Leading With Empathy & Allyship Show

Redefining Normal In The Remote/Hybrid Workplace

Leading With Empathy & Allyship promo with the Change Catalyst & show logos and photos of Lekisha Middleton, a Black woman with short natural hair, hoop earrings, and a beaded necklace; Catie Harriss, a White woman with long blonde hair; and host Melinda Briana Epler, a White woman with red hair, glasses, and an orange shirt holding a white mug behind a laptop.

In Episode 70, Founder of The Good Success Network, Lekisha Middleton, and HR business partner director in Intuit’s Consumer Group, Catie Harriss, join Melinda to discuss what they’ve learned from the ‘Great Resignation’; how we can build diversity, equity, and inclusion in remote and hybrid workplaces; and the unique opportunities that these workplaces provide around DEI.

Additional Resources

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This episode is sponsored by First Tech Federal Credit Union, a member-owned financial institution that is powered by a people-before-profit philosophy. Learn more at First Tech Federal Credit Union.

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  • Lekisha: “Taking the time to really get to know people, even their personality types and tendencies, can be helpful. Even if that’s bringing in a coach to do that or partnering with your HR and people teams. But, to really see and develop people from a lens of their strengths and what they’re really good at and what their inclinations are can be really helpful.”
  • Catie: “It’s going forward to a world that’s really invested into making connections, really invested in innovation and inclusivity, and we have so many more opportunities to hire in different locations that will increase that diversity in all dimensions.”
  • Lekisha: “People are really seeking to find value and purpose in the work they do, and the younger generations were kind of born that way. But I feel like everyone has come along the curve. In times of crisis, you realize what’s important to you and the reality is we spend most of our waking hours with our careers.”
  • Catie: “Mentorships became easier. It’s easy just to get on a call, not have to go somewhere and meet for coffee, but we were able to match people across locations that would never have been able to be in a mentor relationship before. So, especially for folks who might not feel they fit into a certain mold of leadership or culture, having the mentorships across different groups and having more people available for them has been a really powerful thing.”


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Guest Speakers
Headshot of Lekisha Middleton, a Black woman with short natural hair, hoop earrings, and a beaded necklace against a blue background

Lekisha Middleton
Founder of The Good Success Network

Lekisha is the Founder of The Good Success Network, a global management consulting and executive coaching firm that focuses on creating a workforce that is equipped and a workplace that is equitable, diverse, and inclusive.

She is a proud techie and human advocate, who is driven by the desire to empower people, especially underrepresented and minoritized groups, with the tools and strategies necessary to achieve success in every area of their lives.

Whether she is dealing with 1:1 clients, teams, or an entire organization, all of her work is centered around transformation and positive impactful change. Her clients experience a safe space to clarify their vision, cultivate their strengths, and gain the confidence needed to move forward into their most optimal path.

Headshot of Catie Harriss, a White woman with blonde hair and a turquoise shirt with blurred out foliage in the background.

Catie Harriss
HR Business Partner Director at Intuit

Catie Harriss is an HR business partner director in Intuit’s Consumer Group, bringing her expertise in innovation, design thinking, executive coaching, and mindfulness to translate business strategy into people strategy and help employees grow.

Prior to her current role, Catie led HR teams at Intuit to re-invent key employee experiences, including hiring, goal-setting, career growth, talent reviews, and performance assessment, to increase transparency, effectiveness, and inclusion for all employees. In these efforts, she drew upon her 20 years of earlier experience as a product manager focused on customer-driven innovation at Intuit and Hewlett-Packard.

Catie has also been a mindfulness practitioner for 10 years, is a member of the Black Mountain Sangha, and trained as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor. She loves hiking, horseback riding, and enjoying San Diego’s beaches with her 12-year old son.


MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep real conversations to build empathy for one another and to take action to be more inclusive and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities. 


I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst, and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc. 


All right, let’s dive in. 


MELINDA: Hello everyone! Happy 2022! Welcome to our Change Catalyst Live Series and the Leading With Empathy & Allyship show, where we have deep real conversations about how we can be more inclusive in our workplaces and communities. 


I’m Melinda Briana Epler, author of How To Be An Ally, and founder and CEO of Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, coaching, and events. 


As we move into a new era of remote and hybrid workplaces, rather than struggling to return to normal, we can contribute to redefining normal in a way that is more inclusive and equitable. So today, we have here, Lekisha Middleton, founder of the Good Success Network, and Catie Harriss, Director and HRBP at Intuit. 


We’ll discuss how we build diversity, equity, and inclusion in hybrid and remote workplaces and the unique opportunities we have for redefining what that work looks like and feels like. We’ll also share what we’re learning from the great resignation (lots of different terms out there) or great re-evaluation, great migration, great reimagining. Whatever you call it, there is a major transition happening. We’ll discuss how we might address this, reduce stress and burnout, and create meaningful work. 


Many thanks to First Tech Federal Credit Union for sponsoring this episode. 


Catie and Lekisha, welcome.


CATIE: Thanks so much for having me.


LEKISHA: Thank you, Melinda. Glad to be here today.


