Leveling the IT Playing Field

LISTA’s Javier Polit helps Latinos find their stride in STEM careers

Javier Polit
LISTA aims to help companies “understand they have a social responsibility to drive minority programs that affect real change,” says the group’s CIO, Javier Polit.

As CIO of the Coca-Cola Company Bottling Investment Group and the national chairman of the Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA), Javier Polit is an expert on all things IT, but interestingly, it was a field he entered almost by accident. In college, Polit was originally an architecture major before quickly discovering his heart wasn’t in it. After speaking to his father, who told him to follow his passion, Polit switched his major to information management systems. After college, Polit began his career in the banking industry and, while performing financial analysis, his work extended into operational analysis and an analysis in the telecommunications function proved to be very significant to the bank. So significant, that at 26, Polit was asked to lead a team in the telecommunications department and, as the CIO says, other than a two-year sales assignment, he’s pretty much been working in the IT field ever since.

Three years ago when a colleague told him about LISTA, Polit took a meeting with the organization’s cofounder, president, and CEO Jose Marquez-Leon and everything Marquez-Leon said about LISTA’s goals—to introduce children to information sciences and technology, to create a level playing field, to develop more Latino technology businesses and to increase the number of Latinos at the executive, board, and c-level—resonated with the CIO and had him thinking back to his time in higher education and as he rose through the ranks of corporate America. Often, he was the only Latino present and Latinas were even rarer.

“I was sold immediately,” Polit says. “I was most excited by the prospect of introducing low-income families to STEM fields and improving the numbers surrounding female leadership. I have a daughter and I often think about her career path after college. I think about how she can have the same degree, the same experience, the same level of expertise as a male colleague, but she won’t make as much money as him and may not be given the same advancement opportunities. Perhaps it’s selfish to personalize it that way, but if more people viewed it through a personal lens, the right thing to do would be clear. Many companies are beginning to understand this equation and have programs in place to address the disparity, but it’s still in the early phases. With women and minorities, we’re talking about capable, talented people who simply aren’t getting the visibility and opportunities they deserve. Part of what LISTA is about is helping companies understand they have a social responsibility to drive minority programs that affect
real change.”

In turn, Marquez-Leon was thrilled to have Polit on board, confident his appointment would result in continued innovation, opportunities, and strategic commitment. “We are confident that Javier will make a significant impact in strengthening our value to our primary constituents, including small business, individuals, and corporate partners who support the growth of Hispanic technology professionals and businesses,” Marquez-Leon says.

Polit has been the National Chairman of LISTA for less than a year, but in that short time the organization boasts accomplishments that make him incredibly proud. A particular point of pride is the organization’s partnership with Comcast, which resulted in families receiving subsidized computers and Internet access for an incredibly discounted price of $9.95 a month. Moving forward, Polit would like to continue forming lasting relationships with major corporations for the purpose of providing low-income communities with more educational opportunities.

The chairman believes that the next big technological tool that has the potential to create the biggest impact is online tutoring—and he and Marquez-Leon haven’t been shy about approaching companies and asking for assistance.

Marquez-Leon and Polit are very excited about the prospect of being able to offer children online STEM tutoring and adult-tech business training using the mindshare of Silicon Valley, but LISTA can’t do it without corporations pitching in to drive the breakdown of the digital divide. By partnering with WebTeach, an online tutoring company, LISTA can provide these services, but the success of the partnership depends on whether or not LISTA can get corporations to fund tutoring sessions—and Marquez-Leon and Polit are more than willing to pit companies against each other if they have to.

“There’s no excuse not to allocate monies to be put towards tutoring hours so that we can continue leveling the playing field. We’re not asking companies for significant investments on their part, just an initial contribution, and in the future when they are recruiting associates from universities, those same companies will benefit,” Polit says. “Just think about it: a student finds out that their tutoring was funded by The Coca-Cola Company, Cisco, Wal-Mart, Accenture, or Microsoft, and because of the tutoring, their scores improved and they passed the GMAT or GRE exam and were able to go off and earn their degree. If the students that were recipients of these sessions could be tracked to know what institution they are studying in, they could be recruited right from the campus by the same company that funded the session. If successful in the recruiting process, it would be safe to say that employee loyalty would be extremely high.”

It is these types of initiatives that make Polit confident that LISTA can increase the number of young Latinos who enter STEM fields and eventually, increase the number of Latinos who can compete for leadership and c-suite roles. Currently, Polit says, less than 5 percent of IT executives in the United States are Latino.

“In the United States, corporations have done a really good job of creating marketing campaigns around Latinos. It’s clear they see us as consumers, but why not see us as future leaders within their companies?” Polit says. “It’s no longer enough to have a program where results aren’t tracked or to set up an affinity group that works in a silo. We want change we can track; we want change we can measure and change we can see. That’s what we’re working towards every day.”