Photo courtesy of Capital Group.
“I take mindfulness very seriously,” says Cristina Santos, Senior Vice President, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Capital Group. “From a young age, my mom taught me to pay attention. You don’t have to think big picture, but think about what you want your day to look like. Ask yourself questions like: “What do you like about your day”, “what kind of people do you want to work with”, “do you want to work outside,” etc. It may sound silly, but it’s these very practical questions that make you start thinking about your preferences and what you’re drawn toward.”
That’s what Santos asked herself before she took a job at Capital Group. She wanted to make sure that the company could provide her with what she was looking for as someone who values a healthy work-life balance. After all, Santos is also a working mother of four in a Cuban-Portugese family, an outdoor adventurer and a yogi who plays an active role in a few nonprofits like The Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Junior Achievement and Lunch Break.
Fortunately for her, Capital Group was able to offer her what she wanted and then some. Her position has also become ever more important these days, as companies lean into their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives.
We caught up with Santos to talk more about her role with the company and how she’s handled her increasingly important responsibilities and the overall COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what she had to say.
At the beginning of 2020, I led two separate, yet interconnected, bodies of work for my previous company: Total Wellbeing and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
The pandemic sparked the need for me to lean full tilt into all of my wellness responsibilities. As for the other half of my role, in March 2020, DE&I teams were actually shrinking. From my perspective, companies were saying that it wasn’t much of a priority, and many DE&I professionals were losing their jobs.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2020 with George Floyd’s murder and the racial reckoning, that I started to see our work in the DE&I space became critically important and prioritized. Because of my professional scope, my world flipped upside down and I had to go into complete overdrive. Immediately after everything happened with George Floyd, you couldn’t go on LinkedIn without seeing companies building out their DE&I strategy.
All of a sudden, there was oversight and interest from your everyday associate up to your senior-most leaders. Managing the surge of interest and sudden oversight of our little team was a lot. We evolved to a place of how are we going to get it all done? Navigating that shift was one of my greatest learning experiences.
While many of my colleagues, family members and friends’ workloads actively decreased, mine tripled and quadrupled. I had to work constantly. At that time, I had to be on 24/7, handling anything from helping manage what to do when people get sick, to what the protocol should be to respond to social unrest to supporting our employee resource groups (ERGs).
I learned very quickly in those early days of lockdown that it was important for me to be really clear about what I needed from the people around me, and, in my case, it was my husband. We actively talked about what was professionally required of me, what support would look like for me and set the expectation about when I could be really present at home and when I needed to be fully present at work.
It’s important to recognize that we’ve been navigating this pandemic for longer than we’d like to admit. As women, we take on so much. We don’t always communicate the cost of taking that on. Sometimes, we assume that other people don’t want to or are incapable of helping.
Whether you’re leaning on a life partner, a soul sister, your board of directors, or other people, you need to be able to say, “here is what I am doing right now,” and that includes kids who are old enough to understand. When I talk to my kids about the work that I do, I make sure to include as much context as possible by relating it to why I am working so many hours and the specific projects I’m focused on so that they understand.
I’m also constantly giving myself permission to not be everywhere and to not feel badly about that. There are things I will forget, and I can’t constantly beat myself up over not being able to attend every little thing.
The other important thing about my relationship with my husband is communicating what I need and why. This naturally creates an accountability partner. Having an accountability partner who can help you with self-care and work-life balance is incredibly helpful. You don’t always know what you need, and what you think you need might not be what you really need. It’s okay to lean on others and depend on them.
Santos and family. Photo courtesy of Capital Group.
Lastly, when it comes to work-life balance, my recommendation is to do what you like to do and don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing. For instance, I personally hate spinning so you will never see me on a bike; however, I try to spend as much time outside as possible: walking (running when I want to challenge myself), going to the beach, kayaking and more. Maybe sleeping is your self-care; it can be that simple. My general rule of thumb is to do things I enjoy, and it doesn’t have to match every single day.
I was awakened to DE&I when I had my first child in 2005. I came back to work wanting a working parents’ group. The company I was at wasn’t ready for it back then — they didn’t have any working groups, communities or ERGs. Five years later, as a mom of three, I was at a much larger company that had this built out. They had a dedicated DE&I team, and that’s when I fell in love with this work. I was working within the business but would raise my hand and made it my goal to eventually transition to this very niche part of HR. The only way I could achieve that goal was to offer my sweat equity to anyone who would take it.
I led employee resource groups, and, if there was a council, I was on it. I made it very clear to anyone who would listen that this is the work I wanted to do. Even if I moved into a new job within the company that wasn’t focused on DE&I, I communicated my end goal. I confidently told my leaders that I could deliver on my responsibilities within my day job, but wanted to use a little of my bandwidth to get close to DE&I. And that’s what I did for over six years. I just picked up all of this other work and side hustles within the company, getting as close to the function as I possibly could because I knew that I would be able to convince someone that I could do this work and that the skills I had developed were really meaningful. My ultimate goal was to add new skills to my skill bucket in order to be a more attractive DE&I candidate.
Eventually, I accepted a full-time DE&I opportunity at another company. For me, nothing else matters if you don’t have a culture where people feel seen and heard, which is needed to produce their best work. What an amazing privilege that I get to do this as my full-time job.
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To find out more, check out this follow-up article where Santos shares details about her journey to leadership at Capital Group and best advice for women.
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