On February first, a groundbreaking change happened at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), as Christina Foley, Associate Division Director of Fire and Emergency Services, became the first person to fill the role of Chief Diversity Officer at TEEX.
Foley has been a champion of TEEX’s Respect, Equity and Inclusion (REI) Committee since its inception in June of 2020, working with the group to gather specific recommendations for TEEX. As a committee member, Foley has already witnessed changes within the organization. She says, “Over the last two years, it has been very interesting to see the transition in the conversations and the culture here. People feel more comfortable talking about diversity issues that may have been considered taboo in the past. But people are becoming more comfortable now. People are talking about their beliefs and how they feel and what’s right and what’s wrong.”
TEEX Agency Director David Coatney created the position at the recommendation of the REI Committee. Coatney said, “Our Respect, Equity and Inclusion initiative, along with the creation of the Chief Diversity Officer role, demonstrate TEEX’s commitment to diversity as a top priority. This position will transform the culture and organization so that all employees and customers feel valued, respected, represented and treated fairly. We cannot fully embody our One TEEX, One Team goal until everyone is part of the team, no matter their age, race, ability, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or family composition.”
Over the next year, Foley plans to work closely with Coatney to determine expectations and implement changes. She explains that the first task will be spreading awareness of the REI initiative: “People need to understand what we are doing, why we are doing it and what it actually means. A lot of times when people hear REI, they translate that to skin color or gender, but it is so much more than that.” As part of this awareness step, she hopes to break down some of the “not so sure” attitudes.
After creating awareness and working with leadership, Foley hopes to shift the culture by instituting REI training and examining hiring and evaluation processes. “It’s a multi-part process, but it starts at home, and home is this culture. We have got to turn this culture over to be more inclusive of the talent we are trying to attract, but also making sure the culture is inclusive to keep people after they get here.”
Foley has experienced diversity issues firsthand throughout her career at TEEX, where she started as a student worker in 2004. After graduating from Texas A&M University, she accepted a full-time position at Brayton Fire Field, and she describes how she “fell in love with this place and what we were doing. The more I did, the more I got sucked in. Our mission is like no other: we train people to save lives.” With this passion for TEEX’s mission, she moved from an entry-level position into a coordinator role, then into management. However, Foley explains, “I was a woman, I was usually the youngest person in the mix, I didn’t have an emergency response background, and I was Black. Throughout my career, I had to work to gain the respect of people because I was the odd one out.”
While working at TEEX, Foley returned to school to pursue a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology, a field that solves workplace issues in organizations. Her program included a strong track in diversity-related issues, which became a large part of Foley’s education. When the Chief Diversity Officer role opened at TEEX, Foley jumped on the chance to combine her master’s work and personal experiences to improve TEEX.
Coatney describes that during the hiring process, “We were fortunate to have many applicants for the position, and following an extensive interview process, we determined that Christina was the ideal candidate. She has been part of the TEEX family for more than 17 years, and she knows how to make a great organization even better. With Christina in this new role, we look forward to a stronger TEEX team that highlights and recognizes more diverse voices.”
For Foley, the establishment of a Chief Diversity Officer position will move TEEX forward in many ways. She describes, “The diversity component is something that has been lacking since I’ve been here, and it’s needed to continue moving us forward. We need diversity in all shapes and sizes to have that free flow of creativity and thought that will propel us into that next step with our mission and move TEEX into that next tier. If we want to compete in today’s market, we must think about how companies are pushing boundaries, and we’ve got to get on board and create a culture where everyone feels comfortable.”
Foley’s fundamental goal in the new position is to make it truly about respect, equity and inclusion: “We are not asking people to change who they are or what they believe completely. All we are asking them to do, in the simplest description possible, is to treat others how you would want to be treated. Be fair to people, be nice to people, treat them well.”