272: People First – Self-Awareness and Being Excellent To Each Other with Ashleigh Wilson
February 23rd, 2022 · 54 mins 52 secs
About this Episode
02:14 - Ashleigh’s Superpower: Ability To See “The Vision”
03:35 - Intentionality: “People First”
- Call Me Out: Intention vs Impact
- “This Doesn’t Make Sense” Log
- Emotional Fitness Surveys
- “Dare To Lead” Book Club
10:55 - Listen
- Digging in to Defensiveness / Uncomfortableness
- Little Things Add Up
- Building Connections and Relationships
15:10 - Building Trust – Why is vulnerability not professional?
- Alleviating Fear
- North Star: Being Excellent To Each Other
- Self Awareness & Emotional Intelligence
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
21:02 - Personal Growth and Development
27:24 - Intersexuality and Identity: How do you show up?
36:37 - Making and Dealing With Mistakes
- Taking Feedback
- Lead With Gratitude
- Ego Checks
40:05 - Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
- Visibility and Understanding
- Health and Wellness Benefits
- Sacred vs Safe Spaces / Safe vs Brave Spaces
- Dan Price
45:52 - Fundraising & Venture Capital (VC)
Mandy: Eating a shame sandwich in order to learn and grow.
Chanté: North Star = Being excellent to each other.
Ashleigh: Celebrating intersections of identity.
Aaron: The “This Doesn’t Make Sense” log.
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MANDY: Hello, everybody and welcome to Episode 272 of Greater Than Code. My name is Mandy Moore, I use she/her pronouns, and I'm here with our new panelist, Aaron Aldrich.
AARON: Thanks! And hey, I'm Aaron. I use they/them pronouns and I am also here with Chanté Martínez Thurmond.
CHANTÉ: Hey, everyone, Chanté here. I use she/her/ella pronouns and I am so glad to introduce our guest today, Ashleigh Wilson.
AARON: Thank you for having me!
Hello, Ashleigh here and I use she/her pronouns.
CHANTÉ: Ashleigh is the Founder and CEO of Auditmate, the world's first elevator and escalator auditing system.
After discovering that customers were an afterthought to most companies, Ashleigh left the corporate world and founded Auditmate under a "people first" mentality. Ashleigh knows discrimination first-hand as a queer woman working in the tech industry and she aims to create a space where everyone has permission to be human.
What a great bio.
ASHLEIGH: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
CHANTÉ: It's a pleasure.
Ashleigh, the first question we ask our is what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
ASHLEIGH: My superpower is my ability to see the vision and it's a bit of a witchy. I don't know where it comes from, but the best visual representation I've ever seen of it as if anyone has seen The Queen’s Gambit and when she can move the chess pieces on the ceiling? When I'm in the zone, and it's often when I'm half sleep, it just connects and I'm like, “Oh, this is how it works,” and I can just see the path forward. I can't force it. [chuckles] I don't get to choose when it happens. It just happens, or it doesn't. But when I get those deep downloads on the vision and the path forward, and then I think the skill that's been learned to couple with that is then how to make a plan to execute it because the vision can be one, but that execution does not work alone. [chuckles]
AARON: That's awesome. I like that and I like that you mentioned the skill that gets paired with that. I can relate to a superpower can't exist in a vacuum; it needs some way to be harness and used. [chuckles]
CHANTÉ: I love that, too. Aaron, where you're going with that, because what it makes me think about Ashleigh, just reading your bio and kind of getting a preview of some of the things you care about, how have you been intentional about building a people first organization, or a startup in this space and using that superpower and maybe either finding people who compliment you there, or who are distinctly different? But I'd love to hear how you've been intentional about that.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. I think it starts with first of all, when you feel othered in any organization, like coming in and being able to set the culture is like, “Oh, I'm going to do all of these things.” But as Aaron mentioned earlier, it's not in a vacuum and so, I think the intentionality has been, what is the mission? What is the north star? How do we treat each other? And then at every new hire at every new customer acquisition, it then iterates, iterates, iterates, and iterates. You have to be willing to learn, to take feedback, and to eat a shame sandwich every once in a while, when you screw it all up and you have to admit it [chuckles] because it happens every single time. I've been called to the carpet.
