How do you make a real difference in diversity in the workplace? Create change from the inside out—and it helps if you're from Houston.
Texas native Rafael Campos left his home of Houston in 2012 to pursue a career and a love life in London. Six years later, both are thriving, and the difference he’s making is immense.
Rafael Campos was listed in The Economists’ Top 50 Diversity Professionals, has been shortlisted in the British LGBT Awards for the Corporate Rising Star category, and was shortlisted for the Advocate of the Year Award at the 2017 Women in Finance Awards. He is an immigrant, a Human Resources business partner, a lifelong gamer, a devoted life partner, and a proud Mexican-American Texpat.
A University of Houston alumnus, Campos always had a passion for community work, as well as a strong desire for a corporate career. In Houston, he taught English to refugees, and in London he volunteered at an LGBT center. Getting an MA in Corporate Social Responsibility allowed him to merge the two, and after completing his degree, he got a job where he was asked to pull together the company’s first-ever Diversity & Inclusion strategy that would begin to explore how the business could create more inclusive workplaces for its diverse workforce. He has been working in the Diversity and Inclusion space ever since, and now heads that work at an FTSE 100 investment firm.
“Research over the last ten years or so has shown us that diverse companies with inclusive workplaces outperform other companies. They provide a greater pool of insight and perspective, and this drives innovation, creativity, and adaptability.”
Campos credits his incredibly diverse Mexican-Texan upbringing in Houston in his work, and through his unique lens, he is able to see things from different perspectives, and hire the best talent from all kinds of backgrounds. “I would say that a large chunk of it was simply the fact that I grew up in Houston, such a diverse city,” says Campos. “From a culture perspective, I had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world and enjoying some of their culture—Tan Tan on Westheimer changed my life! I got to understand very early on how important it was for people to be able to be themselves, celebrate their identity, and do all of this in a safe environment that welcomed their difference.”
While making diversity and inclusion a priority might seem like a no-brainer to most of us, making it so for large corporations has its challenges. “In my experience, the biggest challenges are all centered around challenging the status quo. You never really know how powerful comfort can be until you try to create change!” says Campos. "I think a lot of this derives from this notion that diversity and inclusion efforts are only applicable to minority groups. This couldn’t be further from the truth - to create a real change in culture, it takes everyone coming together to make it happen. In fact, I would even say that those that don’t find themselves in a minority group are the ones that are most critical in reaching.”
Despite the challenges, Campos’ efforts have proved fruitful, and he emphasizes that creating a business case for change and packaging that with the moral aspect is important in his success. “Research over the last ten years or so has shown us that diverse companies with inclusive workplaces outperform other companies,” he explains. “They provide a greater pool of insight and perspective and this drives innovation, creativity and adaptability. Investors and other stakeholders realize this and are calling for this change and this push for change has really helped.”
Campos also draws from a distinct experience that so many, especially in Texas, know all too well— the identity crisis of being a child immigrant, or a child of immigrants. “When you grow up constantly reminded that you’re Mexican and not American, you inhabit this strange space that almost sits between cultures. You learn to switch between your Mexican side and your American side quite quickly, and you soon realize that your own identity is a plurality of cultures,” explains Campos. Simply put, “It’s helped me understand what it means to be different. You’d be surprised at how often I have to remind people that their version on things isn’t everyone else’s—from personal space preferences, noodle slurping, tipping, and spitting in public, there are things that people from other cultures do that people here find odd or offensive, but I’m able to see that it’s just them being themselves.”
“When you grow up constantly reminded that you’re Mexican and not American, you inhabit this strange space that almost sits between cultures. You learn to switch between your Mexican side and your American side quite quickly and you soon realize that your own identity is a plurality of cultures.”
In addition to straddling multiple cultures growing up and into adulthood, especially after moving abroad, there is another aspect to Campos’ personal experience that offers him the depth of perspective and understanding that is so crucial to his work. When Campos turned 15 years old, he told his mother that he was gay. She was the first person he told, and it wasn’t until years later when he left home to attend the University of Houston that he fully came out to his family and friends.
“The best analogy of coming out that I can think of would be like walking around with this massive set of heavy armor and then one day just taking it all off,” says Campos. “The sensation of liberation and freedom is amazing, but you also feel vulnerable because that armor has kept you safe for so long. I think it’s a bit more difficult coming out in the Latin community, but I think it’s a tough thing to do regardless of who you are. Now, for me, I was lucky in that I soon realized that I had very little to protect myself from. My immediate family was incredibly supportive, and most of my friends were too. Of course, this wasn’t the case for all of them, but that comes with it.”
Of course, living in Houston, Campos had one of the best places to be a young, freshly-out gay man—the neighborhood he calls “the magical world that is Montrose.”
“Words can’t describe how amazing it felt to have a space I felt safe in—a space that welcomed me for who I was in a time when I felt no one would,” says Campos. “Houston made me feel at home in every way possible.” Montrose also proved to be an ideal place to find love. During his last year at UH, Campos met “this Irish guy” at George Country Sports Bar. Tommy was returning to London after his work assignment in Houston, Campos made the big move, and they’ve been together since, for almost 8 years and counting.
“The best analogy of coming out that I can think of would be like walking around with this massive set of heavy armor and then one day just taking it all off.”
Along with making a meaningful difference in the corporate world, Campos brings his spirit of advocacy to his favorite hobby—video games. Campos grew up gaming, claiming that he can’t even begin to describe himself without bringing it up. He also admits that it’s one of the more explicitly sexist cultures out there, a fault that he hopes to make changes to. “If you play any game online for 10 minutes, especially some of the more popular first-person shooters or sports games, you’ll probably have heard sexist, racist and homo/bi/transphobic language used several times,” he says. “Whilst the community is getting better, it still has an ugly side to it.” Hence London Gaymers, the LGBT+ gaming organization that Campos helps run in the UK. “We are here to both provide that safe space but also to spark change. We’ve held panel discussions at London’s MCM Comic Con twice, engaged with video game brands to do more around LGBT+ inclusion, and have acted as a voice for the community across a few publications here in the UK. Gaming is for everyone and we’re here to make sure of that!”
While Campos hasn’t been back home to Texas in over six years, he holds Texas firmly his heart and is a proud Houstonian through and through. “What I miss most about Houston is the people. I think Houstonians are what make Houston great and I don’t say that lightly,” says Campos. It helps that family comes to visit him often, most notably his twin brother Jesus, who visits at least once a year for long stretches of time.
“Houstonians are so welcoming, kind, generous, and fun. British people are slightly more reserved, especially for people they just met, and that takes some getting used to! To be honest, [Tommy and I] can’t wait to go back to visit Montrose and see the old stomping grounds and to try out more of my mom’s home cooking! I brag about Houston all of the time here in London, and really feel like an ambassador."
We look forward to your homecoming, Mr. Campos—perhaps for a wedding? Until then, keep holdin' it down for H-town!
Learn more about Rafael Campos' work with London Gaymers on londongaymers.co.uk, and with Schroders on www.schroders.com/en/people/diversity-and-inclusion