Episode 7

Zoë Harte & Erin L. Thomas

Season 2

Figuring It Out Together, with Zoë Harte & Erin L. Thomas of Upwork

In this episode Katelin sits down with Upwork’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging and Access, Dr. Erin L. Thomas, as well as their Chief People Officer, Zoe Harte. With a strong academic background, Erin talks about having to turn off her analytic mind at times in favor of just talking to people. Both discuss the reasons behind hiring a head of DEI (or DIB, as Upwork reframes it) and how sometimes being impatient is a good thing.


"I am a huge believer and fan of accountability, and there's no walking back. A report on the state of anti-racism with data, we're in the hot seat now and that's what I wanted. I wanted us to not be able to pull back later when we got maybe more scared or things got more challenging."

Katelin: Welcome back to season two of All Hands brought to you by Lattice. I'm your host, Katelin Holloway. If you were with us last season, you know we focused on sitting down with C-level execs to chat about how people's strategy is good business strategy. But this season we're doubling down. We're not only talking to CEOs and founders, but a wide range of people leaders, from heads of people to chief diversity and inclusion officers, to really get into some of their core practices, principles, and beliefs when it comes to putting your people first.

Joining us on the show today are two phenomenal executives from the Upwork team, the world's largest work marketplace, connecting millions of businesses with independent talent around the globe. I'll start first by introducing Dr. Erin L. Thomas. Erin is the head of diversity inclusion, belonging and access at Upwork. She brings a distinctive mix of research and practitioner expertise to her roles which aim to integrate equity as a front end input to people processes. In 2020, Erin was named to Fortune's 40 under 40 list as one of the most influential people in technology. With a deeply academic background, Erin holds several advanced degrees, including a PhD in social psychology from Yale University. More importantly, she sits at top of my personal must follow Twitter user list. 

Also on the show with us today, we have Zoë Harte, leading Upwork's HR and talent innovation teams. Zoë has guided the company's employee growth by more than 75% from startup through IPO. In her role as chief people officer, she implements innovative management approaches and focuses on building a mission driven culture for Upwork's team of employees, as well as their global network of freelancers. Zoë's commitment to creating a thriving culture has resulted in employee engagement scores that have well exceeded industry benchmarks for 12 consecutive quarters. Erin and Zoë, welcome to all hands.

Zoë: Thank you so much for having us.

Erin: Thanks for having us.

Katelin: I am absolutely downright giddy to be having this conversation with the both of you today, so thank you so much for joining us. Zoë, let's start with you. I would love to have a little bit of your background. So you've been with Upwork now for a long time and you've seen the company through a ton of different seasons. Can you share a little bit more about your story? How did you actually get into HR?

Zoë: Yeah. For me, I fell into HR somewhat accidentally. I meant to be a professor, I'm technically still on leave in between my master's and my PhD program although it's been a long absence. I was a broke grad student back in England who came back to the US to keep my Green Card alive and got a temp job at Yahoo as a staffing assistant, and ended up being there for a decade and moving into the business partner role and having experience leading part of their international customer service organization, which was foundational for me. And then I was at a company called Rovi for four years, and then I joined oDesk, which went through many transformations to be Upwork in 2013 as their first full-time HR person. And I've been fortunate enough to grow with the company in those eight years since.

Katelin: That's amazing. I love this story. Now, I'm going to follow up with a quick question before we head over to get errands a backstory. This is a question we've been asking new on this season, and I really like it because it helps give a little bit of extra context and color to the conversation as it evolves. And that question is, is there anything else you would like our audience to know about your identity?

Zoë: Wow, that's a great question. I'm a parent and somebody who's really committed to authenticity at work and just trying to be present.

Katelin: That's excellent. That's excellent context. Let's head over to you, Erin. You've been with the company now for about two years in a really, really critical role at a very, very interesting time. And I'm very curious, how has your academic work ultimately led you to working in a DEI role?

Erin: Yeah. It's a huge foundation. I spent a decade in higher ed conducting research on and teaching undergrad grad MBA courses on identity and bias and effective teaming. And that's what I do. That's what I do for a living. And what I've found to be really pivotal is two things. And Zoë keep me honest and let me know if this is what you see as well. But one is really getting to the root of what's going on. And that is what many, many years of basic research has afforded me in terms of digging into systems and really excavating so that we are solving for not symptoms, but again causes. And then the other piece of that is definitely just the empirical foundation that I have, so I approach problems scientifically. I have a really strong stats background and I love to just get incredibly dirty in data. 

