“I think because of my background, building community is something that I’ve always enjoyed. That is what my job has always been around – connecting the jobs that we have at the university with the multiple communities in Madison and across the country,” says Adin Palau. “My priority has always been to enrich the diversity of the university with the talent that we have in our city, the Midwest … and make sure that our jobs are known to all individuals.”

Palau serves as the recruitment manager for the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he has had years of extensive experience in talent acquisition in the higher education sector. He is a consultant to over 100 departments on campus where he introduces cutting-edge solutions to attract top talent for all employment categories in the university.

“What I enjoy most about my job is the flexibility and the opportunity to innovate. I love to create programming and my job allows for that,” Palau tells Madison365. “I love the flexibility to engage and connect with the communities of color in the Madison area. I like that I get to have all of these conversations with the multiple stakeholders and help develop our community … to help be an agent of change.”

Palau has been working on recruiting for UW ever since he first came to Madison from his native Cuba in 2001. He was born and raised in central-city Havana, Cuba’s colorful capital city. “The very same place where President Obama went to eat on his first night during his recent historic visit to Cuba. Same neighborhood. Very popular. Very diverse neighborhood,” Palau says. “You have people from all sectors of society. You have a very rich perspective of race relations in those neighborhoods.”

People line the street outside Havana's Grand Theater, left, hoping to see U.S. President Barack Obama in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 21.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) ORG XMIT: RLB120
People line the street outside Havana’s Grand Theater, left, hoping to see U.S. President Barack Obama in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 21. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

It was a neighborhood where you really get to know your neighbors and everybody gets treated like family. It’s a neighborhood that has seen some tough struggles over the years but has been extremely resilient.

“More than the oppression and more than the lack of freedom, what I saw the most growing up in Cuba was the necessity across the board and the lack of opportunity and hope for a future. Especially after the Russians left and Cuba entered into a difficult time,” Palau says. “As an electrician in Cuba, I was making $7 a month. Yes, a month. There is not a lot you can do with $7 a month in Cuba.

Picture of Havana from a recent trip by Adin Palau.
Picture of Havana from a recent trip by Adin Palau.

“But that type of necessity also creates unity. It was easy to see neighbors coming together and cooking together,” he adds. “There is that sense of family where you see when somebody else is struggling, you help out. Not just in Havana but throughout the country. People were looking for ways to survive.”

Palau is pretty excited about President Obama’s recent historic trip to Cuba and is hoping that it will mean brighter days in the future for Cuba. He, like many of the younger Cubans in the United States, believes it’s a very positive step towards the normalization of the Cuban and American relationship. “It is historical. It is the first American president that three generations of Cubans have seen,” Palau says. “The last president went to Cuba even before my grandmother was born. That was in 1928. I believe it was [Calvin] Coolidge.

Picture of Havana, Cuba, from a recent trip by Adin Palau.
Picture of Havana, Cuba, from a recent trip by Adin Palau.

“There is a sense of compromise that both sides are making in order to have a joint conversation on what the future will look like,” he adds. “Our hopes are really high with the approach that they are implementing here. I’m seeing serious steps to get rid of all of the barriers that we had.

“We should not be afraid of the change that is on the horizon,” Palau continues. “We should seize the opportunity. Leave the past in the past and look to the future. It’s time for reconciliation and it’s time for reunification of families. We can only do that if we start getting rid of the current barriers that are stopping the future from happening.

It took a quite a bit of luck for Palau, a 1997 graduate of the Havana Polytechnic Institute, to end up in Madison. On his third try, Palau was a winner of the 2000 Cuban lottery, a U.S. State Department special migration program that allows, under a special agreement between Cuba and the U.S., several thousand Cubans to migrate to the United States every two years. Millions of Cubans apply for this program. Palau was one of the lucky ones.

Many Cubans end up in Miami or in Florida, but the second piece of fate that led Palau to Madison was that he had met a good friend in Havana from Madison who sold him on the cold Wisconsin city. Palau got a ticket to Madison with a return trip ticket to Miami in 3 months in case he didn’t like Madison. But even record amounts of snow in Wisconsin that particular winter did not deter Palau. “I ended up ripping up that ticket. And I got to Madison in the heart of winter during a particularly bad winter – Jan. 10, 2001,” he remembers. “I wanted to face the reality. Madison has been the place that blessed my life since.”

