Balancing Data and Emotions with Kaitlin Paxton Ward

Empathic approach as a data-driven decision maker

January 4, 2024


Kaitlin Paxton Ward, PhD

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Show Notes

“I want all leaders to know that an empathic approach is data-driven.”

In this deeply moving episode, we are both humbled and honored to share the remarkable story of Kaitlin Paxton Ward. As a mental health therapist and people analytics researcher at Google, Kaitlin guides us through different types of empathy and how we can train to become better, more compassionate leaders. Beyond her professional expertise, Kaitlin takes us on a personal voyage of resilience, having courageously battled cancer and now on a mission to raise awareness within Google. Prepare to be deeply touched and inspired as we embark on this soul-stirring exploration of empathy's boundless potential.

Connect with the inspiring Kaitlin Paxton Ward!

Podcast transcript

“Our personal life is the lens through which we process and react to our work experiences. And so as much as we can try to separate the two, it's just how we naturally process information.” - Kaitlin Paxton Ward

Janine Ramirez: My inner geek is so, so excited for this episode because today we have the privilege of learning from Dr. Kaitlin Paxton Ward, who holds a joint Ph.D. in social work and developmental psychology from the University of Michigan. She's a licensed mental health therapist, social worker, research scientist at UC Berkeley. And people analytics researcher at Google, where she works to promote diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging.

But apart from all of that, what I find truly inspiring about Kaitlin is that she shares her personal battles into fuel to help others and to make the world a better place. So thank you for being here today Kaitlin, how are you feeling about the discussion?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: I am feeling great. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for that lovely introduction. I feel so honored to be here and I will take any time I can to talk with you, Janine.

Janine Ramirez: And so honor that I get to talk to you and figuring because I feel like there's just so much that they can learn from you. So I don't want to waste any more time. I just want to go straight to it. When I was thinking about the great questions, I think, where do I even start? There's so much…

Okay, the podcast is called the Employee Experience Experience, so I wanted to start with that as the North North Star, right?

So the employee experience is deeply intertwined with our personal experiences, but how deep does that go? Like, can you separate the two?

How would you describe the connection between one's EX and their personal life?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Hmm. Great question. So when I talk about the employee experience, I'm always referring to every aspects of any aspect of an employee's interaction with their employer. So starting from like seeing the job posting through hiring candidacy all the way through the employee lifecycle. And I feel like our personal life is the lens through which we process and react to our work experiences.

And so as much as we can try to separate the two, it's just how we naturally process information. And so I don't think we can. And for better or for worse, we all bring our identities, past traumas, mental and physical health to work with us.

And so it's intimately connected and I think improving the employee experience is so important in each aspect because we need to be sensitive to the different types of experiences, the different perceptions, the different backgrounds of employees that are coming in and how employees are processing the information from their employer.

So this is really important to focus on. And so I love that you have a podcast focusing on this.

Janine Ramirez: It's almost like, I don't know, there's a shift now to EX from before, where we think of HR in managing people as, okay, productivity, got to get them, you know, their output and they got to be happy but mostly productive, right? And now we're seeing, okay, they're not robots. We are all humans who need to kind of have empathy and to understand where someone's coming from in order to unlock their full potential, which is good for them and good for the organization.

So we're seeing a lot of like empathy being a key challenge for leaders today. How crucial is it for leaders to truly understand their team members on a personal level, including their lives?

You mentioned like life struggles, like what they're going through in their stories... Like, how can this deeper understanding positively impact the employee experience and team dynamic?


Kaitlin Paxton Ward: I love that you bring up empathy, especially from a therapeutic perspective. And when I talk about empathy, I'm talking about a few different aspects.

Empathy is multi-dimensional, multifaceted, and so there's affective empathy, which is like feeling the same affective state as another person. And this is very primal. Babies actually have an affective empathy and like emotional contagion. If you've ever seen a few babies in the room and one baby crying starts off a whole chain.

