No matter where Joy Lopez has lived in her life—rural Texas, San Antonio, Dallas, California, and now Austin—there’s a saying that has always hung over her door. She sees it when she leaves every day. It’s only three words, but they have created the foundation for an empathetic and thoughtful leader: Make a Difference.
That short saying is reflected in her work as VP and head of investment tax at Dimensional Fund Advisors but also has informed a commitment to compassionate leadership outside the office. That includes Lopez’s role as chair of the tax committee for the Investment Company Institute and her treasurer and executive board position on behalf of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (“the Hotline”).
“In everything I do, I try to make sure that mantra is there,” Lopez says. “All these roles have provided the opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale than my own small circle at home. And while the definition of ‘making a difference’ may be different across these areas, my goal is to leave a legacy of love and integrity.”
Lopez admits this entire philosophy may seem odd coming from a professional with more than twenty-five years of tax expertise. Someone with a master’s degree in accounting is not often the first person you might consider having a high degree of empathy—someone who says that prioritizing relationships and interrelational interactions is imperative not just to her success but to her happiness.
But Lopez’s commitment to mentorship, leadership, and advocacy is coupled with a work ethic instilled in her by her family. While neither her father nor her mother attended college, Lopez’s parents inspired a drive in their daughter that led her to be valedictorian and, ultimately, the first to complete a graduate-level degree in her family.
“That work ethic passed down from my grandfather and my dad is evident in all of my siblings, especially in my youngest sister, Shay, who is a rock star in her own right,” Lopez explains. “I was blessed to have people around me who modeled the kind of leader I wanted to be—and had the opportunity to learn from others about the kind of leader I didn’t want to be—and I’m grateful for the gifts God has given me to maneuver through life in a way that honors Him, my fellow coworkers, my family, and others I meet along the way.”
Faith has always played an important role in Lopez’s life, and it has clearly impacted the way in which she chooses to lead.
“My desire as a leader is to help prepare, mentor, and teach individuals so that they can reflect strength of character, integrity, and thoughtfulness in their decisions. This holds true in the development of my team as professionals for life, not just as employees, as well as for those I support in my philanthropic endeavors or others in my circle of influence,” Lopez explains. “I want to know that at the end of the day, I have given everything of myself that I can give.”
Love Is Respect
Lopez’s continuing mission to make a difference is most profoundly apparent in her work with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, where the executive says the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new level of complexity to an already difficult reality.
“I know firsthand how essential The Hotline is to domestic violence survivors,” Lopez says. “The longer that I am part of this organization and involved in their initiatives, the more I feel like I’m making a difference.”
Part of Lopez’s work with the Hotline includes love is respect, a national resource aimed at disrupting and preventing unhealthy relationships through education and support of young people. Together, the Hotline, programs like Love Is Respect, and other like-minded organizations like Esperanza United raise awareness of domestic violence. In each effort, Lopez says there are heartbreaking details that can challenge a person’s very understanding of the world they’re living in. But to her, that’s the point.
“We can get so focused on our own worlds and what is in our periphery that it can be very scary to think of some of the things that go on outside of it,” she explains. “But it can be empowering to look at those ugly truths that people try not to see and know you have the ability to make a difference and effect real change by standing up for what is right.”
For Those Going Forward
Lopez takes being a leader very seriously. “I realize the choices I make in how I approach life matter—in all things,” she says.
Lopez acknowledges that her personal success acts as a model that others might hope to emulate. In fact, years after she graduated, she was asked to speak at her high school. Her message to the students wasn’t grounded in tax policy or accounting practices. It was to remind the students of why they were in school in the first place.
“An algebraic formula may be part of a solution,” Lopez says, laughing. “But I think we go to school to learn how to think. Facts and figures can be accessed easily, but being able to problem solve is key. Analyze, assess, determine alternatives for solutions—those are truly the keys. Of equal importance is understanding how the choices you make have a downstream effect on others.”
The nurturing of those skills is as important as developing them. Lopez says that a commitment to focusing on things eternal influences her perspective on what should be priority. This mindset has translated to the relationships and skills she’s taken care to continually reevaluate and evolve. It’s helped her lead with an open heart and stay connected to the mantra that continues to drive her.