The federal government’s need for diverse, talented and resilient men and women has never been greater, a human resources director for the U.S. Department of State said during a Hispanic Heritage Month observance at the McNamara Headquarters Complex Sept. 21.
“We have to recruit, hire and sustain a workforce that can effectively carry out the conversation to help shape a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world,” said Carmen Cantor, director of the Office of Civil Service Human Resource Management in the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources.
Hispanics make up about 18 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to make up 28 percent by 2050. As the face of America changes, a shared vision for the future of the country must be created, Cantor said, adding that the workforce must be intentionally inclusive of people from other cultures or risk excluding individuals and ideas that that could help the nation progress.
“Research shows that the most effective problem solving integrates the greatest scope of ideas. Those ideas come from people who have different views of the world around them. People learn differently, process information differently and solve problems differently. When we bring these ideas together, we can achieve great things,” she said.
Cantor was born in Puerto Rico. Her dad was one of 18 siblings and had to quit school in the 8th grade because of the economy, she said. The family was poor, but she maintained a 4.0 grade point average in school and became the first in her family to graduate from college. She began her 26-year federal career with the U.S. Postal Service in San Juan and moved to the United States when opportunity knocked. All without the help of a coach, sponsor or the internet.
“I’m sharing this with you because it’s very important that we understand our circumstances are all different, but we can be agents of change no matter what,” she said. “We should also help each other when we can. We can do this by mentoring, volunteering at local organizations, helping with sports, or going back to the community we came from and lending a hand.”
Cantor offered advice on how employees of all cultures can rise through the ranks. In one of the four agencies she’s worked since the U.S. Postal Service, a supervisor continually disapproved her requests for training. Besides making her realize she needed to find a new job, the experience pushed her to find training opportunities outside the workplace. She signed up for free e-newsletters on career development and borrowed leadership books from the library.
“Your career is your responsibility. Own it,” she encouraged.
Taking credit for accomplishments can be difficult, especially for women and Latinos, Cantor added, but it is critical part of career advancement.
“For the longest time, I thought that I would move up the chain if my supervisors noticed how hard I work. They were happy that I was working hard, but I wasn’t moving. And no one was calling to offer me a job. I learned that I had to start giving my supervisor a good list of my accomplishments,” she said.
Other suggestions included taking advantage of opportunities as they become available, even if they’re scary.
“If you are offered a position that is out of your comfort zone, take it, challenge yourself and make the best of it,” she added.
Focus on solutions rather than problems, she continued, and never forget your roots.
“Stay true to yourself, be genuine and work well with others regardless of their background,” Cantor said.