Janine Ramirez: I didn't know that. That's so cute. It's annoying.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: The thing is so primal, and a lot of times that happens unconsciously and that happens in the amygdala and the limbic system or the emotional centers of the brain. And then there's cognitive empathy, which is really understanding another person's internal state.

Now, unlike affective empathy, where you see that in babies. Cognitive empathy starts happening only after a child has developed theory of mind.

And then that develops non-linear early through childhood and emerging adulthood. And so that involves higher order functioning specifically the prefrontal cortex. So when we think that affective kind of primal response, like I'm feeling what you are feeling the cognitive empathy using the prefrontal cortex at higher order functioning, being like, I understand why you're feeling this way.

And then there's behavioral empathy, which is that can include behavioral mirroring in terms of like even like tone and in body language. But it's also about empathic communication. And that's what we use in therapy quite a bit.

And in fact, something that helps me as a therapist is if you go to therapy, if any client goes to therapy, and the therapist just uses the tenets of empathic communication, meaning validation, reflection, paraphrasing, really showing up in terms of like their tone and their body language as well.

Up to 33% of clients will get better and feel better just by having a very good empathic listener. So in my master's program, we had a class where we would just for a full hour and a half, sit there and practice empathic listening and communicating. And so it's so important that leaders understand their employees personal lives.

And it's really important for them to understand empathy. And the great thing is that empathy can be learned. 

Janine Ramirez: I like that.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: We can absolutely get into that.

I think what's also really important, though, more than just learning how to be empathic, leaders need to be a safe space so that their employees can actually talk about some of these sensitive subjects.

And that can be harder. That can be a harder thing to learn is to learn how to be a safe space. But if leaders can do this, there are so many internal and external benefits to empathic listening, to showing up as an empathic leader.

So research shows that employees with empathic leaders are more likely to speak openly, take social risks, and feel their perspectives matter. And that's really important from a DEI perspective, and not just from DEI. But we also see that being able to speak openly and transparently, take social risk, that then turns into creativity, innovation and productivity, things that leaders care about.

There was a really cool study that was on software development teams, and these are maybe the type of work that you might not think empathy is really required. These are folks that are coding all day that just need to find bugs in their code, get things to process efficiently. But researchers found that when team members among these software development teams understood and shared each other's feelings, they were more effective at finding and correcting software product related issues.

Janine Ramirez: I know that with my team.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: It has like a true payoff in the literal sense of the word. And then another study found that project team, when they actually developed and implemented products much faster in terms of speed to market production when they had empathic leaders and when there was a sense of collective empathy on their team. And so those are some of the physical like payoff reasons why empathy is important.

But I also think going back to like the therapy perspective, transparency and candid sharing of experiences reduces emotional burden for employees.

Think about it. If you are coming to work and you're coming with like again, past trauma, stressors and like these are things that you have to keep and kind of push down and you can't be candid about your experience and you have to mask a lot of the day.

That's a big emotional burden that you're carrying. And in fact, if you're able to have an empathic space where you don't have to carry that emotional burden, you'll actually get better work life segmentation, which is funny because they think it's the opposite. It's like, Oh, I'm bringing empathy. I'm like interested in my employees lives. Like, I'm getting too invested. I need to have better work life boundaries.

I need to have better work life boundaries. But in fact, if you're not carrying the emotional burden of your life, of your experiences at work, you can actually focus more on your work and then have better work life segmentation, which improves outcomes for everyone. So those are just a few reasons why I think empathy is so important.


Janine Ramirez: It's almost like, well, this is personal, but when I feel like really stressed out about anything or emotionally charged. I just have to talk about it, you know? And that helps. I guess that's how it is. Like if at work you're able to talk about it, once you do that, you're like, okay, now it's out there and I can focus on being creative or getting my project done and things like that.

I have a question specifically for any you work at Google, so I'm guessing you have a lot of, you know, resources and Google is really cool about, you know, initiatives and supporting them.

