Growing up with her grandparents in the Dominican Republic, nobody taught Daisy Auger-Dominguez to cook or to clean. Her grandmother "was really intentional about that," Auger-Dominguez says in an interview with host Alicia Menendez for Latina to Latina's fifth episode. "When my grandfather would complain about me not being able to do anything in the home, she would always remind him, like, 'She doesn't have to because she's going to be a professional one day.'"
Now not just a professional, but a professional who shapes the trajectories of the world's biggest corporations, Auger-Dominguez says she is driven by her memory of those who helped her. "I stumbled," she admits. "But I benefited from the kindness of folks who recognized me stumbling, but recognized potential in me. That's why recognizing potential in others is so important to me."
At its core, Auger-Dominguez's work at companies such as Google and Disney focuses on change. "Diversity and inclusion, fundamentally, at the end of the day, is around changing how people's behaviors, systems, actions, and processes operate," Auger-Dominguez explains. "Because the companies and organizations that we work with were not built to be truly inclusive."
Auger-Dominguez also talks about the piece of advice she was given about meetings that changed her life, and how weird it was to experience Halloween the first time as a 16-year-old.
And here's the full transcript of the episode.
Alicia: Welcome to Latina to Latina, a Bustle podcast. I’m your host, Alicia Menendez.
Clip of Daisy: My grandmother taught me nothing in the kitchen in the home. She was really intentional about that, and when my grandfather would complain about me not being able to do anything in the home, she would always remind him like, "She doesn't have to because she's going to be a professional one day."
Alicia: You were just listening to Daisy Auger-Dominguez. She’s a senior vice president at Viacom. You know — the parent company for MTV, BET, and Comedy Central. Daisy’s work focuses on diversity and inclusion, words that have become so trendy they’ve almost lost their meaning. But Daisy’s passion for these issues is real, and what she has to say about them might surprise you.
Alicia: Let's talk about what you do, because I'm intrigued by it but I don't understand it. So I'm going to read you something from ... I believe this is your LinkedIn page.
Daisy: Oh gosh.
Alicia: Where it says you are a "multi-industry global leader with proven success leading human capital transformations through people, culture and social impact practices." In English?
Daisy: That means that I have worked in 3 different industries: finance, media entertainment, and technology. It means that I work with people, the "human capital transformation." The work that I do is around change management. Diversity and inclusion, fundamentally, at the end of the day, is around changing how people's behaviors, systems, actions, and processes operate, because the companies and organizations that we work with were not built to be truly inclusive. They were built and designed by folks many, many years ago to help those that were there succeed without a lens on what diversity of thought, experience, and background would look like.
And so I always tell folks that the work that I do fundamentally changes a business structure if we do it well, and it changes it to better outcomes, better financial performance, and better outcomes for every human in the organization. So all those fancy words mean that I've worked globally, I've worked across 3 different industries, and I've focused all my work on people, processes, and behaviors. Does that help?
Alicia: Sort of.
Alicia: But I'm still ...
Daisy: You're still looking at me like, "Nah."
Alicia: Well, that's a huge proposition, right?
Daisy: Oh yeah.
Alicia: The Constitution wasn't written with people like us in mind.
Alicia: So how do you actually change those corporate cultures?
Daisy: One day at a time. Really. I tell my talent acquisition team, "We change the DNA of this company one hire at a time.” We need to really up-skill folks, and by "up-skilling" I mean that we need to ... we need to really help folks understand and build their own narrative, not a narrative that's imposed on them but a narrative that feels right to them. Everyone has an insider/outsider story. Everyone has a time where they felt excluded, even the most powerful of folks, where there's a moment where they haven't been part of the mainstream and the decision making process, and how that feels and how that impacts decisions.
When people start recognizing that we bring all of that every day and the decisions that we make are not as meritocratic as we think they are. They are based on completely conscious and unconscious biases that define what opportunities people are going to have, what business programs we're going to follow. And when people start deconstructing that and start centering the work on issues of race, gender, ability ... When you start thinking about how those things show up every day in your life, that becomes real.
I mean, listen. If it was easy, we would have fixed it a long time ago.