MELINDA: Glad to have you here today. So, we always start with a bit of your story. If you could say just a bit about your story, where did you grow up, and how did you come to do the work you do? And briefly, what is that work? Lekisha, why don’t we start with you? 


LEKISHA: Absolutely. So, I’m Lekisha Middleton. I grew up in a very small town called Utahville, South Carolina, which is about 40 minutes from Charleston; if you’ve ever been to Charleston. And how I got into the work that I’m doing. I’ve been in tech for a little over 20 years. 


I remember even as a child, you know, I’m aging myself a little bit when we had the Apple with the big floppy disk. I really love computers. And I remember saying, “I want to be a businesswoman. I’m going to carry a briefcase to work every day. And I’m going to work with computers.” I had no idea what that looked like. But lo and behold, that actually happened. 


I’ve been in tech in various capacities, but most recently, on the people and process side. I really like doing work to bring the people in the processes together and to create inclusive environments for everyone, right. So I work with my clients currently to do just that with everything going on in the world and making sure that the employees are taken care of, that they feel like they have a meaning of belonging and really just a psychologically safe workplace. And that companies really are doing what they can for their employees to have a great workplace and a productive workplace. So, that’s a little about me. I’m just really glad to be here today.



Thanks for sharing that. Catie, how about you?


CATIE: I grew up a little bit in Pennsylvania on the East Coast and then moved to California. So, we went from horseback riding to surfing and swimming pretty quickly as I got into the California world. I always wanted to be a teacher. It’s finally been able to come full circle, but I got into the tech world and was a product manager for 20 years, working on innovations. 


One thing I loved was just working with the team and making sure everyone on the team could contribute to the innovation. What I found was the more everyone felt safe sharing their ideas, the better results we had for our customers. And about ten years ago, I got into mindfulness as a way to help me feel calmer every day. But also, I found it helps with my creativity and my connections with people at work. 


I thought, “Wow, this is so helpful. I want to blend my two worlds of business and mindfulness in some way.” And so, I started hanging out with HR people because they seem to have it going on. And eventually, I got into talent development and am now an HR business partner where I spend my time coaching leaders on how to be mindful, innovative, inclusive leaders.


MELINDA: Awesome, cool. Thanks for sharing both of you. It’s been almost two years that we’ve been in the remote world, most of us. Not all of us, most of us. I’ve heard many times over the last almost two years people talk about how they can’t wait to get back to normal. 


And yet, the old normal wasn’t really working for everyone. We’re seeing, for example, that many people with disabilities have been asking for years to work remotely, only to be told it wasn’t possible to accommodate it. And now we have suddenly figured it out. Right? 


And also, several of my Black friends have said they aren’t ready to go back to the office because they aren’t ready for those regular microaggressions and exclusions, again, not that they’re not happening in the remote place but they’re less ubiquitous. 


Also, trans-non-binary and genderqueer folks are talking about increased psychological safety in the remote workplace as well. So, as we transition in our workplaces into that new future, what could a new normal look like? What can that feel like?


CATIE: Sure, yeah. Can I talk about what we’re doing, and our philosophy at the Intuit level, and then some of the things that I’ve seen, just in our team levels of what we’ve been doing that, you know, all of the benefits you talk about. There is also a big difference I’ve seen. It’s just a real leveling of the playing field. And if done intentionally, really helping people who maybe normally introverted to actually get their benefits of maybe thoughtfulness and maybe slower thinking, but more potential analysis than maybe some of the team members who are more extroverted, always had been, you know, in an in-person meeting. 


So, you know, doing things like working on documents offline first, and having everybody have a chance to contribute with written words and more time for thinking. And then people can be more prepared. So, we’re finding that more people in a room now can contribute to being intentional with breakout rooms so that everybody can have a voice. It’s been a real benefit. 


All the decisions we’re making at Intuit level, we’re talking about going forward. It’s not going backward. It’s going forward to a world where it’s really invested in making connections. We’re really invested in innovation and inclusivity. We have so many more opportunities to hire in different locations that will increase that diversity in all dimensions. And so, you know, just such a big benefit, looking forward as opposed to going backward.


LEKISHA: I absolutely agree with Catie on the looking forward part, right. So, when we talk about getting back to normal, it’s more like just getting to normal, right? So, whatever normal is looking like today, tomorrow, next year, and I think the forward part is the key. I think that you know, 


I’ve said this before, but you know, the pandemic really magnified a lot of things for a lot of companies and individuals, where if there were looming issues before, in the workplace and the processes and things of that nature, those definitely came to light. So, I think that it gave an opportunity for companies to step up or not. But the companies that stepped up really benefited because it just provided a safe place for their employees to be honest about where they were if they were struggling with even working remotely, because a lot of people started working remotely for the first time in their lives, right. 


So, I think leading with empathy, which is always good, and just really asking important questions as we all navigate this and doing what’s best for all parties involved because of the way the workforce is headed. It’s I hire you, and you should be just grateful to have this job, right. 


It’s like people are looking for partnerships. They’re looking for a win-win and a place where it’s like, “Hey, I provide these services and this value in exchange for what you give me. We’re more so walking this journey together.” So, I think that’s a common theme that’s going to continue. I really think it’s a step in the right direction, to be honest.