But in small teams or for example, if there's like a leader with a team and they want to kind of unlock empathy among their colleagues and in their team, how can they do that? Like, what are some workshops or actions that they can dig at?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: So they're actually online. There are some really great tools for teams in terms of like empathy training and in terms of like different activities that a team can do.

But from like a very basic standpoint, if a leader wants to start unlocking that with their team, it means that in their one on ones instead of being a little bit either more like closed off or maybe like super structured or super almost even like deadpan, sometimes. It means that they can start by practicing that behavioral mirroring of their employee, right?

Really tuning in to the employees body language and tuning into their emotional state and simply practicing reflective listening, paraphrasing, asking follow up questions about the employees thoughts and feelings. These are just basic tenets of empathy that communicates a sense of safety to that employee.

And remember, we have to start small. And so if the direct report can really get a sense of like. Hey, my manager is really listening to me, or like, they get what I'm saying or well, they actually ask like a follow up question about how I'm feeling about something or about my personal life and then they attended to it. That can be a really good step in the right direction.

Janine Ramirez: I love that. I'm going to share that with with my team and with leaders in my organization.

But it brings me back to some of like my favorite bosses in my life, you know. It's something they do. And I don't know if they studied it because some of them are really conscious about these things and they read about it. But for others, it just comes naturally, right?

Okay, I want to carve out some time to talk about your own personal story, because I think it kind of enriches your perspective so much, and it'll just give the listeners a better idea of where you're coming from. 

So with utmost respect and only if you're comfortable sharing and I'd be honored to hear about your battle with a non-Hodgkin lymphoma and how that experience has influenced your own employee experience.


Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Absolutely. Thank you for asking me about it. And I would love to share and as I tell you this story, I'll talk about the different aspects of my employee experience through like the diagnosis, the treatment, the recovery, because I think it's important. And cancer is something that affects so many people and so many employees. And so hopefully sharing part of my story can help other leaders and workers know how to best respond in some of these situations.

So I was diagnosed in October of 2022, but I had been feeling sick since July and I had been upfront with my manager. And one thing I love about my current manager is that in our weekly check ins he always has a check in about workload and about wellbeing. And so in the wellbeing part of the check in, I told him that I thought I was having asthma problems or maybe there was like an air pollution or allergy problem happening since I recently moved to Chicago.

But I really wasn't breathing too well. I ended up going to four different doctors and every doctor told me that it was anxiety, which was funny as like a mental health therapist because I'm like, I know how it is. Like, what’s going on?

And interestingly, on October 5th, Google came out with something called Health Plus, and it gives employees access to doctors, including like urgent care and psychiatry, immediately. So you can just request a doctor visit and have a doctor immediately. And it doesn't have to be through like insurance and it's via Telehealth. So on October 7th, just Tuesday, two days after it was launched, I decided to use Health Plus.

I felt like the video would be less embarrassing than going back into a doctor's office. And that doctor told me to go to the E.R. The E.R. did a CT scan, and they let me know that I had a grapefruit sized mass in my chest and I had enlarged the nodes all over my torso and also fluid in my lungs.

And so after two days in the hospital, I called my manager and I told him that I think I had cancer, specifically lymphoma. After some PET scans and diagnoses, we found out it was primary mediastinal non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a more rare and aggressive type of cancer. They let me know that if I didn't do anything, I would have about three months to live.

And so it didn't give me a lot of time for things like family planning, like saving my eggs, or deciding if I wanted to do chemo. So I kind of just went into chemo. And luckily I was diagnosed by someone named Dr. Leo Gordon, and he's a nationally recognized expert in lymphoma and specifically primary mediastinal.

But if I didn't live close to Dr. Gordon, Google has something called the second opinion benefit that can be used for yourself or extended family members and they via Telehealth and completely for free let you talk to the leading cancer expert in whatever in the country that you're in and get a treatment plan from them and have that doctor kind of overlook your treatment. Let's see, I was in a different state or in a small town where I didn't have access to this, so that would have been really helpful. But luckily I lived 12 minutes from doctor Gordon.

Janine Ramirez: I think that's better. 

