By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa
Stacey Robles is only the second Latina hired by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the first such employee in nearly twenty years. Robles is the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Manager. Previously, she spent years working as a foreign labor advisor for the state of Iowa, specifically with Spanish-speaking farm workers. That position taught her about compliance as she navigated the laws and regulations around employers using the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa. She was surprised to learn how it impacted Iowa and the country. “I had no idea that Iowa led a lot of federal initiatives regarding this visa.” The visa covers seasonal agricultural work and is limited to citizens or nationals from specific countries that are pre-determined to be in the best interest of the United States. In Iowa, most H-2A visas are granted to workers from Mexico and Central America who work in fields doing tasks like detasseling corn. Robles really enjoyed the policy work involved in her job, something she hadn’t thought she would like after a career in education. Before working with seasonal farm workers, Robles did outreach for the Des Moines Public Schools.
During quarantine, Robles spent time thinking about what she wanted to do next. She applied and was accepted to the University of Iowa’s MBA program and took classes virtually until recently, when some classes switched to a hybrid schedule. In December 2023, Robles became the first MBA graduate in her family. The program prompted her to explore her interests and how they aligned with what she was learning. She was happy working for the state but felt there was more out there for her to apply her new skills. She created a map of topics that intrigued her. “DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) interested me, but I had never really worked in that space. When I saw the opportunity at the Partnership, I was like, no, that’s not for me, but I talked to people who worked in the DEI space and noticed the opportunity for growth. I applied on the last day the post was open.” Alba Perez, whom Robles met while participating in the Latina Leadership Initiative in 2017 and who was the first Latina to work at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, encouraged her to go for it. “I was raised to be humble. Sometimes it gets in the way of wanting more for myself and celebrating myself, so I was really nervous going into the first interview. I hadn’t done it in four years.” Robles Googled DEI interview questions to prepare and was relieved when her interview with the hiring manager was more like a conversation with questions sprinkled throughout. She left the interview feeling comfortable and confident. “I have imposter syndrome pretty bad. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, so I was also considering a position at ISU when I got the call for a second interview.” After the first experience, Robles wasn’t nervous anymore. She got offers from both jobs and chose The Partnership because she wants to plant seeds in others about what inclusion means and how to incorporate it into everyday life. “Above all, I want my personal legacy to be that I didn’t let barriers stop me from paving my own path and redefining what success is and looks like.”
Robles is in the process of completing the Institute for Diversity Certification out of Minneapolis to earn a DEI leadership certificate. “It’s intensive, but it brought up topics and conversations that are new to me. For example, I am more informed on various terminologies within the LGBTQ community; learning more about disabilities, accessibility, and accommodations; and different generations. As a millennial, some days, I do get impatient when older generations want to talk on the phone when I prefer messaging. I had to learn why that is and some new work methods where everyone can have their needs met. I definitely need to keep learning.”
Some of the initiatives Robles leads include recruiting participants for the DEI Management Certification Program presented in partnership with Des Moines-based Schabel Solutions Inc. She has also helped coordinate CEO roundtable events for leaders who are interested in learning more about DEI.
Robles helps manage an Inclusion Council consisting of a group of leaders coming together to advance DEI principles across industries, host quarterly Multicultural Receptions, and provide consultations to companies needing help developing diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies. “We’ll get them started and connect them to other resources to create customized plans. It’s important to meet companies where they are on their DEI journey.” Robles also assisted with the successful Inclusion Summit this past fall and the Capital Crossroads event in conjunction with the DSM 4 Equity Collective.
Despite all this, plus graduate school, Robles still makes time for being active and traveling. She regularly works with a CrossFit trainer to have the stamina to rock out at Korean pop concerts. “K-Pop concerts are completely different from other concerts. You see all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds. Two years ago, I went to LA for a BTS concert. I met people from Colombia, China, and Japan who flew in for the concert. It was so cool to have conversations with them. The environment is so welcoming and inclusive. I even took my mom and she liked it. She grew up with boy bands like Menudo, so she didn’t know what to expect but thought everyone at the concert was so nice.” At Lollapalooza, Robles met Samoans who live in Iowa. She loved learning about their culture. “We talked a lot about the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community, and I learned about the PI piece of that. It’s opened my eyes to how many cultures are out there, even in Iowa.” These experiences have made her more eager to create more inclusive spaces and shift people’s minds about what diversity is. “I want to help employers understand the power of encouraging their employees to bring their whole selves to work and how that can create a great work environment. I want to change mindsets and make Des Moines a more welcoming place.”