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Evelyn Rios Ortiz Redefines Two-in-One

Evelyn Rios Ortiz Redefines Two-in-One

Evelyn Rios Ortiz on her hybrid role and why operating as both chief talent officer and DEI lead helps her drive change at Zoetis

Photo by Madeline Arocho
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Although Zoetis traces its roots back to rural Indiana, where Pfizer opened a research facility in 1952, the world’s largest animal health company has been on a new journey since 2013. That’s when Zoetis spun out from its parent company, celebrated its IPO, and in doing so, formed its own culture, identity, and values. 

With Juan Ramon Alaix as its original CEO, Zoetis put a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from the very start. And when executive team member Kristin Peck took the reigns as CEO in 2020, DEI became an even greater focus through expanded commitments to accelerating inclusion, equity, and more diverse representation across the company.  

After coming to an understanding of the state of diversity at Zoetis and formalizing plans, the company—composed of 12,300 colleagues across forty-five countries—developed aspirations to make Zoetis and the animal health industry more inclusive, including a goal to increase diverse representation within Zoetis by the end of 2025. In line with these aspirations, veteran employee Evelyn Rios Ortiz stepped in as chief talent and DEI officer to formalize and strengthen Zoetis’ long-standing commitments to the important practices. 

“DEI is more than just a program. It’s closely aligned to our core beliefs and our everyday activities.”

Evelyn Rios Ortiz

Ortiz grew up in New Jersey as part of an immigrant family from Puerto Rico. She started working at age fifteen to pay her way through Rutgers as a first-generation college student, and eventually landed an internship at UPS—a position that opened her eyes to the world of human resources. When her recruiting team was asked to find new sources for potential candidates, she connected with community organizations and Hispanic populations around Newark. Suddenly, she realized someone in her role could change their community. “I was able to go to underrepresented people as part of a major employer and offer them career opportunities,” she says. “That’s when I really saw how I could make an impact in HR.” 

Upon graduation, Ortiz stayed with UPS before accepting a generalist role with Lucent, and later T-Mobile. In 2007, she moved to Wolters Kluwer to align business needs with human resources as a divisional director of human resources. 

In 2013, Ortiz came to Zoetis. Two years later, just months after receiving a promotion to a senior director role, she faced a personal crossroads that continues to shape her leadership philosophy. Namely, Ortiz was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

With help and support from her personal and professional families, Ortiz went on medical leave for five months and then returned to work in a phased way to accommodate three months of radiation therapy. She later returned in an expanded role to oversee talent. The compassion Zoetis executives showed her resonates with her to this day, and COVID has only brought those kinds of personal issues further to the forefront. “Everyone has to navigate challenges and obligations in their own lives, and supportive leaders can do a lot to make a difference in the culture here,” she says. 

Since raising her hand to lead Zoetis’ global DEI efforts, Ortiz has worked to embed DEI practices and principles into everything the company does. Her team has grown from three to seven associates, and together they have built a strategy around the four Cs of community, culture, colleagues, and career. They introduced the new program and trained all global employees in just four months. “We moved fast and made this a priority to make sure everyone understands what we are doing,” Ortiz says. “DEI is more than just a program. It’s closely aligned to our core beliefs and our everyday activities.” 

Additionally, Ortiz’s team launched new colleague-resources groups built around shared interests and experiences. Employees can participate in groups aimed at those who identify as African American, Latinx, over fifty years old, early career, Asian, LGBTQ+, differently abled, or neurodiverse. Partnerships with groups like INROADS and MANNRS help Zoetis build early career pipelines to further increase representation. 

As millions of workers quit their jobs in what has been dubbed the Great Resignation, DEI is becoming a differentiator at Zoetis, and Ortiz says her dual role is key. “Having one person [to lead] talent and DEI is what really helps us move the needle,” she says. “It ensures diversity, equity, and inclusion are intentionally embedded at the very core of who we are and what we do.” Zoetis has increased diversity on its executive team and board while building its pipeline and identifying diverse talent to develop into middle management positions. 

And Ortiz is playing a pivotal role in driving ownership and accountability when it comes to Zoetis achieving its DEI aspirations. By 2025, Zoetis aims to increase the global representation of women (director level and above) from 32 to 40 percent, increase overall representation among people of color in the US from 21 to 25 percent, and take Black and Latino US representation up 1 percent each. Ortiz knows her work will help Zoetis reach those marks. “We’re on a journey,” she says. “This is a start, and there is work to be done, but what we’re doing together is making a real impact.” 

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