MELINDA: Maybe we could talk about some specifics. What are the unique opportunities? Lekisha, maybe we’ll start back with you. What are some of those unique opportunities that the remote and hybrid workplace provides around diversity and inclusion? How is that different? What are some of the things that companies are seeing? What are they doing that is different, that is unique, that is addressing specific needs?


LEKISHA: It’s the sense of community. I saw a rise in even online communities during the pandemic, and it just really showed how much of a need people had to belong in a space where they felt safe and have the ability to be brave and really show up as their authentic selves. 


Companies realizing the importance of actually having that kind of community feel in the workplace is very important going forward. We’ve always had employee resource groups and affinity groups, but I think really reevaluating what’s the value and the purpose of those groups and how they need to function going forward. I know a lot of companies are reevaluating that. 


In some ways, being remote has leveled the playing field for some people. Just the technology, right? They’ve launched new businesses. They’ve tried new things. I know a lot of us had hobbies. I have to plant babies now. They’re thriving, right. So, this small wins. People created things they might have even wanted to do for a while, just passion projects or real projects. 


I think it just really opened up the opportunities for a lot of people, whether they decided to go out on their own or to really thrive in their current role within their companies. And the companies that get it and are having those conversations are really seeing the benefit, I think, of just having happy employees show up fully.


CATIE: I’d love those examples. I just would add things like mentorship became easier. Just easy just to get on a call and, you know, not have to go somewhere to meet you for coffee, but we were able to match people across locations that would never have been able to be in the mentor relationship before. 


And so, you know, especially for folks who might not feel they fit into a certain mold of leadership or culture, having mentorships across different groups and just having more people available for them has been a really powerful thing. 


We talk about those in our talent reviews. People are just really excited now to do that, as opposed to maybe in the past with people. I’m not really sure exactly why, but we have left the volunteers now across different locations.


MELINDA: Can I ask you some more specifics? Because I know that a lot of companies that I work with they’re struggling with mentorships in the remote workplace. How does that look different? How are you engaging people to do that effectively?


CATIE: Yeah, we’re focusing on a lot of talent reviews. Systemically in the past, the talent reviews could be kind of like just trying to argue for your person’s talent rating. And then that was the total of the discussion. 


Now, what we’re trying to really do is make sure that growth conversations are the majority of the discussion when you come to a talent review. We’re looking at key people and having the leader, the manager of the person, come in and say, “How would I utilize the rest of this leadership team to help grow this person?” 


What are the in-job kinds of learnings? What are the support kinds of things that we can do like mentorship, groups, or coaching that the person could have? And then, what’s sort of outside learning that somebody could do with training that we provide or externally. 


So, intentionally having that conversation and actually writing out. Remember, these are the kinds of things that growth involves because managers are maybe not always thinking about that and then talking about it as a leadership team thing. Growing people on our team, as a team of managers all working together. And so, people are just much more aware and visible to each other’s needs on the team. They’re volunteering at a much higher rate. People are asking for help. 


And then, we’re providing resources too. Okay, well, now that you signed up, what does it mean to mentor? It doesn’t mean telling your mentee everything they should do. It’s asking questions, really finding out what’s important to them, really finding out what they need to know about, and guiding from there. And so, really being customer first with that employee.


MELINDA: And Lekisha, actually, while we’re on that subject, I know you also work with folks on their growth and moving up in organizations. Do you want to talk a little bit about that since we’re kind of on that subject? What are you seeing differently? What is happening differently? How are you addressing it? How are you coaching people to address it?


LEKISHA: I think definitely times of crises naturally do it, but people are really seeking to find value and purpose in the work that they do. The younger generations right now we’re kind of born that way. But I feel like everyone’s kind of coming along the curve, right, where in times of crises, you kind of realize what’s important to you. 


The reality is we spend most of our waking hours with our careers. So, if you’re going to do that, it only makes sense that it aligns at least with your skills, your talents, but also your passion, right? Even when Catie mentioned mindfulness. It’s like, “Wow, how do I actually mesh this into my career?” More people are doing that now. 


That’s one of the reasons for the great resignation because I think I said this when we had our meeting before, but people aren’t just resigning and sitting at home collecting dust, right? They’re actually leaving for better opportunities and opportunities that align better with their values and where they want to make an impact in the world. 


So, even with the large global companies, I work with, I’m very clear that the type of coach I am, I’m about making sure that as a company you know what you stand for, especially in these times and how you want to be seen from a public view, but also, that your employees know that and also that they’re aligned in their values. And they feel like they’re part of the company because that also encourages belonging. 


There’s a clear vision for the company that you’re working for, right? And you’re on board with that vision. It makes such a big difference. The work becomes more energizing even on the long days or the extra hours. It does not really zap your energy or stress you out if you’re really in a place where you just don’t feel aligned. So, that’s the biggest shift I’m really seeing with a lot of my coaching and just advisory with companies and individuals is that people want alignment with their values these days.