I think one of the biggest ways that I've been intentional is being communicative about call me out, call me out. I'm never going to know all of the things all the time and I think that my team knows me well enough to know my intentions, but it comes in intentions versus impact conversation. I can only know my intentions unless you tell me how this impacts you. I can't know and so, creating a culture of my team being able to call me out and be like, “Hey, your intention was good. The impact sucked. Let's talk about it.” [chuckles]
AARON: What's that like practically to get folks like on that side and able to call you out because I know for – I'm thinking about it and I know I can to jump into any corporate culture, even startup and be like, “Yeah, I feel comfortable calling out my boss on this.” [chuckles]
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. I don't think we feel like we have a corporate culture at least yet.
ASHLEIGH: But that also took time in creating. So one way that we did it was we have something called that this doesn't make sense log so that people can just document either things in the system, or things in the culture, or things in policies that just are kind of dumb. Like why do we do this this way? This doesn't make sense. This makes my job harder than it should be. The we need to get X done, but you're making us do Y and Z that don't go toward the greater mission.
And then also we created an emotional fitness survey for every employee so that each person – and it's left in one place so each person says, “I want to receive praise publicly, or privately,” or “If I need to get feedback, I want to receive it like this,” or these just different questions on how people to be communicated to. I think setting up those conversations as people log in and it's okay to speak up, it's okay to push back, I expect you to push back on me makes people feel more comfortable, but it takes a while. It does.
CHANTÉ: I love that. I use something very similar to that for my own consulting business in my firm and it's been something that we really lean into helpful to just make sure that it's transparent and it's a nice reminder as a leader that your answers to questions can change. Giving people permission to say, “You know what, how I'm showing up today is different than how I showed up yesterday, because life.” [chuckles]
CHANTÉ: So I really love that.
The other sort of burning thing that I have for you is, because I read that you had been in this business so I'm guessing that you had learned from people and maybe it was a family business. I might have missed that part. I'm curious how doing it your way this time with these sort of principles is different than the way maybe you were mentored to do it, or what you've seen in the past and why that's important.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. I don't know that I had ever seen it modeled before. I was raised in the elevator industry and before that, my stepdad was in the elevator industry and my dad was salesman of any type, door-to-door salesman selling vacuums to cleaners, to cars, to whatever the case may be and I've never fallen in line.
I was always the kid in school that was like, “Why do you do it that way? When you can do it this way? Why are we doing this? That doesn't make sense and that doesn't feel good?” And people are like, “Well, we don't really care how you feel,” and I'm like, “But why it doesn't feel good?” Like why do people want to work where it doesn't feel good? This doesn't make sense to me.” That feeling in my tummy has always been so wrong that it's either a hard yes, or a hard no and I'm like, “How do you operate in a hard no all the time?” Why do we expect people to operate in these visceral responses to this?
Just watching how teams have responded and how you almost want to beat the individuality out of people to get performance to a certain standard, or something, like that somehow makes it better for everybody to be like that whole homogeny equals happiness saying? It was never true to me and so, I think I always had this if I feel like this, there has to be someone else that feels like this. I cannot be the only one that wants to show up as my true self and talk about feelings in business meetings! I cannot be the only one. This has to exist.
I started a Dare to Lead book club at the Elevator office, which [chuckles] I'm sure you can imagine how that went over. Everybody showed up and I was like, “Oh, so y'all want to act like this is okay and that everyone seems okay. But then look at all of these white cis men in my Dare to Lead book club. Huh.” So it just kind of gave me the affirmation that I needed to say, “People do want to feel good. People do want to talk about and this does actually help the bottom line.”
CHANTÉ: I personally love it. What I do for my day-to-day is focus on culture and focus on diversity, equity, inclusion accessibility, and organizations, whether it's on teams, products, services, and offerings. I think that people underestimate what it takes to build something that's special, especially there's not a culture budget. There's a budget for recruiting. There's a budget for performance stuff and for growth. But I'm like, “But what is the fascia? What is the stuff that keeps it together?” And it is the culture.
I often like to say, as we're thinking about the future of work and building the next iteration of what work should be in decentralized teams working from home, we do need to lean into the sort of the soft skills that are actually aren't that soft, but they're those emotional intelligence stuff. That makes a huge difference.
So is there any advice you might have to leaders like you who are like, “Okay, I guess I might read a Dare to Lead book,” or “I might start to prioritize this”? Where can they start, or what are practical things that you've learned along the way in leading your company in this fashion?