And so those are two pieces of my education and training that I use every single day. And sometimes I actually have to turn it off a bit so I can just be like a normal person and be a good colleague because I can spend all day in a spreadsheet, but sometimes you have to get back out into the business and talk with people and affect change.

Katelin: I love that. And it makes a ton of sense. I think that we're going to see a trend in that direction because having that background is incredibly powerful on a people team and in other functions and roles. And so I think having that insight is really, really helpful and additive to the business. Now, Erin, I'm going to follow up with the same question that I just asked Zoë, which is, before we get into the larger conversation here, is there anything you would like our audience to know about your identity?

Erin: Yeah. So this is something I don't share as publicly, but I do for sure within Upwork, which is being a mom is a really core aspect of my identity. And I think especially over the past year and a half with two small boys at home, no childcare, it has really proven to be, I would say, an accelerator in my role and in my personal growth. Obviously, being a people person, being a DEI person requires a lot of different skills, a lot of them soft, if you will, and social. 

And my kids really challenged me on that and make me obviously much more patient than I am naturally predisposed to and also challenged me on making sure that my work is accessible. They ask really progressive questions that I was not asking until I was in college, and they're three and five, and it challenges me to break things down in bite sized pieces. And I use those skills back at work and it's really cool to feel more integrated than I ever have between work and the rest of my life.

Katelin: I feel that one in my bones, I have a three-year-old and a six-year-old and have had zero childcare since March of last year as well. So I feel you. Thank you both for your backgrounds and sharing a little bit more about yourselves. I would now like to ask the question of the story of the two of you. So working together, of course, the way I understand it, Zoë, is that you were actually a pretty big driving force behind the creation of this role that Erin has stepped into. I would love to know from you what was kind of the decision making process behind here? Why did Upwork decide to bring on a head of DEI?

Zoë: For us, we're a mission-driven company, our mission is to create economic opportunities, so people have better lives. And so the work that we do and how we do it matters a lot more than at other companies I've been in the past. At the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 and kickoff, we drew a line in the sand and so we're going to make diversity and inclusion a strategic advantage for our company. And we did a lot of good work, I think, putting in some foundational efforts. And then 2018, 2019 became really clear that we had made good progress, but we just knew there was a lot we didn't know. And I think there was a huge amount of value in recognizing when an expert will really elevate and challenge the work that you're doing. 

And so we were heavily supported by the executive team to create this role and interviewed many wonderful people. I have to say, we were really taken with just the caliber of candidates out there doing this work as business drivers, but it was really clear from the moment we met Erin that we were going to do everything we could to convince her to come and join us.

Katelin: Okay. A question that I hear over and over again in the HR community is something to the effect of, what is a successful partnership between a head of HR and a head of DEI look like? And you two certainly seem to have figured something really special out between the two of you and within the organization. So can you share a little bit about how you best partner within the business, and I'll let either one of you take that.

Erin: I'll start. I mean, I think first of all, our relationship has evolved over the past 18 months. Something that we reflect on a fair amount is the fact that what really helped me wrap my arms around where Upwork was and just what my role would be as our first head of DIBs as we call it was Zoë and her management style, which is something we talked a lot about as I was being assessed for the role, because it has to be a good chemistry fit, right?

Katelin: Absolutely.

Erin: And yeah, I certainly am not one to be micromanaged, I need the resources I need. I know what I'm doing, but I also know what I'm not doing. And her ability to fill in what I know I'm missing and also help me see the things that maybe I don't know I'm missing, but let me run with what I do and do it well, that's not always easy to find in any sort of leader. And so I think that just in terms of working styles and working compatibility has been essential.

I'll say, as we accelerate into even more hyper-growth as a company, I think the way the relationship has evolved is hearing more from Zoë about where the business is going and getting better acquainted with our very complex organization, not just from the people perspective, but obviously just becoming more enterprise minded when it comes to what actually keeps us in business and what's keeping other leaders up at night.