MELINDA: One of the things that you have told me is that you can find that alignment. You don’t necessarily have to quit your job. You might find that alignment where you are now. Do you want to talk a little bit about that and how you might do that? 


LEKISHA: Yeah. And I’m going to pass it on to Catie because Catie kind of did that. But there are some cases that you can do that are speaking up. I’ve been guilty of this in the past where I didn’t think that the thing that I wanted to do was available at my company, but you never know until you actually asked a question. 


So, actually, having those important conversations and saying, “Hey, I’m really interested in doing this. Is there an opportunity for me to work to use those skills to develop those skills or to actually create a role? I know a lot of people that created DEI roles (diversity, equity, inclusion roles) during the pandemic, and they were pure tech, but they have a passion for the work. So, now they’re mixing their love for tech and their love for diversity, equity, inclusion. 


It really is about speaking up, especially if it’s a company that you really enjoy working for, right? Because there’s really no need to leave if you can have everything that you want there. But Catie, I’d love to hear more about how you made your pivot as well, within your company.


CATIE: It’s a two-sided coin. I think it’s so important for the employee to get their own clarity on their values and the direction they want to go. And when I’m doing coaching, there are three questions I really like asking. And these are kinds of questions that are not answerable in any one sitting. They are sort of study yourself questions. 


The first one is, what’s the difference you want to make in the world? Be really clear. What’s that impact and meaning that you’re going to bring to your life? That might be at work? It might be other things, but it’s just like, really, what’s your purpose? 


The second one is, what puts you in a state of flow? And so, what are all the environmental factors about your team and your work and your work-life balance and everything that makes you just think, “Don’t tell anybody that I totally would do this without anybody paying me.” So, what puts you in that data flow and really knowing that so that you can articulate that to your manager or your potential employer? 


And then the third one is, what assumptions are you making that may not be true that are keeping you from really pursuing that difference you want to make in the world, or are not putting you in that state of flow. And for me, it was similar. Like, I didn’t think that a job existed that would have mindfulness in business, but I made it. And so, that is pretty cool that that could happen with the support of managers. 


But the other side of the coin is that the managers in our organizations need to be able to have those conversations and not just be all about the work and the speed of delivery. And you know, hopefully, they can be clear on prioritization, but also have these career conversations and be able to create a space and time to ask, “What do you want to do? What’s the next thing? What’s the furthest out thing? What’s your dream job? And how can we work together?” 


One of the questions was, how was upskilling part of that? That might be a stretch assignment. There were different times when I wasn’t yet an HRBP, but I was running talent reviews and tandem with HRBP. So, how could I kind of get exposure to see if I liked it, and you know, just to learn about it. So there are stretch assignments, there are temporary assignments, rotations we’re working on all the time, and talking to the managers and the team about that. 


And then, there’s also internal and external education. I got to go get my coaching certification. So, that was just another thing talking with my manager and team. We had support for that growth because it’s in line with what the business needs and what I want to do. And so, how do we have that alignment? 


Peter asked a great question about kind of how do we get people to have that alignment, feel good about where they’re going, and also have it be accretive to the business. I would say there’s nothing like goals. I mean, goals are just the most important thing, I think. What we do at Intuit is we set out our mission and our values and make that very clear. 


And then we have five big bets about the biggest things that we’re going to invest in. And then, everyone in the company then has public goals of what they’re contributing to in the business, and then also their development goals. So, you could go in to look at our CEO or any of the CEO staff, and you can see, “Oh, they’re working on, you know, player communication, or better prioritization, or anything like that. So everybody can support each other in that. We call that our alignment system. The whole purpose is to make sure everyone is working together toward the same goal.


MELINDA: There’s another piece of that, which is recognizing what’s going on in people’s lives. I think there are a few things that happen in the remote workplace. One is that the boundaries are more fluid between home life and work life, right. And also, that a lot of us are going through a lot given that we are in a pandemic, given that there is racial and gender injustice happening, and so many other things that are just happening in life. I think that there is another layer of that, too, of how do we have those hard conversations and still get the work done?


LEKISHA: It’s getting back to psychological safety, right. And as a leader in your company, and leader doesn’t have to be a title. It’s someone who leads in your company. Do your employees feel safe raising their hands and saying, I need help? Or saying, I’m having this personal issue that’s going on right now that either is or may affect my work performance, and I need to give you a heads up. Do they feel safe coming to you and saying that? 


And on the flip side, are you having those proactive conversations? Just checking in, right? Just, “Hey, how are you doing? How are you really doing?” We ask that question often, but we don’t wait for the response, or we don’t really even know. But actually having the how are you doing conversations and letting people know that they’re not going to be penalized from a performance perspective because life is just happening to them, right? 


Most people want to do the right thing. They want to show up. They want to do a good job. Having those conversations and just making people know that it’s okay, you know, we’re all kind of navigating this thing. And even if it wasn’t a pandemic, and you’re going through something, you still want to be able to raise your hand and ask for help. 