ASHLEIGH: Listen. Listen is the first one. Listen when you get defensive, because those moments when your team says something to you that seems so small, insignificant, and annoying because you have all of these big things to do and all of the – you're pushing the company forward and there's this little voice that someone was brave enough to say this little thing that you're like, “Ugh.”
That defensiveness, that feeling, whatever that small thing is, is probably a big thing, or will become a big thing and being able to own up to whatever it is that's making you defensive, or uncomfortable and truly listening in and digging into what is the root cause of that? Because it's generally, I don't know if you know the saying like something about the wrapper, it's never the wrapper. You get into a fight about the wrapper on the counter, that's never the wrapper. It's not throwing away the wrapper. It's the underlining way of how we are making people feel and for me, it's been about being able to truly dig into those things.
The doesn't make sense log came from one of those experiences. My team, we were in these meetings and they would bring up these little things and be like, “Hey Ashleigh, well, what about this?” And I'm like, “It's not the time for that. We're talking about Z. Why are you bringing up A? We're in this super deep meeting about Z and you're talking about A,” and then they were like, “You're not listening to us. You say that you are people first, but you're not hearing us,” which is like a dagger to the heart. It's gutting and I had to sit with it for days because I was like, “I know I'm people first. I know my intention is right. How am I not translating it? How are my actions not matching my intentions?”
When I boiled down to it, it was people didn't have an easy way to bring up little things to me and so, those little things would start to get bigger and then they would bring them up in big meetings because my schedule is booked. We don't have water cooler talk. We don't have walking by someone's desk and being like, “Hey, what's happening with blah, blah, blah?” That stuff doesn't exist and so, these little things were starting to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger because there wasn't an easy place to just discuss them. So creating one log alleviated so much pain and made people feel heard about, “Hey, this one email has a misspelling and no one's paid attention to it.” Just little stuff.
And then the second thing is that we've been starting is more personal time. We started what I call an AuditMate lounge, which is on Fridays and it's just meant to be logging on and just hanging out with each other. It's water cooler time. You can be working, you can be doing other things, but this is not a business meeting. This is not meant to get things done. It's meant to just hang out.
AARON: I like that. I just started working at a new company this month and similar to the team I'm on at least, the DevRel has similar like, “Oh, we're just going to hang out for a bit because I'm around,” [chuckles] and whatever. I've really appreciated it because it's something that I feel like when you're in an office, it's easy to lose track of all the time that you spend just being around those people and building those relationships because it's just rolled into, “Oh, I was getting a coffee,” or “Oh, we went to get lunch,” or “Oh, we went to do this,” and “Oh, I walked by a desk and said ‘Hey’ for a few minutes.”
But especially with COVID with everyone remote and at home, or remote companies, it's so easy to forget about that stuff and forget about building those connections that are more than just, “Hey, we work on this thing together.” It's like, “Oh yeah, also, we're people. We should hang out and talk about what people do,” [chuckles] which is sometimes just nothing.
ASHLEIGH: Absolutely and it's how we build trust!
AARON: Hmm. Yeah. I think that's a big thing, too.
MANDY: What are your favorite ways to build trust?
ASHLEIGH: Oh, well, I never really thought about it like that.
I'm a Scorpio moon and rising so I like all of the deep things like, “Hi, I'm Ashleigh. Tell me about your trauma.” So I think the biggest way [chuckles] that I like to build trust is just in deep conversation, really getting to know each other, being vulnerable, and being able to just take the mask off.
MANDY: Do you think you can do that too much, though with coworkers? Where do you find that balance? Because I struggle with that myself. Like how do you be open and completely vulnerable, but professional at the same time?
ASHLEIGH: Why is vulnerability not professional?
MANDY: That's a great question.
ASHLEIGH: I think that's where – and I don't have an answer to it. It's kind of what I'm rambling. But why is vulnerability pegged with femininity and why is vulnerability loaded into being unprofessional, or too much, or too whatever? I think that the vulnerability that I don't want to expose too much is if it's loaded with fear because feelings aren't facts and I don't want to unload fear onto my team if there's something that I'm nervous about. I feel like it's my responsibility to hold those things and to alleviate some fear.
