A Conversation with Susy Vaca, HR&A’s New Chief People and Culture Officer

A Conversation with Susy Vaca, HR&A’s New Chief People and Culture Officer

In this conversation with our Chief People and Culture Officer, we discuss the “secret sauce” for building a strong culture, our commitment to Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and what makes a great mentor.


Can you talk a little bit about your background and what brought you to HR&A?


I’ve spent 20 years in human resources, primarily as a business partner in professional services firms. That includes all things onboarding, performance management, compensation, offboarding, and everything in between — and there’s so much in between!


I gravitate towards being purposeful and intentional regarding things like engagement, retention, aligning mission and purpose with the employee experience. Post COVID, many experienced professionals — myself included — did a lot of reflection about how we spend our days at work. In many ways, work identifies who you are and what you value.


It’s important to ensure the time you spend in your professional life is value accretive to your overall growth as a person. When I found the opportunity at HR&A, it seemed like a complete slam dunk. The work HR&A does in the world and our mission to improve people’s lives really resonated with me. I’m excited to be part of it.



What is the “secret sauce” for managing people and creating a strong culture in an organization?


Throughout my years doing this work, I’ve really enjoyed learning the business and figuring out how we best align talent strategies to help execute business goals. What’s always resonated with me is when I’m working with leaders who think of people first. Once you have that at the center, people have what they need to be successful and feel supported in their advancement and growth. Everything else follows.


For me, optimal culture is one where people feel cared for, appreciated, valued, and aligned in purpose in their roles. Who doesn’t like to feel appreciated? Who doesn’t like to feel cared for? When you’re operating from that place, everything can be accomplished with grace and appreciation along the way. It sounds simple, right? But, of course it isn’t — you need to bring intention to the work and make sure you’re dealing with things that get in the way.


HR&A has made significant investments in integrating Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) into everything we do. How are you hoping to continue that work?


My role is uniquely positioned to focus on both people and culture, and the company continues to embed ADEI into everything it does, which speaks volumes about HR&A’s unwavering commitment to ADEI.  As a HR leader and first-generation Latina, I’m especially invested in continuing to build a company that reflects the communities we serve and welcomes everyone to bring their authentic self to work. It’s also so important for folks internally to feel supported and look around to see themselves reflected in their colleagues.


There’s a lot of work that continues to need to be done, and it’s a priority in this next chapter for the firm. I’m looking forward to continuing to advance our ADEI investments and committments. It’s not only an important part of our culture, but also a value we bring to our clients that differentiates us.



What makes an excellent mentor?


A mentor is someone you can have a very thought-provoking conversation with you about how to move the needle on something important  — and that means different things to different people. My mentors have either been HR leaders who I’ve worked with tackling employee or culture problems in creative ways or business leaders who are incredibly savvy and understand the value of investing in people. I’ve been able to learn from both kinds of mentors and they were excellent in different ways.


Having a range of mentors, sponsors, allies, and other kinds of support throughout your career is so important. The more you have people around you — your community, inside and outside of where you’re working — the more you’ll grow as a professional.


Looking to the future, how do you see emerging technologies like AI and new ways of working impacting our workforce?


When we’re thinking about integrating new tools or emerging technologies, our guiding principle should always be: how can they help our people thrive and do the work they love? It all comes down to ensuring that we’re an employer of choice. We want people to feel supported and aligned with their passions. We want them to feel like they are spending their time meaningfully and are growing professionally.


The work is the work, and the ways to get from A to Z will change based on technology and new processes, but what doesn’t change is the human experience of that work. In every room I enter, with every new tool or method we’re incorporating into how we do what we do, I’m thinking of the employee mindset. How does this impact an employee from their chair? If you center the human experience, the rest will fall into place.


Learn more about Susy.