Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Veronica Calderon on Accessibility, Advocacy, and Alignment

Meet Veronica Calderon, Chief Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity Officer at DeVry University. She has more than 20 years of experience in a number of industries, including higher education, banking, health care, and long-term care. Before joining DeVry, she served as Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Truliant Federal Credit Union.

Veronica Calderon

In her current role at DeVry, Calderon oversees the implementation of the university’s long-term vision and DEI goals, which include building new education programs for students, faculty, and colleagues and leading its business resource groups (BRGs). Additionally, she serves on the University Relations, Alumni Association and DeVry University Scholarship Fund teams.

“My purpose is to build spaces and places for everyone to thrive as their authentic self,” Calderon shared with HR Daily Advisor. “My mission is to leave things better than I found them. I also know that sustainable partnerships require buy-in across all stakeholders. Therefore, I use partnerships, clear communications, and measured outcomes of our impact to build spaces and places for everyone to thrive.”

In our latest Faces, meet Veronica Calderon.

How did you get your start in the field?

I love this question for different reasons. I truly believe I started in this field at a very young age. Standing up for others came very naturally to me, whether it was friends at school who were being hurt or kids who were being bullied or standing up for my youngest sister, who is hearing-impaired. It hurt me to see how kids and adults would make fun of her. I decided then that this was not going to happen on my watch. I stood up for her, I fought for her, and I advocated for her ALWAYS.

We were raised to spread kindness and not divisiveness. We were raised to build bridges, not widen gaps. This feeling and these principles translated to my first job, where it started to move from a passion and who I am to implementing it in the workplace. This was even before DEI leader roles were implemented. I truly believe that no matter your role, everyone can advocate for others from their seat. 

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

My influences come from all those around me. It’s a combination of those who have worked above me, those next to me, and those I have led. I pride myself on learning from everyone. I think good ideas can come from anyone, no matter your position in an organization. The good lessons I carry forward. The bad taught me how not to make or repeat the mistakes. I also have an enormous admiration for those who are not in this industry who help carry and push this incredible work forward from their position.

What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?

I would say my best mistake has always been to aim high in all I do. Throughout my life, there have been so many doors that were closed to me—so many no’s. And yet, my best mistake was not to listen, not to take no for an answer, not to let it define me or my path. Instead, I used it as a fuel to push forward to get where I was going.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

Education has always been my passion. My mother is a lifelong educator, and when I was a child, she used to be a teacher in high school. I continue to draw inspiration from her. I was captivated by the difference she made in the classroom and how she created an environment for everyone to thrive.

Joining DeVry University brought me full circle. My favorite part is that our work gets to influence the future of our students, and they will get to influence the world, their communities, and workplaces long after they leave DeVry.

Often, our students are from underserved populations. It’s incredible to see the way our colleagues and faculty work to empower them to succeed, particularly those who lack the options to do so within the traditional higher education system. Additionally, research increasingly shows colleagues expect to bring their full selves to work, and for this to be possible, we need to create environments that foster openness and a sense of belonging. The work we do internally with our colleagues to build a workplace where they are seen, heard, and celebrated for who they are directly carries over to how they impact the lives of our students.

It sounds like, through your experience, you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.

The work that I do comes from two places: my care for others and knowing that facing adversity is not easy. I have always wanted to help, speak up, and create places and spaces for everyone to thrive. I feel fulfilled when I can help pave the way for others, minimize the obstacles for underrepresented communities, be the role model for someone to reach their highest potential, inspire somebody to use their power and privilege to create a better work environment, or influence one person who can then influence someone else.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

Demonstrating the value of the HR function to the leadership team is crucial for its continued support and strategic integration within the organization. There are several ways HR can effectively demonstrate its value:

Align HR strategies with business goals and the mission of the university/organization: Ensure HR strategies and initiatives align with the overall business goals and objectives. This demonstrates HR’s understanding of the organization’s strategic direction and its commitment to supporting it. Your goals should be guided by your organization’s mission, values, and strategy.

Data-driven decision-making: Use data and analytics to make informed decisions. HR can provide insights into workforce trends, employee performance, and other relevant metrics that impact business outcomes.

Talent acquisition and retention: Showcase the effectiveness of HR in attracting and retaining top talent. Highlight successful recruitment strategies, employee onboarding programs, and initiatives that contribute to a positive workplace culture.

Training and development: Showcase training and development programs that contribute to the skill development and career growth of employees. Link these programs to improved performance and succession planning. Increasingly, new employees join organizations with a focus on growth and development. When we consider the benefits that have the most impact on a candidate’s decision-making process, we often think that health benefits, retirement, and life insurance hold the most weight. While these benefits are critically important, long-term development and growth opportunity are also at the forefront of valued benefits. Organizations should look at their current learning benefits, consider how they can make those available early in the employee life cycle, remove systemic barriers to accessing programs, and promote individualized learning pathways.

DEI initiatives: Communicate efforts to promote DEI within the organization. Organizations have shifted their hiring strategies to incorporate and communicate DEI practices in a way that attracts prospective employees more clearly. To that end, at DeVry, we require our talent acquisition professionals to be certified in diverse recruitment practices and that they use specific methodologies during the recruitment process to help augment their search with diverse candidates. Show how these initiatives contribute to a more inclusive workplace and positively impact the company’s reputation and bottom line.

Continuous improvement: Demonstrate HR’s commitment to continuous improvement by highlighting ongoing efforts to enhance HR processes, stay updated on industry best practices, and adapt to changing organizational needs.

By consistently demonstrating the positive impact of HR initiatives on business outcomes and aligning HR practices with strategic objectives, HR can effectively showcase its value to the leadership team. Clear communication and measurable results are vital in building trust and support from organizational leaders.

Where do you see the industry heading in 5 years? Or, are you seeing any current trends?

There is unprecedented change happening in workplaces today. HR leaders can’t rely on the approaches of yesterday. Every HR leader needs to stay close to shifts in workplace dynamics, remote/hybrid work, employee psychographics, and employee value proposition (EVP) changes.

Leaders must grow and adapt with the times. It’s critical to understand where society is heading, what is needed for education to thrive in changing times, and the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) while keeping a pulse on the human side of things and how we care for our employees in a way that allows them to be fully themselves at work. It’s also important to be accountable for how our work impacts the organization’s bottom line and growth.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the work I do every day and the impact that work has on our organization and the people in it, including our colleagues and students. The work I do can enhance someone’s life and create a space for belonging for all.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

There are a few pieces of advice I would offer. The first is to do it for the right reasons. Get into this field because you want to make a difference in people’s lives. Next, know how the organization works from the inside out, understand how your work impacts the bottom line, and lead from the top down. Third, be accessible and create an environment where listening is more important than speaking—you’d be surprised what you can learn. Finally, don’t get distracted by outside noise. Do all you can to make a remarkable impact on the internal organizational shift.

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