So, I think that was a big thing. I honestly had a long time in corporate as a Black woman. I didn’t feel safe raising my hand and asking for help. And that’s for various reasons, right? I felt like I always had to be twice as good. I didn’t have the grace to make mistakes. But that was a lesson I had to learn on my own, but also through good leaders actually telling me that it’s okay. Like, you don’t have to do that. It was so liberating for me, but everyone doesn’t have just that privilege, really, right. And in a lot of cases, I think being proactive about thinking about how people are really doing on your team and around you is a good way to start.


CATIE: It really helps a leader show their vulnerability and their real humaneness. And so, we’ll do things after we have a break or a long weekend, we’ll have the leader say, “What did you do for relaxing or for that time off?” “Talk about what’s going on in your real-life situations.” 


When we have a new leader, sort of assimilation to the group, we’ll have them share their stories. One of the VPs I support just shared her story that she used to be married to a man, and now she lives with a woman that she’s in love with. She just shared that just as part of her journey, and we had so many people say, “Thank you so much. That just made me feel so comfortable with you and genuine that I could share my stories.”


And so, when we kind of have a sense of each other’s real life, then it’s easier to say, “Oh, and my mom was sick.” or “My kids need early pick up.” or “I’m worried about having to stay at home again. I don’t know how to manage this.” So, just having everybody see each other on that human level and having that start from the top, I think, makes a big difference in the environment.


MELINDA: What are some other things that you wish to keep in mind when it comes to remote and hybrid work and inclusion? And, Catie, I know that you’re working to intentionally design that experience. Can you talk about some of the things that you’re doing there?


CATIE: One of the things that Lekisha mentioned too is just so much more frequent communication and reach up, so we know how everyone’s doing. And so, that’s managers reaching out on an individualized basis to really have that connection and that real authentic conversation to see our priorities are clear and manageable so you can make it through your week. Am I noticing that you’re working past certain times during the day so that we can have those micro conversations and connections to help everyone set boundaries? 


But then also, at the company level, are we doing things like looking for time off for the whole company. For example, we did something called recharge days in the wintertime and then also in the summer. We noticed that everyone was taking their vacation time during this time off because they said, “We don’t have anywhere to go.” So, they’re just working all the time. 


We kept encouraging them. And then the feedback was, well, the work just piles up, so it’s not even worthwhile. And so, we kept hearing that feedback. And we said, “Well, we’re going to introduce recharge days. Meaning, the entire company is going to be off, so we don’t have that build-up.” It was so appreciated. People have lots of realizations of, “Oh, I remember what it’s like to not be looking at the screen for nine hours a day. And, you know, to be able to get up and move my body and how important that is.” And so, we try to have those resets pretty regularly. 


We’ve also experimented with things like no meetings after certain times, or no meeting on Fridays and things like that, where people could have chunks of time to work because we were getting lots of feedback that now that everybody wants to try to connect all the time with a Zoom meeting, there’s not enough uninterrupted time. And so, how can we have zones where we all agree that the engineering team can actually sit down and code and not be just constantly pinged by the product manager and actually get some things done. So, we’ve experimented with that in different groups. 


Our takeaway is that we should have conversations regularly about what’s working for the team, what’s not, and the team should decide how they should best work together. And so, when we go to hybrid, and some people are in person, some people aren’t, we’re letting the teams decide on what days they want to be together. For example, if they want to talk to customers in person, then they should do that together. If they’re doing a status update, they should do that on Zoom, or better yet, on a Google Doc, because it’s just informative. So, we’re trying to put principles in place and let the teams decide how they best collaborate.


LEKISHA: I really love that Catie. You made a couple of points earlier, even around, like the introvert thing, right? I think taking the time to really get to know people, even their personality types and tendencies, can be helpful, even if that’s bringing in a coach to do that or partnering with your HR and people teams, but to see and develop people from a lens of their strengths and what they’re really good at and what their inclinations are can be really helpful. 


I know there were concerns from a lot of people that may be introverted or just not as outspoken that they were going to get left behind during the pandemic, especially now because they are remote. So, they prefer not to be around people. But they also know, well, I don’t want to stay in this role forever. How do I move up? How do I make sure I’m growing? Right? 


So, I think it is important to be very intentional about your employee’s career growth. What’s the plan? Just like you said, Catie, having those conversations, but then being even putting a plan in place. I love that you do the visibility around the goals. I think that’s great. I worked at a company that did that, and it was such a game-changer because it was literally from the top down. Everyone can see all your goals, and we were also able to put personal goals. 


So, for example, one year of mine was, “Okay, I want to get more fit and lose a certain amount of weight.” Other people would see that, and they’re like, “Oh, are you on Fitbit? Let’s form a walking group.” Or, “I tried this new workout that you may like. I know you like to dance and things of that nature.” It humanizes people, just like you said. And it also naturally encourages a sense of community because people find something in common that they never knew they had in common before. And it’s really good to see when things really start to mesh and that rapport starts to be built.


CATIE: Yeah. When people are invested in each other, it’s so powerful. One of the things we’ve been doing as we pick up new teams for new projects for the coming year, one of my favorite activities is called Live, Love, learn. 


