Community//

Diana Navarrete-Rackauckas of Design Museum Everywhere: “Mentor culture”

Create a culture where everyone understands the difference between hierarchy and pecking order. Businesses are going to naturally have a hierarchy, and this is obviously a good thing! But knowing that hierarchy doesn’t mean valuing the opinions of those closest to the top over those who are just starting out — that’s what makes a large team […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Create a culture where everyone understands the difference between hierarchy and pecking order. Businesses are going to naturally have a hierarchy, and this is obviously a good thing! But knowing that hierarchy doesn’t mean valuing the opinions of those closest to the top over those who are just starting out — that’s what makes a large team run like a dream. It’s important for every person on that team to know they will be heard when they’re trying to push the organization forward.


As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Navarrete-Rackauckas.

An educator and diversity advocate, Diana Navarrete-Rackauckas serves as the Director of Learning and Interpretation at Design Museum Everywhere. Raised in an immigrant family and community, she is dedicated to holding inclusive spaces that empower participants to more confidently navigate their worlds. Her most recent call to action is to not only raise awareness for diversity and inclusion, but to bring actionable education to the design community with the launch of Diversity in Action. A comprehensive training program aimed at creating a more equitable design industry and workplace, Diversity in Action explores why diversity, equity, and inclusion creates better design and business outcomes, how to build and foster diverse teams, improve company culture, prioritize inclusivity and invest in the future.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

Thanks for having me! Absolutely, I can. I grew up in New York City in a family of Ecuadorian immigrants. NYC is a really diverse city, so I always found myself surrounded by different cultures and understood from a young age how much we can learn from each other. Through a scholarship program, I ended up at an elite NYC private school for middle and high school. It was the first time I was genuinely confronted with a lack of diversity and the harm that comes from being “different” in a homogenous space. I attended Oberlin College for my undergraduate degree, finding my love for all things culture and education there, and began my career in museum education then. My biggest priority was making the institutional museum spaces I worked in feel comfortable and accessible for everyone. As you can imagine, that was much easier said than done. It occurred to me pretty early on in my career that the assumptions museums and other institutions are running on when it comes to diversity and equity, are harmful to their communities and ultimately to the future of the institution itself. So, I took it upon myself to start working not only to create experiences that people feel welcome to be a part of but changing institutional culture to actually prioritize that experience.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

A tough question for me for sure. One of the most memorable was when I was leading a diversity training for a group of about 15 executives and leaders. I walked into the room with my intern at the time, who was a young white woman, and she stood organizing some papers while I went and set up my laptop and tech. Every person in the room assumed she was leading the training and I was her assistant and began asking her a million questions. I felt so awful for her because she was so clearly uncomfortable, but I was working too hard holding back a laugh to help her for a minute or two. I quickly righted the ship and had a great first example to work through with the group. I walked away with two main lessons: always prepare your interns and get into the conference room and set up before anyone arrives. It leads to less embarrassment for participants that way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

Those who know me know I usually push against the idea of “life lesson quotes” but I do have a soft spot for,” When you avoid difficult conversations, you’re replacing short-term discomfort with long-term dysfunction.” This is the core of equity work in my mind. The conversations I have with leaders of organizations about what’s not working in their spaces are awkward, uncomfortable, and vulnerable, but they are absolutely vital. Growth is hard and it will always be worth it in the long term.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Oh wow, there are so many. I am forever grateful to all my colleagues and managers who believed in me and just took the time to listen to me and strategize my next steps. But honestly, above it all it really comes down to my parents. They are such a phenomenal example to me about what it means to commit yourself to something and see it through to the end.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Design Museum Everywhere is special in so many ways. We’re a fully virtual and nomadic museum which means we can meet people where they are instead of expecting people to come find us. For example, with one of our teen programs, we have a designer from South Africa who wanted to be involved because she heard of the museum through our online work. She wakes up at 2 am twice a week to work with teens and teach them design. That’s special.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We’ve just launched a new training program aimed towards the design community called Diversity in Action. The training program explores why diversity, equity, and inclusion creates better design and business outcomes, how to build and foster diverse teams, improve company culture, prioritize inclusivity and invest in the future. These are those difficult conversations that I know organizations are struggling to have, and we package those conversations with actionable frameworks that help people make real change in their spaces no matter where they sit in the decision-making process.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I work in nonprofits; I have to believe all my success is about bringing goodness to the world! Joking aside, being able to shift the way that powerful institutions think about diversity and equity is creating space and opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance. I know that even if I can’t personally bring about the most goodness to the world on my own, all the folks who are making their way into these industries will.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

It really comes down to the inherent value of happy people. So here are just a few ways, there are many others.

  1. Connection to your target audience. If you deal in creating for others (products, experiences, etc.) having just one person on a team that reflects the user base you’re creating for, makes your product over two and a half times as successful! It’s that simple. One person, who is respected, can change the conversation and bring in a new perspective. Speaking of which!
  2. Innovate. The more diverse your team is — and I mean in all ways across all group identities, we’re not talking in code for only race or gender here — the more innovative your work will be. Turns out having those differing perspectives leads to more creative conflict, which when handled well and with respect, leads to some true innovation.
  3. Protect your turnover rate. Any leader worth their salt will tell you that high turnover costs them dearly. Between the loss in active work, the cost of recruiting and hiring, and then training time, you are just losing money and resources every time you lose a good person. I’ve seen this happen in many places: an organization will say they are interested in hiring diverse candidates, but they do nothing to make the organization equitable, so they hire talent, and like clockwork, people leave. It got so bad at one organization that I was working with, that they ultimately had to merge two entirely different departments to make up for the loss of staff. Practicing equity and valuing diversity will create a more dynamic work environment, and people will feel supported and stay loyal.
  4. Attract more talent. On top of that, having a solid work culture means you’ll attract way more talent. People will know it’s worth working with you and actually giving you their best selves, instead of toning themselves down or worrying about assimilating.
  5. Mentor culture. Finally, when you work towards creating a diverse team that respects each other, you naturally see a mentor culture form. People reach out to each other and work together to push themselves to be better. Suddenly, people know they’re valued and cared for as a whole human being, and that makes it a lot easier to spend your time pushing yourself at work.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?

Take a long look at your leadership team (including yourself) and have someone find the gaps. Whose perspectives are missing from the decision-making process? It’s ultimately about being comfortable not being the expert in everything. Business leaders are extraordinary in leading a team — and that means being willing to admit that your team is stronger when they don’t have the same experiences you do.

What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?

Create a culture where everyone understands the difference between hierarchy and pecking order. Businesses are going to naturally have a hierarchy, and this is obviously a good thing! But knowing that hierarchy doesn’t mean valuing the opinions of those closest to the top over those who are just starting out — that’s what makes a large team run like a dream. It’s important for every person on that team to know they will be heard when they’re trying to push the organization forward.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Oh, honestly — probably singer/musician Ashley Frangipane, aka Halsey. She’s someone who has been vulnerable and honest about her journey in the industry and is consistently working to create change and opportunities using her platform and her resources. Plus, she just seems like an absolute riot.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me directly on LinkedIn and our work at Design Museum Everywhere through our website and our podcast, Design is Everywhere, as well as on our social media channels: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Well-Being//

Former Army Servicewoman Shares How She Tackled Life’s Challenges

by Habiba Abudu
Community//

Incorporating Millennials Into The Workplace

by Simon Mac Rory
Community//

World-class Exhibitions to Public Spaces

by Eraina Ferguson
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.