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Diversity Trainer Finds an Open Field to Harvest--The Sun

April 27, 1997

Baltimore, Maryland

50 cents
 

 

Diversity trainer finds an open field to harvest.

’Lawsuits don’t forget, nor do they forgive’

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By: Dilshad D.Husain
Contributing Writer 
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Companies interested in diversifying their work force might consider hiring Mauricio Velasquez - not merely because of his Hispanic surname but also because the up-and-coming entrepreneur lives apart from the conventional. How many consultants have a part-time home and office on a 40-foot sailboat docked in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor? But the 30-year-old Velasquez doesn’t want you to hire him, only his Columbia-based company, Diversity Training Group, a front-runner in the growing industry of diversity and gender-equity training.

"I think I tapped on a serious need before anyone else did, and I cornered the market," Velasquez says of the company he founded last June - one that he says turned profit in five months.

"Corporate America has been driven in the direction of diversity and sexual harassment training by lawsuits and work-force trends," he says. "Racism, bias, prejudice, they’re all growth industries.

"Lawsuits don’t forget, nor do they forgive," he says. "But diversity training is not just about race and gender and minority and women. It’s about making the homogeneous heterogeneous."

Velasquez says the diversity issue hit the forefront of corporate America with a lawsuit against Texaco Inc. last year. Texaco paid $176 million to settle a discrimination suit after senior executives were caught on tape making what were thought to be racist remarks about black employees.

"Texaco may do for diversity what Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas did for sexual harassment," Velasquez says. "And Texaco’s check to take care of its problems is a giant Band-Aid. They won’t get anywhere without diversity training."

The Texaco case made it clear to companies that sending out a few memos to the staff or having a couple of sessions with the director of human relations was not going to be enough.

Velasquez says the time has come for companies that focus exclusively on this issue.

"Look at the world around us," he says. "We are not a homogeneous population, so we need to bring diversity into the work force to reflect the world around us.

"You want companies to value the differences of their employees, and at the same time be valued for the ability of their employees," he continues. "It’s a fine line to walk, and my job is to help companies stay balanced."

His methods include round-table discussions, role-playing and a "diversity test" that lets employees see their attitudes and preconceptions in the answers they give.

Velasquez is the son of immigrants from Columbia. He grew up in McLean, Va., and graduated from the University of Virginia, then came to Columbia after getting a master’s degree in business administration from George Washington University.

 

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A corner on the market: In just five months, Mauricio Velásquez say his Diversity Training Group has turned a profit.

He got the idea for his company while he was working for Berkshire Associates, a Columbia-based consulting firm that writes affirmative action and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliance orders, among other things.

After starting a diversity training program for the company, Velasquez thought it was time to branch out on his own.

"I wanted to focus exclusively on diversity and sexual harassment training," he says, "and I thought I could do so better if I was my own boss."

His clients include private companies such as Corning, Black & Decker, and Ryland Homes, and public ones such as the Maryland State Highway Administration, Howard County General Hospital and the Social Security Administration.

Kathy Wroblewski, a training specialist at Social Security, hired Velasquez after seeing him at a conference.

"He made people aware of the diversity issues surrounding them," she says of what she saw. "I knew he’d be good for our group."

At Social Security, Velasquez spoke, administered the diversity test and conducted workshops for the administration last year.

"He did one exercise that showed people that hey have difference, but a lot of similarities at the same time that they might have nit known about," Wroblewski says.

Before Velasquez gives a speech or conducts training, he researches the company by looking at the rate of turnover, the departments, the complaints and what is being done about them.

At the company’s request, he often conducts follow-up sessions to evaluate whether his workshops had any effect on the employees.

"If I can make people positively aware of the diversity around them, then the training is successful," he says.

Dottie Phillips, a personnel analyst in the Office of Personnel for Howard County, thinks diversity should be as commonplace as motherhood or apple pie.

"It’s a part of our world, and we all have to deal with it. We should be aware of and appreciate the diversity in our workplace," she says.

Phillips says that currently Howard County does not use an outside consultant but that she would like to have an annual diversity training program in place by the end of 1997.

"I think diversity and sexual harassment training is something that needs to be at the top of the county’s agenda," she says.

Velasquez has found that it is on top of so many companies’ agendas that he is running himself ragged. That’s where the boat comes in. It’s a place to relax, which is just what he was doing on a recent day after returning from Chicago, where he had conducted a workshop for one of his newest clients, Corning.

"It’s a hectic life, almost too hectic," he says. "But you can’t stop when your help is needed."

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