Creating Inclusive Work Cultures with Sara Wachter-Boettcher.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher is a coach, strategist, facilitator, author, and speaker dedicated to changing design and tech for good. Sara is the founder of Active Voice, a leadership development company on a mission to make work culture better for everyone.
- Sara Wachter-Boettcher
- 42 mins
Tom: Hello, and welcome to episode four of the Make Things Better Podcast. Today, I have Sara Wachter-Boettcher on the podcast. So thank you for coming on. Do you want to start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. So my name is Sara and I run a company called active voice where I do leadership workshops, trainings, coaching, things like that for people who work in tech and design. And I ended up there out of actually running a consultancy, doing a lot of UX work over the course of about a decade and writing and speaking about my work. So I was really focused on how do we design for inclusion? How do we think about our content and our messaging from a lens of equity and inclusion and was doing a lot of writing and speaking about that. And, so over time, what I got really interested in was like the people side of things, not just the projects, not just the products, but how do we actually empower people to be able to speak up for equity in the work that they’re doing? How do we empower them and help people find the confidence and have the skills to be able to push back against a problematic product decision? And also, you know, how do I help people who maybe feel invisible or pushed around by the system of big tech and help them feel like they have some agency to make choices in their lives and to think about what they’re going to be okay with and not okay with. And so that all led me into building up active voice. So where did you get like the inspiration to start building active voice? Well, I think it kind of started happening naturally in that, you know, I was working on projects with some big companies and I’d often come in I’d talk to teams, I’m thinking about one particular kind of like large social network that I was, I was working with. And we were working on this project, looking at the ways in which their product had not been designed to include the broader range of users that they now needed to include. They’d made some choices early on that were really limiting who the platform made sense for and sort of some of the fundamental ways they had thought about their product that didn’t work for people. And as we were working through some research on that, as we were talking about how we might change things, you know, the kinds of conversations I kept getting into. Yeah, they were about the product and yeah, we were talking about UX decisions and content choices, but really, it was a lot of people asking me, like, how did you get to a place where you can talk about this. And I keep trying to push this with my manager, but they’re like, yeah, that sounds good, but I can’t get any real momentum behind it. Or, you know, I really want to make this a larger part of my work. But when I try to make that happen, I get pushback from product managers or whatever, right. This whole series of things that would come up that were really about either people’s internal lives, like they didn’t feel like this was something they were allowed to talk about, or they felt scared to speak up or about issues around more communication and power dynamics in their organizations. And it was then that I really realized that that’s where a lot of my interest actually was that while I care a lot about working on tech products, like I loved, I loved it. And I miss parts of it but what I really felt called to do next was to work more with the people who I understood a lot of the problems they were facing. I was hearing a lot of patterns over and over again. And I was like, well, how do I, how do I reorient what I do around serving those people?
Tom: Sure. So do you help empower individuals or is it more the cultures within organizations that you’re trying to shift and change?
Sara: A little of both. So one of the things that I do I started doing was I do one-on-one coaching with kind of a handful of people. I don’t, I don’t do too much of that at once. Where, you know, I’ll often be working with somebody who’s, let’s say a manager of a design team or something like that, where they’ve reached some level of success in their organization. And they are very good at what they do. Like they got there because they were talented and they worked hard and then they hit up to begin some barriers where either they felt like they were successful within the system and started having doubts about the system and whether they wanted to be successful within it. Or where they, you know, they started finding that the skills that they had brought in that had made them good at their jobs were no longer serving them in management roles and that their only definition of leadership that they were used to the definition of leadership that they had seen was very limited to, you know, historically like white, CIS heterosexual man. And at the front of the room with a loud voice. And they, so they had been really taught, like, this is what it looks like to be a leader. And if they didn’t fit that mold, which, you know, most of the people I work with, like by virtue of identity already don’t fit that mold. And then just aren’t aren’t that person and don’t necessarily want to be that person. They kind of get this place where they’re feeling stuck with like, well, maybe I’m not fit to be a leader and I think that, that mentality, I think there’s a lot of it that and it’s not, you know, it’s not the individual’s fault because it’s like, that is something that they’ve been trained to believe. Like if you’re not like that then ‘you’re not a leader’. I don’t think that that’s true. And I think that what people can really learn is to stop sort of internalizing all of that societal stuff and to start saying like, wait a second, what does it look like when I lead from a place that’s true for me? And so that’s the work I tend to do with individuals and to really help individuals, you know, find a place where they feel in greater integrity with themselves and have more understanding and sort of compassion for themselves so that they can lead from a place that they feel prouder of and hold themselves accountable to living up to their values. Instead of saying like, well, you know, I don’t really have power in this organization. But I also do a lot of work with teams and when possible with larger groups in companies. So, you know, a retreat with all of the design leaders of an org or something. So it’s like all your managers and directors and et cetera. And for that kind of work where we are talking to people who do have larger levels of systemic power, where I’m talking to sort of like larger