And having her bird's eye view, obviously from the C-suite not just around the current state, but the direction in which we're running so that I can adequately plan and pivot and adjust and shore up especially our disenfranchised populations and just make sure that I am not being reactive, but really, really proactive and forecasting and getting in front of things before they're problems. So I think it comes back to like, we're two people and we needed to fit in ways that met business needs, and there's no substitute for that.

Katelin: Absolutely.

Zoë: Yeah, I would agree. I mean, I echo what Erin said. I think from the get-go during the interviewing process, we were both really frank about like, "Look, here's what Upwork has, here's what we don't have. And there's a bunch of stuff that I don't even know we don't have, but you should come in and tell us that we don't have." And having conversations about, what are our lives like? What matters to you? Who are you as a person? Because I think the other part of this work is, yes, the HR team at Upwork is a business team, we're not a receiver, we're a driver. And that's really important.

And the work that HR does is often holding some of the most tender pieces of the organization and protecting that and driving results, but still knowing these things. And nowhere is that more evident than in the DIB space. And so it was important to me to understand, how are we going to balance that? What does that look like? How do we create space for Erin to be a driver, but also somebody who is creating a team and a relationship for herself with work where there is space and protection around that? 

I think the other thing that Erin's point about us getting to know each other better since we've since we met, obviously, is there's a buildup of trust as in any relationship. And one of the things that I deeply appreciate is Erin is one of the first people on my team to give me feedback and authentically and challenge me and make me a better leader. And that's really important to me. And so I think we've built a lot of collaboration there too.

Erin: Yeah. I'll say that Zoë planted the seeds for that during the hiring process. It's not my first rodeo as a head of DEI. And each position I've had, I've obviously learned things that I take with me into the next role. And what stood out to me when Zoë was interviewing me and we were having conversations, when she asked me questions, not just about the position and org structure and how to map the relationship, but about me as a person and what I personally do to manage the platform that I have in my roles and to balance things for myself. And so just putting that front and center in the hiring process, I think, really started to build a trust and rapport very early on. It's part of what made me accept the role is because it was really clear she cared about me as a person. So it was a really awesome foundation to start from.

Katelin: I love that. I think that that's a really important thing to tease out for our audience here is having a personal commitment when you enter the recruiting phase. This isn't just about, does this person tick the boxes from the skillset and the role requirements, but really, especially in these roles, Zoë, I love that you call part of this work tender and protecting that because there is so much about strategy and there is so much and the world of human resources has evolved so much. And then it just went into hyperdrive in this last year. 

And so to recognize that it is so multifaceted in the work that we're doing, it's also multifaceted in the human aspect and the connection that we need to build and that trust and rapport that we need to build in order to challenge ourselves. But I am very curious, what made you really excited about this role, this company, the opportunity to work with Zoë and the rest of the leadership team? What was it that was super appealing to you that you could say, "Hey, yeah, this is right for me in this next chapter"?

Erin: Sure. I'll say it's the only role I applied for, so that already sets the stage. And there were a few things that stood out right away. One, as Zoë already alluded to, is the fact that we are a mission-driven company and equity is basically our mission. And so that as a practitioner is so dreamy because certainly I've consulted for and been in orgs where I can make the value prop and bring it alive. I didn't want to basically waste time doing that in this chapter of my career, and I really haven't had to. And so that was really refreshing. 

Another thing, and you mentioned this, is our leadership team. As I had more conversations, as I Googled them and saw the involvement they had in different organizations, again, committed to equity globally, I got excited about some of the signals that I was seeing. I think a third thing is once I started to actually meet people was, I mean, to this word tender, we're very whole and open-hearted company, and I've done this work in federal government, I've done this work in professional services, I've done this work consulting for a variety of companies across industries, that's not a given. 

And so being in an org that cares about people where people care about each other, where we can appeal to hearts and leverage that internal motivation to affect change. That's a really cool entry point, but you don't always get, and I was really excited to, you said it before, have some of these more vulnerable and personal conversations to engage our workforce even further in service of our mission. 

And I think the last thing, and Zoë said this already as well, is that the company had already been doing the work. It wasn't packaged as diversity work, but I wasn't coming in fresh, I wasn't building like I had in the past. I wanted to start at second phase and do things that I had always dreamed of and hadn't seen before. And Upwork creates a playground for people work because a lot of the things that would be privileges in other companies, I feel like are just basics and foundations and rights here. And so thinking about, again, what would be game changing? How can we dream about things that we've never seen? Has been so fun and so exciting. So all of those just made it the perfect combination, really magic ingredients that I had just never seen altogether in one organization.