But I think unpacking with my team that we can be vulnerable and that is actually more professional because it does make us more efficient. It does make us more trusting, I guess, would be the proper word there. The personal things that I don't share as far as vulnerability is there's some personal life stuff that I don't share, but not because it's not professional, but because it's sacred more.
AARON: I think you mentioned something interesting about fear that gets at an interesting balance. From a leadership perspective, you have some responsibility about the vulnerability that you share and what you're able to be vulnerable with your team that maybe different than you want from an individual contributor on that team.
You probably want to hear the fears of your team like, “Tell me what you're worried about so I can either alleviate those, or we can work to be in a good place.” But at the same time, sounds like you have some responsibility that I can't unload that on you because I'm the one who's supposed to be [laughs] taking care of that. How does that play out me besides just that one generic scenario? Are there ways you find that balance difficult to walk, or?
ASHLEIGH: Yeah, like fundraising. My team needs to trust that I'm going to pay the bills. I don't want them to be worried about having money for payroll, or that we're going to be set up for our next raise, or that, right? There's some basic survival stuff that can be so linked to trauma of if we don't feel like we're going to have food on our tables for our family, if we don't feel like we're going to have continual pay, if we don't – those sort of things that are just human nature. We can't think and we can't perform because it is my duty to take care of my family and if I can't take care of my family with this company, I need to go do what I need to go do.
So that's where it's my responsibility to those fears – especially when you are rational, if I'm having imposter syndrome about raising money as a queer woman and it's irrational because, maybe not irrational but loaded because of statistics, I shouldn't unload that on them, or I need to have someone, a mentor, someone that I can go to because they need to be expressed, but that could get bigger and bigger and bigger when shared with my team.
So I really think about our north star is being excellent to each other. When my vulnerability is serving to them is when I share and not just when it's serving to me, because it'll make me feel better to express that I'm scared about funding, but it will not make my team feel better. It will, in fact, make them feel worse.
CHANTÉ: What I hear is this dance we have to do as folks who have founded companies, or leaders of those companies to have what I consider again, that emotional intelligence. It's like – [overtalk]
CHANTÉ: Because self-awareness is huge and when you get a chance to – when you know your traps, or the traumas and the triggers that keep you stuck, or actually help to get you to another place, you can notice them in others and then the regulation is really important as well to really build relationships that are trusting and then discern it. It's like timing is everything to be like, you have to be able to read the room. You have to be able to be perceptive, read people's faces, and understand that they may have disassociation. They might be smiling, but they actually might be scared shitless [laughs] as you're like, “Oh, we're raising around.”
I love how you how you kind of introduce this thought around Maslow's hierarchies of needs. People want to be able to put food on the table and be able to take care of their responsibilities whether that's a family, or a spouse, significant other, friend, or community and that is why we work. [chuckles] We need the money because we're in this capitalistic system.
So I just love how you're doing that and where my mind takes me is how did you have the wisdom to do that? Who has been either an example that you admire, do you have a coach, do you have a community? Where are you learning these awesome things? Because I feel like you're so in touch with this emotional intelligence piece that so many people are missing.
ASHLEIGH: Thank you. I appreciate that.
I did not used to be, [chuckles] to be quite honest and I learned about emotions getting freshly sober at like 24 from Brené Brown. I had no idea. I had no idea. I quit drinking and remember starting to read one of her books and saying that an emotionally intelligent person knew 30 emotions and I was like, “Wait, there's more than happy and sad? You're telling me there's 30? That I should be able to name 30 and know what they feel like in my body?”
CHANTÉ: Right, and according to her new book, she has even more stuff.
ASHLEIGH: [laughs] Yeah.
CHANTÉ: I think there's like 80 plus.
ASHLEIGH: I'm like, “Wait, what?”
“This is a thing?” And that's when it kind of dawned on me, when people would say to me, “You don't get it. You don't get it,” and I'm like, “I don't get what?” And then I was like, “Oh, I'm not going to be able to know what you're feeling until I know what I'm feeling. Cool, great. I have a lot of work to do.” [chuckles]
So that's when I think I started unpacking and learning. I was raised by an alcoholic and then became one and then getting sober at a young age was like, “Oh, this is mine and that's yours and I didn't know that I ended and you started.” So really learning and starting to place those things for me and then just reading a lot, a lot of Eastern spirituality, I read a lot of Buddhism books, a lot of yoga books, a lot of Brené Brown vulnerability, shame, rumbling type books. And then I think it's just kind of been like I'll take this from that and really, it just leads from what feels good and what doesn't.