Alicia: Because I get the sense that people are always looking for a silver bullet, right? So now all of a sudden I read about the Rooney rule and how the NFL came up with this idea that for every head coach or major position they need to have at least one candidate of color to go alongside ... and now it's being applied to tech.
Alicia: I understand why people like it, because it feels very neat. It's like, "I get it. I can apply this rule."
Daisy: It's actionable.
Alicia: Yes. "And then everything will be okay", and that's not really how it works.
Daisy: No. Because, again, you're checking off these boxes and you're not looking at the systemic issues that are impacting all of the decisioning. And when people hear "systems,” they're just like, "Okay, you just lost me. This is too big. This is too much." This is what I learned in tech and I loved it, it was like if you're not attacking the root cause of where you're at, all you're doing is pruning the tree and making it look somewhat cute.
The Rooney rule, as well-intended as it is, unless it becomes fully integrated into your processes and your structures, it's not successful.
Rooney rule? That's great. When you think about fairness and consistency in your hiring process, that's how you start changing the needle. But you have to really look at it systemically, thoughtfully, consistently, and frankly, iterate as it comes.
Alicia: I have a personal question.
Alicia: Not personal about you, but I go to a lot of events that are diversity events, and I would loosely categorize them two different ways. One, you either have a lot of the actual corporate execs there and you have minority candidates or representatives of each organization. Sort of feels a little bit like you're being trotted around to be like, "And here's our Latina."
Alicia: And then there are ones where it's a lot of Hispanics in the room or a lot of African Americans in the room, and we're networking with each other. Do those events serve a purpose?
Daisy: They do. But, again, it depends in what context, and it depends ...
Alicia: How do I maximize that event?
Daisy: Listen, we host targeted and curated events all the time to introduce diverse talent to our executives, because the fact of the matter is that they're not in each other's networks. Unless people know who you are, you're not going to be considered for a role. It's plain and simple. By the time a job description is written, the house is on fire. They need to put someone into that role, and they're going to go to the mental shortcuts that they know, even with the best of intentions.
A lot of those events are intended to help add additional data points of folks that you wouldn't know. So how do you maximize that as the person of color who is being sent around? You build genuine relationships.This isn't about just telling everyone how cool you are. Fundamentally, at the end of the day, this is still about building relationships and making sure that your brand and your story is one that you're shaping, not that's being shaped by somebody else.
Now, the other events, which are the events ... I call them "our people" events. These are the events where you go and you're comfortable. For me, they're more around joy and finding places … and again, it depends on the event. I always tell folks, "Be really strategic. Just as you have to be strategic about the friendships that you make, the partnerships that you build, be strategic about the events that you go to and what you're going to do when you're there."
I'm a mother of a 9-year-old. I'm not out and about every night. I try to go to, at a maximum, 2 events a week. That's what I try to do so that I can put my little girl to bed. And so those events that I go to, I'm really mindful and thoughtful about what am I getting personally and what am I getting professionally from them.
Alicia: I have a Latino-specific question for you, which is: I, when I was at HuffPost Live, I sat next to Marc Lamont Hill.
Alicia: And Marc is very tucked into the Black community. He's a professor. He is an on-air personality. I don't think I'm exaggerating because this happened so many times. I could ask him for contact information for almost any Black celebrity, news maker, athlete, and he'd be like, "Oh yeah, I'll text them for you."
Daisy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Alicia: And both that he had exposure to them, that they had a culture between the two of them of sharing contact information. And perhaps I am just not charming people the right way, but I don't feel like we have cultivated that culture in the Latino community.
Daisy: No. We're too siloed, and we've suffered from that. You know me, I'm a natural connector, so I'm constantly like, "How many people can I put in front of you, and how many folks can I connect you with?" And there are a lot of us in the Latino community. But we haven't figured it out, and we haven't done it as thoughtfully ... Well, we also haven't done it for as long as the Black community has done it and as strategically as it has been done.
I think that's one of our biggest weaknesses, and I think that there are a lot of many, as there are in the African American community. But for Latinos, there's these geographic differences, there's these national differences. And there's these class and even color differences within our community that we have to grapple with before we really build a unified sense of these are the folks that are going to connect us and build familia.
