Nathalie Cordeiro Nunes is responsible for the design, implementation and execution of diversity & inclusion strategy, initiatives and partnerships that support business goals and values at United Airlines. As Senior Manager-Global Diversity & Inclusion Strategy and Execution, she works closely with United’s Chief Diversity Officer to establish and manage diversity programs domestically and internationally.
Nathalie has been at United for almost 13 years, starting as an Executive Assistant in 2007 and moving up over the years to her current leadership position. She joined the board of directors of the Illinois Diversity Council in 2013.
United Airlines has worked with the National Diversity Council for 8+ years and has been a partner of the ILDC since its inception. “United Airlines is 100% committed to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). The ILDC is a great resource for diversity best practices and leadership development,” says Nathalie. “On a personal level,” she adds, “there is always something new I learn during the ILDC events, besides offering great networking opportunities.”
Nathalie doesn’t just work in D&I. She takes knowing world cultures as her hobby as well, as seen in her blog, “Explore Fun Travel” (explorefuntravel.com) and her Instagram @explorefuntravel. “I have visited 40+ countries, and most of them multiple times,” she says. “Travel is my passion. Nothing makes me happier than to share my experiences and give my best recommendations to my family and friends. I want everyone to enjoy traveling as much as I do.”
Nathalie has packed decades of D&I experience into her life and work already. The secret? “I graduated from high school early and readily passed Brazil’s rigorous “vestibular” (college entrance) exam,” explains Nathalie, who hails from Rio de Janeiro. At age 15 she was accepted to attend the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the top University in her field (Nutrition Science) at that time in Brazil. After graduating from university she went on to earn a Berlin Medical Board Health Management Certificate and a Diversity & Inclusion Professionals Certificate from Cornell University’s IRL School.
A bright light of energy and enthusiasm who easily immerses herself in and adapts to new cultures, I caught up with Nathalie to get some insights and to see how she brings her international, intercultural world view to her work in Diversity at United Airlines.
How did you end up from going from Rio de Janeiro to living in Germany to Chicago and your important position at United Airlines?
- I have always been very curious about exploring the world, learning languages and cultures. The moment I graduated from University I took the chance to continue my studies in Germany. There I was able to learn German and also took time to learn other languages like Italian, French and Spanish. That experience had me well-poised for the opportunity to work at the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACCOM) here in Chicago.
I have always listened to my gut and have followed the opportunities that seem to be right for me –and thankfully I’ve also been lucky. Like getting my first job at United Airlines by simply applying online– without having any connections there.
- How does your personal global orientation connect to your vision for the D&I work you do at United?
- Having a global perspective is extremely important nowadays. Certainly having the chance to have lived and worked in Brazil and Europe positioned me well. And I’ve always had friends from various countries around the world. You can learn a lot by just listening to different perspectives. Friendships with people of different backgrounds helps with this. They bring an “insider’s” awareness to a culture that you are not very familiar with or haven’t been exposed to prior.
All my experience living in other countries, traveling and having friends from around the world, has helped me recognize intersectionality–the complex and overlapping identities and experiences that make up the whole person: race and culture, gender and sexual orientation, social and economic status and more. The global exposure gave me self-awareness, allowing me to recognize my own moods, emotions, drive and their effects and that of others. That, in turn, helps me to self-regulate and have empathy, which is crucial for this work.
This emotional maturity and ability to empathize contribute to being able to influence an organization. D&I work is complex. Being able to listen, see things from other people’s viewpoints and lead by influence are fundamental to being successful in this area.
- How does United’s global inclusion strategy tackle diversity on all fronts, from internal/human resources practices to external marketing and communications strategy and messaging?
- Our strategy embraces our talent, focusing on how we can best leverage our strengths and abilities. Internally, in the workplace, United works to create an inclusive environment for all. In the marketplace, we strive to make United an employer of choice and the airline of choice for our customers by supporting our communities.
We have a strong D&I commitment from our CEO. Our leaders and our highly engaged Business Resource Groups are key to operationalizing D&I throughout the organization.
- You mentioned Business Resource Groups (BRG’s) as a successful D&I initiative at United. Would you tell us more about that?
- United didn’t have any BRGs until 2014, when we launched our first one, United for Veterans. We now have six BRGs: United for Veterans, uIMPACT (women), EQUAL (LGBTQ+), UNITE (Multi-Cultural), Gen Trend (Generational/Next Gen), and our newest one, Bridge (Accessibility).
We have grown to 26 chapters around the globe.. We have more than 170 leaders who are highly engaged and driving positive change within the organization. Our BRGs have been successful at impacting our business and influencing company policies. The new parental leave program at United is an example of that. It’s amazing to see how far this program has come!
- What’s an intercultural or diversity mistake that you made and what did you learn from it?
- In Brazil, the customary way to say hello when being introduced to someone for the first time is to give two kisses, one on each cheek. When I moved to Germany people would only smile when I did that. I quickly (the first day there!) realized that this was not the custom in Germany. Nobody told me it was wrong or not welcome, but I noted that it was something they didn’t do between strangers.
This simple experience made me very conscious of how culture influences actions and how easy it is to have cross-cultural misunderstandings, even when intentions are positive. It also made me much more of an observer. You can learn so much about a culture by just observing people’s reactions to things and learning how to “read” how they feel about it. I think that’s an important skill in the business world and beyond!
About the Author
Deanna Shoss is a marketer, writer, interculturalist in Chicago. As President and CEO of Intercultural Talk, Inc. she provides digital, intercultural and real-life marketing for entrepreneurs and people following their passions post age 50, who need strategy and know-how to adapt to new communication technologies. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish and French and is a certified Body Pump and group fitness instructor.
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