organizations then I think it’s like really an opportunity to unpack some of what’s happening in their culture and to talk about you know, how is it that they want to enact their values as an organization? I think for example, I think over the pandemic and the black lives matter movement over the past year, year and a half, there’s been a lot of organization who’ve made a lot of statements about, right? Like how much they want to support flexibility, how much they want to support, you know, moms in their workplaces who have additional caregiving requirements how much they stand with black people, how much they support equity and inclusion in their orgs. There’s a lot of talk. And at the same time, you know, there’s a lot of disconnects going on, like what does it actually look like in the day to day? And what happens when those, those desires, which I will say many people in positions of power actually want those things, but like what happens when those things come up into conflict with, I don’t know, your product roadmap and that’s where a lot of organizations will say, ‘We believe this, we believe this, oh, but not if it gets in the way of anything else’. And to that, you know, I think that there’s a lot of hard conversations to be had that says like, well, if that’s how you approach things, what you’re telling me is that’s not actually a priority, right? Because if it’s a priority, that means it’s important, no matter what. That means it’s important, even when it’s hard, that means it’s important, even when faced with other important things. And so what I really work on with folks is to make sense of how are you going to live more of these things that you say you want to live and actually integrate them in the way you do business? And I think that’s really hard because I think that big organizations particularly, you know, are so acculturated to kind of that corporate model of like, we need to be working toward increasing shareholder value. And that, that is the only priority like that ultimately becomes the only thing that you can optimize for. And I can’t change that for a corporation. Like I accept, right. Like I just, I don’t have that power, but what I do find in my work is that oftentimes I can help people in leadership roles see just how much they have been not acknowledging that that’s what they’re doing. Right? Like that’s sort of like being able to see like, oh wait, when we operate in this way as if this is the only thing that matters. This is the trade-off that we’re making. And to get more honest about those trade offs, because I think until individually or collectively, we can be more honest about the trade-offs we’re making and have more self-awareness about it. Like, until that point you can’t really make change. So I do, I do a lot of work sort of at that larger level, that’s helping people to see things a little differently and question some stuff maybe that went unquestioned for a long time.
Tom: So a lot of companies in America. In fact, just all over the world, really. They will prioritize profits maybe rather than people. And so is your work kind of trying to make people just think a little bit more about the people involved in the processes and how do you find within workplaces, the organizations, how do they balance between being productive and caring really for their employees?
Sara: I don’t, I mean, I don’t think that American corporate culture does that very well. And because so much of American tech culture has bled over into like a global tech culture. I think you get a lot of American influence now on corporate cultures, outside of the US and that’s an export that I don’t feel particularly proud of. But I say that, I mean, also recognizing that things are not the same as they are in the US and other parts of the world. There are different expectations about privacy. There’s different expectations about vacation time, et cetera, et cetera. But I do think that America exports a lot of work culture. And what I really noticed is that, you know, I don’t think that this is fundamentally as much as corporations will talk about these things. I mean, it’s not really what they’re designed for. And I think again, like that’s something that within the context of my day-to-day work, I am not dismantling that corporate culture, but I do really believe that for a lot of people. Because that is the default. We all become accustomed to the defaults. Right? And so when you haven’t paused and said, wait a second, you know, when I say, so if I’m, let’s say a director in my organization and I say ‘I hear you, you all are burned out. This is so hard. I, you know, I really appreciate all the sacrifices you’ve made to keep us on track over this past year. And I know that you all need a break, but we can’t adjust this roadmap. But it’s just so important that this ship’, right. If I’m a director and I say something like that, and I don’t think about the assumptions that are underlying that, then that’s where I think the biggest problem is. I think so I think that if you can get people in those positions to be able to say like, oh right, in order for that to be true — I have to believe that shipping this is more important than people’s mental or physical health. I have to believe that if the company doesn’t perform up to the, you know, like shareholder expectations for this quarter, that that is the most important thing. Cause that’s fundamentally the way that I’m making my choices and of course, it’s not like purely that person’s fault. Like the reason that they’re making those choices in that way is that that’s what they’re incentivized to care about. That’s what they’re going to be judged on. But to look at that and to say, okay, oh, I see, I am actually performing a role within this broader context. And perhaps I don’t have to perform that role in the same way that I have been. Maybe I don’t have to accept those defaults. Maybe I can say, ‘Wait a second, this isn’t going to work for my team’. And not always can you take those risks? Like not everybody can afford to take those risks all the time and you’re not going to win every battle that way. But I think helping people be able to see, see the things that were previously unseen, like see those norms and those defaults they’ve been accepting, recognize them for what they are, which is, you know, a certain set of priorities and values that they may not even share, but have been following and then help people feel a little bit more confident. Pushing back against them, at least some of the time, or, or even just noticing, just really noticing, because I think when that happens, that is when you get greater sort of like people-powered movements. That is when you get people who are more able to collaborate and work together to shift things, you know, you get a stronger sense of solidarity. I don’t think you get that until people start questioning their defaults though.
