Understanding and appreciating different kinds of people and perspectives is a skill Stephen Cornejo Garcia has been developing all his life. It makes him uniquely qualified for his role as director of inclusive diversity and equity at Allstate, one of the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurers. There, Cornejo Garcia develops and executes strategies that ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are integral parts of the company’s operations, from the people it hires to the processes that it uses to drive results.
Cornejo Garcia’s philosophy is the same at and outside of work: no matter what situation he’s in, he strives to stay curious, avoid generalizations, and get to know people at an individual level.
“It doesn’t matter who you are; you have your own unique lived experience,” he says. “My approach to life is to get to know people at that level. If I meet someone new, I don’t make assumptions about them. Even though I may be challenged by my own unconscious biases, I try to take it to the next level and be conscious about knowing them beyond what I might be seeing with my eyes.”
That’s also why, when Cornejo Garcia thinks of diversity as it relates to Allstate, he thinks of “diversity of all types.”
“Diversity is every unique dimension about our background and experience that’s important to us,” he explains. “Equity is ensuring the fair treatment of all people and also removing barriers that have prevented some communities from that fair and just treatment. Inclusion is the way we bring it all together. We have to ensure everyone has a sense of belonging and is empowered to bring their voice forward and be their best self.”
“If I meet someone new, I don’t make assumptions about them.”Stephen Cornejo Garcia
This mentality was born out of Cornejo Garcia’s upbringing in Berwyn, Illinois, a suburb just west of Chicago. He was the product of a Mexican American father and an Irish German mother, who began dating in a time when there weren’t many mixed-race couples. He was also raised in a neighborhood where there weren’t many Latinos or people of color and where he and his family experienced racism and discrimination. Nevertheless, Cornejo Garcia credits his upbringing with teaching him valuable lessons and helping him build the skills he’s utilized throughout his life—particularly in his current role.
“It has really served me well in terms of understanding different perspectives, as well as how to work with different people and how to get curious about different cultures and experiences,” he remarks.
It was that same curiosity about other cultures that inspired Cornejo Garcia, a first-generation college student, to study abroad in Paris. The experience expanded his worldview, he says, and helped him learn how to navigate cultural differences.
After graduating, Cornejo Garcia landed a consulting job at Gans, Gans & Associates. For the first time, he had an opportunity to travel as a professional and to get to know different workplace cultures. After two years there, he moved to Arthur Andersen, one of the biggest consulting firms in the world. This marked Cornejo Garcia’s transition into organizational development work, and as he continued on that path, his cross-cultural competencies continued to strengthen.
In 2002, a former colleague told Cornejo Garcia about a job opening at Allstate, and he joined in 2003. In his tenure at Allstate, he has served in a number of key roles in many areas of the business, including learning and organizational effectiveness, technology and operations, agency sales and service, and organizational effectiveness.
These experiences served as a great foundation for the most recent chapter of Cornejo Garcia’s professional life, which has seen him serve Allstate as the director of inclusive diversity and equity. In this role, he has helped the company develop its DEI strategy, define organizational priorities, develop team and organizational capabilities, and expand the scope of DEI support to geographic locations outside the US and within the company’s affiliate organizations.
But to Cornejo Garcia, his biggest accomplishment is not the programs that he has helped enhance or the initiatives he has established. His greatest achievement, he says, is the role his team has played in helping Allstate navigate and address critical issues such as systemic racism, social inequity, and unconscious bias. As he puts it, “We are proudly supporting one of the company’s core values.”
A Pillar of the Community
Outside of his work at Allstate, Stephen Cornejo Garcia is actively involved with professional and civic organizations such as Women Unlimited, ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals For America), HACE (Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement), the Organizational Development Network, and the Conference Board Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council. He serves on the boards of DisabilityIn: Chicagoland and Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a social service agency that empowers Latinas by providing services that reflect their values and culture. He is also a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago, the region’s premier civic leadership organization.