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Google also has something called the critical illness insurance. And if you get diagnosed with cancer or have a stroke or heart attack, it just gives you $15,000 flat to use however you would like. And so as you can see, like along each step of the way, me being employed by Google and having an employer who really values employee health holistically made a huge difference in my trajectory and in my recovery.

And so I was told that I needed to do a chemo called Dose Adjusted R EPOCH. And it's a type of chemo that's done in patient for 24/7 for five days and then you have to do that for six rounds. And so because of the intensity of the chemo, I took a six month leave from work to do this.

The first 13 weeks I got paid 100%, the second 13 weeks I got paid at 80% and my vacation days still accrued. I still got my bonus and stock and for a 1K match. That made all the difference. I was able to go through cancer treatment and not be worried about the financial implications, not be worried about whether I would have a job.

It was very easy to go on short term leave and that is something that especially young cancer survivors in this workforce really need today. And then during my treatment, my friends from Google ended up being some of the most empathic and reliant people that I had ever seen. I have a friend, Liz, at Google who lives a block away from me, and she was at my house every day bringing me food.

My friends who were more virtual, I knew Danilo, Zach and Karen all were sending me things, calling me at least weekly, if not more, texting me all the time. And so I really found that community that I had at Google and I had only worked at Google for five months before getting diagnosed. That was key in having that like social support.

So now I'm in remission. I finished treatment. As you can see, I have like my hair has grown back. And if you would have interviewed me just two months ago, I literally didn't have any hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. So it's just amazing how like the human body can bounce back and I'm now back at work, but I have a lot of baggage now. I almost died. I had an intense type of chemo. Chemo brain is totally a thing. I had heard about it, but almost like didn't believe it.

But it comes with high distractibility, difficulty concentrating, short term memory problems. So I have to take copious notes and like sometimes I'm a little bit more forgetful, but so for me, a accommodations have been so important. I'm able to concentrate a little bit better from home. I'm still immunocompromised and so I need to be careful the structural aspects of my employee experience, like my salary, health insurance, life insurance, short term leave, psychiatry have become so much more important to me than pre cancer.

And then empathy has become so much more important to me. Being able to talk about my experience, feel comfortable in my identity and skin as a cancer survivor, and bringing my whole self to work in that way with this new life experience and perspective has been really like great and just different. And so that is kind of an overview of what that experience has look like over the past six months.

Janine Ramirez: That's a crazy experience, and I'm really so inspired by her strength through all of this and the fact that you can speak about it with such a beautiful smile on your face, Kaitlin. Is just remarkable and also how Google address the situation or how they support their employees is also really remarkable. So where did that come from?

Like, I don't know, the the special support in terms of healthcare, did that come from a specific incident in the past or is that just an initiative that Google came up with?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yeah, it's kind of just embedded into Google as you join and unfortunately, I didn't opt into the critical illness insurance when I joined because I'm like, Oh, I am 28 and healthy. Like, I'm not going to have something like this happen to me. But like I just signed up for their like the main PPO health insurance plan that they had.

And then in terms of like access to like free therapy and the like, free psychiatry services, all of those that just comes with being an employee and the cool thing is in terms of like how that got set up, it's because Google has an amazing arm of people analysts and the people analysts researchers. They do qualitative and quantitative research with employees and find out what employees need.

And so over the years, health care has gotten so much better, the range of benefits have gotten better. And again, it doesn't always happen, but when it does, and I think it happens most of the time when Google listens to their employees, especially vulnerable populations, especially populations like trans employees who said we need trans inclusive health care or queer employees who said, hey, we need access to different family planning options, things like surrogacy and IVF.

Google listened and now those things are just available. And same thing with this second opinion. One interesting thing is that Google always had second opinion, but it was for the employees and it was really queer communities and black plus populations advocating and say. Hey, we view family differently. We need not just like immediate family and ourselves, but we need like people that are close to us to be able to have access to these second opinions and then these great medical services.

And so that has expanded over the years. So really what it takes is like good data driven, research and listening to your most vulnerable employees.