Katelin: I love this. And I'm going to do a special call out for our audience here who are founders or CEOs or executive leaders within their organizations, there is a massive shortage of incredible people leaders out in this world. And to get the very, very best folks on your team, provide exactly what Erin just outlined. Don't make us come in and try to convince you that this work is important. Lay that foundation of, come in and just do your very best work. 

Let's talk about the actual work that you all are doing. Upwork is an incredibly unique business in not just what you were doing, but how you are impacting the world of work. Something that's very, very important for people practitioners and in any role and actually to be frank, any executive role, which is, how do you measure success? And this is something that I think that a lot of very strategic minded executives as they're considering bringing on a DEI role or they're considering how to integrate DEI programming into their work, what is success? How do we measure success? And this is a very challenging question that I'm sure Erin, you have a great answer for given your background.

Erin: Man, my brain was just spinning. So I was like, let me think of all the 100 data points that I look at every week. Literally. But let me pare it down. I think one thing that excited me when I was interviewing was there was one particular data point that we were talking about throughout the interview process. Again, Upwork had already done the work of turning over employee and talent data to understand where the biggest pain points were and areas of opportunity, and so that was a retention metric. And in particular, our black employees were turning over more than we would expect and would want compared to the representation in our workforce. And so scaling out from that, certainly average tenure and attrition within populations is a really key metric and something I obsess over, and it's noisy, right?

Katelin: Yeah.

Erin: You can't pinpoint the one thing that makes people or people from certain groups leave. But starting there and then doing some of that investigative work that we've talked about in terms of engagement scores and qualitative interviews, and really sussing out what are the key factors that maybe aren't unique to certain populations, but are disproportionately affecting them, has been a lot of the sort of constellation of data that we'll look at. And of course there's other data too. I mean, overall diversity, like what is the mosaic of our workforce? And does it represent the places in which we hire? Is it balanced? So do the LGBT+ folks tend to sit in one part of your organization versus others? Why would that be? 

And just really getting granular so that at the end of the day, I think, the ultimate goal is that your data story really shows that you've got, again, a really balanced and well distributed diversity of people across groups and teams, and that they're enabled to do their best work, which you measure through those engagement surveys, through the COVID surveys that you're putting out, through all of the channels where you're getting more to the day-to-day texture of what people experience when they open up the laptop.

Katelin: Oh so you're telling me that you're not just measuring your diversity hires?

Erin: We are not just measuring hires who add to our diversity, because that makes no sense. And often, in fact, and true to our story, if you've got a hiring issue, it's usually more a retention issue in the first place. So really looking at each stage of that team member experience and seeing where you're going to get the most bang for your buck if you're going to focus, what I think is the scarcest resource, which is time and attention. And I think this work, I actually don't think it's that complicated. I think we get really distracted. I think we get really distracted or we get really fatigued, but that's a different barrier than it being really hard or expensive in dollars.

Katelin: To be clear, I was asking that question tongue in cheek because I think that that is one of the most rudimentary, simplistic views into, "Oh, we hire a head of DEI. They're responsible for one metric OKR, KPI. And that is, are they improving the diversity of our team?" It becomes a recruiting metric, full stop.

Erin: Well, and what's so exciting to that point is in summer of 2020, I took on an additional role. And so now I oversee both our, again, DIBs as we call it, our DEI and our talent acquisition teams. And so all roads point to me, which makes it really great to have that holistic picture and say, "Well, cool, cool, cool, we've doubled leaders of color mostly through hiring because we are growing our teams aggressively," but also, "What are we doing to keep them and grow them?" And so there's just no getting away from, we've got to look at the whole picture.

Katelin: This is complex, it is human, and it really is integrated into every single aspect of the business. This is not one person's responsibility, this is not one team's responsibility. And so, Zoë, I will ask the question then to you, as the chief people officer, you're sitting in a room, and my assumption is that these goals and these success metrics have translated into the entire organization. And the reason I make that assumption is because what you all are doing is working and I know for a fact that one human can not do all of this.