I think that your generation, and I feel really old when I say that, but I really do think that your generation is looking and speaking to this in a different way than older generations before me. So I'm optimistic about this, and I know there's a lot of small, little mini-movements of building broader Latino coalitions.
Alicia: I learned a lot about you, prepping for this interview, that I did not know, including that your parents had you when they were teens.
Alicia: They were young when they had you, and so you were raised by your dad's parents.
Alicia: In the DR in Santo Domingo. You went to an international school, which sounds very fancy, but you did not come from a very fancy family.
Daisy: Not at all.
Alicia: And I wonder, that experience of being, I got the impression, more working-class, more middle-class, and going to a school with more affluent children. Did you know that you were different?
Daisy: I did. You know, it's interesting. I've known difference my entire life, but I didn't code it as different. And so I grew up with my grandparents, which already made me someone that was different. All my friends had parents that were far younger, although my parents were really young. And this is something else you didn't know. My grandmother was 35 when I was born.
Daisy: And that was the age ...
Alicia: I'm sorry, I know I just popped a mic.
Daisy: That was my age when I had my daughter.
Alicia: Yeah, I turn 35 in July. That is terrifying.
Daisy: Up until my generation, my family was extremely young. So while age-wise my parents were not necessarily that... were not that much older than other parents… they had lived through so much more than what he parents of my friends. So I grew up with that difference, and then on top of that, I went to one of the elite schools in the island whereas most of my friends were kids of international diplomats and large business owners on the island.
So these were the kids that I grew up with, so we weren't as fixated on class as we were on nationality, and language, and that type of difference. And so I played that insider-outsider being technically Dominican, yet I was half Puerto Rican because my mother's Puerto Rican. I didn't have a chauffeur that picked me up. I actually got taken to school and back by one of my teachers every day who lived across the street from me. And yet I was part of all the big, social quinceañeras. I was part of all of the big events that happened.
And while there was a difference that existed, there was never really friction behind it. There was just this acknowledgment of, I'm in today, and I'm not in, and yet I can flex between these two spaces.
Alicia: Flexing is a good way of putting it. And then you moved to the States when you were how old?
Daisy: I was 16, starting my junior year of high school. I moved in October, and I always remember that because I moved a couple of weeks before Halloween, and I had never experienced an American Halloween. For some reason, I'm fixated with the images of people dressing up and going to get candy from people's houses, which was a very strange cultural experience for me. And that's the month that I moved, in 1988.
Alicia: Yeah, that's a weird welcome to America.
Daisy: Yes, yes. I had a lot of weird welcomes to America.
Alicia: Like what?
Daisy: Well, I was introduced to racism really quickly when I moved to the U.S. I went to high school in New Jersey, as you pointed out.
Alicia: One of my favorite things about you.
Daisy: New Milford, New Jersey, and I went to New Milford High School. And within a month of being in the high school, I befriended the one biracial kid, of course I would. The one biracial kid on campus, Brandy. Black and white. And I befriended her through a terrible experience. We were both being berated by a skinhead. It was something that I had no knowledge of before.
Alicia: In New Jersey?
Daisy: In New Jersey, yeah. This one kid ... And, frankly, when you think about it now, just a troubled kid that was trying to find who she was. But she glommed onto me as being this different kid, this international kid, she would just berate me with racial slurs that, quite frankly, I didn't even know were racial slurs. But I knew they were mean. I knew they were horrible, and it was both to me and to Brandy. I remember telling my dad one day, "There's this girl that's being mean to me. I'm not happy to be in the States. I'm not happy to be here. You took me from the one place that I know." And as I started describing her my dad's like, "What does this girl look like? What's wrong with her?" And I was like, "You know, her head is shaved, and she wears leather all the time and black lipstick. Like, who does that?"
And my dad's eyes just opened up, and he was like, "Oh, expletive. I need to go to the school and take care of you." And within a day had meetings with counselors, and the kid eventually got expelled from school.
