As the Aquarium’s Chief People and Diversity Officer, Lauren Hunter-Dyson’s charge is no less than ensuring a work environment that promotes happy, healthy, and productive outcomes for some 237 employees. Hunter-Dyson took up the role June of last year and describes it as “a dream come true.” Her appointment, as it turns out, is also something of a homecoming.

Lauren Hunter-DysonA Boston native, Hunter-Dyson first worked at the Aquarium as a teenager through the City of Boston’s summer jobs program for youth. She describes herself as a shy teen who wanted a position in the Aquarium’s gift shop. “I ended up being a teen educator on the floor,” she says with a warm laugh. “I actually had to talk to people, and I was terrified of them!”

Hunter-Dyson overcame her shyness and discovered her twin loves— psychology and people—while studying business at Johnson and Wales University. Her undergraduate studies led her back to the Aquarium a second time for an internship spent researching and cataloging opportunities for students interested in marine science internships.

You can’t have culture without talent.
- Lauren Hunter-Dyson

After obtaining her master’s degree in management, she discovered her career calling while working at the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “I decided I was really enjoying helping unemployed and underemployed people find suitable and appropriate employment, and that’s really what made me happy,” she says.

Her human resources career includes leadership roles in private industry, government, and nonprofit sectors. She was contacted about a position at one of Boston’s most iconic institutions in spring of 2021. “This is like divine intervention,” she told the recruiter when she learned the job was at the Aquarium, “because I’ve worked there twice in an intern capacity.”

With responsibility for organizational effectiveness, culture, staffing, benefits, and compliance, Hunter-Dyson describes her role as “being the leader of the organization’s largest resource, outside of finance, so that comes with a lot of responsibility. It means making sure that you are taking care of people and process. That you are creating an environment for people where they can be happy and productive and want to come to work. And you are thinking about how to be an employer of choice for people seeking employment.”

She is also responsible for the Aquarium’s organizational culture. “You can’t have culture without talent,” she says. “It’s the people who make up the culture, but they are so connected. You have to have the right people in the right place at the right time to get an organization and its culture moving in the direction you want it to go.”

There’s huge benefit in infusing diversity on so many levels—diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, all those things.
- Lauren Hunter-Dyson

Hunter-Dyson says the Aquarium shifted from a traditional human resources model—with a more tactical focus on compliance, benefits, and pay—to a strategic approach aimed at talent and culture management a few years ago. This structure, says Hunter-Dyson, more closely aligns with the Aquarium’s organizational plans and encourages transformation in the workplace. “It’s giving people a sense of openness, a sense of transparency, building trust, and I think it’s giving people input into a place where they spend the majority of their time.”

Her near-term goals include seeing the Aquarium externally validated as an employer of choice and included in Massachusetts’s Best Nonprofits, an annual list of employee-preferred nonprofit organizations. Making diversity, equity, and inclusion practices “the lifeblood of the organization” is another key goal. Hunter-Dyson also wants to promote diversity more broadly across the organization. “There’s huge benefit in infusing diversity on so many levels—diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, all those things,” she says.

All of these initiatives, says Hunter- Dyson, reflect what is perhaps the most important aspect of her role, “to show that we value our staff, not just their tenure, but how they show up in the work. And when I say value, I also mean we’re looking at our compensation system to make sure that we are paying people fairly.”

Recognizing the challenge of working during a pandemic, she and her team are also working to “build back in more fun,” says Hunter-Dyson. She and her Talent and Culture team hosted an all-staff appreciation event last summer and hope to make it an annual event. In February, they organized “Taco Tuesday,” featuring food trucks that provided lunch to employees onsite.

Hunter-Dyson says the people at the Aquarium are the best part of her job. She is also thrilled to be back at the place where she got her first opportunity to shine in the workplace. “How crazy is it that your first job, you know, you never think you’ll ever go back to a place, and then you end up going back (twice), and becoming a key leader at that place? Sometimes it feels so surreal.

This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of blue member magazine.