Tom: Yeah, a lot of the ways in which people make bad decisions just comes out of them being socialized. And it sounds like a lot of the work you’re doing is maybe just helping people become more aware of the way that they have been socialized so that they can then consider what they should really prioritize. Do you think in the future, we need some more education around psychological biases and sort of teaching people to actually care about values and people more than money and profits, because the way things are going. We could just have generation after generation continue with the status quo and then you or someone else is coming in and trying to help people almost rewire their brains to consider things differently. But if we started with younger generations then maybe we wouldn’t have to help people change the way that they think in the future.
Sara: Yeah. I mean, I think that, I think that everybody needs to learn about bias. I think particularly kind of there’s, I mean, there’s a lot of things to learn about, but I think maybe there’s like two areas. I think that we could really use some focus on and one of them is history, like understanding historical inequity and exclusion and really learning, learning the real stuff. You know, I think that there’s a strong culture, both I will say definitely in both the US and the UK. And in a lot of like Western cultures toward avoiding topics that are uncomfortable or difficult, or that maybe paint you in a bad light. And so we don’t spend enough time talking about like the histories of our countries or like what, what is the impact of, you know, colonial rule on the world? I mean I know that, I know that that’s a topic that it’s not to say that nobody in Britain is talking about that. I recognize that there are lots of people talking about it, but it is not normalized as part of the way that we think about our education system and here in the US right, like there is currently this massive outcry over quote unquote critical race theory. That is like there’s, you know, like bills going into legislatures in different states trying to ban schools from teaching critical race theory. Now, most of them don’t seem to understand what critical race theory is. And what they’ve done is they’ve started to categorize any conversation of racial inequity as being critical race theory. And suddenly you cannot talk about America’s history of racism. You can’t talk about diversity. You can’t talk about systemic wealth inequality. And it’s like these broad swaths of things. And they’re just, they’re about avoidance. They’re about avoiding things that are uncomfortable and avoiding things that would change the status quo. And that’s fundamentally, you know, a mechanism that keeps people in power who are currently in power and prevents things from changing. And so I think that the historical piece of this understanding like what are all of the ways in which we’ve historically enacted bias and harm against groups? That’s huge. I think the other piece of it that I would say. The second thing is somebasic neuroscience, like understanding a little bit about how brains work just at the very fundamental level of thinking about things like our brains make shortcuts all the time. Those shortcuts are meant to help us. Sometimes they don’t help us and thinking about things like, you know, when you are scared, when you are nervous. Your brain tends to go into a fight or flight mode because that’s how it’s wired. It’s like you got to, if there’s a bear, you gotta run away from the bear, right. Or you have to fight the bear and that’s like, those are the decisions your brain wants to make. It’s like, I see danger, stop everything split-second reaction. And that your brain still does that now, even though you’re not facing something that is actually dangerous in the same way, it’s not a threat to physical safety, but when people feel threatened they revert to these knee jerk reactions and that’s, a brain response that is happening without you even realizing it. But that there’s a real power in noticing when that’s happening to you. Oh gosh. Okay. This just triggered a knee-jerk reaction in me. Let me process this and actually think through like, okay, I feel uncomfortable or I feel scared or whatever it is that I’m feeling, how do I want to respond to this? And that’s a skill like we just don’t talk about very often. And if you can get to a place where you realize that, and you can start to notice yourself get elevated in a moment and, recognize, ah, I feel myself getting elevated. This is a prime moment where I could make really biased or harmful decisions. Take a deep breath. Okay. Let me think this through, how do I actually want to respond? If you can do that? It can feel kind of like a superpower because people are historically pretty bad at that, but we’re very capable of learning to do that. All it takes is, is teaching it to people. And so I think that’s the other area is like teaching people that greater sense of self-awareness teaching them a little bit about how brains work and helping them get to a place where they can recognize what’s happening in their brain and in their body in the moment and be more intentional about how they respond to that.
