How I’ve Created a Fulfilling Career By Prioritizing Community — From 2 Latina Leaders

Sponsored by Toyota North America

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Photo Courtesy of Toyota North America.

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April 16, 2024 at 11:48AM UTC

Audit Manager Cecilia Diaz and Headquarters Operations Analyst Gabrielle Rios may have different backgrounds, be at different stages of their career, and work on different teams, but when asked what they valued most about working at Toyota North America, they both pointed to its community-oriented culture.

Toyota’s cultural value of “Respect for People” doesn’t stop within its teams, the women point out, but extends outside its walls to the communities it touches. Through their involvement in TODOS (Toyota Organization for the Development of Latinos), one of Toyota’s business partnering groups, the women have both found a way to give back.

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With TODOS, both women participate in a Toyota youth mentoring program at headquarters focused on exposure, education, and experience, known as E3. In a discussion honoring Hispanic Heritage Month, Diaz and Rios told us more about the program and their experiences as leaders within Toyota. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and where did you attend school?

Cecilia Diaz: I’m a native of southern New Mexico and grew up on a farm with my parents and three siblings. With my family’s support, I was blessed with the opportunity to continue my education by earning a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from New Mexico State University and a master’s degree in accountancy from the University of Notre Dame. 

Gabrielle Rios: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and attended the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, where I completed a bachelor’s degree in geography and a master’s degree in urban planning.

What are your main responsibilities in your current role? 

Diaz: I serve as an audit manager supporting internal audit activities at Toyota Financial Savings Bank as well as the Americas Oceania Region of Toyota Financial Services (TFS). Prior to my current role, I supported the corporate and operations internal audit teams at TFS as a senior analyst and held three different roles within the department. 

Rios: I currently support Toyota’s real estate and facilities department, where I oversee space management, move coordination, event planning, and project support for the company’s headquarters, along with supporting the department’s overall strategic planning. 

I began my career at Toyota Financial Services at Toyota Credit de Puerto Rico as a customer service representative and held three different roles before making a move to Toyota’s headquarters in Plano, TX. 

What do you love most about your job? And what do you love most about Toyota? 

Diaz: What I really love about my job is the close-knit nature of our team. We spend a good amount of our waking hours at work, so it’s important to feel valued and respected professionally and personally. The company does a great job of valuing the unique perspectives and abilities we each bring to the table and fostering an inclusive environment where we’re inspired to do our best — it’s a great reflection of our Toyota Way culture and the company’s commitment to “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.” Toyota also values employees and the communities we live in by investing time and resources in areas such as business partnering groups, community outreach initiatives, and even a mindfulness program, just to name a few examples.    

Rios: What I love most about my job is my department’s focus on taking a holistic, strategic approach to our planning efforts. I particularly enjoy creative problem-solving and connecting the dots between the various departments. The Toyota Way culture is something that really resonates with me as well and is the reason I enjoy participating in diversity programs and taking leadership roles in the company’s various business partnering groups.

Tell me a little about the E3 Youth Mentoring Program at Toyota. Why and how did you first get involved in the program?

Diaz: In 2018, Toyota’s Social Innovation team approached TODOS with the opportunity to launch a youth mentorship program for students in West Dallas. As an active member of TODOS and an experienced mentor, I was invited to help develop the program’s purpose and goals. The program began with 7th and 8th graders and we’re going into our third year with 7th through 10th graders. 

One contribution I’m particularly proud to have made is championing the importance of a growth mindset as part of the program’s curriculum. According to psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, people with a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.   

How long have you had a mentee, and how did you wind up working with one? 

Diaz: This is my third year as a mentor in the E3 program. Given our small group mentoring model, I have two mentees and a co-mentor. A goal of the program that resonates deeply with me is expanding one’s horizons. Like many of our mentees, I grew up with limited exposure to professional career choices. Through this program, the mentees are exposed to a variety of professionals and career opportunities. Many of our mentors, like myself, were first-generation college students. We’re proud to share our experiences to help inspire our mentees to explore their passions and interests. 

How has having a mentee enriched your own work experience? 

Rios: Having a mentee has helped me develop my communication and leadership skills. It has given me a better appreciation of understanding the importance of seeking diversity of thought and workstyles when I’m building a project team in either my day-to-day job or in my role as the philanthropy chair for Toyota’s Young Professionals business partnering group. 

What impact has TODOS had on you? 

Diaz: I was fairly new to the Dallas area when I joined Toyota and did not have family locally. Through TODOS, I met people throughout the company and created friendships that enriched my experience in a new city. TODOS brings people together from diverse backgrounds and empowers celebration of our Latino culture in the workplace and beyond. It has also given me the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way. Since March of 2019, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the philanthropy chair for TODOS. Beyond the mentorship program, we support initiatives benefiting the Latino community, such as car seat safety education through Buckle Up for Life and Children’s Health and toy drives for AVANCE Dallas. 

Rios: TODOS has become a safe space for me to be able to be my authentic self. It has also empowered me to take on leadership roles, for example, helping to develop this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, which went virtual this year because of COVID. I’m thrilled to have contributed to an amazing month filled with engaging programming celebrating the diverse backgrounds within the Hispanic and Latinx community.

How is the culture at Toyota supportive of Hispanic/Latinx employees? 

Diaz: Early in my career at Toyota, I attended an inspiring training session led by Verna Myers where she stated: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Toyota is a company that not only seeks a diverse workforce but also values and celebrates it. Amongst other initiatives, events are hosted to celebrate the contributions of Hispanics/Latinos within the company and elsewhere. For Hispanic Heritage Month last year, I had the privilege of attending events highlighting Jacqueline Thomas, a Hispanic, Latina executive at Toyota, as well as Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz, the first Hispanic American to go to space. 

Rios: “Mendomi” is Toyota’s approach to engaging team members. It translates to “taking care of workers like they are family,” which I feel accurately represents the essence of the Hispanic/Latinx culture.


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