Alicia: That's much more extreme than I thought we were going to talk about, which is all of a sudden being Hispanic. Because I imagine that if you grow up in the DR, you don't really understand that's a whole box that you can be put in.
Daisy: No. The term "Hispanic" was completely unknown to me until I moved to the States. And I was put in a box that was defined by others. As I started building a definition of what it meant outside of the traditional definition, it was clear to me that I was being put in a box of a homogeneous group of folks that were thought of as low socioeconomic background, low educational attainment. And none of those were experiences that I grew up with. I grew up with a rich variety of Hispanic images around me of success and power and lack of... the full variety of the human experience. And moving to the States and being put into this box was, at its extreme, really limiting and painful. On the other hand, it seemed to be liberating me to figure out what my identity was and really forcing me to think about, "Okay, then if you're Hispanic in this country, what does that mean and who are you?"
So I fought it for a long time. When I was in high school I was thought of more as the international kid, and I was immediately put into English AP courses and all these advanced courses because I had been in this really great educational environment before. And I remember my English teacher, Mr. Smith, with all his kindness. He would berate the other students every once in a while and say, "I can't believe even the international kid knows English better than all of you." And I would look at him and kind of go, "You're not winning me any friends right now, Mr. Smith." Like, "Thank you so much. Appreciate the kindness you're throwing my way."
But at that point I was more international, and it wasn't until my senior year when that "Hispanic" term really started sticking. And it was when we were all getting accepted to colleges. And everyone was competing for who was getting into better schools, and I was in the top 10% of the class, so you're dealing with really smart kids. I remember once, one of ... Mack, again, a good kid, good intent, but just didn't know what he was saying. He just turned to me. He's like, "Oh, you're going to get into all the schools you get into because of affirmative action. You're Hispanic."
I have to tell you, Alicia, I didn't know affirmative action was at that point. This term, "Hispanic", kept on being floated around to me, and I was like, "What are you talking about? I'm Dominican. I'm Puerto Rican. That's my identity. This is who I am. And by the way, I got better grades than you, so of course I'm going to get into any program that I get into."
But that sense of belittlement and, again, being put into that box, that started for me really in my senior year, and I grew to understand what my place was in American society. But I also grew unhappy and a bit rebellious with not only me being placed in this corner but these brilliant kids that I knew being placed in these boxes and labels that I thought dehumanized them and, frankly, limited their opportunity. So that's where, in addition to being in social justice college and deciding to major in international relations and women's studies… which to this day my father is like, "What kind of job can you get with that?"
But I had this liberty and this freedom, and I used it to the best of my ability, to kind of just explore what all this meant.
Alicia: Just so you know, I'm a women's studies major too.
Daisy: Oh, I love it. Yes!
Alicia: And it was the same exact conversation. Especially when you have parents ... You know, my mom went to school to become a nurse. My father went to school and then later became an attorney. But largely because they had grown up working class and wanted to make sure that they had professional jobs. So I when I think back on it, it probably was scary to say, "I'm going for the most humanitarian humanity degree there is."
Daisy: Yes, there is. They're like, "What is that?" My dad's a doorman at The Grand Hyatt Hotel. My aunt's a teacher. That's it professionally for my family, and when they think of the amazing investment that they made in my education. Their vision for me was that I was going to be President, you know? The story that I say often ... Actually, my daughter just wrote a piece about it for her school the other day… was that my grandmother taught me nothing in the kitchen in the home. She was really intentional about that, and when my grandfather would complain about me not being able to do anything in the home, she would always remind him, like, "She doesn't have to because she's going to be a professional one day."
Their concept was always that I was not going to be homebound, but whatever I was going to do was something that was going to be really big for them. But "big" means standard, and practical, and revenue-earning, and I did not do that until way past grad school, way past the fellowship that I did. I was just drawn to what felt human to me, and I was drawn to where I could make an impact. I just didn't define that for many years.
Alicia: We can look at it retrospectively and say, "Oh, it all adds up, and it all makes sense, and all these life experiences point you in this direction." But the job at Moody's, which really is your first professional job ...
Alicia: That was a family friend that saw something in you and gave you that job.
