Andre Diaz, public improvement coordinator at DTE’s Wealthy Station in Grand Rapids, relies on building relationships to break down stereotypes and overcome racism.
As a person of color working with predominately white external business partners for 27 years, Diaz spent his early career validating himself. “Many times I would make a decision or state a position on behalf of DTE, and the person I was talking to would ask me if there was someone else they could speak with,” said Diaz.
“People sometimes have lower expectations when dealing with someone considered a minority,” said Diaz. But his attitude, approach and patience helped change that. “Fulfilling my commitments and delivering excellent service time after time allowed me to build relationships with them and earn their trust and respect.”
Diaz’s main priority has always been to provide the best service as an individual and in representing DTE. “I’ve always extended support to our partners any way that I could,” said Diaz. “Now vendors, local government agencies and municipalities call on me to help with issues outside of our typical business, just because they know I’m here for them and they can rely on me.”
“If you consistently treat people well, they’ll start to see you for your character rather than the color of your skin,” said Diaz. That’s when he understood the impact of building interpersonal relationships in overcoming racism, and was inspired to apply that to DTE’s workplace.
Diaz has been a leader in establishing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within our company. He develops and hosts monthly panel discussions on DEI and creates resources for leaders to share with their teams focused on building interpersonal relationships. “A lot of employees come into work every day and leave half of who they are in the parking lot,” said Diaz. “We want to inspire people to bring their whole selves to the table.”
Along with his colleagues, Diaz helped make DEI part of the culture at the Wealthy Station. “We want DEI to be a part of everything we do,” said Diaz. “We want our employees and customers to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their differences.”
The team hosts one-hour sessions inviting employees to share personal stories to connect with one another through likenesses and understand and value differences. “People know they’re entering a safe place where they can be vulnerable,” said Diaz. “It was tough at first, but as conversations began to flow, they started to see our shared humanity and felt comfortable asking questions and engaging in open dialogue without fear.”
Overcoming inequities takes time, patience and effort. “It took almost 10 years to pass the Civil Rights Act after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery, Alabama,” said Diaz. “We’re not going to change things immediately, but we have to continue to push forward and stay encouraged even when it feels like we’re not making progress.”