“Where’s home?” has been a defining question for Samara Hakim.
Born in Massachusetts, Hakim, founder and president of San Diego-based The Culture Factor, a culture strategy firm, moved at the age of three months with her parents to their native Lebanon. Driven out 17 years later by the aftermath of that country’s civil war, the family sought a better future in Oregon.
Hakim, then an Advanced Placement (AP) junior high school student, was placed in an English-as-a-non-native-language course despite her fluency since age three. Ironically, it was her AP English teacher who saw her potential and recommended she be placed in an AP senior class. “My teachers helped me believe in myself, in my dreams and in what I could be.” And, at that time, what she wanted to be was the first Lebanese- American Supreme Court justice.
After graduating from the University of Portland and the University of Oregon School of Law, Hakim practiced immigration and family law in Washington State, where the cultural competence workshops she conducted for attorneys and advocates sparked her passion for diversity and inclusion (D&I). After moving to California, she volunteered with the International Rescue Committee, training Karen, Somali and Burmese refugees in vocational and communication skills. After honing her cross-cultural communication skills, she worked at a start-up management consulting firm that was later acquired by Ernst and Young. Hakim’s entrepreneurial spirit and need to integrate family life compelled a career choice.
“I was at a crossroads,” said Hakim, who’s fluent in French and Arabic and conversational in Spanish. “At that stage in my life, if I were going to work 70 hours a week, why not use that time to build my own company?” She began freelancing as a half-step before launching The Culture Factor in 2015.
D&I and the bottom line
“For businesses, D&I is a must-have in terms of core values, strategy, outcome and ROI,” she explained. “But the key is tailoring a comprehensive, wrap-around approach for incorporating inclusion in a way that drives business performance. When inclusive practices are baked into an organization’s recipe for success, its performance not only rises, it also serves as a benchmark.”
One of those companies is American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (American Honda), whose nomination led to Hakim being named Diversity Professional Magazine’s 2018 Women of Excellence Entrepreneur. The company retained Hakim to help integrate “cultural intelligence” into its procurement processes and communications, internally and externally. That has included auditing its procurement inclusion practices and supplier diversity efforts and implementing the audit’s recommendations. She also conducted the company’s first culture and inclusion workshop for executives and managers.
“Samara helped executive leadership understand the value and competitive advantage of a diverse workforce and supplier base,” said Brian Butts, national inclusion and diversity manager at American Honda. “The strategy of starting with leadership was a blueprint for our success that was equally applicable for Honda’s middle management and the procurement team. Uncovering blind spots and strengthening cultural intelligence helps us better understand that diversity of thought puts us ahead of the competition and that inclusive supplier partnerships add significant value to the organization.”
Answering the question
Hakim has seen a marked transformation in how organizations are talking about culture and D&I. Driving that evolution are big data, changes in technology, how human capital is managed and the high value placed on social responsibility by millennials, who could comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.
Perhaps one day the difficult conversations Hakim is leading about diversity and inclusion may finally answer the question: Home is wherever you are, regardless of who you are.