Zoë: No, we can't. Erin is amazing, but we all need to do it together. I mean, I think, yeah, you're totally right, Katelin. This is a corporate objective. Hayden became our CEO, Hayden Brown, in the beginning of 2020 and has really centered the experience of being a high-performing high talent density organization, which is stronger through its diversity inclusion and belonging practices. 

It's a corporate priority for us this year and every executive team member is held accountable to that as well as all the people leaders in our organization. And so it is treated the same way that we report out on core financial metrics or product metrics that we review. And earlier I said that the HR team at Upwork is a business team. That's really true. And it's reemphasized, not just by me saying that in our all hands, but by the way the company treats us and also by the work and the mission that we're working as the world's work marketplace, we are an organization that's focused on people connecting and relationships to do the best work. And so that has helped us tremendously too, because the people who work at Upwork in finance, in legal, in product and engineering, are thinking about these things in a similar way as well.

Katelin: Right. And I feel like that makes all the difference in the world. Something that I really appreciate about how you all are working is this commitment to open sourcing and building out loud or building in public. And for all of the things that I think and that I view externally as I look at you all as incredible role models in the industry is you also have shared that things aren't always great or things aren't always perfect. What are some of your current challenges or roadblocks, or what are some of the things you're experiencing in your work that you wish you could shift or change or is frustrating to you?

Zoë: I think for us, our biggest challenge that Erin talked about before is time. There are so many different things that we want to do, we need to consistently push ourselves to prioritize and choose. And sometimes that's a big challenge when you're like, "I really just want to do all three of these things." Erin and I met earlier today and we're talking through that. And there's a lot on the table that is awesome and exciting and we want to work on together, but you have to pick a nut. That's the job of leadership. I think clarifying and prioritizing continue to be so critical for us. And I think that if we can move that forward, other businesses benefit too, and Erin was a big champion for the open source thing. And I think that those kinds of things pay dividends as our community grows.

Katelin: Absolutely.

Erin: Yeah, same answer. I was trying to find a way to say this that wasn't redundant, but I'm not patient. And I think what I struggle with and we actually have a change management role on our DIBs team for this reason is, change takes time, but obviously in the DEI space, it's been taking way too long. And at this pace, we're never going to get there, even in our kids' lifetimes. And I think we can all agree that that's too slow. And so like, what is the right amount? And against the backdrop of COVID and no childcare, what is the right amount of pressure and asks and requests and unlearning and relearning to put on people? 

I really don't know because this is my job and this is all I do all day every day, and that's not true for everybody. And as much as we want it to be integrated, there is, again, that change curve that we have to respect even if we want to speed it up. And so I think that is just always the calculus that I am trying to figure out and I don't figure it out alone. I mean, certainly we really reach out into the business and we build things and people come, and we ask folks how much they can give not to show up for a full day offsite every month because that's just like not reasonable. 

And so pragmatism is my middle name. And I also just I'm very angsty at night about more and more and more, why is it so hard? But it's so hard because people are really complicated and I like to deal with people in a macro sense. That's really my discipline. But when you actually get to know individuals, we're all very messy and we're moving in different directions. And it's hard because it should be. So that wasn't super scientific of an answer, but I just think it's hard to pace. It's hard to know what's healthy, what's aggressive, what's too much, and what people can afford any point in time. And I think especially again, compounded by the pandemic, it's hard to gauge.

Katelin: Right. Well, I'll take a human answer over a scientific answer any day. So I appreciate it. All right. Let's shift gears a little bit into the uniqueness that is Upwork. You all, as far as I know, approximately two thirds of your company's internal talent is comprised of freelancers from your very own work marketplace. And so my first reaction as an HR practitioner is, it feels like a lot to manage, but this is also your business. So talk to me, Zoë, how does tapping into this pool work in your favor?

Zoë: Yeah, in so many ways, Katelin. I think Upwork has been a mostly remote work company for 20 plus years. And so we know that remote work works and that's the advantage that our freelancers who are on the network platform but work back directly for us provide. They're around the world connecting and doing the work that they do best without the additional overhead of all these meetings and all this different pieces of work that corporate and traditional roles tend to bring with them. 