Tom: Absolutely. I think just how you talked about the education around colonialism in like the UK, you’re spot on about that because, well, I obviously grew up in the UK and I learned very, very little. It was actually when I went abroad to Portugal I lived there for most of last year. And the friends that I made over there actually taught me a lot more about it than I learned throughout my whole education system. And they were almost surprised that our education system wasn’t being responsible for that. And then over in like Germany, they are a lot more maybe responsible for their past with, I think that I’m pretty sure all of the children there have to go to a concentration camp.
Sara: Yeah. There’s typically a field trip everyone goes on and there is a much stronger cultural value of working through the past. And that’s not, but that’s not like a default that, that was something that was pushed for I mean, you know, there was a student movement in the late sixties in Germany, you know, same time period that there were student movements in lots of other places. Right. And they’re a big piece of that was Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which is like the process of coming to terms with the past, because at the time, like German society and people in positions of power, huge percentages of them were ex Nazis. I mean, there was a lot of transfer of power between people from the Nazi party to the German Republic and the next generation coming up was like, wait a second. We haven’t dealt with. We haven’t dealt with the Holocaust at all. We haven’t dealt with what we did. And you know, and then that’s really, when you started seeing a lot of conversations about like collective guilt and, you know, what does it mean to make some kind of like reparation? And I don’t think they have it figured out either by any means. But I do think that we need so much more of that collective reckoning and you know, meanwhile, here in the United States, I mean, students are still being taught that like the civil war wasn’t about slavery, like literally in textbooks that the civil war was not about slavery, that it was about economic issues, which is like, yeah, the economic issue of wanting to be able to own people because it’s more profitable. That’s what it was about. But that is, that is still being taught. And I think, you know, it’s no surprise that you have lots of people who end up as adults, very avoidant of looking at themselves and their own biases and their own complicity in a system and find it very painful to do that because they’re just sort of like, they have no skills for it. Right. There’s no muscle for it. It is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable also when it’s like, not something you personally did. Like I personally did not create, you know, exclusionary laws and I live in a society that was built on them and that still benefits me because of it. And it’s very easy for people whoaren’t used to facing some of that to feel uncomfortable and attacked. Like it feels like a personal attack. ‘Well, no, but I didn’t do those thing’ well yeah. And yes, you didn’t do those things. And also you are part of and complicit in a system that fundamentally excludes people and hurts people and that doesn’t make it all your fault, but you do hold a responsibility there. And part of that responsibility is facing that fact and learning to like face that fact without shutting down. I think that that’s a skill that people need to learn over time and in a lot of American society, I think we’re really failing young people on that front because just like anything it’s like, if you didn’t learn math your entire childhood, and then suddenly you’re confronted with math, you would be overwhelmed and flooded and be like, I can’t do this. The more that you introduce these concepts early on, and the more that you help people understand this, the easier it is for them to continue working on it and developing their skillset and, you know, looking at situations differently in the future.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I think it can be a painful process and I went for a massage two weeks ago, it was my first ever deep tissue massage. And this Brazilian really just got her claws into my back. And I have never suffered pain like it in my life. And I’ve broken a few bones, but I was squealing away. I was almost, I think I was holding her hand at one point, but a few days later, my back felt a lot better and it’s a little bit… it is quite similar to how we have to sometimes deal with our emotional baggage. Obviously we all go through things. Life isn’t always easy. It can be hard and we can often fear a lot, a lot in our workplace as well. And that fear, that anxiety will often relate to what we’re actually doing ourselves. And maybe that’s why some workplaces aren’t working as effectively as they could do. And I guess, how much do you think this all comes down to just compassion for both ourselves and for others overall, because if we have more compassion than maybe we could be a bit more open about our own suffering and start to just be a bit more accepting of others as well?
