Tammy Mata has been around the diversity and inclusion game long enough to know what the score is — and where the action is.
She is well past those who still don’t know the difference between diversity and inclusion. She wants impact. That’s one of the reasons she was brought into Valley Bank earlier this summer to be its chief diversity officer.
The bank, which started in Passaic County and was built on serving the underserved, is making an increased commitment to those communities. Mata’s job is to make sure it is done correctly.
“The bank is really putting out a concerted effort into making this real,” she told ROI-NJ. “We’re past the stage of the early D&I programs, which were really surface level, like, ‘Let’s talk about our different cultures.’
“We are on a journey to really be innovative, to really think outside the box. The problems we’re looking to put in place are about connecting the dots. And to make these initiatives real, we understand that we have to better understand the communities that we serve.
“The way we do that is by really leveraging the diverse talents and backgrounds and perspectives of our employees.”
That’s where Luis De La Hoz comes in.
De La Hoz not only is the chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, but a banker who knows access to capital is hard to come by. He joined Valley this summer as the head of its community lending group because he is committed to its pledge of increasing access.
“This is a combined effort from all management, not just one or two individuals,” he said. “Everybody that I’ve met from top management has been very interested in making an effort to attract minority businesses. They understand the changes of demographics. And they understand the importance of these communities.”
ROI-NJ recently caught up with Mata and De La Hoz. Here’s a bit of the conversation, edited for content and clarity.
ROI-NJ: With more than 200 branches in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Alabama — and approximately $42 billion in assets — Valley is bigger than most realize. Perhaps it’s because it has maintained its feel as a community bank with top-notch personal service. Talk about how you’re going to access all of the bank’s assets.
Tammy Mata: It’s all about the connections. I’m looking to make sure that I’m connecting with Luis, with what he’s doing from the community lending, but I’m also connecting with what we’re doing in our Women in Business program and looking into how we can impact supplier diversity. There is so much here. There are really concerted efforts to create communities so that we can really engage and say, ‘If you want to expand your business, you need to leverage the tools that Valley has available.’
ROI: Give us some examples?
TM: Our Women in Business program is a great example of that. We know that women are increasingly looking to create businesses outside of Corporate America — what people call their side hustle. Our Women in Business program provides a number of tools that make it easier to do that, and it also creates community. It’s about bringing people together, not just webinars, but really thoughtful and prolonged engagement.
ROI: Those communities are easy to define: Hispanic, Black, South Asian, LGBT — and, as you said, women, who are a big part of all of them. The world, however, isn’t about boxes. New Jersey’s landscape is a combination of all of these communities. How do you appeal to them all?
TM: It starts with the concept of intersectionality. Understanding that I’m not Black one day, Panamanian another day and a woman another day — I’m all of those things at the same time. We have to understand those nuances and create a shared language, so we all are understanding what we’re striving for. We are really trying to break down a lot of the barriers that were made by Corporate America.
That starts by understanding experiences. What’s your family experience? Where did you grow up? How does that affect the way that you look at a problem? And I want to highlight this. That feeling already is here. In a lot of ways, I’m really codifying a lot of the organic things that are already happening.
ROI: The next step is channeling that knowledge into business. Let’s turn to Luis for that one. What’s the goal?
Luis De La Hoz: We want to serve minority-owned businesses. We will be focused on the high growth potential in small businesses, but, in order to do that, we have to provide them a roadmap of how they can access all the services Valley has to offer.
Part of the problem in the Hispanic business community is a lack of access to capital, to new markets, to networks, and the digital divide. The idea is, how we can provide them a roadmap? Where they can start from the basic checking bank account or credit card and then move forward. We want to show how we can connect them and tell them what they need, whether they have $100,000 in sales, $1 million or $10 million. We don’t want them to get there and find out they don’t know what they need.
We will provide education. We will tell them, ‘If you really want to grow, this is what you need — and this is how we can help.’ That’s our purpose.
ROI: It’s a noble one. And one that isn’t achieved overnight. What is your timeline?
LDLH: That’s a tough question. Some of these issues have been around for generations. The good news is that Valley is in this for the long term. This is not a short-term effort. We are not going to be measured in a three-month period. They want to do a three-year effort to see results because, in the past, they tried different things and didn’t give them enough time.
TM: We’re definitely playing the long game, making sure that we are engaged and making sure that we’re looking at all of the different avenues. And we’re making sure that it’s OK to make mistakes along the way.
ROI: How do you mean?
TM: It’s all about listening and learning. When I talk to people, I want them to highlight my blind spots, I want you to fill in those points. I’m not going to see everything. I want people open to new ideas, open to somebody bridging gaps for you — and understanding that, when we engage in these types of dialogues, when we’re doing a brainstorming session, that we will make some mistakes.
We need to give each other a bit of grace in those conversations. Let people say, ‘I think I made a mistake and I didn’t say that quite right.’ We need to assume everyone has good intent and is just trying to understand more.