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Hispanic Heritage Month Roundtable: Extra Space Storage Leaders Discuss Diversity & Culture

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we talked to a group of Extra Space Storage leaders about how their diverse backgrounds have shaped them into great leaders and how they’re paying it forward in their careers. Alex Engel, Senior Vice President of Operations, led the discussion. Participating in the conversation with Engel were:

  • Bianca Nazario, District Manager
  • Sergio Montoya, Regional Training Manager
  • Tony Castillo, Division Learning Manager
  • Dani Bowman, Human Resource Systems Analyst

Below are video clips and highlights from the discussion.

Q: For Hispanic Heritage Month, we wanted to host a group of Extra Space Storage leaders to talk about their career journeys and share ideas on inclusivity. Let’s start with introductions.

Engel: I’m Alex Engel, Senior Vice President for the Northeast, and I’ll be moderating today’s roundtable. I started here 21 years ago. I lived in South Jersey near Philadelphia, and my family heritage is a bit mixed but primarily Colombian.

Nazario: I’m Bianca. I’m a District Manager here in Miami. I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for ten months. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and lived there my whole life until I moved to Miami about five years ago. I’m a proud Puerto Rican. I would definitely wear the flag all over if I could.

Montoya: I’m Sergio Montoya. I am the Regional Training Manager supporting the Black and Pontillo divisions. I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for close to four years and love working here. Like Alex, I’m actually of Colombian background. I was born and raised in Colombia and came here when I was 12 years old.

Castillo: My name is Tony Castillo. I’m our Division Learning Manager for the Chung division, coming to you from Burbank, CA. I’m on my seventh year here at Extra Space Storage and like many on the call, there’s a lot of mix in my background, but primarily Dominican.

Bowman: I’m Dani Bowman. I’ve been with Extra Space Storage since 2014. I started at our call center three days after moving to Utah from Long Beach, CA. I’ve had quite a few positions here; a few at the call center, then a few on the People Team, and now I’m on the Human Resource Systems team which I love. My family is actually from Nicaragua. I think many people aren’t familiar with the country, so just a quick geography lesson, it’s in Central America, right next to Costa Rica.

Q: Nearly 20% of our employees at Extra Space Storage identify as Latin. This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month theme celebrates heritage and hope. What is something from your culture or heritage that has helped you become a great leader at Extra Space Storage?

Nazario: I would say being aware of my differences. I think being a Latina, but also being a woman, I was keenly aware of how different I was. Whether in a college class or in the work environment, that has helped me identify differences in others, respect those differences, and champion them. I think that’s been helpful for my leadership.

Montoya: Something that I bring from growing up in Colombia is loyalty to working for a good company. My dad got his pension from the military—he was there for 20 years. Then he worked for another company for an additional 15 years. Valuing a good company and being committed to sticking around is something I bring from my upbringing back in Colombia.

Bowman: My parents have a lot to do with everything that I do today. When they moved to this country, they had hard labor jobs and taught us the value of working hard. So now, in every single job that I do, I think about them, try to make them proud, and put 100% into every role I have.

Q: Everyone on this panel is an excellent leader at Extra Space Storage and lives our company values. What is your personal leadership philosophy that guides you?

Castillo: For me, it’s all about servant leadership. I’ve always found it to be the best way to lead people and the best way to inspire people. That means always striving to put the needs of my team and the people I support first and help them develop into servant leaders as well.

Montoya: Along with servant leadership comes a responsibility to be transparent with our people. To encourage them to be the best employees and leaders they can be. We have a responsibility to be radically candid with them when they’re not bringing 100% to the table. I think that’s something that has helped me grow in my career and helped me to help others grow—being very transparent and direct. Not allowing them to be mediocre and pushing them to be the best they can be to excel to the next level or role.

Nazario: For me, it’s paying it forward. I’ve been blessed enough to have leaders that truly believe in my capabilities and value my work, even more than I did myself. So that has always been very inspiring, and I aim to pay it forward. That means identifying those valuable employees and leaders and guiding them to accomplish everything they want to.

Q: Every team here at Extra Space Storage is made up of a range of people with diversity of thought. As a leader, how do you create an inclusive team?

Bowman: It’s two things. The first thing would be to encourage learning about other people’s journeys. I grew up in a very urban and poor neighborhood in Southern California. So I don’t expect everyone to have the same background I did growing up. But I use that to fuel me, and I’m very interested to learn about other diverse backgrounds. The second thing would be don’t be afraid to correct behaviors that you might see. If you notice someone using a wrong term or saying something that might come off as negative, don’t be afraid to correct it.

Nazario: I like to create an inclusive team by valuing differences. What makes us different is our superpower. In the same way we look at someone’s strengths, looking at their differences as valuable will help build an inclusive team.

Castillo: I’m sure we’ve all felt what it’s like to be included and excluded because of our ethnicity. And while I don’t think that that experience is essential to being a great leader, I think it does provide a valuable perspective of what it feels like to be on the outside. That experience drives me to make sure no one on the team ever feels that way and that everybody feels like their contributions are valued and championed.

Montoya: Growing up in Colombia, I only spoke Spanish. I came here when I was 12, so English is a second language for me. Living in South Florida, that never really posed an issue for me. However, when I worked with a previous company in a global role, my accent and ability to communicate clearly came into question. That was tough. I always thought that the quality of work I did was very good, but my level of communication, and my accent, was questioned as to whether I could perform the role. That made me feel like I was not included and an outcast, and I had to prove myself. Thankfully, everything went well, and I’m grateful to those leaders for giving me the opportunity to prove to them that I could get the job done. But that’s something that we, as Hispanics and speakers of a second language, have to go through.

Q: What career advice would you give someone just starting at Extra Space Storage?

Castillo: I have two crucial pieces of advice. One is to always be learning. Learn a new skill or competency, learn more about our industry, learn more about different positions here at Extra Space Storage, and be hungry for new knowledge. Two, would be to step outside of your comfort zone. That’s the easiest way to expand your horizons, and we’re lucky to work for an organization that supports and encourages that type of growth.

Nazario: I echo what my peers say—keep your learning hat on. As Hispanics, probably many of us started by learning a new language and it shouldn’t stop there. The company provides great opportunities to grow. We have a great learning and development program and scholarships, so put yourself in an uncomfortable position to never stop learning. We’re so accustomed to being workers, workers, workers that we can’t always see a horizon or career path. But you’re in the right place to build a career and we have the tools for that to happen. You have the investment of your leaders as well.

Montoya: I’m sure many of you out there who aspire to grow have done a lot of great things for the company, your teams, and your leaders. That’s great, and continue to do that, but also be aware of what you need to know to get to that position you aspire to have. It’s important to know what you don’t know, then find ways to be exposed to it, and then you can at least understand what you need to work on to be successful at the next level. That’s going to give you a much better chance in an interview to help your leaders understand why you’re the person for the job.

Bowman: I agree with everyone and would add to not be afraid to ask for opportunities, whether that’s learning a new skill, joining a project, or being part of a development team.

Extra Space Storage is dedicated to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace through its Diversity & Inclusion committees. Interested in joining us? Learn more about our company culture and employment opportunities at careers.extraspace.com.