Sara: Well, I think that that’s, I mean, I think that that’s, I think that that’s absolutely essential and I mean, and I don’t think that that alone changes like corporate and political superstructures necessarily, although I do think it’s a piece of what would, what would enable us to actually shift those things? Because I think when you, when you can’t be compassionate toward yourself and a lot of us really struggle with that, it’s like we are so used to judge like judgmental thinking of ourselves. We’re so used to sort of an extreme point of view on ourselves that then we project that out on other people. I think we’re really dangerous when we can’t reach a place of compassion. Because until you can reach a place of compassion for yourself, and that doesn’t mean like letting yourself off the hook for bad behavior. But it means, it means being able to say, okay, you know, I feel compassion toward myself here and I’m not going to beat myself up and say, I’m a bad person. Instead, I’m going to reflect on how am I behaving in this moment and how do I want to be in the world? Like that is what actually allows us to have change is that sort of curiosity, like, oh, what am I feeling and how am I behaving? And is that serving me? And is that how I want to be? None of those questions are possible if the way that you think about yourself is either I’m a bad person and I should feel bad or I’m a good person and anything that threatens my conception of self as a good person, I have to like reject and push away. Right. Like when you’re stuck in one of those two places, none of that other work is possible. And I think that when you’re stuck in those places too, it’s like, you can’t do that with other people. Right. Other people then have to be either good or bad. And anything that, that gets in the way of that has to be pushed out. Right. Avoided. And and so, yeah, I do think that self-compassion and compassion for others is fundamentally linked. And I do think that in general, like nobody is actually able to make real change in the world if they don’t deal with themselves first. And I think that’s actually a problem in a lot of activist conversations. I see a lot of people who kind of get into that martyrdom, you know, like selflessness, like, oh, well I have it good compared to other people. So I need to shut up about anything that I’m going through. Nothing I’m going through is as bad as these other things. If I want to, you know, show up for marginalized groups, I need to make it purely about them all the time. And I think that kind of de-centering of yourself and like erasing your own needs. I think that actually makes people really dangerous because we actually then keep reenacting the same patterns onto the people that we think we want to help because we haven’t dealt with ourselves first. And I mean, like I’ve been there. I mean, that’s definitely something I had to realize about myself that I had some, I have like everybody, right? Like I’ve been through some stuff and that I have to continually work on what am I carrying into this situation? And what are some of the assumptions or beliefs that I have about myself or about the world. Where might those get in the way here? And you know, that’s, that is hard. Like you said, that can be painful. And I think avoiding that pain is tempting. But I think when you come out, the other end of it, like you said, with your massage, right? There’s that metaphor, it’s like, you come out the other end and you’re like, oh wait, that pain was really worthwhile. And I hope that that’s something people realize.
Tom: Yeah. How much of an impact do you think having like a bit more self-awarenesscan have on the workplace, the way in which people communicate with others. Do you think that’s impacted a lot by how self-aware people are then and their own biases?
Sara: Oh yeah. Yeah. You know, I think at work, I mean, you just see so much bad communication or lack of communication playing out at work, right? Like, I mean, oftentimes I think that there’s this fallacy that we’re like somehow different people at work like, oh, at work, you can leave your emotions at the door. At work you’re going to keep it professional at work, we’re rational. We’re focused on the fact. And like, none of that is true, we are humans at work too, which means we are full of feelings and assumptions and biases and all of these things. I carry them everywhere. And so the same patterns that are problematic in interpersonal relationships outside of work, show up at work as well. And a lot of that is things like we make big assumptions about what other people are thinking and feeling. We tend to communicate in ways that are either passive aggressive or aggressive, aggressive, right. So like, we will avoid stuff. Or we’ll blame people. We have an emotional reaction, but we don’t want to admit that we’re having the emotional reaction. And so we kind of like, let it leak out in unhealthy ways, like being irritable and unfriendly to our teams or badmouthing somebody instead of talking to them or all of these things. And I think that the more that we can have you know, compassionate and honest conversations with each other, the better. What I think is hard is that a lot of people have learned and particularly I meet a lot of people. I talk to a lot of people who are women who are non-binary, who are not white, who have learned a lot of defense mechanisms at work, like ways to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. For good reason and to figure out how to balance some of that. Like, you know, not say what I really think. It’s like, okay. Yeah. Like if you are, let’s say you’re a black woman working in a tech company, it is frequently unsafe to say what you really think you might be retaliated against for saying what you really think. That’s, that’s a true thing. And also continuing to exist in an environment where you can’t ever say what you really think that hurts