Janine Ramirez: That's so cool. That comes from feedback, listening and then follow through. I mean, there's a lot of organizations do a lot of surveys and all that, but then the change doesn't arrive, they do anything about it.

So it's amazing that they actually did. And, you know, people like you that they're going through something really, really difficult health wise, mental health wise can have access to that support.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Absolutely.


Janine Ramirez: So only a little bit more about your experience coming back and your new initiative that you're starting in Google.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yeah. So coming back to work has been interesting and like mixed kind of like everything in life. And one great part of coming back is that I no longer see work as an integral part of my identity, especially as an academician, as a therapist, sometimes I really integrated work as a part of who I am.

But after being on leave for six months and after, you know, having the being so close to death, frankly, I recognize I'm a full person outside of what I can produce. And that was something really powerful for me. And so that makes it so that I approach work with a lot less anxiety, which has been wonderful for me and I think a net positive.

And an interesting thing about coming back to work is that I've experienced micro-aggressions that I've never experienced before. When I came back into the office, a lot of people were touching my head, touching my hair.

I had people ask about my life expectancy, people who thought that perhaps my anxiety and stress caused my cancer, people wondering what type of like spiritual experiences or revelations I've had being a cancer survivor... I had one person who thought that I might be radioactive or still have chemo inside of me, and so I would be dangerous to be around.

And it really made me realize how little people know about cancer or how difficult of a topic cancer can be.

Janine Ramirez: It’s a very empathetic way and compassionate way to respond to these, because it's just in my head, I’m just like, what? Do you know what I mean?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yeah. It's just interesting. And another interesting thing for me being a queer person is that a lot of people think that my short hair is something that I wouldn't like or that I'm upset with or want to hide in some way. But I experience a lot of gender euphoria, having short hair, and I enjoy having short hair.

And so kind of a lot of different misconceptions about cancer and before I got diagnosed with cancer, I didn't know anyone directly with cancer. No one in my family had ever had cancer. I didn't understand it. So I have a lot of empathy toward these coworkers who were confused and maybe worried or scared by the fact that I had cancer.

It's also just scary seeing a young person that looked really healthy one moment and was in the hospital the next moment. It really shows the fragility of life, and I think that's hard for people to process. And so after seeing all of these different reactions to my cancer, I realized we needed a community at Google where we could provide education and just communal support for people who've gone through this.

I looked at Google we have a lot of employee resource groups. We have the black Googler network. We have pride at Google. We have HOLA for Latinxs Googlers. And so there was something called cancer survivors at and it looked like it had been abandoned. And so it was considered an abandoned group and no one was really using it or involved in it.

So I decided to take over cancer survivors at Google, and I'm now trying to work up to an employee resource group. So we are designing a website where we can talk about the resources that Google has available from like pre cancer screenings and prevention, all treatment…

Janine Ramirez: Extremely helpful.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yes. And survivorship. We're going to provide resources to teams and managers going through how to respond when one of your teammates or coworkers gets a cancer diagnosis. 

Inappropriate things to say and maybe things to avoid saying. We also want to integrate cancer survivorship and cancer psycho-education into DEI trainings and talk about what that experience is like. And then specifically for Pride Month. Now, June is now one of my favorite months because it is both Pride Month and National Cancer Survivorship Month.

And so on June 26th, I'm hosting a roundtable for queer cancer survivors to talk to other Googlers about their experiences as a queer cancer survivor and talk about what other Google employees can do to better support communities like us. 

Janine Ramirez: Is this public?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: It's not public right now. It's only for internal Google employees. But if I get permission to post that publicly, I will absolutely let you know.

Janine Ramirez: Yes, share it, please. 

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yes, absolutely.

Janine Ramirez: I'm so excited for you and I love how you’re speaking about that, like, so passionately as well, you know, because you lived it, right? 

Like how has this entire experience kind of opened up your own empathy as well to others?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Oh, so much more. I think I've always, as a social worker, focused on vulnerable and oppressed populations and really been trying to be in tune with, again, our most vulnerable people and advocating for their needs. 

