When Nancy Garcia ’08, MBA’10 attended Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies Emily Drew’s classes, she had no idea how much they’d change her life.
Drew’s insight on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) so profoundly shifted the way Garcia viewed herself and the world around her, she used the core fundamentals of those classes to build her career.
Garcia is a global DEI learning programs leader at Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Portland. Among the first at the company to have such a role, she develops and implements strategic planning that incorporates DEI fundamentals into training, learning experiences and other resources for employees while accounting for regional cultural nuances.
“When we’re talking about something like diversity, it means one thing in Japan and something completely different in Seattle, Washington,” she said. “It’s important to keep a global mindset as our customers are employees who live in various regions.”
A first-generation student at Willamette University, Garcia began building her multicultural awareness and identity through her double major — Latin American Studies and Spanish — and student organizations.
Through the orientation program Ohana, she connected with affinity groups like Alianza and the Hawaii Club that provided her with a solid support system throughout her academic career. At the Office of Multicultural Affairs, she worked as an office assistant under Director Gordy Toyama. She oversaw the needs of a variety of organizations and also held leadership roles in them. Garcia was also a residential and teaching advisor for college prep program Willamette Academy. Today, she’s a member of the academy’s advisory board.
Garcia’s professors transformed her education, too. Professor of Spanish Patricia Varas ignited her passion for Latin America by highlighting its rich and diverse culture, while the late Robert Dash galvanized her interest in history and politics.
The academic and leadership opportunities she’d had at Willamette positioned her well for her next steps. Initially interested in becoming a director of a nonprofit, she pursued a Willamette MBA and gained a clear understanding of how different parts of the business world worked together, such as HR and marketing. She realized she loved both enough to build a career.
Garcia’s first jobs in the Portland area — brief stints at a Hispanic metropolitan chamber of commerce and a healthcare company — provided great experience in business development and human resources. Then she achieved her dream job: an HR opening at Edelman Public Relations in Portland, where she was mentored by Zing Shaw, current global chief inclusion and diversity officer for Starbucks, and Denise Busch, senior vice president of global diversity and inclusion at Edelman.
As a diversity and inclusion HR generalist, Garcia incorporated what she learned in her Latin American Studies and Spanish degrees — such as a deep understanding of various cultures, intersectionality and systemic barriers — to establish the company’s first diversity internship for underrepresented students of Syracuse University’s famed SI Newhouse communications program in New York.
Success with DEI work
In 2014, the Portland Timbers recruited Garcia to be the organization’s first full-time HR director. Having an MBA with an HR focus and an understanding of how startups work was essential to securing the job, she said.
“Even though the organization had been around forever, in many ways, it was a startup that was just implementing foundational HR concepts and programs,” she said.
At the Timbers, she managed the HR department, oversaw the acquisition of a merchandising company and set up a customer service internship for high school students with the Boys and Girls Club. But it was her background in DEI — and the social responsibility work at the Timbers and Edelman that proved she could establish relationships with diverse communities — that got the attention of Amazon Web Services.
In 2016, they recruited her to establish plans for a DEI strategy and community social responsibility. Two years ago, she became senior program manager, which evolved into her current position as the global learning programs leader.
The importance of DEI in the workplace cannot be overstated, Garcia said, as gaps in the representation of gender, race, disability and other categories are still found in so many industries. She credits much of her excitement to do this work to her experiences at Willamette.
“Mentors like Emily Drew and Gordy Toyama really helped me establish a strong foundation,” she said. “I am proud of my culture and heritage, and that’s carried through my career and continues to fuel my passion in addressing and dismantling institutional and systemic barriers.”