3 strategies to build an inclusive culture

Insight from Freddie Mac’s Kara Baker

Image of Freddie Mac's Kara Baker, Learning and Development Manager, Enterprise Risk Management, with quote saying, "I know every day when I walk through the doors at Freddie Mac, I feel safe and can be my true self."

Kara Baker (she/her) has found a deep sense of purpose in her work at Freddie Mac by contributing to an inclusive and understanding culture. As the Learning and Development Manager in the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Division, Kara's responsibilities help her foster a more inclusive workplace and contribute to the company’s mission of Making Home Possible. For Kara, her passion and dedication to inclusivity ensures that diverse voices are heard and represented, making Freddie Mac a welcoming place for all. But her impact extends far beyond her official title.

Kara, a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, attributes her career success to her ability to bring her unique and creative self to work each day. Her openness and authenticity also continue to inspire those around her, both those she crosses paths within her learning and development role, as well as those she reaches from her internal leadership roles. But no matter her role, Kara’s willingness to advance diversity and inclusion makes Freddie Mac a better place to work.

“At work, it’s having the ability to express myself, not just during June but every single day. Outside of work, this month has greater meaning than rainbows and parades. It means living every day as my authentic self. I know every day when I walk through the doors at Freddie Mac, I feel safe and can be my true self.”

This Pride Month, we sat down with Kara to hear her story, professional experience at Freddie Mac, and why she champions a culture where everyone can thrive and contribute to a shared mission.

Building a foundation of belonging at Freddie Mac

For Kara, fostering an inclusive workplace culture is more than just a goal — it's a reality brought to life by dedicated employees. As the operations lead of Freddie Mac’s Pride Business Resource Group (BRG) and program lead for ERM’s graduate-level intern and risk rotation programs, Kara works to exemplify the spirit of inclusivity and education she hopes to inspire.

“I have what I call a ‘day job’ and a ‘gay job,’” Kara said. “And I love both.”

In these roles, she is able to educate colleagues about her sexuality, champion LGBTQ+ inclusion within the company, and participate in recruiting efforts that broaden the candidate pool. One of her most impactful contributions was leading the effort to have employees identify their pronouns in their email signatures. This initiative aimed to normalize the practice of sharing pronouns, promoting an environment where everyone feels respected and included, while also providing opportunities to further educate employees.

During a meeting, someone once asked Kara: “Why do I need to put my pronouns on my name badge?” Kara wasn’t offended by the question. Instead, she saw it as an opportunity for a teachable moment.

“Using your pronouns in your signature is not just for you. It’s for the nonbinary employee who aren’t out yet,” she said. “They feel more comfortable using their pronouns when they see others doing the same. It’s about inclusion and making sure that those who feel different because of their pronouns feel included. You’re helping to create a workplace where everyone feels welcome.”

In Kara’s 11 years at Freddie Mac, she has recognized the importance of corporate policies and programs that foster a sense of belonging and encourage professional growth.

“I value the fair treatment and clear expectations this company gives its employees. I’ve never felt so appreciated working anywhere else,” she said. “Offering opportunities for growth shows employees that you support their development, and Freddie Mac leaders are really good about finding different ways of helping you stretch your learning journey. We provide resources to help people become effective allies and educate themselves on these important issues.”

But she also knows there is added value when individuals build up one another. Kara encourages her colleagues to build their network and look for growth opportunities within the company. She also points out that recognizing employees' contributions, no matter how small, can make them feel valued and appreciated.

Ultimately, she said, promoting a sense of belonging and fostering mutual understanding among all employees is not just good for people, it’s good for business. And not just during Pride month.

“It's important to acknowledge that Pride is more than just a celebration,” Kara said. “It's also a month dedicated to raising awareness about the ongoing issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community.”

As she continues to bridge her “day job” and her “gay job,” Kara’s story highlights the impact small actions make in creating a culture of inclusion. Her dedication and passion inspire others to join the journey toward equality and acceptance. And by embracing initiatives developed by Kara and others, like pronoun identification, Freddie Mac is taking meaningful steps toward helping ensure that all employees feel valued and accepted.

Building a home to well-being

"Along with an exceptional workplace culture, Freddie Mac provides some of the best benefits that directly support the LGBTQ+ community and their families."

Through her work, Kara has made her mark on Freddie Mac’s workplace culture. However, Kara’s story would not be complete without recognizing how Freddie Mac’s workplace benefits have made an impact on her as well.

Kara, who was still grappling with the pain of losing her mother six years ago when her grandmother passed, finds comfort in the caring support provided by Freddie Mac's mental well-being services and employee assistance program. At Freddie Mac, on-site counseling services are more than just a benefit — they’re a lifeline for employees navigating personal grief and loss.

"Having someone readily available on-site for counseling sessions, where I could openly express my feelings, was truly invaluable,” she said. “I never thought I'd lean on it, but it proved to be incredibly helpful."

As someone who has dedicated her career to inclusion and belonging, Kara vividly remembers the unexpected gestures of kindness from her colleagues during her time of sorrow: condolence cards adorning her desk upon her return, and her boss offering understanding and space through gentle guidance to her colleagues: "Only approach her if you truly need something."

In Kara's journey through grief, Freddie Mac emerges not just as an employer, but as a source of empathy and support, providing a beacon of hope amid her darkest moments.

Freddie Mac offers on-site counseling services as part of its benefits packages. The company has also introduced benefits for LGBTQ+ employees including additional coverage for gender affirmation surgery procedures. Freddie Mac has established gender transition guidelines to foster dialogue, understanding, and support for employees transitioning from one gender to another. Additionally, the company provides 12-week parental leave and reimbursement for eligible adoption and surrogacy expenses. These offerings contribute to a more inclusive workplace environment. For more than a decade, Freddie Mac has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for its commitment to LGBTQ+ workplace equality.

3 strategies to build an inclusive culture

As a leader, Kara champions the creation of deeper relationships among Freddie Mac employees, fostering mutual respect and understanding. She believes this approach to diversity and inclusion is integral to our culture.

"If you are seeking an employer that encourages you to bring your authentic self to work, embraces the concept of a work family, and values you as an individual, Freddie Mac is an excellent employer to help you thrive at any point in your career,” Kara said.

To further promote a sense of belonging, Kara offers these valuable tips:

  1. Cultivate a psychologically safe space: Encourage open dialogue where employees feel comfortable sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas. Help address or support employees’ challenges both at work and in their personal lives to foster an environment where individuals can bring their whole selves to work.
  1. Practice intentional inclusion: Promote intentional inclusion by fostering an environment that values diverse identities, encourages empathy and understanding, and cultivates allies committed to equity and inclusion. Together, you can create a workplace where every individual feels valued, respected and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and talents.
  1. Leverage the interconnectedness of BRGs: Encourage co-sponsorship of events to reach a more intersectional audience, fostering a collaborative culture that enhances team members' sense of belonging and drives engagement.
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