MANDY: Personal growth is essential. I'm in the same boat almost. I, too, am sober and it has changed my life. Over the past 2 years, I have done so much work on myself that sometimes I'm doing too much, but I learned – [overtalk]
ASHLEIGH: Totally. That’s a thing. [overtalk]
MANDY: Brené Brown is one of my heroes, Glennon Doyle, too.
ASHLEIGH: I was just going to mention her. Yes, oh my God!
MANDY: I love Glennon. Yeah. So personal growth is, I mean, journaling. Every day, I make it a habit and a practice to sit down and just write out my thoughts and my feelings. I highly, highly suggest to anybody who will listen to me to do the same thing.
ASHLEIGH: Same. [chuckles]
MANDY: Morning Pages are a wonderful thing. If you can do it in the morning, just get everything out of your head. Even the dumbest little thoughts, “dumbest little thoughts.” I mean, there are no dumb thoughts, but just getting all the, I call it taking the trash out.
ASHLEIGH: Oh, I like that.
MANDY: And just even snippets of any weird dreams, or just little nagging thoughts that are in the back of my head. Getting all those things out is just so essential.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah, absolutely. And do you know The Holistic Psychologist?
MANDY: I do.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah, and her future self-journaling has also been really helpful at times, like sitting down in the morning and saying, “My future self will feel like this and this is how my future self will take care of me today” has also been really powerful along those same lines.
CHANTÉ: Mandy, I loved your question earlier when you were like, “How do you know? Some people are not comfortable in doing that.” So I feel like what's also really true about organizations and teams is just you can have somebody who's kind of the sage, or most wise elder on the team who's like, “I've been through this, I've walked this path,” and then there's people who are like, “Huh, vulnerability.” And then the magic of that leader in the room is finding, or recognizing the spectrum of that and being all these things are actually welcomed and everybody's experience matters.
So how do you do that for your team? I'm imagining you have people who are newbies on this journey with you, or people who are like, “This is the best.” Maybe they gravitated and wanted to join you because they recognize parts of themselves in you, but how do you manage that part for your team and kind of carry and make room for the full spectrum of folk?
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. I think I'm still learning that one. I think we're always learning that one as our teams constantly change and evolve. The emotional fitness survey helps. I definitely call people out and I'm like, “Okay, how does this feel to everyone? Everyone has to talk, I'm waiting and I will for you to talk,” which I know can be jarring for folks that don't want to share in a group.
So really making sure to get everyone's input, that everyone gets used to speaking up in front of the group, and that it is just around Robin mentality, but then also developing those one-on-one relationships so people feel kind being like, “Hey, I'd rather share with you my idea after the call,” or whatever the case may be. But I think it's my job to hold space, it's my job to shut up sometimes and pass the mic, and it's my job to push and to pull.
So to really, really look at those levers of who's ready for more and who has the potential to and wants to develop that potential. Maybe it's fear, or maybe it's something that's blocking them that I can help them see. And then for other folks they're like, “Hey, I'm good. I'm chilling. I want to be right here. I don't want to be the big boss. I want to be your right-hand human and let me stay where I'm at.” I'm in my lane. Go away.” So I think it's just really listening to folks and then also help to see what may blocking our views.
CHANTÉ: I think I shared that the work I do is diversity, equity, and inclusion accessibility stuff and I often lead a lot and facilitate a lot of conversation around helping leaders and their teams recognize their identities, or intersectionality and recognizing social location and how that plays out with power privilege.
One of the things we read about you is that you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and I'm guessing that that's a very prominent identity for you because you shared it online openly. Thank you. But I know there's other parts to you. So what are the identities that you lead with? We could start with the most obvious and kind of learn more about you from there.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. So I lead with queer always. Queer is through and through who I am. I realize the privilege I have with the way that I present to the world. In most instances, I will always be safe and I think that it's my responsibility as a VC-backed founder to take that space and I don't really own that for me. I have the privilege of being safe and so, let's make this known and let's make room for more folks while I'm here. I can elbow folks out of the way so that we can keep some more space.