Going through something like this and experiencing the like cognitive and physical disabilities that came with cancer treatment and then also the in-office micro-aggressions. I have many points of privilege and intersections of privilege where I have read about and teach about and research all of these different things that marginalized and historically marginalized populations experience going into the workplace.

And for me, these were some of my more overt experiences with that. And again, it doesn't even because of all my points of privilege, I can't compare to what other marginalized populations are experiencing.

But for me, I think it really increased that affective and cognitive empathy of like, wow, I'm feeling what other people might be feeling in the office or when they're trying to get accommodations at work or when they're experiencing trauma or a critical incident or life event.

And I'm now understanding and processing this so much differently, and I've found that I'm actually able to connect with so many more people and be in tune with people's suffering to such a greater degree. And it's amazing. I've been a therapist for over seven years now, and my cancer experience made me way more in tune to suffering than my years of therapy did.

And so it really shows like just the power of personal experience and personal suffering and how that can help you reach outward to others.

Janine Ramirez: This is a minute example, but like when I fractured my foot last year, it was like, it's so difficult getting around. And I was always thinking about like the persons with disabilities, like how difficult it is for them. I only have to go through this for like a month or two and I started seeing more of them and more injured people on the street.

And it just blew my mind how it just opens you up to observing new things, you know?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: It really does. And for me, very similar to that, I talked to black employees before about how odd it was to have people always talking about your hair or touching your hair. I also the affected is part, though, when I had people literally rubbing my head or touching my head, I was struck at how deeply personal that is to have, like someone touching so close to like your eyes and your brain.

It just feels like a big invasion of privacy. And I finally got a glimpse at what that might feel like for those populations. And so, yeah, similarly, it was like, wow, like, I really understand this. Or like I’m really feeling so much more empathy to what blacks experienced sometimes on a daily basis.


Janine Ramirez: You mentioned the People Analytics team at Google and how a lot of of the policies come from feedback. So I want to talk a little bit about the data perspective and the therapist perspective that you are able to kind of hone into one person, which is you.

Do you believe? Well, apparently, no. But could you tell us a little bit more about when data and empathy and the therapy side are at odds and maybe give some tips to leaders so they're always in do the numbers, the KPIs, the OKRs...?

Like, how can they kind of infuse a little more empathy in their leadership style?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yeah, this is a great question because sometimes the therapy and the data driven approaches are in odds. One of the thing that I loved about University of Michigan's program, the joint social work developmental psychology. The social work side, you have to learn how to become a clinician and how to do that on the ground people work, right?

And then but because you're getting a Ph.D., you're basically getting a Ph.D. in statistics, especially on the developmental psychology side, you're expected to work with big data sets, conduct rigorous longitudinal analyzes.

For example, therapy culture is a lot different from corporate culture in the sense of like how therapists dress and talk, and their worldviews. And then, yeah, corporate culture is just very different and it's something I'm still learning. And there's also a language barrier between therapist speak and corp speak.

And just one example, empathy is one where we are having an emergence of both of those sides. Therapies understand empathy really well. Corporations are finally understanding how important empathy and empathic leadership is. But one that is a little bit more emerging, therapists regularly understand the importance of trauma informed approaches, right? And this is really important for historically marginalized populations, especially when we think about queer, black, latinxs, indigenous communities that have lots of present and historical trauma. But corporations are still learning how.

Yet trauma informed approaches could be helpful from a business standpoint, and I think we'll get there. But and so I think for me, personally, when I'm thinking about my work, sometimes if I sense someone is struggling at work or I have a teammate where like, I don't know, I can just sense that they're not doing well that day.

Sometimes I can't help but have the therapist pop out a bit and as far as I know I think people appreciate that.

But yeah, I've just found it very helpful when navigating conflict navigate in communication issues, navigating suffering in the workplace. I love having my therapist tool kit with me at all times. Interestingly, like social work, therapists are trained in anti oppressive, intersectional, trauma informed social justice based frameworks. Sometimes these frameworks can feel irrelevant, detached from the bottom line, and sometimes, like not even appropriate for a business setting.