And so it's impacted us in a number of critical ways. One is diversity of thought is already built into the work that we do because there are people from so many different backgrounds and places. The other is, it really helps us from two key differentials in terms of skill and scale. So if there's a unique skill that I don't have on my HR team, like a beautiful PowerPoint if I'm doing a conference thing or some very specific scientific research, I can go and find somebody on the platform who'll help my team do that and we don't have to figure out, well, what would they do for the rest of their time? We wind it up and wind it down.

And then in terms of scale, an example I think of often around this one is, when we have a hiring push, which we're undergoing now, please look on our website, to bring in more awesome people to keep pushing our talent density even further, we need additional recruiters, additional sourcers, additional schedulers. And we have a core team of people who do that, and they're awesome, but we need more. So we can scale that up. And then as things calm down a little bit and the balance, we recalibrate, then they can go on and do that somewhere else. 

The other thing that you see when you work with people who are freelancing is that they're constantly refining their skills because they're working and they're learning with different clients all the time. And so you get this incredible amount of insight and cutting edge thinking that pushes all of us to do better and really drive more results.

Katelin: You're setting my gears in motion now because it sounds like such a great efficiency hack.

Zoë: It's amazing. Yes.

Katelin: Now, Erin, I have a important question that I want to ask you about your commitment to open sourcing. This is something that is incredibly near and dear to my heart and anyone who has listened to this podcast or read any of my work. I think this is a very, very critical part of shifting the world of work and the way in which we engage with one another. 

And in particular, you have been at Upwork during one of the most incredibly unexpected moments in recent history. And I think throughout the last year and a half, your voice has become one that executives just across industries have really come to rely on through moments of very extreme shifts in our culture and being faced with challenges that the world of work and employers have not really had to address, or they've chosen not to address in the past. 

You appeared and represented yourself and Upwork as calm, firm, but helpful. And I think that the way you showcase your work has really set you apart from a lot of the chaos. And I think that people were seeking solutions and you provided those, and you did that by sharing your work and by open sourcing the work that you all are doing at Upwork together. So I'm very curious to hear what inspired you to so willingly share those playbooks of yours.

Erin: Sure. I think there is a personal answer and there's a professional answer. I mean, on the personal side, I am not calm. I am not a calm person, no one who's ever met me would ever call me calm. I'm getting better, but no. And I think in this work, sure you can flex and be calm in moments, but you should be impatient, you should be pushing and driving as we've talked about. So on the personal side for me, the writing you might see just like on Twitter or a contribution to an article in HBR or Fast Company, that's for me. That's for me to figure out, what am I doing? How do I, not only as a people person, but also just as a black mom during all of this, get some sense of certainty and control and try to tussle through all of the same things everyone was struggling with?

So that was almost a version of therapy for me was to organize my thoughts and try to, to your point, be helpful in doing so. And then the professional explanation is this is something I've always wanted. When I started at Upwork, we were having very early conversations around the right time to share data, the right time to share all the things that we were thinking about and doing. And for me, I wasn't super interested in doing that until I had settled in and I had my arms around what we were doing and we had had some impact. 

But then to your point, the world is moving fast. And even though we'll never be where we want to be because this is always moving and evolving, we knew we just couldn't waste the crisis. We couldn't waste the opportunity to say like, "Hey, we have done some things we're proud of. Hey, we're struggling with this. Hey, here's what we're trying and thinking about." The barometer for what felt risky just totally moved and we were just like, "It's now or never." My goodness, what bigger pressure prompt than the world shutting down to just get out there and broadcast the things we've been doing for years, broadcast the new things that this function has been uncovering and trying to solve and just take it from there. 

And I think a piece of that as well is accountability. I am a huge believer and fan of accountability and there's no walking back. A public, not just statement, but a report on the state of anti-racism with data. We're in the hot seat now, and that's what I wanted. I wanted us to not be able to pull back later when we got maybe more scared or things got more challenging. So all of those reasons just made it right. And I'm glad because now that we've done it, it's like, "Okay, now what? How do we push ourselves further?" It wasn't that scary, it wasn't that hard. And we're honest and we needed it.

Katelin: Well, I know that the industry is better for it. I know that people are very, very grateful for that courage and for the support. So thank you for that. I'm going to jump into the rapid fire portion of the show. Don't overthink it, I promise it's more fun than it is scary. Are you ready?

Zoë: I think so.

Katelin: Erin, and we'll start with you first. Zoom preference, virtual background, or real background?

