In 2021, Tara Favors decided to bring her decades of HR and financial services experience to Mutual of America, a company that has specialized in providing retirement services and investments to employers, employees, and individuals for nearly eighty years.
She saw an opportunity to not only drive change and strategy through her role, but also break barriers and help others see their own potential. She felt like she owed it to her mom, a Jamaican immigrant who raised Favors in Long Island, New York, by herself and worked tirelessly to instill in her daughter the confidence she needed to succeed.
Now, as Favors reflects on the number of women, particularly women of color, in the C-suite in her industry and others, she’s drawn to do what her mother did for her.
“There are not a lot of people who look like me who are sitting in chairs that I’m sitting in,” says Favors, Mutual of America’s chief human resources officer. “For me, it’s important to be a role model, to make sure that everyone in our organization understands what they can be, and to sometimes help them see what they can’t quite see in themselves.”
That’s the perfect way to describe what she’s done at the organization so far: helping it reflect on where it wants to be as a culture, and empowering colleagues to take the steps required to get there.
Once she came on board, Favors spent a lot of time with an outside consulting group to help facilitate conversations with the company’s one thousand-plus employees and to hear their perspectives on what needed to change in the organization. Those conversations helped form her mission and vision for the HR team, to create an environment where employees feel fulfilled and empowered.
Favors and her colleagues have set ambitious mandates for reframing every aspect of HR, including the company’s performance management philosophy, compensation structure, and recruitment process; how leaders give feedback and think about succession planning; and how benefits should be modernized.
These conversations also impacted the company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Last year, Mutual of America launched its first virtual DEI speaker series for Black History Month and nearly eight hundred employees attended. That level of engagement continued during future heritage awareness months as the company invited other speakers to share their unique stories with employees.
These strides are making an impact company-wide. She’s proud to have set the tone for that transformation by ensuring that “whatever we do, these ideas are not just mine.”
“To help emphasize why we’re making these changes, I like to pull in multiple voices from different areas of the business and solicit feedback along the way,” Favors says. “I found that once we started to get input from colleagues, and I suggested how we can do things differently and engaged them in the process, we really created a team that was just as invested in the transformation as I was. So, it was no longer just my transformation but ours.”
Favors learned about HR in high school while watching the Miss America pageant. There was a contestant who was studying organizational psychology and spoke about the connection between people and business. Favors was intrigued and went on to study psychology at Syracuse University and added an HR minor in her junior year.
By the time she graduated, she knew she wanted to be in the field, but felt like she didn’t have enough work experience to find the job she wanted. That’s why she decided to pursue a master’s degree at the New School, where she also got the chance to interact with teachers and peers already working in the field.
Favors started the first three years of her career working at the Independent Living Association and at Merrill Lynch. While with the latter company, she took the Series 7 exam for general securities representatives and got to work among the best and brightest minds in finance. It’s an experience that helped shape her deep financial services knowledge.
“That knowledge has carried me through, as I’ve worked in financial services the majority of my career,” she says. “It positions me to do my job well, because I can have conversations about the intersection of the business, strategic business goals, and our people, which makes for a more rich and robust dialogue with business leaders.”
Favors went on to work as an HR leader for institutions such as Morgan Stanley, Revlon, Deutsche Bank, and American Express.
Her advice for young professionals who want to succeed mirrors the values she taught her sons as they grew up, which can be found on a sign that hangs in her home that reads “be kind, work hard, stay humble.”
“It’s important to start your career with a focus on developing and maintaining a deep knowledge of your industry, which is what the Series 7 did for me, but your longevity will come from how you use that knowledge to build authentic relationships,” Favors says. “Be confident that your unique approach will make a meaningful impact on those around you.”