For Hispanic Heritage Month 2021, Latinx employees at Brown-Forman, which owns Jack Daniel's whiskey among other liquor brands, aren’t simply focusing on what it means to have roots in Central and South America, or to be a part of a Spanish-speaking population. This year, they’re centering on allyship and intersectionality at Brown-Forman.
The company is home to a variety of employee resource groups, including BRAVE for veterans, BUILD for Black employees, EAST for Asian staffers and COPA for Latinx workers. Creating Our Path aids Brown-Forman in "attracting, developing and retaining Latinx/Hispanic talent." Another goal is increasing representation, so that COPA reflects the diversity of the world in which Brown-Forman exists.
"It’s been great to work for a company that really supports and recognizes the importance of minorities, and how they can collaborate with ERGs to reflect what’s outside of the U.S.," Mariana Esquinca, a COPA co-lead since May 2021, told HR Dive. For context, Brown-Forman operates in Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as in North and South America. Key hubs include Amatitán, Mexico City and Guadalajara in Mexico, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Speaking to her experience in the wine and spirits industry specifically, Esquinca said, "One of the spirits that we work with is tequila, and tequila is booming in the U.S. Tequila also screams ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latinx,’ and those [folks] are some of our biggest consumers and adopters. So it's great to be a part of that — to contribute to and speak to this community. And [ask ourselves], ‘How do we continue to engage with them? How do we recruit them?’"
Of course, being Latinx at Brown Forman goes so much farther than tequila.
"When people say ‘Latinx’ and ‘Hispanic,’ we always think about parties and celebrations and socializing, which is part of our nature," Jessica Mazzonetto, a COPA co-lead since May 2020, told HR Dive. "But we're trying to bring more conscience and knowledge to the importance of allyship. And bring some education around different backgrounds and what Hispanic Heritage Month really means. Even though there's so many similarities across all the cultures, we still have our own identity."
Enter COPA’s allyship initiative: an open program that includes non-Latinx and Hispanic people, that has been in the works for the past year. Esquinca said that Hispanic Heritage Month felt like the ideal time to spotlight an initiative the team had been teasing for months. Drawing inspiration from other Brown-Forman ERGs and acknowledging Zoom fatigue, COPA was intentional in structuring its allyship program: not too many meetings, but a monthly grounding session with engaging material as a framework for group discussions.
"Our team created a playbook with interactive resources," Esquinca explained to HR Dive. "It’s a combination of articles, podcasts and short videos that cover a specific topic. We also have monthly, small group conversations where they can discuss one or a couple of those resources."
COPA also is celebrating by welcoming historian Paul Ortiz as a Hispanic Heritage Month speaker. The University of Florida professor teaches courses on African American history, Latinx history and comparative ethnic studies, along with social movement theory, oral history and digital humanities. Notably, Ortiz wrote An African American and Latinx History of the United States.
Ultimately, said Mazzonetto, the allyship program should be malleable to its participants. Everyone is at a different place in their journey — why not honor that? "We want to make it very customizable, to where it does not feel forced," Mazzonetto said. "More spontaneous. We have the guides, but we want to make it more comfortable for people to talk about."
Regarding the strides COPA has made in the past 10 years, she added, "It feels good to be part of the change, the evolution of this community in the United States. It feels good to have a voice. Hopefully, in the next few years, we see more and more Latinx and Hispanic representation — in the company and in the U.S. It's good to be part of the journey."