Erin: Real, all day every day.

Katelin: Zoë, what items sitting on your desk in front of you right now sparks joy and why?

Zoë: Oh, I have a card from a friend of mine who did something like unexpected and wonderful out of nowhere for me, and it moved me to tears.

Katelin: Oh, I love that. Erin, what is your favorite productivity hack these days?

Erin: Saying no.

Katelin: Duh, oh my heart. Okay, those were the easy ones. Let's do a few more. These are going to be a little bit trickier. Zoë, company culture; family, or sports team, and why?

Zoë: Neither. We're not a family, we're not a sports team, we're an organization that cares about our mission and it's here to deliver results.

Katelin: Such a good answer. Erin, one tactical thing that leaders or HR teams can do today to increase access and inclusion in the workplace.

Erin: Ask people what they need and believe them.

Katelin: Truth. Okay, this one's for the both of you. Zoë, you're up first. When was the last time you were deeply proud of something you have accomplished?

Zoë: Actually, yesterday. Two members of my team did a presentation in a leadership forum that was the best we've ever had on this topic. Our CEO commented on it. And one of my direct reports has grown both of those women and they crushed it, and it just made me feel like this is the reason we do this work.

Katelin: I love that. Erin, same question.

Erin: Mine's at home. I am really coming into mamahood and it's ever evolving with my kids and it's always wear tender. I find myself having tender moments weekly. So probably sometime this week, I am just touched by the relationship that I'm building with my boys.

Katelin: I really thought I was going to get through this episode without tearing up, but you got me. All right, one last and final question for you before we wrap it up. What advice would each of you give to founders and people leaders out there trying to make sense of this particular moment in history? How can they use this as an opportunity to build a better organization into this next chapter? Erin, we'll start with you.

Erin: My advice is to find whatever you need to make yourself less afraid. Because if we're playing things safe and we're being as cautious as we've been in the past, then again, we've learned nothing from the very bare bones of the last 18 months. And so if not now, when? And if not, who? Which is a little trite, but this is the moment. And I think it's passing us by as we start to reenter, so seize it, claim it, sit with it and really craft everything that didn't feel possible before but I think we now have more of a runway to do than ever.

Katelin: I love that, and I agree. Zoë, final thoughts from you.

Zoë: My answer would be to get out of your own way, very similar to Erin. I think about Kat Cole's Hot Shot Rule about if the very best person who could ever do your job came in tomorrow or do the three things she or he or they would look around and be like, "Why haven't we done X, Y, and Z?" We all have those things that we know we should do, and there's this voice in the back of our heads like, "I can probably get to that later, I just don't want to do that." Do those things, do them tomorrow, do them today.

Katelin: I love this. All right, team, that is a wrap. I want to thank you both so much there. I feel like we could talk for hours and hours and hours, but I know you all have very important work to do. I am so grateful for your time for what you are building, how you were putting it out into the world. And I am so excited to watch how you continue to grow and evolve and push our industry and push the world of work into a place that is more inclusive. Thank you both very much for joining us. And we look forward to the work that you all continue to publish and put out there. So thank you and please keep leading authentically.

Erin: Thank you.

Zoë: Thank you so much for having us, Katelin.


Thanks so much for joining me on this week's episode of All Hands brought to you by Lattice. I'm your host Katelin Holloway. This episode was produced by Lattice in partnership with Pod People: Rachel King, Madison Lusby, Samantha Gattsek, and mastering done by Erica Huang. Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people focused at lattice.com, or find us on Twitter @LatticeHQ. Don't forget to subscribe to All Hands wherever you get your podcasts. Join us next time.

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About the Guest

podcast guest

Zoë Harte & Erin L. Thomas

Zoë Harte leads our talent strategy at Upwork. As such, she has guided the growth of the company’s team by more than 50 percent since its merger in spring of 2014. She implements innovative management approaches and focuses on building a mission-driven culture for Upwork’s team of employees and global network of freelancers. Her team includes HR business partnerships, learning and development, workplace management, recruitment, compliance and onboarding, talent innovation and HR operations.

Erin L. Thomas, Ph.D., is Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Upwork. She brings a distinctive mix of research and practitioner expertise to this role, which includes leading diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) strategy, implementation, and coaching.

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