Daisy: Yeah. Every opportunity I've ever had has, in one way or another, been influenced by someone special in my life. My dad's friend, Alessi Stani, who I adore... Ali had moved to the States during the Iran-Contra, he's Iranian, when nobody wanted to give a job to any Iranians. And here's a PhD in economics, so he ended up being a doorman at the Grand Hyatt Hotel with my dad. They become lifelong friends. He eventually was able to leave that job and become an analyst at Moody's and become a very senior analyst there. And at one point my father was bemoaning me not having a job at a barbecue at home, and Ali turned to him and goes, "We hire kids just like Daisy with Master's in public administration. Just give me her resume." And four months later, I have a job at Moody's, and it was thanks, again, to this kind human being who put my resume in front of the folks at Moody's.
It was also ... I've always thanked Nicole Johnson, who retired recently, and Nicole is a gay woman who had a sensitivity to diversity at a time that people weren't really thinking about this. And she saw this opportunity to build a team as an opportunity to diversify the public finance department. And she built this small ecosystem, all of us from different racial and economic backgrounds, nationalities, you name it. She brought these brilliant folks, some of which are still super, super senior leaders at Moody's and others who have gone on to amazing careers. So I always say I was hired at Moody's through the vision of Ali and the kindness of Nicole Johnson.
Alicia: Because there's what you learn at a place like that in terms of the actual hard skills, and then there's what I would argue is the even more important stuff, which is just that corporate language and that corporate culture. Who walks into the meeting first? Who sits where at the table? And if you don't grow up with people who do that type of work, it's hard not to feel like you walk into those spaces and everyone's speaking a different language.
Daisy: Well, they are. I tell folks, "No one gives you a decoder ring when you enter into a corporation that helps you figure out the cultural nuances of a place." And every organization, every company I've worked for has completely different cultural behaviors, accepted norms. I walked into Moody's knowing nothing other than ... I knew nothing, actually. Let's just be clear. I knew nothing.
And I stumbled. I stumbled my first couple of years, but I benefited from the kindness of folks who recognized me stumbling but recognized potential in me. That's why recognizing potential in others is so important to me, because I've been the beneficiary of it. The whole concept you raised around who speaks, and where they sit in the room. Who has an opportunity to speak first? I have to say, and I've said this often, I was the beneficiary of not just the kindness of others but of being in a place... and building a professional understanding and language in a place where, while not perfect, it was based on this meritocratic everyone has a vote.
And so, it doesn't matter your level. It doesn't matter where you sit in the organization. What matters is your ability to be able to support your decision. So very early on, I had to learn to find a voice, and I learned eventually that I didn't have a voice walking in. I honed my voice by watching others.
Someone who become a good friend, Bart … And if Bart ever hears this, he'll recognize this. I was in a meeting once where I didn't say anything, and afterwards Bart took me to the side with kindness but very intentionally and said, "You don't get paid to not have an opinion here. You're here to express your opinion." And I remember looking at him, sort of shaking, and I said, "I was worried. I didn't know if I was going to be right." He goes, "It doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong, it matters whether you can create a convincing argument about what you're delivering. And if you believe in yourself and you believe in what outcome you're trying to achieve, you'll be able to do that."
That was the first time that somebody really thoughtfully and sternly sat me down and said, "You're not here to just be pretty. You're not here to just do everybody's bidding. You're really here to contribute." And ever since that day, I found my voice, and then I just never shut up.
Alicia: And it's there that you started doing diversity work.
Daisy: Yes. Yeah, it was nine years into being in the company. I was a credit risk analyst for 6, and 6 years into that role when I was thinking of leaving and trying to think about ... You reach this point where you're either going to be a marquee analyst for the rest of your career, or I was actually going to pursue that dream of saving the world that I had when I was an undergrad.
I got a call one day from our head of HR. "We're creating a diversity and inclusion function," and he didn't go as far as saying, "We have no idea what we're doing," but they had no idea what they were doing. "We hear that you're passionate about this. Why don't you put your name in the hat for this role?"
