National Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Delta Dental of Illinois Board Member Continues to Find Ways to Mentor, Lead Hispanic Professionals and Promote Diversity
Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and represents a time to celebrate the history, culture and contributions of Americans with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
As part of our commemoration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we interviewed Omar Duque, a member of our Board of Directors since 2017 and former chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee. He also is former chief executive officer of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is president of The Hispanic IT Executive Council, as well as a member of the Board of Directors at Loyola University Medical Center and co-founder of the Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship and ENTERpreneur.
Born and raised in Chicago to parents who immigrated to the city from Guatemala in the 1970s, he grew up on the Northwest Side and attended Northwestern University, graduating with his Bachelor of Science from the university’s Medill School of Journalism with a vision of being a newspaper reporter and award-winning journalist.
Duque worked as a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, which was one of the last afternoon daily newspapers in the country. Always civic minded, he became more interested in using his skills to support the Hispanic community.
Duque said he always loved Latin American history, literature and culture. He decided to come home to Chicago to dedicate himself to working in the Hispanic community on issues important to him.
Duque has focused his efforts on economic empowerment in the Hispanic community. His 11-and-a-half years as chief executive officer of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was spent helping Hispanic businessowners grow and scale their businesses, in the end assisting them in building and gaining greater wealth. One of the things he is most proud of during his time at the Chamber is helping to launch the first-of-its-kind Hispanic incubator with 1871 in 2016 to increase the number of Hispanic tech entrepreneurs participating in and contributing to the Chicago tech and innovation economy.
Duque added they brought together investors, the community and educational institutions, with their work becoming a national model for developing and growing the next generation of Hispanic tech entrepreneurs. To date, the program has helped launch 72 startups that raised $7.6 million in capital and created 200 jobs.
While at the Chamber, Duque also worked with The Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship on another entrepreneurship program focused on building the next generation of Hispanic leaders to ENTER the business community.
In launching the program, called ENTERpreneur, Duque said that in 2050, one-third of the U.S. population will be Hispanic, and that whether these estimated 430 million people will together represent a thriving and accomplished community depends on our ability to invest in today’s youth.
Several years ago, Duque got the opportunity to join HITEC (Hispanic IT Executive Council) as president. HITEC is a global executive leadership organization and network with a vision of connecting, inspiring and growing influential Hispanic technology executives while developing the next generation of leaders. Duque notes HITEC does not just focus on leaders and aspiring leaders in tech, but has members across all industries because every company is involved in tech. HITEC is based in the U.S. but is developing a chapter in Mexico and doing work in Spain and Portugal as it grows its network of Hispanic tech leaders.
He points out the tech industry, like virtually everywhere else, has in some way been impacted by the COVID pandemic.
In September, HITEC released the "Voice of Diverse Talent in the Tech Industry" an AI (artificial intelligence) powered report that Duque said provides insights on what tech leaders – and what he would guess most people – are thinking about their careers and the companies they work for. They collected data pre-COVID and what they are now calling mid-COVID and looked at insights and sentiment related to racial injustice and social unrest.
(Click image to view larger.) Pre-COVID-19, Duque said Hispanics in tech roles were focused on how they move up to get that promotion or salary increase. Since the pandemic began, he said that sentiment has changed to being happy to have a job, and that maybe now is not the right time to ask for a raise or promotion. Duque noted they still care about those things, but what’s really risen up in importance are a company’s response to not only the pandemic and working from home, but also to racial injustice and what a company is doing and saying around that issue.
For some, Duque said a company’s stance on racial injustice and flexible working arrangements now outweighs them getting a promotion or their actual job itself, that the company’s policies matter more than the actual job.
Duque says the report found that there is still a substantial interest in professional and self-development among Hispanics more than any other group. The idea being while those seeking this development may not be getting their desired promotion today, they are doing everything they can in this time to prepare – taking classes, gaining certifications, etc. – so that when things change, they are positioned for their next growth opportunity.
In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Duque also points out recent numbers highlighting a disproportionate amount of the Hispanic population in the country being infected with the virus. Eighteen percent of the populations are Hispanic, but Hispanics account for 29% of COVID cases and 21% of deaths.
Additionally, he notes disparities in unemployment and employment opportunities. Hispanics over-index in service-related jobs, and those jobs have been some of the hardest hit as a result of the pandemic, Duque said. He shared that unemployment among Hispanics grew from 4.8% in March 2019 to 18.5% at the same time in 2020. In June, the number decreased to 14.5%, but while it is shrinking a bit, it is still higher than the 13.9% unemployment rate among Hispanics during the Great Recession about a decade ago.
These realities underscore why Duque works every day to provide more opportunities in the Hispanic community for economic employment and mobility. He has always tried to be involved and volunteer, believing in being an active and contributing community member.
One of the ways he does this is by serving on Boards, including Northeastern Illinois University, Loyola University Medical Center and Delta Dental of Illinois.
The appeal of leveraging tech in the dental space, in addition to the vision and culture of Delta Dental of Illinois, made the decision easy for Duque.
Duque said he has enjoyed his time on the Board and has been so proud of how the Delta Dental of Illinois enterprise has responded and pivoted in response to the pandemic and social unrest.
He is passionate about inclusion and innovation and how both can be economic drivers. He said the key on building a culture of inclusivity that fuels innovation is having people feel valued and included, and that there is transparency and integrity in creating a place people want to work each day. He firmly believes that is the basis for achieving strong financial goals.
Outside of his professional commitments, Duque greatly enjoys spending time at home with his family on Chicago’s South Side. His wife and two children, a seventh-grade daughter and third-grade son, all share with him a passion for running and staying active.
Running is part of Duque’s daily life. He will typically run 4-5 days a week and do long runs on the weekend to stay healthy.
He has a goal of running the New York Marathon, and the Duque family hopes to possibly have a little friendly family competition partaking in a virtual 5K together this fall.
Whether literally running around his neighborhood or running his life’s work to guide and inspire the next generation of Hispanic entrepreneurs and leaders, and also inspire greater equity and inclusivity, the goal remains the same for Duque – to keep striving for new heights.
“The want and know-how is there for young Hispanic professionals; we are seeing more than ever a desire to not only improve the individual, but improve the culture and equality for all, whether in a company or life, in general,” Duque said. “It is an honor to be able to have given back in different ways and mold Hispanic professionals and leaders of tomorrow, to show them it is possible and guide them on our journey as we try to shape technology and our world for the better.”