With the recent hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer and increased efforts in Respect, Equity and Inclusion, TEEX has been working to broaden candidate pools when recruiting and hiring employees. For current employees, TEEX has other initiatives and benefits that provide professional, physical, mental and emotional support.
One new program is a Women of TEEX group that started from a 2020 Staff Development conference session on “Women in Leadership.” Since then, the group has grown, and members continue to meet monthly to share ideas and resources. While some of the meetings occur during lunch, others are after work for happy hour. One goal is to get people out of their offices to focus on networking and professional and personal development. Last fall, the group organized a food drive, and they emphasize the importance of community service to their mission, as serving together makes individuals, the group and the agency stronger. Additionally, service and making a difference form a core part of TEEX’s mission.
This year, Women of TEEX started a speaker series featuring a variety of outstanding leaders from the Texas A&M University System and Brazos county. Speakers discuss their career paths, obstacles they have faced, work-life balance, mental health and wellness and tips for success. Although it is called Women of TEEX, the group welcomes all employees.
Tracy Foster, Associate Agency Director & Chief Financial Officer of TEEX, explains the need for such a group, saying, “Many of the professions that we serve are historically, traditionally male-dominated, which means that there are naturally more men in some positions across the agency. A group such as this helps build camaraderie and collaboration and encourages others. Women of TEEX provides a space to bounce ideas off of each other and encouragement to share these ideas outside of the group. Part of it is really just finding your voice the confidence to express that voice.” Foster plans to continue the speaker series through 2023 and beyond.
In addition to the women’s group and networking opportunities, mentoring relationships often arise organically within TEEX. Foster says when her staff members are interested in leadership, she advises them to identify a mentor that they admire and with whom they can have confidential discussions on career development. Foster recommends that the mentor “not be in your direct reporting line and should offer a different perspective within, or even outside of TEEX to broaden your understanding of the agency and beyond. Ideally, this mentor should help coach you to where you want to be in five to ten years.”
Beyond opportunities for leadership and networking, other initiatives support employee wellbeing. Budgeted employees may request to take 30 minutes three days per week to exercise or participate in wellness activities, and TEEX encourages employees to take advantage of this program. Examples of other wellness programs hosted by TEEX are calligraphy and gratitude journal workshops, cooking demonstrations and exercise classes such as Pilates, yoga and Zumba.
Some of TEEX’s initiatives are specifically designed to aid working parents. For instance, TEEX is working to earn the Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite designation, signifying that they provide lactation rooms. Kim Everett, TEEX Training and Development Coordinator, is one employee who has benefited from the new lactation room. She explains, “The pressures on women to work like they don’t have a family, but be there for their family like they don’t have a job can truly be overwhelming at times. To walk into a quiet, welcoming corner of TEEX where I can sit comfortably with a laptop and be able to continue to work made me feel as though nursing mothers mean something as employees here.” Additionally, parents can use sick leave to attend school-sponsored activities such as parent-teacher conferences, field trips, academic or athletic competitions and music or theater programs.
Many employees also take advantage of flexible scheduling and telework, designing their schedules to fit their lifestyles. For instance, some work from 7:00 to 4:00, while others schedule four ten-hour days with Fridays off. TEEX’s leadership is committed to promoting work-life balance from the top down, and sensitivity to employees’ needs for work-life balance is promoted as a top TEEX Leader Behavior.
These employee-centered initiatives surrounding wellness and work-life balance will only further TEEX’s mission to promote respect, equity and inclusion within the agency and take TEEX to the next tier as a provider of emergency response training.
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service
Vita Vaughn | Director of Marketing and Communications/CMO