One Smith retiree helped plant the roots of our ongoing dedication to inclusion after a 23-year career.
At the end of last year, Smith institution Nicole Embry retired after a 23-year-long career. While everyone at Smith’s worldwide offices knows and loves Nicole, her impact and influence stretch further: Into her successful Special Olympics career. Into the community around her and her dedicated work mentoring Houston-area kids and young adults. And into the example she set from the moment she was hired – and the change she helped spark along the way.
Nicole’s journey with Smith – and our growth with her as part of our team – began in 1997, when a Special Olympics acquaintance met her on the job and offered to connect her with Smith. She had previously done data entry and other office work, and it wasn’t long before she landed an interview. She soon stepped into her role helping keep Smith’s vital, everyday administrative processes running smoothly. Nicole was born with Down syndrome, and she became Smith’s first neurodiverse hire for the simple reason that she had the skills and enthusiasm to do the job – in addition to the overwhelming positivity she became known for across our offices. It was an instant fit.
This began a span of more than two decades in which Nicole became an indispensable part of Smith’s headquarters location, always there to help when needed. She distinguished herself outside of the office, too. She had begun her athletic career at age six, competing in swimming, bowling, and gymnastics in the Special Olympics, in addition to competitive ice skating. She also joined the Texas Advocates group, whose mission is to stand up for the rights of those with disabilities.
“They don’t realize there are things that they can do,” Nicole said of this work empowering others. “I want to give them motivation so they can do more things.”
Perhaps Nicole’s greatest influence has been doing exactly this. When Smith began partnering with The HUB, a local school for neurodiverse teens and young adults, she took a leading role in this community outreach. The HUB has an employability program in place to help its students develop key skills and confidence so they can find and succeed in diverse career paths. Nicole has given seminars for the students, sharing insights and guidance gleaned from her long career and offering them a relatable role model for success.
Smith’s involvement with The HUB grew alongside Nicole’s, in large part due to our founders’ investment in the school and how it enriches the Houston community. Nicole’s example inspired them, too, as they kicked off Smith’s internship and hiring program for HUB students with her as a success story – proving that offering neurodiverse employees opportunities benefits companies. Smith also began planning volunteer opportunities for HUB students and Smith employees to work together.
One of the most rewarding recent efforts has been developing a diversity training program in close collaboration with The HUB. The initiative was launched as the next step within our internship and hiring program to expand our employees’ awareness of neurodiversity and help them work inclusively together while fostering an environment that supports all employees’ success. While the program began at our Houston locations, it’s since gone global to all sixteen of our offices as an annual required course within our internal learning and development platform.
Smith learned early in our history that employees with diverse backgrounds, talents, skills, and identities only strengthen us – and Nicole is one of the best examples of that in our 37-year history. Smith’s culture nurtures entrepreneurial drive and ambition and the innovation that often comes from less-heard voices. That means that whoever is capable of and willing to chase and develop opportunities deserves the space and support to try. We’ll keep supporting them – following in Nicole’s footsteps.