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forest city resource group aims to unite hispanic workers

UNIDOS programming chair Sara Gonzalez


In Spanish, the word unidos can mean both "united" and "connected." This definition was on the minds of Forest City Enterprises Inc. executives upon creation of UNIDOS, a Hispanic associate resource group (ARG) that strives to foster a diverse and welcoming workplace culture.
 
UNIDOS launched in mid-September during the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, says Forest City executive administrative assistant and Unidos programming chair Sara Gonzalez. The new venture follows Forest City's formation of a trio of ARGs aimed at women, African-Americans and young workers, respectively.
 
Though open to all Forest City associates, UNIODS's initial focus will be Hispanic-centric service development that creates value for the Cleveland-based real estate development company as well as the community it inhabits, Gonzalez says.
 
For example, the resource group will provide Spanish-language translation services for in-house marketing services and onboarding materials. "That kind of work would usually be outsourced," says Gonzalez. "Now we have an opportunity for an association (of Hispanic workers) to come together while saving the company money."
 
UNIDOS is also working toward a partnership for next year with Esperanza, an academic achievement nonprofit that provides tutoring, scholarships and other programs to the area's underserved Hispanic student population.
 
About 350 Forest City employees nationwide, or 13 percent of the company's total workforce, identify as Hispanic. That figure that has room for improvement, and UNIDOS can help make it happen, Gonzalez says. The group can be the vehicle to pull in Hispanic talent from colleges and job fairs, a cogent point considering diversity is among Forest City's core values.
 
According to a 2013 study released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fortune 1000 companies that have made a commitment to diversity enjoy a competitive advantage and typically perform better than their competitors.
 
The same is true for metro areas, adds Joy Roller, President of Global Cleveland, a nonprofit whose mission is to spur “regional economic development through actively attracting newcomers (defined as foreign-born and native-born individuals) and welcoming and connecting them economically and socially to the many opportunities throughout Greater Cleveland.”
 
“Cities that are really winning are those that are diverse,” she told the audience at a recent public forum, “Global Cleveland and You: What does it mean to be a global, welcoming community?” that was sponsored by the City of Cleveland Community Relations Board.
 
Other firms seeking to create an ARG as a best practice would be wise to align the enterprise with its overall strategies, says Gonzalez. Executive backing is also critical. UNIDOS has top-level execs including CEO David LaRue and commercial group COO Duane Bishop as vocal sponsors.
 
"Executive support definitely provides momentum and motivation for ARG’s to have the greatest impact," Gonzalez says.
 
Inclusiveness has always been a priority at Forest City, adds the company official. The firm's first ARG, Women's Excellence in Leadership Education Advancement and Development (WE LEAD) kicked off in 2012. Its second group, AACCEL, which stands for African Americans Connecting and Creating Excellence and Leadership, was formed in year later, while Young Leaders caters to professionals in their 20s and 30s who engage in skills-based volunteering. 
 
Unidos is a natural progression of that ongoing trend, particularly as Cleveland's Hispanic and Latino communities grow stronger, says Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico. As Hispanic culture emphasizes family, its makes sense for Forest City to support an effort that brings like minds and hearts together.
 
"Anything that supports diversity and inclusion is something we are going to want to be part of," says Gonzalez.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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