But the other parts of me. Gender, I don't really know right now, I'm kind of at the point that I think it's really garbage shit right now. So I don't really know. [laughs] I struggle. I've been in the dance with gender for a while and it's like, I feel like I would be taking up too much space to come out as non-binary and I know that non-binary, you don't have to look a certain way. I realize I have a lot of cis presenting privilege and it's not about that for me. I finally have landed on the conclusion that I don't give a crap about gender at all. It's more genderless and even non-binary feels too boxy for me. I don’t know, I'm kind of ambiguous on that right now. [chuckles]
AARON: Actually, I'm just generally agnostic you.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. I feel that.
CHANTÉ: Yeah. And I loved your response. I'm really into somatics and noticing bodies because bodies show up in space. [chuckles]
CHANTÉ: People are triggered by bodies sometimes and recognizing it could be that your race, your ethnicity, it could be your age, or your ability, or where you grew up and accent. Are there any other parts of you that you feel like are prominent, or that you lead with, or maybe don't lead with? I’m curious just to hear more about it.
ASHLEIGH: I'm pretty heavily tattooed and I also dress kind of funky in most instances. You can't tell right now, but half my hair is orange and half my hair is red. I'm loud, I'm vocal, and I'm very little, but I'm big in spaces. [laughs] I think that makes me different because most of the spaces that I operate in, I've been in this. Oh, the elevator world, it is 98% white men and I'm joking kind of about the industry, but I'm not going to shrink myself anymore. You will be uncomfortable by me. Don't let the crop top fool you. I am a CEO [chuckles] and I'm not going to change my crop top. Like, sorry.
CHANTÉ: Yes. See, this is why I'm asking. I mean, I love it. You just naturally went to like, “Okay.” So those are the things that that's how you're showing up.
ASHLEIGH: Mm hm.
CHANTÉ: Right, and what's true for the industry and what you're in and you kind of already went there, I think it's dope and I think the context matters because you're like, “Yeah. Am I in a room with other queer people who are leading tech companies, or am I in a predominantly male, cis, able-bodied, privileged, born and educated in United States industry where I'm blending elevator technology,” whatever? So thank you for that.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah, absolutely.
A lot of times I walk into the room and it's like, either I'm uncomfortable, or they're uncomfortable. So I'm like, “You're going to be uncomfortable today. I'm sorry. I'm going to make you feel things and I'm going to make you recognize your privilege because guess what, we all must be painfully aware of our privilege and if I am in a room all full of white people, all of able-bodied people, all of privileged people in some sense, let's talk about this. Why are we not? Why are we not talking about the humans that are impacted by the work that we're doing? Hello.”
AARON: It sounds like that was a big influence for your people-centric company, too.
ASHLEIGH: Mm hm.
AARON: I don't want to put that experience on you, [chuckles] but – [overtalk]
AARON: I don't want to ask it from a place of naivety and say like, “Oh, did this affect it?” It sounds very obviously your identity and being counterculture to the elevator and escalator world has influenced your company and where you want to go with that and how you want to show up.
ASHLEIGH: Absolutely, a 100% being in that space and being different and just being like, “You know what, if I don't own this, I'm going to feel terrible forever and I don't want to because that's great.” It's great and I can walk into the sun in San Francisco and feel fantastic and so, why do I not feel that same confidence level in this boardroom?
ASHLEIGH: You're not going to make me feel small. I'm sorry, you're not.
AARON: I think that's a big – I don’t know if I'm seeing so much of a shift. It's a big portion of… I don’t know I want to go with that, but I really like that. You're not going to make me feel small. I like the idea of showing up and you know what, this is me and just because you are uncomfortable, I’m not going to diminish myself.
ASHLEIGH: Absolutely and the reason that I do that is me doing that shows other people that it's safe. At least if I'm in the room, you're safe to be who you are if I'm here.
ASHLEIGH: And so that's why I put queer on my LinkedIn, that's why I lead with that because I know I'm safe and so, if I have – I feel responsible to it.
AARON: I know you mentioned you can show up and be safe and create that safety in that environment. Has that been something you had, or had modeled for you, or is that something you had to go out and create this space where you could be that beacon of safety?
ASHLEIGH: I think it's been modeled in my queer community. I don't think it had been modeled in corporate culture. I'm also not lost on how privileged I am to be safe and I'm not the bearer of safety and realize that there's many more intersections that go into that and that I'm here to listen and to learn and I don't know everything. [chuckles] Absolutely not.
