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12 Rounds with Lorissa Bañuelos


In our new weekly feature 12 Rounds, leaders will answer 12 questions — some light, some heavy — from our Publisher and CEO Henry Sanders to help the community understand them, what they do, and why. Today: Employment Resource Group DEI Director Lorissa Bañuelos.

Before joining ERG, Lorissa was the Director of Marketing and Investor Relations at New North Inc, the regional marketing and economic development organization for the 18 counties of Northeast Wisconsin. The Madison native is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a degree in business administration. She held a series of marketing and leadership roles throughout her time at UWGB, including implementation of strategic initiatives for the College of Health, Education and Social Welfare. She also held positions with Kimberly-Clark Corporation in Neenah and Cumulus Broadcasting in Green Bay, along with the Wisconsin Historical Society Press and Art Gecko, both in Madison, while a student. She is an active volunteer in the Green Bay community, working with organizations such as Junior Achievement and Golden House, to make a positive impact. She was named one of the most powerful Latino leaders in Wisconsin in 2020.

What advice would you give someone who is a person of color not from Wisconsin who is thinking about moving to Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh area? First and foremost, you are needed and wanted here. I would also be honest and say that this area can be a little bit of a culture shock. Coming from Madison to Green Bay was very hard at first, but through the years I have been able to witness lots of change and growth not only in myself but in the community as well. I have been able to flourish and jump start my journey to becoming my best self. This a beautiful area with lots of people who want to make a positive impact in our communities. People of color are reaching out to each other, making those connections and creating groups, committees and initiatives to make this area a more inclusive and healthy place for diverse people. We also have FoxValley365, an offshoot of Madison 365 which is my source for equitable, impactful and accessible news! 

There are also many great technical colleges/universities here that are making valiant efforts toward hiring diverse faculty and staff. We have immense employment opportunities here, and are home to quite a few of Fortune 500 companies, in addition to family-owned businesses looking to diversify their staff. The cost of living is awesome! Lastly, we have some very beautiful state parks and lakes to explore. 

Name 3 songs that accurately reflect how you’re feeling.

1.) Are You Gonna Go My Way by Lenny Kravitz

2.) Freedom by George Michael 

3.) Malcriada by Jarina De Marco 

If you could go back in time to any point of life to tell yourself something, what age would you go back to and what would you tell yourself? My experiences have molded me into who I am today but there are things that I would tell my younger self to hopefully decrease worry and increase my faith. I would go back to me at age 19 and I would say: 

  • Don’t give your time to those who are not striving to better themselves.
  • You deserve to be treated with respect. 
  • Be kinder to your mother-she has accomplished a lot, fought a lot of fights so you and other people of color can be themselves in this world. She’s tired. Be kinder to her and help her by helping yourself. 
  • Invest in self care, whether that be rest, therapy, gym equipment, etc.
  • The world may not be ready for you, but it doesn’t mean that you should stop preparing for the world. Your differences are what make you amazing. 
  • Don’t live in regret, the mistakes and losses teach you the most lessons. 
  • Pick your battles wisely.

What did you learn about yourself in 2020? I learned to not shrink myself to fit the expectations of others. I am always learning and I have a lot of important things to say and I am aware that this may make certain people uncomfortable. I have learned to be more confident in my skin and my abilities. I am learning to trust the process, that no matter what, everything will be alright. Thinking positively gets you through most challenges. I work hard, but I love to laugh. With the transition to everything moving virtual where technology tends to do it’s own thing, everyone needs to have a sense of humor.

At this point of your life do you feel you have found your purpose? If so, how did you figure out your purpose? Yes, I do. I’ve been put in the position to help improve the hiring and retention of diverse talent. The career trajectories of diverse talent, in particular people of color are being disrupted. BIPOC are leaving companies after 1 to 2 years because forms of discrimination, micro and macro aggressions are not being properly addressed. Or they are being oppressed and/or dissuaded from upward mobility. Companies are missing out on amazing talent (not to mention, revenue) because they have not yet prioritized adopting a DEI strategy, which is essentially a business strategy. 

Both my mom and stepmom had roles in Diversity. I saw first hand what their impact had on the community. I knew I wanted to one day be part of this movement. I had to fight to get here. I once had a “Talent Strategist/Advisor” tell me that DEI had nothing to do with economic development. Thank goodness I knew better. Too many of us are internalizing these statements and microaggressions like that, which is putting our success and mental health at risk. However, these things are tricky to navigate, especially for young diverse professionals first starting off. My own lived experiences and the experiences of family and friends have brought me to this purpose.  

We need to teach aspects of DEI to all students, educators, employees and employers. That is how big DEI needs to be. We are combatting hundreds of years of racism that is instilled in all of our institutions, literature, media, and social settings. It is important to reach students of marginalized groups so they will be able to recognize when they are facing microaggressions and implicit biases and will have the skills to advocate for themselves when needed. Additionally, we need to reach students of priviledged groups, so they are not contributing and committing acts of discrimination to their peers when entering the workforce. 