Everybody just takes about five minutes to share three brief pictures. One is something they loved, something they learned this year, and something about where they live. People could disclose whatever amount of information they want to so you don’t have to go through your whole life journey line. And it’s quick, but you get that connection. And people say, “Oh, me too.” and “I also.” or “I had never been.” And so, you know, tell me more. And so, there’s just this great investment. 


And then the second thing we do, and that is they share, “This is my development goal, so please give me feedback on this area.” and then people become very invested in each other’s growth on the team. And you’ve already been established in vulnerability because you said, “This is my development goal.” I’m obviously not great at this as I want to be. 


And so, just having that vulnerability and that connection lays the groundwork for people than being able to say, “Hey, I disagree with that idea. Maybe there’s a different idea for our innovation and how we’re delivering for customers.” It just creates that environment where maybe that introvert will say, “Hey, I have something more to add.” or “I have something I want to start the meeting off with.” because they’ve already had that connection with the team.


MELINDA: Another piece of remote working that I’m noticing is that sometimes people are feeling isolated or feeling disconnected. A lot of the things that you’re talking about are ways to address that build community that you said and really share different pieces of your story and enroll people in helping your growth and development. Are there any other things that people might think about in terms of this—how-to bridge that isolation and build empathy?


CATIE: One thing that I’ve noticed is that that feeling of connection sometimes was very concentrated in certain locations. So, our big sites. People would feel connected, but then, you know, our team in Texas or our team in Mississauga up in Toronto, they didn’t feel connected. And so, now we have a more even distribution of connectivity of those teams. And so, they feel more involved. And so, that’s been exciting to see that it’s not one-way isolation. It’s been actually beneficial to some of our remote teams to just really feel much more connected. But I think it requires intentional, regular connections. 


And so, while we’ll do things like that Live, Love Learn as maybe a team kickoff, in the beginning, we continue making sure we do things like the first five minutes of a meeting are, “Everybody, share what you did this weekend that you want to share.” or “How’s everybody feeling today?” or “Share something that you’re proud about outside of work.” So, it was one of my teams, but they’re always finding out about my horseback riding because that’s what I’m proud of. 


And so, it’s fun. And you can see I light up when I talk about that. They are excited to hear that. So, I feel like they’re my friend because we do that on a regular basis. So, just taking a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting helps create that connection. The earlier each person contributes, the more likely they’re going to contribute through the rest of the meeting. The longer somebody waits to contribute, the less likely they will ever say anything in that meeting. So, just having something friendly upfront actually will change the dynamic of that meeting.


LEKISHA: Something we haven’t talked about, but I think has definitely been highlighted throughout this time also is the importance of mental health. Isolation can be your worst enemy when it comes to just managing your mental and emotional health. So, I think owning our overall wellness and knowing where’s the line where my isolation is not really about my job, but it’s something else, and I need to actually see a professional for this. Right? 


So, knowing where that line is. And I know that so many resources and even free resources have increased during the pandemic, which has been one of them, I think, the best things about everything that’s going on. But knowing when, “Hey, I need to talk to someone before I can talk to someone, right? Like, before I can feel comfortable actually getting acclimated in the workplace. But just knowing that it’s okay. I’m so glad to see the stigma around mental health not being as bad as it was before. 


I am so pro-therapy. I think everyone should have a therapist. Honestly, I have one. For the community and the culture I’m from, that was a stigma for a very long time, but you realize, and I think becoming a coach kind of opened me up to that because I’m like, “Well, even coaches need coaches. So maybe a coach needs a therapist, too. Right? So, I think just realizing that, seeing that it’s okay to open yourself up to getting help in ways that you may not have gotten help before. And that’s okay because that’s where it starts because it is a two-fold thing—even feeling like you belong. You have to be willing to kind of make that first step as well.


MELINDA: Yeah. We had a whole conversation last year about burnout, which we’ll link to the show notes of this episode on our website. We don’t want to go too deep into that, but it would be great to share some thoughts in addition to that, Lekisha, and to share some thoughts about how we might reduce stress and burnout during this time since that is on the rise and so many people are experiencing that.


LEKISHA: This is always my go-to but, do more things that bring you joy. It sounds so cliche, right? It sounds like something I pull out of Oprah Magazine, but it’s true. So even earlier, when I talked about doing energizing work. That’s the whole point of doing work that aligns with your values because it’s something that actually brings you joy. 


It’s actually physically proven that the chemicals that it spikes in your body energize you. It makes you happy. It makes you smile. Like, when Catie talked about horseback riding, right? It made her smile. And it made me smile when she said, “Oh, horseback riding.” That sounds like fun. But the first thing people say is like, well, I don’t have time. But then that’s also why you’re burnt out. Right? So, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. 


It could be taking a stretch break, getting five minutes of fresh air during the day, watching silly videos on YouTube or TikTok, or whatever your thing is. It’s a very non-judgmental exercise. Connecting with someone you haven’t talked to in a while, just anything. Anything that sparks joy in your life, I think, is a good way in boundaries. 


I’ll say my “no” is very strong these days. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. There’s a saying that when we say no to the things that no longer serve us, we’re able to say yes to the things that do. I think setting boundaries and really knowing it’s okay to choose yourself, like to really choose you and invest in you, and to do things that bring you joy. I’ve found that that has really balanced out a lot of the times that I could have been really, really sad during these past couple of years.