Old picture of Adin Palau with a friend in Havana, Cuba
Old picture of Adin Palau with a friend in Havana, Cuba

And yet, Cuba, his patria, constantly stays on his mind. Palau has been able to return to Cuba multiple times and is hoping to get back there again soon.

“I miss the warmth. That is, the warmth of the people of Cuba. Cuba and Havana are places where the spirit of the people are very open and very welcoming,” Palau says. “It doesn’t matter who you are. The president was very welcomed in Cuba, but if you or I go, we are going to be as welcome.

“At 10 a.m. you will find people’s doors wide open and you can go right in and you can smell the coffee as you walk through the hall way and they will give you a cup,” he adds. “And you will have a conversation. And you will get to know everybody around you. I really miss that sense of community that you have around you daily.

Palau wants other people to go and experience what it’s like to live on the island. “There’s nothing like walking the Havana streets,” he says. “There’s no better way to understand what the real deal is until you go to Cuba and hang out with the people.”

Palau sees Cuba as a country with incredible untapped potential. He sees the same thing in Madison.

“From the communities, we see a lot of work happening to connect that talent – the Madison Network of Black Professionals, Latino Support Network, and Latino Professionals Association,” he says. “They create the platform for individuals to be connected and to network and to be empowered.”

Palau says that while they have been making inroads, there is much to be done yet. “The opportunity is there. I think that there are number of organizations that get it … they understand that we need to tap into those resources to develop them and empower the community,” Palau says. “The Madison Area Diversity Roundtable is moving the diversity agenda forward, for example. Every day, all of us are getting more connected. We still have so much work to do.

“We have great leaders in this city, but there are still so many other leaders and individuals from diverse communities that we need to bring to the table to join us in this effort,” he adds.

Adin Palau shows off his University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 2015 Administrative Improvement Award.
Adin Palau shows off his University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 2015 Administrative Improvement Award.

UW–Madison recruits extensively through publications, journals and job boards to attract talented and diverse candidate pools. The Office of Human Resources has made a commitment to increase the effectiveness of recruitment advertising, especially to attract candidates from under-represented groups. One element of the success in their recruitment initiatives has been the alignment of strategic plans.

“We have the diversity plan put forward by Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Patrick Sims – with our HR design and other initiatives – that creates a path for success,” Palau says. “We can have as many efforts as we want but if we don’t have a clear plan and a real strategy for the future, success won’t be as easy to measure and it won’t be as positive. Strategic plans and support from the leadership and resources to develop the plans are key for any organization in the attraction and retention of diverse talent.”

From 2001-2008, Palau was a training officer for UW. Since 2008, Palau has been the campus wide recruitment manager where he serves as a connector to make sure that the opportunities are known to individuals and that processes are easy to understand to ensure success for candidates to impact the workforce of the university and the communities.

“We’ve got great community leaders here in Madison serving in organizations like Centro Hispano, Urban League of Greater Madison, Madison Network of Black Professionals, the Latino Professionals Association, the Latino Support Network,” Palau says. “All of these organizations create the platform, and along with that, the opportunities for us to collaborate. Even though we’re in Madison, Wisconsin, a smaller city, I think there is more collaboration than in bigger cities like Miami or New York. The job will always be challenging and difficult, but with the appropriate support from the community, it can be very rewarding to do.”

Palau recently conducted the first-ever comprehensive campus wide assessment of recruitment advertising activities. He has also held a series of conversations with the campus human resources community to discuss implementing a consolidated effort to increase effectiveness and reduce costs.

“This all came out of many conversations we had throughout the community. We had conversations in 5 languages with varied employees. We identified that we needed to develop a system that was inclusive and that’s what really makes the success of the organization,” Palau says. “We’ve had a great leader, [former vice chancellor of finance and administration] Darrell Bazzell, and we are so sad to see him go. But what he implemented, the Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity initiative, is a strategical positioning of all of the divisions to better recruit, assess, and select the most diverse talent.”

At UW-Madison, recruiting and hiring can be highly decentralized so Palau’s challenge is to develop shared resources that will give hiring managers various strategies that will lead to greater talent and diversity in their pools. Palau works to increase UW–Madison’s profile with potential employees by developing databases, working with national organizations and assessing the effectiveness of his office’s current practices.

“We all share the same vision here – from the chancellor on down – that in order to excel you have to recruit and attract the most diverse talent,” Palau says. “We have been able to redesign and redefine and to improve our HR system. With that in mind, we have been able to better position the organization to connect with diverse communities.”