Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
Manger of diversity and inclusion programs, Veterans United Home Loans
Years lived in Columbia:
31 out of my 34 years of life.
Who is a mentor in your life?
Hands down, there’s no one I admire more professionally than Dr. Amanda Andrade, our chief people officer and our departmental Yoda. She’s had unwavering faith in me and has supported everyone in our department in what they are passionate in pursuing. She’s been a professional and personal mentor for me and many others at VU. She’s ridiculously smart, humble, perceptive, and kind. Amanda is exactly the type of leader I needed in order to discover what my true potential was.
What are some misconceptions about your job?
Typically, diversity and inclusion falls within the human resources department. At VU, my position is in the culture department because it’s a part of the VU experience. Everyone at VU influences the culture and how inclusive our workplace is. I may have “diversity” and “inclusion” in my title, but we all have a hand in one another’s experiences.
What is the single best thing about your job?
I love that I get to be in a role doing something I’m really passionate about. On top of that, the best part is the people! I get to work with the most incredible people. In the five years I’ve worked at VU, I’ve cried with them, laughed with them, and laughed until I cried with them. We’ve helped each other through wedding planning, deaths in the family, and all the everyday issues we encounter professionally and personally. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we balance each other out every day. Working with folks that are authentic encourages a level of honesty amongst us that I’ve never experienced in a workplace before. We really are a family.
What was the last professional goal you accomplished?
My most recent professional accomplishment was presenting at the National Diversity & Inclusion Conference in Austin. I was able to present with my mentor, Dr. Andrade, on “The Power of the Solo Practitioner on a Budget.” We shared methodologies on how to build credibility and communicate the impact through testimonials and demographics. We shared affordable programs that other organizations around the country could replicate. To think that D&I Practitioners from some of the largest organizations in the country will be taking programs from Veterans United and implementing them in their own companies is exciting and still a little unbelievable.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by the idea that you can leave the world better than you found it. That hasn’t always been my life philosophy, but the second I became a mother, it automatically became a priority.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t doing this job, I’d be doing some type of human resources. It’s in my blood since my dad, Eli Perez, was able to do it at the UM System for over 30 years.
What’s your favorite community project?
The Diversity Awareness Partnership is my favorite community project. Everything DAP works on is in efforts to support and/or bring awareness to everyone in Columbia. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
What is your favorite business book you’ve ever read and what impact did it have on you?
It may not have been my favorite book, but it’s probably one that has influenced me the most professionally. StrengthsFinders 2.0 helps people understand what their strengths are and encourages readers to focus more on the abilities that come naturally to them, as opposed to their weaknesses. It was from this book that I learned to use my strengths to navigate through the tasks I had struggled with in the past.
If you had unlimited funds, what is the one specific thing you would do to improve Columbia?
I wish this was a real situation. I’d want to make sure everyone would have access to food at all times in our community.
What trait do you most want in a co-worker or employee?
I’d love to be more organized. Einstein said, “A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind,” and I can’t argue with that. I’ve got them both. I’ve also had some really great things come out from the rubble though.
If you could improve one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I know it’s a weakness of mine to keep in touch with people. If I could improve anything about myself, it would be to stay better connected.
What do you do for fun?
I love mother–son date nights with my son, Lincoln, listening to made-up songs by my daughter, Ari, and keeping the romance alive with my husband, Eric. We have family dance parties, movie nights, and endless laughs. There isn’t anything I’d rather be doing than making memories with my family.