Juan Otero remembers standing at the New York Yankees Stadium’s subway station on 161st Street with the nearby Harlem River as a dividing line. AIDS, crack, and violence plagued the South Bronx to his east. Across the river sat the clean area of Upper Manhattan. The stark reality haunted the young Otero and propelled him to a career in law and public policy.
The child of Puerto Rican migrants kept his community in mind as he worked at the National League of Cities, the United States Department of Homeland Security, and the National Governors Association. As he gained broad experience, Otero’s work always kept him adjacent to issues related to diversity and the concerns of underrepresented people. In 2007, Otero joined Comcast NBCUniversal. Today, as senior vice president, he manages key corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives around governance, public policy, and employee engagement. Otero recently sat with Hispanic Executive to talk about the company’s commitment to digital equity, its ability to make an impact, and what the future holds.
You’ve specialized in telecommunication issues throughout your career. How did that start?
I was working on technology issues as the internet emerged and gained momentum in the late 1990s. At the time, policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels wrestled with the value of this disruptive technology, how it works, and how we could or should tax or manage it to create economic growth. Can everyone access it? What does that answer mean for communities of color? It was those questions and issues around equity in emerging technology that drew me in.
What made it so interesting to you?
My dad was a military man. He ingrained in me the notion that anyone can identify a problem. It’s what you do about the problem that matters. I saw this as an area where I could make a difference and bring a perspective and voice to support communities of color not at the table at this critical time.
When did you first encounter Comcast NBCUniversal?
I first encountered Comcast and the broadband industry while working at the National League of Cities. Broadband, wireless towers and all forms of infrastructure were being rolled out at an unprecedented rate. There were issues with zoning, public safety, and taxing, all implicating local governments. I then moved to the National Governors Association, where I worked these issues from an economic development perspective.
At that point, I was considering where I was from a career perspective. It was around a milestone birthday, so I was having a pivotal moment in my life. Being reflective, I realized I had my local, state, and federal education, but never spent time in a corporate entity. With that, I started looking for companies doing good work. I made a list, which I still have, and put Comcast at the top of companies I’d like to join.
Amazingly, my initial conversations and hiring process with Comcast moved quickly. I began my career with the company at vice president of government and external affairs in the Michigan region, which remains as one of the most important career experiences I ever had. Through that time, I saw how the business operated at the local level. It gave me a perspective I still value.
What made you want to work for the company?
I really wanted to join a company authentic in its work in local communities, committed to DEI, and invested (with both time and resources) in making real change. Prior to joining Comcast, my experiences at the state and local government associations allowed me to peer into the company through our collaborations on policy issues. It gave me real insight on the company’s culture and commitment to partnering with local and state policymakers to develop meaningful solutions on issues impacting the industry, like broadband deployment. This provided the proof point I needed. When offered a job, it was really a no brainer. Fifteen years later, I still consider it home.
You really learned the internal business up close holding various roles in government affairs. What was behind your move to lead Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?
I already was doing some DEI work in my other roles, but one of the great things about the company is constant opportunities to grow and do different things. It was a chance to do work I care about and leverage my past professional experience, while simultaneously continuing to grow and challenge myself.
What DEI efforts were already underway?
There was a lot of great work underway when I stepped into my current role. Comcast had a solid focus and commitment to DEI that was transparent and centralized in an independent corporate unit. This team oversaw DEI issues and evaluated workforce, procurement, community investment, and programing strategies. We also had a unique DEI governance model driven by an external committee providing advice and guidance to senior executive teams. It comprises national leaders in business, politics, and civil rights representing the interests of diverse communities, including women; Black; Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; Latino; Indigenous Peoples and Native Americans; people with disabilities; and LGBTQ+.
What excites you the most about this work?
I’m excited by our ability to drive meaningful change, both internally and externally. For example, being able to apply a DEI lens to new technology to ensure greater accessible for people with disablities, such as our talking remote. I’m also excited to lead our DEI data analytic work. It is fascinating to not only see trends in workforce, but also to use that data to shape workforce priorities. Additionally, I’m proud of our employee engagement work to make us an even more inclusive culture. The issues are vast, but always interesting and that is exciting.
What progress has there been in increasing your workforce?
To date, people of color comprise 45 percent of our workforce, and 36 percent are women. Additionally, nearly 24 percent of our vice president and above workforce are people of color and nearly 42 percent are women. Our aspiration is for our workforce to reflect 50 percent women and 33 percent people of color at all levels. Success for us includes seeing continuous growth towards those goals. I’m happy to share that in 2021 we reached the most inclusive representation yet with 45 percent of our workforce being people of color. We’ve made significant progress since Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, and we will continue to invest in hiring, development, and advancement strategies to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce.
How are things changing?
I think there’s been an evolution since the murder of George Floyd. This moment in history brought to bear that we could do more by placing even more focus on our employees and curating inclusive cultures, driving, and investing in robust digital equity programs to ensure there is economic mobility for all, and empowering our employee resource groups to be change agents. I am proud we seized that moment and have not let up on being the best company we can be across all of our brands. There is always opportunity. The work is never done.
You have been thinking about digital equity for communities of color since the 90s. How is Comcast working towards this goal?
Everyone should be able to access the internet, and at Comcast, we’ve focused on connecting low-income Americans to the web. We’ve committed $1 billion to expand these efforts, taking connectivity to millions of households. It’s not just about providing entertainment. It’s about providing access to life skills, education, wealth-building, and innovation opportunities.
You said you were once one of the few people of color doing the work that you do. What’s that like today?
There has been progress, and there is more to make. We need communities of color represented in policy conversations, especially as we think through the constant evolution of technology, the implications of artificial intelligence, and tech deployment. We need more underrepresented communities doing this work.