CATIE: Well done, Lekisha. That’s beautiful. I would add from a leader perspective two things we’re expecting all of our leaders to do is just really, really be clear about prioritization. It just cannot be, “Here’s another thing. And here’s another thing.” and hope that people can figure it out. My joke on the “no” is like, I feel like a book that just says how to say no. It would be a bestseller right now because a lot of people are A+ performers. They’re like, “Yes, I will do everything to the top degree.” It really needs to be the leader and manager’s role to guide what’s most important, and where are the places where it has to be, that’s where it just needs to get done so that people can have a little less stress. 


And then also just really role modeling and saying, “I’m going to go pick up my kids at three o’clock. I mean, I’m not going to be on this call, or I’m going to be, you know, just multitasking.” But making it really clear that everybody has a real-life and that we’re doing these things. We’re picking up our groceries or whatever we need to be doing so that everybody can feel like they have a right to have a balanced life too. 


My number one answer here is, of course, mindfulness. One time, I saw a shirt that said, “Whatever your problem, yoga is the answer.” I would just flop out and just make it broader mindfulness. I think it’s so important. And it’s so easy to do a little mindfulness practice even at the beginning of a meeting and just say, “Let’s just all take five minutes to settle in. Be aware of our breath. Be aware of our body.” I mean, I even just notice how much my own pace changes, you know, just checking in. You can get guided meditations on a variety of apps. I’m sure there are practitioners in your organizations that will be so willing to share a few moments. 


I get invited to, you know, kickoffs of meetings here and there, and it’s so fun. But having your own practice to just check-in. There’s this saying that, “I don’t have enough time to practice mindfulness. How often do I really need to do it?” And amongst them said, “However often you’re doing it, double it because if you don’t have time, that’s your own perception. You need to have a little more mindfulness.” So, you know, just having some regular practice.


Even if we haven’t gone through training, just bringing some attention to your breath, but also maybe, checking out trainings that are available. There are all kinds of resources available at most major hospitals for mindfulness-based stress reduction. And that’s a big week commitment. But there are all kinds of resources available. So if anybody needs any more resources, feel free to reach out. It’s a life-changing thing for me. I went from high-speed constant anxiety to really always trying to be present.


MELINDA: Yeah, mindfulness has been a huge practice for me as well, both meditation and yoga. I will say that even in between meetings, too, because we go from meeting to meeting, and if we just take a moment. Sometimes I only have one minute of meditation to really just re-center and re-focus and get rid of the energy from the last meeting as I go into the next meeting. And really, really resetting for that moment. Even just one minute can make a big difference. And yeah, I will say I use Insight Timer. It’s a great app, and I’ve been using it since 2012. So, long time. There’s a lot there.


CATIE: One quick thing that seemed really sort of simply, you know, like, it wouldn’t do anything but a huge benefit with our whole organization. And the consumer group said, “We’re going to start all of our meetings five minutes late.” So, everything starts at 01:05 instead of one o’clock. And so, it just gives everybody a little transfer. Water, yoga, mindfulness. Just some vanity in there for five minutes before we start. And it’s made a huge difference versus just having everything back to back. So, I highly recommend that.


MELINDA: Yeah. One of my clients does that as well. It took a little bit to get used to, but it’s definitely nice. They do five minutes after the hour and five minutes before the hour. So, there are 10 minutes in there. 


I want to also just acknowledge. Emily, in the chat, mentioned particularly if the leaders share first. I think it is really important if you’re a manager, if you’re leading a team, if you’re even leading a meeting to model this. I mean, it makes a big difference in whether or not somebody else will as well. Modeling, transparency, communication, mindfulness—you’re sharing your own story, sharing your experience with therapy. All of those things can make a big difference in how your team shows up and whether or not they feel psychologically safe to share. 


There were a couple of questions here. I was kind of scrolling through the chat. Kevin asked, “How is upscaling, rescaling part of your growth strategy? This is addressed to Catie. Are you seeing more interest in continued ED, either traditional or MOOC?


CATIE: It’s a great opportunity right now because people have a little bit more time on their hands, and maybe they’re not traveling or going to get-togethers on the weekends as much. And so, we’ve seen a lot of people sort of say I want to get my MBA or my other higher degree. And so, people have been adding that, and they’re utilizing our benefits for that. 


And then we also have a variety of training that are attached, which is really cool. Our goals system is attached to our learning system. And so, if you put in there, “I’m interested in leadership training or manager training.” Then you’ll get recommended. The right training that would support whatever you want to work on. So, that’s been a really great technology solution to helping people find what they need. But that can also just be manual and have that conversation of what are the training opportunities internally or externally that certainly, people are super interested in that now.


MELINDA: Awesome. We have a Q&A from Emily. Not all leaders who lead hybrid teams are totally bought into this formation. How do you coach leaders to lean and to trust?


