When reviewing her résumé or LinkedIn page, it’s easy to conclude that Lexi Hernandez is well accomplished. She’s the director of talent development, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Raytheon Missiles & Defense (RMD). She’s also a doctor of philosophy in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology, and serves on the board of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
While her accomplishments are certainly impressive, she is of course much more than the titles on her résumé. Hernandez is authentic, progressive, and perhaps most importantly, driven to create lasting change at Raytheon and beyond.
According to Hernandez, her calling to advance DEI was ignited by her parents and the conversations they would have on the topic when she was young. “We would talk about human equality and civil rights, and how to use our voice to help others,” Hernandez recalls. “I believe it had a lot to do with my mother’s life experiences.”
Her parents met in England, where her father was stationed as part of the US Army Air Forces, and her mother was a member of the British Women’s Land Army. “They moved to small town in New Mexico that was comprised of Hispanic and Native cultures, where my mother was born, raised, and later met my father,” Hernandez says. “As an educator, she sought out opportunities to immerse herself with different groups, including teaching special education in school districts of varying socioeconomic status.
“Through this exposure,” she adds, “she learned the value of cultural differences, and also became keenly aware of the barriers faced by marginalized populations. She bestowed the importance of education, acceptance, and advocating to end discrimination on my sister and me.”
Like many in the Latinx community, Hernandez faced hurdles of her own related to her heritage. “Being a Hispanic American in the US is a dual identity that’s always competing,” she says. “It’s hard to find where you fit in. My father is of Spanish and Mexican descent, but I was never Hispanic enough because we didn’t grow up speaking Spanish or following certain traditions. I also wasn’t white enough. It was a struggle to develop my sense of self.”
But as Hernandez grew both personally and professionally, she realized that her mixed heritage is a privilege and enables her to navigate different environments.
The People Side of Business
Hernandez studied psychology at the University of Arizona, where she also met her husband. After graduation, she contemplated what to do with the degree. One day, while at work chatting with a customer, she was introduced to the topic of I/O psychology. As Hernandez puts it, the rest was history.
Upon graduation, Hernandez moved to San Diego and began her I/O psych PhD program at Alliant International University.
“What interests me about I/O psych is the possibilities,” she explains. “It’s about understanding the human dynamics of an organization and equipping people with the necessary resources so they can achieve results. Meeting the needs of the workforce so that they can meet the needs of the business can be complex and rewarding.”
Hernandez’s first foray into the field was an internship at TalentSmart. She worked there for three years and quickly moved through the ranks to director of learning programs and client services.
After TalentSmart, Hernandez completed a short stint as a consultant for PetSmart before landing a position at Raytheon Missile Systems in November 2008. As she did at TalentSmart, Hernandez was able to build a strong brand and utilize her I/O psych knowledge to take on roles of increasing responsibility. She started as a learning strategist in the engineering organization, and then transitioned into various leadership roles within the human resources department.
But in 2016, as Hernandez was finalizing her dissertation and preparing to have her second child, she realized she was ready for a career shift. This led her to joining the organizational effectiveness team, where she says she was able to flex her educational background to drive performance excellence in the business.
Regardless of her title, Hernandez always stayed connected to Raytheon’s DEI initiatives, whether through helping to create new training programs, partnering with employee resource groups to deploy resources, or asking questions in relation to her research. As a result, in 2018, Hernandez accepted a position as director of diversity and inclusion.
Two years later, following a merger between Raytheon and United Technologies, the business unit Hernandez was a part of became RMD and her role evolved to what it is today. Her responsibilities include overseeing three main talent buckets: talent management, learning and development, and DEI. And although each bucket is of equal priority, Hernandez says that she’s determined to embed DEI into all facets of the employee life cycle. This means identifying opportunities to mitigate bias in talent processes, while integrating solutions to promote an inclusive culture.
As a leader, Hernandez strives to be authentic. “It’s my job to set the strategy and vision, and then empower and trust my team to do what they do best,” she says. “Above all else, I can only be my authentic self. I expect the same from them, and that’s what enables our success.”
Another key focus area for Hernandez is raising awareness and shifting cultural- and gender-related expectations regarding leadership effectiveness. That is to say, acknowledging societal norms that male gender behaviors are more congruent with leadership positions than female behaviors. Though, for Hernandez, it doesn’t stop with just gender. She’s also working to expand awareness and equitable opportunities for all historically marginalized and underrepresented populations.
“We ask individuals to bring their authentic and best selves to work, but then we try to fit them into a certain mold of leadership based on outdated societal expectations. I want to change that to be more broad and inclusive, and honor different styles. I want to challenge the status quo.”
Guided By Her Own Journey
In addition to turning her passion for diversity and inclusion into action, Lexi Hernandez forwards a passion for mentorship—whether it’s students at local Tucson high schools or the employees at Raytheon. “In my own journey with obtaining my PhD and navigating the workforce, I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way,” Hernandez reflects. “But I was fortunate enough to have many great mentors during the process. I want to pay it forward by helping others navigate their own journeys and achieve their goals.”