your soul. Like that takes something from you that will burn you out over time. And it reinforces a culture of bad communication. And again, you didn’t create that culture. That’s not on you. You can’t be blamed for that. But I think, I think thinking about like, okay, what are the realities of this workplace? And then what do I need? And what are the ways that I’m going to get my needs met? I think that those are really valuable questions. And for some people that leads to them pushing back and changing boundaries in their org and saying like, yeah, this is going to make some people uncomfortable and I’m going to do it anyway. For some people it’s leaving those companies. You know, I think that it starts to, but what it starts to do is that it starts to create some space where you can start to see that you do have choices, and sometimes you don’t have as many choices as you deserve. Sometimes your choices aren’t great. But that there’s options, right? Like you don’t necessarily have to just accept things as they are and say like, ‘Okay fine, I’m just going live forever in this system where I get to have zero boundaries and have to fake it every day’. Right. So say like, oh wait, I’m making a choice to do that. Maybe sometimes that is the best choice that I have in front of me. But how am I going to know when it’s not like, when am I just accepting that as my reality, when I could have a better option. And I think being able to see other options and other ways of being I think is really valuable. Yeah. How much do you think it’s up to the individual to make a change in the workplace? Say you’ve got someone who feels like the culture isn’t very inclusive. And how much is it up to the organization actually develop and create more of an inclusive work culture? So I would say that if you are part of a targeted group, like if you are being targeted by harm in your organization, you might choose to speak up about that. But your first priority needs to be taking care of yourself, and it’s complicated, right? Like I, I’m a white woman and I get a lot of benefits from being white. And I also do experience sexism and have experienced like plenty of it over my course of my career. And so, for example, if I’m experiencing sexism my job, my first job is to take care of myself. It’s not to like stop sexism in that organization. So I think it’s really important to remember when you are being targeted. Or if you are part of the targeted group around an issue that taking care of yourself first really matters. If you’re not and so there’s plenty of circumstances, other types of issues where I’m not the target. Then I think it is really important to think about, you know, how do I show up to this in integrity with my values. And if I, if I believe that, for example, like systemic racism is a massive issue in American companies, which I do. Then how do I, how do I respond to that in ways that I’m going to feel good about later? And I think that there’s a lot of responsibility that we as individuals have, I think particularly, you know, the more systemic power you have in a specific organization or a specific system, the more responsibility you have. And I do think individuals make change. I think that matters because every single time you or I says something, right. People see that that shifts culture in small ways, sometimes in really small ways, sometimes in larger ways, but it creates more space. It’s not just the thing that I do or that you do, but it’s like, what is the, what are the perceptions other people have that are shifted from that moment? What are the other small things people might be willing to step up and do now that they wouldn’t have been willing to do before, et cetera. So there’s so many little things that can change in that way. I think that said, I think that there is, you know, America loves to be like personal responsibility focused and as a result of that, the level of sort of individualism in the US I think can really get in the way of thinking about the systems and structures. We have to change things at a bigger, more systemic level than just individual hearts and minds. We have to think about like, what are the ways that the system is set up to reward certain people and to punish others? We have to think. What are the things that have to be actively dismantled, the programs, the ways of, of hiring, for example, that’s a huge one, right? Like if you have a hiring process and everybody’s agreed that that is an unbiased process, but it routinely results in a non diverse group of people showing up in your applicant pool. It doesn’t matter if everybody’s hearts and minds are in the right place. There’s a whole bunch of invisible bias happening in that system. So I do think that, that, you know, we don’t, we don’t just change things at the personal level. But I think it’s important to remember that it’s always both. That we don’t really have one without the other, because I think otherwise, you know, we can really easily let ourselves off the hook, right. Like, well, I can’t do anything about that. It’s a systems problem. And I think instead it’s really healthy to say that’s a systems problem. And here’s how I’m going to start by changing myself. And then how do I look at that system differently?
Tom: Yeah, I guess overall we have the external, which we often can’t control and that external might have a system in place which isn’t very healthy and it probably isn’t that healthy right now in a lot of places, but, we can’t just focus on the external, we have to care about what can we do ourselves. And so I think you’re right in saying that we need to find that balance between accepting what we can’t control and knowing what we can. In terms of people going back to the workplace now with Corona, how much responsibility do you think organizations need to take in terms of making the workplace, a comfortable and secure place for people who are maybe concerned around Corona.
