At Visa, we are committed to fostering a workplace where diversity of thought, culture and background are valued, while also being mindful of the importance of practicing inclusive behaviors. Throughout February, we honor Black History Month with a special series, Inclusion, Redefined: Celebrating our Stories, which examines what inclusion means to some of our employees in both their personal and professional lives. To kick off the series, we sat down for a conversation with Sam Tam, Visa’s Senior Director, Global Human Resources, to learn how his world travels have shaped his perspective.
Q: What is your role at Visa, and what brought you to Visa?
I serve as Senior Director, Global Human Resources, supporting Global Merchant Sales & Solutions. To be honest, Visa wasn’t really on my radar as I was thinking about my next career move, but my mentor, who I deeply respect, said I really needed to talk with the head of HR at Visa to find out more about the company. That initial conversation led to me connecting with others in HR and opened my eyes to the extraordinary opportunities at Visa. I was initially attracted to the brand and the company’s global footprint, but what really drew me in was its relevancy. Everyone pays for things, but how people pay—the “glocal” ways to pay (both globally and locally)—are different in my parent’s village in Ghana, in Athens and here in the U.S. And Visa is making an impact on how that happens across the globe, which is powerful. Once I really understood that impact, I was all in.
Q: What does “Inclusion, Redefined” mean to you?
There is a term, “Third Culture Kid” (TCK). It’s a person who doesn’t relate home to their parent’s culture or to a specific place: They’re a global nomad. That’s me. Home is where I am today, which has required me to quickly adapt to whatever comes my way. For me, inclusion means feeling that I am included, that I belong—in the conversation, in the relationship, in the job. It’s when one feels that they truly belong that they can bring their best selves to the situation.
Q: Have you experienced a time when you felt excluded in your personal life? What did you do to overcome that?
There have been many times in life where I’ve felt excluded. You can imagine the culture shock of leaving Athen and arriving in a small Midwest town in the U.S. that wasn’t necessarily the most inclusive environment. For me, a defining moment of exclusion was when I was working in a prior job as an expat in Milan. I had a couple strikes against me—I was from headquarters, taking on a leadership role that could have gone to a local employee. Leadership would make it a point to speak Italian in meetings so that I wouldn’t understand. This went on, so I met them at their game. I began to learn Italian and would pipe up in meetings to let them know I understood them. It was a difficult experience, but I found energy and strength by finding a local community where I felt that I belonged.
Q: Can you tell me about an experience when you experienced intentional inclusion?
To be honest, I have felt included from my first exploratory conversations with people at Visa. That was part of the draw. The HR team has embraced me and my contributions from the start. But the moment that really sticks out in my mind was when the head of the organization I support, was asked about me and his response was, “Sam is not just an HR person; he is one of us.” He saw me as not just someone who supported his team, but as part of his team. That was truly a moment that defined inclusion to me. He has continued to champion me, bringing me into key discussions and serving as sponsor to my development at Visa.
Q: What are practical ways people can demonstrate inclusion?
I really believe in the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated.” You can only do that if you know about them. Don’t make assumptions that others want to be treated as you do: Find out what makes them tick. Be genuine and open to understanding differences. Ask questions and really listen. Speak to them in their language, whatever that is. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling around the world and meeting people from diverse cultures, and nothing says inclusion more than truly being heard.