Embracing the World of Nonprofit

As a deputy general counsel, Raquel Tamez made a name for herself in the corporate world. But after a shakeup at the company that helped launch her career, Tamez came into her own in an unexpected place: a national nonprofit

2015_0530 Raquel Tamez-150_FullSize_1
Raquel Tamez, Chief Legal Officer, SourceAmerica

When in April 2014 Raquel Tamez was faced with the reality that her position as deputy general counsel at Computer Science Corporation (CSC) had been swiftly eliminated through a reduction in force, she handled it the way she does most things: she forged ahead.

“They gave me more than a three-week notice, which was more than some of my colleagues, and for which I was grateful. I showed up every day with a smile on my face and finished and transferred as much of my work as I could,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

At the time of the layoff, CSC, the global leader in next generation IT services and solutions that helped Tamez launch her career as an in-house counsel and information governance subject matter expert (and earned her a spot on Hispanic Executive’s “Leading Latinas” list in 2013) was in the midst of a transformational period. After five years with CSC, and after surviving several rounds of layoffs, her days at CSC were numbered. It was a scary month, Tamez admits, but her resilience paid off.

Soon after, a friend pointed Tamez to a recruiter, who asked her a question she hadn’t asked herself in a while: what do you really want to do with your career?

“Sometimes we get caught up in life, going through the motions, that we’re not a witness to our own life,” Tamez explains. “To navigate this new journey successfully, I knew I had to be clear in my mind and my heart what I wanted.”

After pondering it for a few days, Tamez came back to the recruiter with an answer. Realistically, she said, she could see herself landing in an ethics and compliance role at a new company. But ultimately, she wanted to work as a general counsel—even if she had to spend a few years climbing the corporate ladder to do so. “I know my strengths and my ‘opportunities’ to grow,” she says. “But eventually, I wanted to earn a general counsel role—that was my goal.”

A week later, Tamez was asked to interview for an interim chief ethics and compliance officer role at SourceAmerica, a Washington, DC-area nonprofit that enables people with significant disabilities to work by providing services and goods to federal and commercial customers. With oversight of 550 nonprofits nationwide and a mission Tamez could rally behind, she knew a role in the organization’s ethics and compliance would round out her skill set. But Tamez, who was used to the bustling world of corporate and global litigation, was worried a nonprofit role would pale in comparison to the challenges of her previous position.

“Unfortunately nonprofits sometimes have this reputation that everyone just sits around holding hands and singing Kumbaya,” she says. “Coming from a company with 90,000 employees in 90 countries, where there is a sense of urgency to everything you do, I was worried I wouldn’t be challenged at SourceAmerica. Boy, was I wrong.”

Tamez took the interim position at and quickly fell in love with the organization. Tasked with building out a robust ethics and compliance program, Tamez had her hands full from day one, she said. And, after just a few months in what was supposed to be an interim position, Tamez was asked to take on, full-time, the general counsel role.

Tamez is now responsible for all of legal, ethics and compliance, regulatory assistance, enterprise risk management and internal audit, contracts management, board governance, and information governance.

2015_0530 Raquel Tamez-188_FullSize_1
Photos by David Wiegold

“Among the senior leaders, I have a reputation for having strong convictions and for being passionate about what I’m doing,” she says. “That probably [stems from] my history as a litigator … I’m an advocate for my team and I’m an advocate for SourceAmerica.”

With a new CEO that operates with a “sense of urgency” and a team of direct reports she calls a “powerhouse of change,” Tamez has a renewed sense of purpose, she said.

“In the corporate world, you’re working for shareholders,” Tamez says. “At SourceAmerica, I have a purpose—a defined purpose. I’m working to support the creation of employment opportunities for persons with significant disabilities. I’m working for actual individuals whose lives—and their families—will be impacted in a positive way.”

In many ways, it’s the role she has been preparing for her whole life. The impetus for Tamez’s legal career was a strong sense of empathy for people who were vulnerable, “folks that got the short end of the stick,” or were manipulated or exploited.

“My tendency is to always root for the dark horse, the underdog if you will – I think that’s what prompted me to go to law school,” she says. “And now I’m supporting and ultimately advocating for persons with significant disabilities who are oftentimes overlooked and underestimated.”

It is a segment of the population where 80 percent do not have jobs. SourceAmerica successfully employs more than 125,000 people with significant disabilities, and Tamez helps the company fight for more. She feels passionate about supporting this dedicated and highly qualified workforce who often lacks the power to advocate for itself.

Tamez looks back to the moment her position at CSC was eliminated, and the resiliency she was forced to summon, with pride.

“It’s so hard, when you’re going through a traumatic life event such as a job loss, to remember to be courageous and remain confident,” she says. “But this turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. In fact, it has been life changing.”