This was the first time at Moody's ... I had an amazing career up until that time. I had been promoted every couple of years. I had been given opportunities every couple of years, but this was the first time where something was put in front of me where I was scared. I was like, "Wait a second. I've never done this. HR is the function that everyone's afraid of, so why am I going to go into a function that I don't know anything about." And, frankly, it was a senior position that was going to get me exposure, and I was afraid.
So I initially ... I didn't say no. I didn't answer for about a week, and our CFO, Linda, came to me one day and said, "I hear that you haven't accepted this role." And I was just like, "Wait, you know who I am?" I was like, "What are you doing here?" And she told me, "I put your name in the hat for that role. When I put your name in a hat for something, you don't say no to it." That was my first experience with sponsorship, not even knowing what sponsorship was. Not even recognizing that this senior leader in the organization even knew who I was or what value I brought to the organization, but she told me the story and she said, "Listen, I've been watching you." I would present at board meetings around our philanthropy work, and she was like, "You do all the work. You really care about this."
At that point, also, I was the only one going to the Black NBA conferences, the Hispanic NBA conferences, the Asian NBA conferences, so I was the only one who really cared. and I said yes. And that was the beginning of what I believe has been the most transformative experience of my life and where I found my purpose.
Alicia: I heard you in another interview say about your family, "Everything I do is to make them proud." I know exactly what you mean, and yet that's a lot to carry around.
Daisy: It is.
Alicia: Right? It feels like every ...
Daisy: I'm getting emotional when you're saying it.
Alicia: Well, because it's so true. It's so shared among us.
Alicia: And yet it's heavy in a way that can make little decisions or medium-sized decisions like, "Do I take this job, or not that job?" feel big.
Daisy: And it is big. It is big.
I do. I always think of myself as my father's daughter, and my grandmother and my grandfather's granddaughter. These are the things that I carry with me, and I try to think about it less as being heavy and weighty and more as freedom and opportunity.
My dad cries half of the time when he's talking about me because he's so proud, and that brings me so much joy.
I've made some choices, Alicia, that have not made my parents happy. Leaving Google is one of those choices where the entire world is like, "Why would you ever leave Google?" And I was really frank with my father. I was like, I needed to be back home. I needed to find my joy, and I needed to do the work that I know is going to be most impactful, and I knew that I could do that somewhere else. That's, frankly, all I needed to say to him.
At the end, fundamentally, our parents put a lot of pressure on us, but if you just dissect all of the external societal images and brands that people expect of us, all they really want from us it to be happy. And if that happiness comes in the form of doing a job that is less glamorous and less exciting. That, I think, is completely acceptable in my family.
Alicia: But where's the freedom?
Daisy: To me, the freedom is … a lot of folks feel that I can only be this person because this is who my family expects me to be, and this is what I'm supposed to give to my family. But when you really explore beyond that, you can be so many different things and still give so much to your family. I think we get stuck in this like, the only thing I can do in this world is X, Y, Z, and I need to make this much money, and I need to make this much money by this age and whatnot. But for me, my freedom comes from knowing I'm going to be okay regardless because I've built that financial stability for myself. But I also know that going forward in my career, for me, it's about finding my highest and best purpose. And my highest and best purpose may be something that could be incongruous to what my parents ever believed my job would be, but if my highest and best purpose makes me happy, helps me raise a healthy and wonderful human being that I am with my daughter, and helps me have a healthy relationship with my husband? That ultimately, the freedom in it, I know that it brings my family joy and that I am serving them in doing that.
Music fade out.
Alicia: Thank you so much, Daisy.
Daisy: Thank you!
Alicia: That’s it for now, but we want to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, send us ideas for awesome guests or whatever it is you’re thinking about right now. Remember to subscribe to Latina to Latina on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. And please leave a review… we love hearing from you. Latina to Latina is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co., mixed by Oluwakemi Aladesuyi, with assistance from Anna Parsons. Our executive editor is Emily Anne Epstein, our editorial supervisor is Rosanne Salvatore, and we gotta give special thanks to Jenny Hollander!
Menendez, Alicia, host. “Viacom VP Daisy Auger-Dominguez.” Latina To Latina, Bustle, BDG Media, April 2017. www.bustle.com.