Q&A with Cristina Hernandez, Chief Diversity Officer: Inclusion, Diversity, and Driving Innovation

Synopsys Editorial Staff

Oct 05, 2023 / 5 min read

Synopsys is on a journey to weave inclusion and diversity into everything we do. We’re excited about how a more inclusive and diverse workforce can advance our innovation – we know that this is the only way we can remain an industry leader well into the future.

Data shows that inclusive and diverse workforces drive positive results to the bottom line. In its report Diversity Wins, covering more than 1,000 large companies across 15 countries, McKinsey concluded that “the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.” Similarly, a Boston Consulting Group study of over 1,700 companies found that companies with more than average total diversity achieved 19% increased innovation revenue (derived from new products or services).

Leading the effort at Synopsys is Chief Diversity Officer Cristina Hernandez, who joined the company in February. As we mark Global Diversity Awareness Month in October, we're sharing our chat with Hernandez about her road from Harvard Law School to a champion of inclusion and diversity (I&D) in the workplace

building a diverse workforce

Q: How did you become passionate about promoting I&D in the workplace?

A: I’ve always been passionate about creating spaces where everyone from every background is valued and feels belonging. My mom was deeply committed to helping others and to social justice, and that really shaped so much of who I am. My legal studies also had a huge impact. When I went to law school, I became powerfully aware of lawyers being gatekeepers for justice and the importance of having those gatekeepers reflect the society in which we work. I also learned through the law that change can take time, but if you are persistent and consistent, you can solve problems that seem insurmountable.

Then, on my very first day of practicing law, I met my mentor in the I&D space. After that, at every law firm I worked at, I was on the I&D committee or the hiring committee, working toward greater inclusivity. Over 20 years later, in 2012, I had the opportunity to join my mentor and work on I&D as a professional, and I jumped in!

At the end of the day, I love supporting people. I also love understanding complicated organizations and architecting long-term change processes that create the conditions for everyone to have positive impact and feel belonging. The combination works well for me!

Q: How does your I&D vision align with Synopsys’ mission?

A: Creating truly diverse and inclusive spaces globally is not easy. We need to seek change in four different areas, because those are where the barriers exist to inclusion. This framework really anchors my vision for our I&D work at Synopsys:

  • Individual Among other things, each of us needs to understand who we are (including our biases and preferences) and how that impacts, for example, how we work with others, how we lead, and how we communicate. 
  • Interpersonal – This is where we spend some of our most visible time in inclusion work. It’s where we’re purposefully more inclusive with our colleagues, where we make sure we know how to interrupt bias in our interactions, and ensure we are giving everyone the information they need to be their best. And, critically, we address how we manage conflict in a way that respects each person involved.

  • Organizational Change – This is important, and hard, because it requires us to examine, and be willing to change, all the systems that impact employee experiences. This covers hiring, onboarding, development, promotion, and beyond. We must make sure these systems are built for fairness and include bias interrupters. This is also where we think about how we should leverage data analytics to support inclusion work.
  • Cultural Change – So many companies are rightly proud of their culture, and we are, too! And we must make sure that the culture is working equally well for everyone.

As for how this works with Synopsys’ mission, this is a place where people care deeply about doing what’s right for the company and treating each other with kindness and respect. They are also willing to innovate! I can’t emphasize the importance of all these things in doing effective I&D work.

Q: What are some of your initial plans to facilitate Synopsys’ I&D journey?

A: I think Synopsys has a solid foundation. We’re building on that by making sure we have a collective understanding of key concepts, that we’re considering the complexity of difference around the world, and that we all have the skills to act inclusively. We all need to understand that each one of us, regardless of our background, benefits from a highly inclusive environment, and from systems and practices that are fair for everyone.

One final thought on this. What I say often to people is that it is not my job to create an inclusive Synopsys – each of our employees has a part to play. My job is to advise, strategize, support, coach, hold accountable, and to keep laser focus on these goals for the company. 

Q: How will you measure success?

A: Most companies publicly report outcomes about certain aspects of the diversity of their employees. But we need to understand the employee experience across pivotal moments, so we’ll look at quantitative and qualitative progress metrics over time focused on key moments of the employee lifecycle. 

Q: We are in a climate where I&D programs are being questioned and, in some cases, eliminated. What advice would you share for anyone who’s striving to make their corner of the world more just and equitable?

A: We must be honest – our I&D work is occurring within a larger society that is incredibly, and increasingly, polarized. We cannot hide from that. To make progress, we need to bring everyone into the I&D discussion and be willing to engage in difficult conversations. I believe most people want a just and fair work environment. But we’re not really talking with each other about what that means and the things that are getting in the way of that – and we are not listening as much as we should, either. Unfortunately, we’re in a climate where it’s easier to ignore the problem or try to argue with someone than to listen to someone and be open to change.

So, thinking about the four areas of inclusion change I talked about above, we can’t lose sight of the importance of our individual work. We must each examine our own behaviors and beliefs and ask ourselves, what biases do we have that may be getting in the way of connecting with others? Are we willing to challenge ourselves to connect with people who hold contrary views and be open to exploring new ways forward?

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