Q&A with Katalina Garcia, Future of Work Advisory Council Member

It feels odd to write a piece that’s not about COVID-19. Yet in this moment of uncertainty, I see an opportunity to adjust our approach to seeking solutions, including policy solutions. 

I’ve spent the past three months as the Future of Work Fellow at the Bell Policy Center. I bring together the Future of Work Advisory Council each month to work through a process of developing policy recommendations to increase equity in the future of work and learning in Colorado. The Council is made up of community members experiencing equity barriers and working to improve equity within their respective positions in higher education and workforce development systems. A diverse group of current students and recent graduates shape our conversations through facilitation and sharing their experiences within these systems. Inclusion of these voices is integral to the Advisory Council’s work. 

Katalina Garcia is one of these strong and consistent voices in our group. A current student at Community College of Denver, she studies communications, works with Park Hill Collective Impact as a program associate, and advocates with the Young Invincibles network. I was curious to hear what it has been like for Katalina to be part of the Advisory Council, shaping policy for systems she so personally knows. 

What motivated you to join the Advisory Council? 

I was encouraged to join the Council by Jenny Smith at the Denver Opportunity Youth Initiative, who knew I was interested in going into policy work. I don’t know what I want to do with policy work yet, but I like the process of getting input, being able to make recommendations, and seeing the policy change happen. I think through policy change you can make more of an impact than doing individual advocacy on a subject. A policy recommendation that leads to a change helps more people. And Jenny, I really look up to her. She’s very good at seeing in people what they don’t see in themselves and so I was like, “OK, if Jenny’s recommending it, it must be good.” 

What are you hoping to influence?

I want to give my perspective because I know people like me aren’t usually at tables like this. I think it’s really important to get different perspectives at the table. I’ve learned using my own experience is powerful in itself because I have the lived experience, but I’ve also seen with the workforce you don’t necessarily have to have all the credentials to come into contact with opportunities, so I really want to highlight that. 

What do you mean when you say “people like me” aren’t usually part of these processes?

I would say, I guess, uneducated, first-generation Mexican-American minorities. 

How has it felt to be a part of the Advisory Council’s process to make policy recommendations for a more equitable future of work and learning? 

It feels like I’m part of something bigger and it feels good to be able to give perspective that I don’t know would be there if I wasn’t a part of it. I feel like people listen to me, which is something different, just because usually, in the workforce, you’re told what to do and you just do it. This process asks questions and it makes you think outside of the box — it makes you think of people’s actual experiences, how you’re able to influence change, and seeing the bigger vision. To be able to change the trajectory from where we are at now, I think it’s really cool. 

What have you appreciated the most? 

I most appreciate being a part of the whole process, not just being brought in to talk about issues as a token. I know that sounds bad, but there are groups I’ve seen where they just bring people for maybe one meeting and then you don’t see them again. So I really like being a part of the whole process. I think that’s really important. 

What has felt the most challenging? 

I think back on the first couple of meetings and how there were a lot of people and just seeing people fall off. I think all the people who were there need to be there because they represent everything we’re trying to capture, right? I think engagement is challenging in itself when people don’t see the bigger picture. But it’s the future of the workforce — it could be a little bit broad, but all perspectives are needed in the process. It was a scheduling challenge at first, but adjusting to that hasn’t been too hard. Public transportation is a challenge, but I can’t control it. 

What could the Advisory Council and others like it do to ensure people don’t drop off? 

I think it helps to have a personal connection, something to make members feel like they aren’t alone or like they aren’t part of the group. Also providing accessibility is important in terms of location, parking, ramps, interpretation if needed, things like that. In the case that members can’t make the trip to Denver, video conferencing is provided, but it’s not the same as in person. Quarantine is an example of how video conferencing can be both an asset and a challenge. 

What would help you when it comes to scheduling or other barriers you’ve encountered?

Communication has been super helpful in addressing both of these. I think being able to talk openly and keep each other in the loop has helped a lot. It’s amazing to be able to have this type of open communication. Being realistic with what you are able to take on is important too. I know I’ve overbooked myself on a couple of occasions. It’s stressful. Avoiding that and not signing up for more than you can deliver could also help with preventing drop off.

What skills do you feel you’ve built through your participation on the Advisory Council? 

I would say confidence in my own voice. I’m a very timid, humble person so I’m like, “Well, I don’t really need to talk about that,” and then I realize I do need to talk about my point of view. I still get nervous talking in front of people, but I think the confidence builds with each meeting. My leadership style has also evolved, and has helped me to be a stronger facilitator. I think it does vary based on the different groups we get. I’ve had a lot of different leadership building and facilitation trainings, but being able to find where I belong in the group changes. I’m the person who fits in wherever is needed.

Have those skills translated into other areas of your life?

I definitely have seen them translate to the classroom setting since I went back to school. I was always the quiet person in the corner, but now I make my voice heard. I don’t hold back anymore, which is new for me. I’m like, “Who is this person coming out?” It’s pretty cool. At work, I’m able to articulate myself better to my coworkers. I also think being quiet and timid and only speaking when I need to lets people think they can talk over me, but being confident in what I have to say and what I’m bringing to the table, I know now that it’s valuable. I don’t let myself be bullied. 

What has surprised you about the Advisory Council’s process of making policy recommendations for a more equitable future of work and learning? 

I’m surprised at how deeply we dive into things, making sure we cover everything we need to cover. I’m actually surprised how well people work together even though we have those really strong personalities. I think for the most part everyone wants to see this work move forward and for it to be quality work. 

How has being a part of the Advisory Council changed ideas you had about how policy change occurs?

I thought making recommendations was faster — a much faster — process. I thought people just made recommendations and they either get accepted or denied in policy change, but I’m seeing it’s a whole process. I would also say it’s a process that really does take into consideration everyone’s voice. That part of the Council actually makes me like the process more because you’re hearing everyone’s voice and putting it all together to make these recommendations, which has been cool to see. I really like it. 

What about how social change occurs? 

I think social change is the hardest thing to change, or the slowest thing to change, just looking at history and how even when laws were created and enforced. I think social change itself is like a domino effect, but I think it’s a slow one. I think planting a seed is a better analogy. Because you plant the seed and you don’t know when the seed is going to pop out and sometimes it doesn’t come out. I’m learning that with gardening. I’m thinking specifically of the hollyhock seeds. The flowers dry up and the seeds are there, but if the seeds are not ready, and you try to force them out, they’re bad seeds. So it’s just like planting seeds, and it depends on the seeds you plant. If you plant a tree from a seed then you’re not going to see the tree until years later. Social change is like that, now that I’m thinking about it. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share about what it’s like to be a student member of the Advisory Council?

I just think more places need to be intentional about including student voices, or even just younger voices. If anything, they’re the ones who struggle the most to get into the workforce because they don’t have previous experience. Even getting your first job is hard. Their voices are less listened to. Through my work I get to see young people and what they’re capable of and I’m like, “Why don’t more businesses listen to them?” because they have really innovative ideas. They just have a fresher perspective. As adults, we are doing things a certain way, but it could be more efficient if it’s done another way. It’s also something upper management doesn’t listen to. I’ve experienced that too, just because I look younger than I am. I feel like people don’t take me seriously and they disregard my ideas. Companies have to be more intentional about hearing every voice. I don’t know how many different policy groups are out there, but I think it’s something that should be implemented, something that should be more common than it is.