Executives leading the charge in diversity and inclusion are leaning more towards the practice of belonging to create more inclusive work environments. Felicia Mayo, vice president of HR & head of diversity at Tesla is one of those leaders. Her journey as a human resources professional spans over two decades with executive HR roles at PwC, Oracle, and Juniper Networks. After working 19 years in Silicon Valley, she was sought out by Tesla and promoted by its founder Elon Musk to lead their HR and diversity initiatives.
It was a simple as a phone call from someone in her network who knew she could add to and elevate the way Tesla handles business when it comes to belonging.
Business Leader Versus Diversity Leader
After getting an inside look into the company and the interviewing process, Mayo decided she wanted to engage in diversity and inclusion holistically by looking at the total business of Tesla and being able to see where she could leverage her tools which include, but aren’t limited to, HR technology, operations, compensation benefits, business strategy, and talent acquisitions.
“Once you see diversity as an add-on or a program, you fail. And that definitely is something that I’ve always tried to stay clear of them, making sure that I am seeing not just seen as this diversity and belonging or inclusive leader that I’m seen as a business leader,” said Mayo.
“Coming in as a business leader versus just as a diversity leader allowed me to have different connections with different leaders as well as it allowed me to really grow my career here at Tesla really quickly. I could be leveraged in many different ways,” says Mayo.
It was just after a year and a half at the company that Musk promoted her from senior HR director and head of diversity and inclusion to VP of the role where she reports directly and works closely with Musk and vice president Kevin Kassekert.
“Allowing Tesla employees, regardless of their demographic, to feel like they belonged to the staff, is the mission of the company, and the strategy of the future of the company is monument. And ultimately means allowing them to bring their whole selves to work every day and feeling like they belong in the workforce.”
Bringing Her ‘Whole Self’ to Work and Confronting Tesla’s Racism Allegations
As a person of color, in some tech spaces, feeling like you belong is a challenge, however, adding the automotive industry to the mix can make things more complex. That is why Mayo practices showing up to work as her authentic self to set the standard.
“I am who I am. I am Felicia. And that does not change when I walked through the door. So when you see me outside of Tesla, I am Felicia. It is refreshing to be able to work within a workforce and a company where belonging is about bringing my whole self to work.”
Despite reports that suggest a number of past black employees faced racism and discrimination at Tesla, Mayo says people within their workforce belong to the mission of contributing to the future of the world; and Tesla takes training its workforce from the top down seriously.
“I’ve even volunteered to dress in my performance wear and have worked in the factory as well as in our delivery locations just to be able to experience and see what is really occurring,” says Mayo who enforces a zero tolerance policy for discrimination.
“Diversity and inclusion is the need to sit down and have those conversations and we’ve had those conversations internally,” she adds.
In addition to being a champion for change, she is invested in creating a pipeline for young people into the tech automotive industry. The Tesla START program gives students at community colleges 12 weeks of technical automotive hands-on experience and the opportunity to be hired by the company.
“It is a way to have a pipeline of individuals regardless of background, regardless of what you know, or your trade. We want to make sure we offer up opportunities to all different types of pipelines to be able to come here to Tesla,” says Mayo.
Mayo’s Advice: Remain Open to New Possibilities
Beyond her daily responsibilities, Mayo believes wellness in the workplace is just as important as belonging and says it starts with self. In fact, meditation is what keeps her firmly rooted.
“I have to be balanced to make just and fair decisions every day. It’s really meditation; being grounded with my friends; staying grounded with my team here; my family most importantly; and being able to share some of the unfiltered fun times with them, and really going hard in those areas that keeps me on my game.”
Mayo’s advice for others to stay on top of their game is to remain open to new possibilities.
“Never be so firm on the plans that you have for yourself. I would’ve never said ‘I’m going to be an executive leader in Silicon Valley.’ I didn’t even know to dream that big. So I just went with where my journey was taking me and it was uncomfortable sometimes. So I also learned to be okay with being uncomfortable because typically if you’re uncomfortable that means that you’re moving in the right direction.”