There is a lot of division around the issues of race in politics. What can we do to lessen those divisions? I will not have conversations about race and politics at networking events and/or in personal social settings. That’s how I protect myself and maintain positive relationships. I have no problem having these discussions if they are facilitated and have the purpose of creating strategic solutions. In those settings, I know there are measures being taken to protect marginalized voices. I have stopped conversations dead in their tracks if I see the discussion leaning toward views that conflict with my equality and identity. I refuse to listen to rhetoric that stems from institionalized racism. Recently this rhetoric has become increasingly toxic. I am not handing out the emotional labor it takes to speak with someone who holds views that are complete affronts to my entire existence. I am not going to make it ok or give someone permission to oppress me straight to my face for the sake of a “political conversation.” That’s how I lessen division, by not taking part in race related and political conversations that don’t consist of people who truly trying to find solutions and educate themselves. That emotional labor needs to be paid for. 

Jennifer López or Shakira? Salma Hayek. But then J. Lo! Jennifer Lopez is a force to be reckoned with! An icon who helped put Latinx people on the map in the entertainment industry. Only five percent of the speaking roles in 2019’s top 100 movies went to Latinx actors, even though that demographic group represents 18% of the US population. Shakira is my girl too, but J. Lo is well… J. Lo. 

Name your three favorite restaurants.

  • Habañeros. It’s a must-have when I come back home to Madison. 
  • Bowl 91 in Appleton. They have the best Spicy Miso Ramen. 
  • I hate to do this but this last one is a tie between Narin’s Kitchen and Phocoma. Both in Green Bay, both amazing! 

What is your favorite thing to do in Green Bay? Green Bay has a wonderful trail along the Fox River. It is nice getting out and walking along the trail and/or visiting some of the shops, bars or restaurants along that stretch. In the summers, I love sitting on deck with my sister and/or a few colleagues, enjoying the sunset. I also love to take my lab, Harrison out walking/hiking to one of the many parks in the area. 

You are the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Director at Employment Resource Group. What makes an effective DEI program in the business community? First and foremost, practice what you preach. With that said, we are implementing DEI learning internally. We are not only understanding terms but connecting that to history and present day. We are a small group of 15, so having a facilitated discussion with a multiracial group of both white and BIPOC participants works for our team but I can see how this particular strategy wouldn’t work for a larger organization. There are no judgements going into these discussions. We know we are all at different stages of this journey and have created a safe place for all levels of cultural competency. 

I think what is the most important thing that my organization has done is INVEST in diversity, equity and inclusion. I am a huge fan of employee resource groups in companies to help create an inclusive community and opportunities for networking. However, but as far as DEI education and strategy goes, you need to PAY someone for that education and emotional labor. DEI work is hard, very hard. It’s not only understanding terms but connecting that to history and present day. Its facilitating hard conversations and reliving trauma sometimes daily. It’s turning around companies that are 100-150 years old and asking them to invest in something that most didn’t even knew existed.

When you were a child, what did you want you to be when you became an adult? Listening to artists like Selena and Aretha Franklin, I obviously at one point wanted to be a singer. Watching actresses like Salma Hayek and J.Lo, I then wanted to an actress. Then I started to become very aware in elementary school and I wanted to be a lawyer. Being so young, I had limited knowledge of what a lawyer did, but I knew that they had the power to protect people. I ended up majoring in Business. I was blessed to land a position in the economic development corporation of Northeast WI. I was hired by the then Executive Director, Jerry Murphy who did not mind mentoring me. Although he would not give himself this credit nor would he agree with the following sentiment, but I truly believe that if it had been any other leader in that role, I highly doubt I would have been given that opportunity. I was most times the only woman of color at some of the economic development events we attended, and often felt my presence was not well recieved. But I had Jerry and the rest of the team, Connie, Lorri and Matthew behind me, and that is the same support that diverse talent needs in this area’s workforce.

If you could choose two people from history who you could have a conversation with, who would it be and why? Frida Kahlo, because she raged against the machine. She was defiant and embodies the power that’s within the female identity. I admire her gift of expression, but on the other side of that, I heard she was a bit of an introvert, which I can relate to, to an extent. I would mostly just listen to her. I would interrupt her with a few questions, but I would totally let her dominate the conversation. I could see us crying, laughing and affirming one’s realities. I would love for her to sign a print of on of her paintings that is hanging in my mother’s dining room. We would definitely be enjoying some great food and drinks too!

My second person would be Aretha Franklin. She is one my mom’s most favorite artists and there are few songs of hers that I do not know by heart. Her songs are the anthems for so many, crosses all demographics and geaographic borders. She represents strength, resilience and faith. Her life had so many dimensions being an singer, songwriter, actress, pianist, and civil rights activist.