Meet Tandalea Mercer, Nextracker’s New Director of Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) play an important role in Nextracker’s growth strategy as well as our leadership efforts in the clean energy sector. Admittedly, we recognize the continuing lack of diversity and issues around gender and racial equality in the industry, but we are working diligently to improve our own hiring practices and workplace culture to create the necessary change we want and need to make.

Nextracker is a co-founder and active member of Renewables Forward, an industrywide DEI initiative launched in 2020. Since Dorothy Serdar, our VP of human resources, wrote a blog about the group and co-authored its “HR DEI Playbook” last year, Renewables Forward recently published the second part of the playbook, covering such topics as certification, strategic value, employee resource groups, community and employee engagement, management training, and mentorship.

Dorothy also plays a key role in Nextracker’s Women’s Network, which is a wide-ranging initiative to support and encourage our women employees around the world, to unite, promote, and inspire them in our workplace through career development, social development, and networking. The effort has provided women more opportunities to discuss shared experiences in the workplace, from the challenges of working motherhood to gender imbalances at meetings.

Our DEI work also includes engagement with organizations like Women in Cleantech and Sustainability, WRISE, Borrego’s recruiting women in solar efforts, SEI (with our Half the Sun scholarships), GRID Alternatives, Navajo Nation and other nonprofits, as well as educational initiatives to encourage minorities and girls to explore clean energy careers.

These efforts are a passion project of mine, so that’s why I’m thrilled to introduce the woman who will be leading Nextracker’s DEI efforts: our first Director of Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – Tandalea Mercer, PHR.

A “born and raised Brooklyn girl,” Tandalea comes from a multicultural Black family. She grew up “around all kinds of people from all over the world in the most beautiful melting pot in the world.” Her 20-year-plus career of “pushing the needle forward” spans the public and private sectors, consulting, nonprofit and higher education. Now living in Los Angeles, she still teaches as an adjunct professor at Cal State Northridge and Cal State LA.

Cell cracks resulting from hail impact.

That’s a wrap on the Spring Semester! Teaching African American Politics, an upper level class, gives me the opportunity to connect with students on Critical Race Theory, History and understanding why Black people in this country have politicized and contributed to the world at large. The fundamentals of Freedom, Equality and Civil Rights are the underpinnings of this class and it is an honor to teach it every year since being invited as faculty at the California State University schools.

As she settles into her new job, we spoke with Tandalea about DEI and her initial focus at Nextracker.

What does DEI mean to you?

“Here’s my go-to statement: Diversity is about who gets to be on the team. Inclusion is about who gets to be on the team and play on the team. Equity is about whether we’re all being paid fairly for our roles on the team,” whether we’re being paid in recognition or we’re being paid in money, that we’re all being properly compensated for our roles on the team.

“There are many components to DEI, including humanity, respect, integrity, and empathy. Those are the cornerstones, with empathy probably being the crown jewel. It’s moved beyond being about how many minorities, women or people with disabilities you’ve hired—which is still important—to how people are feeling. Are you feeling like you’re part of the team? You may be at the table, but is your voice being heard? Are they asking you for your input? DEI is collaborative in nature.”

What are your initial priorities as Nextracker’s senior director of culture and DEI?

“There are a few things that I’m excited about tackling going forward.

“Culture is what DEI stands on. I want folks to have a voice in building what that culture is. We have values, but what is the culture? How do people feel, what is the sentiment, the temperature? Do people feel like they can bring their authentic self? Do people feel like it’s an inclusive workplace? Do people feel like they have upward mobility? Do people feel like their managers are listening to them and they have a voice at the decision table? All of these things are about diversity, equity and inclusion and that is really what the culture is built off of – employee sentiment and behavior.

I also want to amplify women’s voices here. And finally, I want to make sure leadership has the tools and resources they need. So when there are newer faces in the workplace, there are no culture shocks, that we’re all able to work together and lift each other up.

We will be hearing more from Tandalea and the ongoing DEI efforts at Nextracker in the coming months, so stay tuned.