi Rodriguez and John Carter have different and complementary perspectives and have worked together for the past five years. Kristi, vice president of Nationwide Retirement Institute®, has more than 20 years of business-to-business and direct-to-consumer business experience. John became president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Financial in 2019 and has worked in financial services for more than 35 years. We asked for their thoughts on how to be an ally, centering on four core principles.

  • Reach Out: Don’t wait for someone to come to you; be proactive and intentional
  • Offer Opportunity: Make a conscious effort to give someone a chance to grow
  • Listen: Ask for and consider the perspectives of employees with diverse backgrounds and experiences
  • Learn: Use these interactions and viewpoints for further development


Kristi Rodriguez, Vice President, Nationwide Retirement Institute

As a Black female executive who’s passionate about mentorship and talent development, I have certainly appreciated Nationwide President John Carter and others who have mentored me, and I recognize the privilege that I have myself, and it is my mission to pay that forward. Staying connected to people who are simply navigating through their career often provides a good reminder of my challenges and the things that helped me along the way.

Like many people who didn’t have family working in the business, I didn’t initially focus on a career in financial services. It’s more common for women and employees of color to have a nontraditional career path – but they often bring valuable, transferrable skills to the table. Here are my thoughts.

  • Reach Out: I’ve always been one to raise my hand for stretch assignments and look for new and challenging leadership opportunities; however, I recognize it can honestly be difficult for others in non-majority communities. Knowing this, we have been very intentional in seeking out diverse talent for the Nationwide Retirement Institute (NRI). Our leadership team represents a wide variety of leaders from different backgrounds and experiences. We have been purposeful in staffing our team to include those diverse perspectives, and the results have been phenomenal. I can definitely say, we are tapping into new opportunities and partnerships as a result. The diverse mix of talent we have has helped us build a more dynamic, high-performing team.
  • Offer Opportunity: I have to give a nod to John Carter here. He really helped guide me in my career at Nationwide by constantly challenging me and putting his faith in me. He’s inspired me to do the same for others. As a leader and sponsor, it’s important to be approachable, and for those who report to or mentor with me, I make an effort to actively find ways to offer guidance to those who may not feel comfortable asking for support. Creating a safe space for employees goes a long way in helping them grow, develop and even make that next potential career move.
  • Listen: Find out what an employee finds fulfilling and try to leverage that. The thing that hooked me early on was helping others. I knew I’d found my calling when people responded positively and thanked me after a presentation about building generational wealth for their family. I realized that there was a great opportunity to combine my passion and purpose with my profession, and it’s equally important to give others the same opportunities. Being fully present and actively listening will help employees discover what’s possible. When I meet with mentees, we often talk about their true passion, which can lead to the next best development or career opportunity.
  • Learn: Leaders learn from the people they work with or mentor every day. As the Executive Sponsor for an Associate Resource Group for Black women at Nationwide, the camaraderie and inspiration of these women from all levels of the company energizes me and reminds me that each person can bring something unique and wonderful to the table. We’re all different, so don’t ever think there is a cookie cutter approach to working with one group or another. We all truly have so much to learn from each other at all levels of an organization or team.


John Carter, President and COO, Nationwide Financial

Nationwide’s commitment to hiring and developing a diverse workforce (from interns to senior leadership roles) and creating an inclusive culture is one reason I joined the company, and it’s a key contributor to why I’ve stayed. Some say this is the right thing to do, and it is. But there is a business impact as well. In my career, I’ve found that companies and leaders who hire smart and competitive people with different backgrounds and experiences, then challenge them to meet and exceed expectations, almost always create stronger, high-performing teams. Here are my thoughts.

  • Reach Out: Words and ideals aren’t enough: You must be intentional in providing opportunities to unleash an employee’s potential. Kristi Rodriguez is a great example. When Kristi joined Nationwide in 2015, she was hired to lead Marketing for our Retirement Plans organization, where at the time, I served as President. Kristi wasn’t a classically trained Marketing professional (her degree is in Finance), but she brought unique experience and knowledge to this role. Once I started working with Kristi, I quickly realized the impact she could have leading one of our businesses by using her passion and unique strengths to advocate for and educate individuals on issues impacting their retirement.
  • Offer Opportunity: Not everyone feels confident asking for more opportunity. It’s part of your job as a leader to identify and develop talent. I’ve found that people will almost always surprise you with their talent and drive if you give them the opportunity and expect them to be successful.
  • Listen: As a leader, I’m often asked for my thoughts and opinions. To be a good ally, you also need to listen. That means setting aside time to ask employees how they’re feeling and what they need to be successful. I’ve always placed a priority on creating diverse and inclusive teams, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because I’ve found that the more experiences and perspectives you have at the table, the more high-performing the teams become. Unfortunately, the financial services industry is not exactly known for being diverse. Following the recent social unrest, I’ve realized there is even a greater purpose in ensuring we are being intentional about creating opportunities for diverse individuals in the financial services industry.
  • Learn: I’ve benefitted at least as much as the employees who I’ve worked with and mentored over the years. Each time you help someone on their journey, it teaches you something as well, which can only help you become a better leader.


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