CATIE: One of the things that are happening right now is we get a lot of questions about how exactly is this going to work and how the logistics like what days and hours and they were saying blah-blah-blah but like, what we’re going to do is experiment our way into this just like we experiment which is the best solutions with our customers, we’re going to experiment on how we do this for our teams with those principles and making sure people feel connected, they’re able to operate with speed, it’s fostering innovation and contribution, it’s creating an inclusive and diverse environment. 


And so, as long as we are testing against those principles, we’re allowing teams to figure out what works for them. And our CEO often talks about, like, you know, on March 13, 2020, something happens, and we all started working at home, and we had to figure it out, and we supported each other. So, we’re going to do that going forward as well. So, it’s a little bit of embracing the ambiguity. You don’t need to have everything perfect. What we do on the first day back of hybrid is not what we’re probably going to be ending up doing later. But support your team so that you’re always solving for those principles as we go forward.


LEKISHA: Yeah, absolutely. Also, because I coached a few people that experienced the tug of war that happened in 2021, where people started going back into the office, and everyone was like, “Absolutely not.” Right? A lot of people were just like, “I don’t want to go back.” “My manager is making me come back.” “How do I build a case?” But literally, I had them to have those discussions and to build a case. 


So many people were more productive. I know people that got promoted during the pandemic. So, it’s like getting to the point of trust, right? So, some of us micromanage at the core of micromanagement is a need for trust and control. So, I am really getting to the root of why do you need this person in the office? Or even if it’s part-time, if they’re happy and they’re performing very well in the current situation. 


I think it’s challenging. Its employees also challenging their leadership in building that case if you do want to remain remote, or actually, if you want to come into the office, whatever that is for you. But I think at the core of it all is trust and a need for control. And really having those honest conversations may be uncomfortable, but it could really pay off in the long run.


MELINDA: We are just about out of time, but I wanted to ask one more question. I see Madeline. Sorry, you had a couple of questions in the chat we didn’t get to, so I’m going to try to merge it with my last question. 


Madeleine asks, “What small acts have you found helpful that have notable outcomes?” If you could say, what action would you like people to take following this conversation? What is one small act that they can take to really have a notable outcome?


CATIE: I would really encourage that first five minutes of a meeting to have some kind of human connection. To ask a question so that everybody can contribute. That’s a real human question, and I think you’ll see a big difference in the ongoing contribution of the team and that once you get the business topics.


LEKISHA: I’d say give yourself permission to make the changes you need now if your needs have changed. Right? So, I’m not the same person I was. Even last year, right? I think we may feel that discomfort of needing to make some sort of change, whether that’s a company change, role change, just some change in work, whatever that is for you. But I think everyone is just realizing that I’m not the same. I need different things now. Acknowledging that but also seeking help where needed. That would be my biggest advice. You can apply that wherever you need to, but I think that that goes a long way across different areas of your lives.


MELINDA: I love that. I love that. And I think what you both touched on early on going forward, not backward. I think those are Catie’s words. But I think that’s really, really important that we’re moving forward, not backward. We’re taking everyone with us. We’re checking in with people. As we move forward, we’re making sure that we’re moving forward in a way that is equitable and inclusive for everyone. So, thank you both, Lekisha and Catie, so much for this conversation. 


CATIE: It’s so fun to be here. 


LEKISHA: Yes, it was a pleasure. I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much, Melinda.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you all for your great questions. Thanks again to First Tech Federal Credit Union for your sponsorship. And everyone, please do take action. Please make a difference in somebody’s life. And we will see you next week. Bye, everybody. 




MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc. 


Allyship is a journey. It’s a journey of self-exploration, learning, unlearning, healing, and taking consistent action. And the more we take action, the more we grow as leaders and transform our communities. So, what action will you take today? Please share your actions and learning with us by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or on social media because we’d love to hear from you. 


And thank you for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast and the YouTube channel and share this. Let’s keep building allies around the world. 


Leading With Empathy & Allyship is an original show by Change Catalyst where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. Appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally.

About the Host

Host: Melinda Briana Epler

Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.

As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.

Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.

Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.

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Watch Melinda’s TED Talk

Speaking Engagements

Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.


This show has given me clear opportunities to learn in the midst of 2020’s numerous social and personal challenges, including engaging remote content. I’ve learned new terms, heard new voices, diversified my interests and internalized personal narratives that have inspired me to get more active.

The show shaped my scope of reasoning on the dynamics in the corporate world, brand building, harmony across board with team mates. Your series has helped me feel less alone and less daunted by the challenges I face as a leader at a company that is used to moving fast with decisions and making swift progress across the board. I so earnestly want to grow and deepen my perspective when it comes to diversity and allyship; it’s not always clear how to do it. This series has felt like a path I can follow and revisit and draw strength and insight from. Thank you.

I watched many of your live shows in 2020, and I learned something from every discussion. They were inspiring on many levels. Early on during the pandemic (especially), the show also provided me with a sense of community that I was sorely needing. Thank you.

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If you’re looking for a way for remote teams to continue their learning and professional development, we’re now offering virtual allyship, inclusion and leadership trainings. We’ve also continued our consulting practice virtually. AND we now offer hourly coaching. Let us know if you’re interested in learning more!
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