Sara: I think workplaces have a big responsibility there, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of resilience, because I think a lot of organizations are talking about resilience and a lot of that has been like personal resilience. Like how can you individually become a more resilient person in the face of this stress? And while I value personal resilience, like it’s important. I think that there’s not nearly enough conversations about what are we doing to become a resilient organization. That can adapt and handle the variety of human needs that have emerged during this time, because the reality is, you know, humans are human, right? Like humans are going to do human things. And human things include like after periods of prolonged stress and anxiety breaking down and needing time to process. Human things include caregiving, human things include having a long-term anxiety about going back to crowded spaces. And in fact, I mean like the pandemic is not over, right. Like, and there’s lots of questions that remain. Here in the US there’s lots of people who still don’t have the same childcare options they used to have. There’s questions about like, what school is going to look like in the fall in some communities. But there’s also questions about like, what’s happening with the variants or how well do, you know, if I’m immunocompromised? How well does the vaccine actually protect me? Some of the data is still not out. So like so many questions, and even though I think that looking at the science is important. And I think that looking at the risks and saying like, okay, there’s obviously a lower risk right now than there was before people have every right to still feel concerned. Plus they have all this holdover anxiety, right? Like you can’t go through a traumatic, stressful and scary experience that goes on and on and on and on. And then just turn the switch off one day. People don’t really work that way. So. We need a lot of space to feel things out. And I think part of that is, you know, I want to see organizations really accept the idea that different people have different needs and they always have, we just pretended that everybody could have the same needs and can go to work in the same way, but they’ve always needed different things. And right now people especially need different things and to say, you know, how do we, I think this is a moment where organizations can really say. How do we accept that and design for that for the long haul? Because even after this moment, even after people’s anxiety about, you know, the pandemic finally goes away, which will take a while, you’re still going to, you’re still going to have people with different needs, right? Like you’re still going to have people for whom working at home is crucial for an accessibility issue. Right. People whose disabilities made it so they couldn’t come to the office daily and you will have people who really need to go to an office because working at home makes work inaccessible to them. And neither of those things has to be right or wrong. Both of those things can be true. How do we make work, work for those people? And that’s what I want to see organizations really focus on is what are the ways that we can make work, work for humans and not assume that all humans need to adapt themselves to our singular model of like productive robot.
Tom: Yeah. I think obviously the pandemic has been horrendous for so, so many people but if we are going to look at the very, very few positives or anything that you can take away and learn from this. We do have that it has put people in a situation where they do work from home. And then once eventually, you know, people are vaccinated and the pandemic kind of goes away whenever that will be. People are going to have more choice around how they live their life. And that could be a good thing, longer term. At Hive IT, our company, we have been so flexible and that has been really good because it really is just a case of work at home if you want to work from home, go into the office, if you want to go into the office and obviously everything in the office is very COVID safe overall, you know, distanced desks, and there’s a lot of space there and you have the windows open and everything else which is great. So I think that is one kind of good thing. My final question for you Sara because you’ve been an amazing guest and thanks so much for coming on is how do we make things better if you were to just provide us with one tip for how we can make the world a little bit better? What would that be?
Sara: Oh gosh, just one. Okay. You know, let humans be human. Like people go through things. People need time to process things. People have feelings. If you can accept that that’s what humans are like and stop expecting them to always follow your idea of how things should be. The world actually gets a lot easier, right? Because then you can, then you get to a place where you are like okay, well let me be curious about their needs right now. Let me be curious about what it feels like to be in their shoes right now. I think once you can truly accept that as the case, you stop trying to sort of like force fit everybody else into your perspective as an individual or as a company. So let humans be human.
Tom: Yeah, I think what I’m loving about meeting people who have some sort of experience or are just UX designers is that I find just through their job — they have so much compassion and understanding for others I’ve only really got into this whole UX design field, or I’ve only really been interested in at least for around two months now, but everyone I’ve met so far, who is a UX designer or has experience in UX has quite similar values so far around how they just see the world in a slightly different way. And I love that, and I’m sure that you’ve learned so much from your background in UX to get to where you are now and everything else. Where can people find you? Where can people find your books and anything else really that you want to mention?
Sara: Yeah. So you can check out active voice at activevoicehq.com you can go to my personal site at sarawb.com and you can find me on Twitter. I’m there intermittently with strong opinions. So, awesome.
Tom: Thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate your time. Thank you to everyone listening and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
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