As the sole Latina in a class of seventy at a private, all-girls high school, Monica Nichole Rodriguez learned about the lack of diversity in a privileged world at a young age. With her younger sister just four grades behind her in the same school, Rodriguez wanted to forge a positive reputation.
“I don’t want to call it a pressure to be that pioneer or ambassador, but certainly when there is a lack of diversity, there is that weight of making sure you’re making a positive impact,” Rodriguez says. In some ways, she is a trailblazer.
As legal affairs manager of labor and employment at United Rentals (UR), Rodriguez uses both her personal and professional legal experience to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce, complete with safe spaces that allow employees to be their “authentic selves.”
After attending a homogeneous high school, Rodriguez’s cultural view widened when she attended Bates College, a private liberal arts school in Lewiston, Maine. “They actually have a really strong history of diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI]. That priority drew me into being more exposed to my Latin culture,” Rodriguez says.
While there, she combined her interest in Chinese and political science and traveled to China to document stories of dissident artists who pepper their artwork with veiled political messages and face the consequences of a repressive political environment. “It’s really interesting to think about the way that cultures impact art and the way people communicate with each other through hidden and implicit messages,” Rodriguez says.
After earning a law degree from Boston College Law School, she returned to Stamford, Connecticut, her hometown, where she focused on family law as a matrimonial attorney. During this time, she gained an appreciation of cultures and diversity. “I learned to connect with other people. To have empathy, understanding different cultures, people, and their experiences,” Rodriguez explains.
With an interest shifting from individual families to a corporate environment, she was hired by UR—the world’s largest equipment rental provider, with a customer service network of approximately 1,301 rental locations in North America, 13 in Europe, 28 in Australia, and 18 in New Zealand—to partner with human resources as an employment attorney.
While working as an attorney, Rodriguez was recruited into an employee resource group called Together United. “This group is for people from all walks of life and backgrounds to come together and share and leverage a diverse workplace,” explains Rodriguez. “That is a great thing.”
UR has developed a culture of inclusion, connecting people to their work and their identity.
Initially, Together United was anchored in the traditional notion of simply “giving back,” but Rodriguez updated that threadbare mission, redesigning the group to feature DEI by creating safe spaces, education awareness, and networking opportunities.
Under Rodriguez’s leadership, Together United created two initiatives that contribute to the company’s strategic goals and reflect the cultural makeup of the US population. The first created a set of alliance groups that focus on broader groups of employees, including the Hispanic and Latin Alliance, Pride Alliance, Mental Health Alliance, and Black and African American Alliance.
“We really wanted to provide a safe space for people and for those who identify as that affinity or who want to be allies for those who fall under a particular affinity,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez is encouraged by the significant change she has already witnessed in a relatively short period of time at UR. “It’s really interesting to see the growth we’ve had,” she says. “For example, celebrating Pride Month, which just a couple of years ago hadn’t been highlighted.”
The second initiative Rodriguez implemented was the yoUR Pathways Program, which grew out of employee feedback. Through various surveys, she found that employees longed to engage in frank conversations with those who share the goal of building a diverse and inclusive workforce. Rodriguez recruited UR employees from the various alliance groups and asked them to coach employees.
“We’ve had really great success,” Rodriguez reflects. “Not only have we seen great relationships form that are long-lasting, but also there’s the tangible metric of seeing diverse employees being promoted within.”
Rodriguez vows to persevere in the name of DEI and to advocate for UR employees. She strives for employees to recognize UR as a company that encourages individuals to be their authentic selves.
“As a manager, if your employees to feel comfortable enough to be their authentic selves because empathy is valued, you are going to have a better experience with your direct reports and with the company at large,” she advises.
Having worked alongside the outstanding team at United Rentals for years, Davis Wright Tremaine can attest to the Company’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, which mirrors our values. United Rentals embraces the principle that diverse teams deliver the best results, and we are glad to play a supporting role in that.