However, I think leaders will be able to see that infusing some of these principles is actually good for business, good for them personally, good for social impact in the world. And so I think my main advice for a leader would to start by increasing their personal capacity for empathy, by doing their own work.

And this means more about other communities that's also learning more about yourself and how you manage emotions, how you manage conflict, how you manage hearing information that you don't like to hear, and how you might handle that in a work setting.

And this can all be done through very simple things, like going to therapy, volunteering, spending more time reading about other marginalized populations, and something that I want all leaders to know is that an empathic approach is data driven. We have the research showing that this is going to be beneficial for your teams, for productivity, for the bottom line.

And so these things aren't as in opposition as one might think.

Janine Ramirez: You mentioned a therapist toolkit that you have. And I'm wondering, like we're all human. We all go through personal crises in our lives. We had like a burnout epidemic at one point, we have leaders that they're struggling to, you know, to support their teams.

What from your therapist tool kit would you advise everyone to kind of develop so that they can be better people and better at work?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Yeah, I think everyone can develop better perspective, taking better knowledge of other people and other stressors that people are experiencing and just going through and learning how to be a safe space for other people. That's something that everyone can do and you don't have to have a therapist tool kit to do that. 

But in order to be a safe space, we have to be comfortable with acknowledging our own biases, in our own shortcomings, and in a place where we're in a corporate setting, especially for women, that teaches us that we need to always be this strong, unwavering powerful people, right? And not have people kind of question our authority.

And it can be really difficult sometimes to look inward. And a lot of times, especially as we gain power, we experience more defensiveness when maybe a teammate is not performing well or maybe we receive feedback that we don't like, but that humility, openness to change, cognitive flexibility, that is what fuels innovation, creativity it creates for a better holistic work environment.

And so everyone can take the steps that they need to in order to be a more safe person for their direct reports for their teammates. So that would be the first step that I would recommend everyone try to do. And at the core of this, it's simply learning how to become like better, just human and better person.

Like we're really leaning in to the humanity of this, leaning out of like robotic expectation based like productivity focus and leaning more into the human focus, which will naturally promote all the things that we want to do in business. And so focusing on holistic, mental, physical health and wellbeing and challenging, I don't know, systems that are keeping people oppressed and not making people psychologically safe in the workplace.

That's going to be really important.

Janine Ramirez: I wanna rapid talks. I don't want to take up too much of your time, so I'm going to ask one last question and we probably went through it, but I want to kind of give you the moment to give advice to HR teams and leaders so all of the experiences and knowledge that you've gained throughout your life.

If you could highlight that one essential goal that HR teams and people and culture teams have in their organization, what would that be?

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: I would say spend time and resources making sure that your employees are psychologically safe. And this can be difficult because psychological safety is multifaceted, and it requires that employers get involved in the personal lives of their employees.

 It means that we're making sure that our employees are healthy, they're well-fed, they have access to the education that they need. They have access to health care that they need. But then the emotional safety of like these employees don't have to deal with burdens of micro-aggressions, overt aggressions, discrimination. If we're able to create that psychologically safe space for employees, that investment is going to be so worth it.

But especially as maybe you're in the middle of a startup or maybe business is not going so well, it can be really difficult to want to allocate resources toward improving psychological safety and health, but it will be worth it in the longer term.

Janine Ramirez: Thank you, Kaitlin. I really do hope that is the future of all workplaces for the future generations, because we really do need to take that shift.

So thank you. I want to express my deepest gratitude for joining us today, for sharing your incredible journey. We learned so, so much from you. I feel like there's still so much more to learn.

And for some reason today I'm just not speaking properly, the words are not popping out. So thank you so much for your patience as well with me. And I do hope to get to speak to you again. So thank you for the great evening, Kaitlin.

Kaitlin Paxton Ward: Thank you so much.

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