So it's important to just be really vulnerable about what we don't know and to say, “Hey, I'm going to fuck it up and there's going to be ways that I am not aware of my unconscious bias yet. So please teach me and if you don't have emotional capacity to teach me, I'm not saying that it's your responsibility, but if you can call me out, please do.”
CHANTÉ: Yeah. That's a really important thing. I feel like being in solidarity with others who are othered. For me, it's like oh shit, we have Black history month coming up around the corner and I have some friends who are Black and queer, or Black, queer, and disabled and they're just like, “Oh, which one should I lead with first?” And I'm like, “All of them.” You shouldn't have to choose any of them over the other parts of yourself, because they're all valid and they all inform your lived experience in this particular body that you're in.
I want people to see the complexity and the wholeness of others and just be like, “That is dope.” I love how you said when people have the capacity to teach you, you invite it, but you're not demanding it because so many times we've – I think we all can speak to this on this call. We're all in community.
But it is, some of us have more resource and more ability to show up for each other at other points in time because we're going through something [chuckles] that the whole world doesn't know. It is likely because of our identity, our social location, our privilege, and the unique things we're kind of going through as we navigate life. It's really important to just constantly communicate that as well, that you're inviting this kind of calling out, or calling in and that people don't have to educate you. But I hear the willingness to want to show up and learn, which I think is literally a key. [laughs] The willingness. Yeah, awesome.
AARON: It's at least half of the battle, right?
My friends and I were having a discussion about community here and it was like, you cannot have a community space that never once is going to screw up, or have an issue, or be called out, or called in. How you move through that, or what, I don't know. If you continue to be a safe space, it’s not in not getting called out. It's how you deal with it. It's how you take that feedback from someone, or the community group and say, “One, thank you for telling me, let's be grateful that someone had the bravery to even speak up and two, then you get to say, is this mine, or not?”
Don't lead with the buts, or the whys I did it, or the here's my intent. Don't lead with that. Lead with gratitude that someone felt safe enough to come forward. Someone felt that you were worth getting their feedback, because guess what, if they didn't believe that you would change, they probably wouldn't even tell you. They would just leave. They would just deem the space as unsafe and go. So that in itself, how you take feedback will determine how your community and your company thrives, both.
MANDY: And then apologize and move on.
ASHLEIGH: Bingo. Yes.
AARON: And make material changes to show that you've learned.
ASHLEIGH: Oh, yeah.
ASHLEIGH: Good pointer. And then act also important. But [laughs] yes.
AARON: That lesson of taking feedback, I think and understanding the value of that is so huge and it's a hard lesson. This is probably the hardest lesson I'm dealing with my kids for instance, is like, “Hey, that first call out, I wasn't really upset with you, but then when you acted super defensive and flipped out, that's the problem that I have. That's not okay.”
AARON: The initial action was just like, “Hey, we need to change this. Let's alter our behavior. Move on. But all the other stuff, that was not good that. That, we need to work on.”
AARON: Yeah. It’s a tough lesson. I think it requires an ego check. Like decentering and recognizing oh, this call, it’s not about me. [laughs]
ASHLEIGH: Absolutely. Yes, and it's not easy work. You’ve got to eat it. It's not fun.
MANDY: Yeah. I've had to learn not everything's about me.
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AARON: A thing I wanted to get back to a little bit. I loved when Chanté was talking about folks who said that were Black, queer, and disabled and this multiple identities and leading with all of them. I think especially industry wise, or big corp wise anyway, we create these interest groups of this is the Black community interest group. This is the pride interest group. This is the disabled workers' interest group.
I feel like it misses so much of the you of intersectionality. I'm wondering if you've seen that both, in your space and your identity and being able to create that space of vulnerability yourself, if you've noticed a benefit of that.
ASHLEIGH: No, I think that's interesting and I like the note here that employee resources groups can be really great and really crappy. I totally agree.
ASHLEIGH: Often, it feels to me that the goal is visibility and understanding at the end of the day. We get great visibility in employee resource groups. We feel seen with people that are like us in some way, or another. But really, we want to have this intersectionality so how do we get both? My gosh.
How do we have the representation, which is so important? How do we have the understanding, which is so important? And then how do we move past the feelings of not feeling seen so that we can see others? Because if we don't think it's possible to be seen, we're probably not able to see others and we need an on-staff therapist, really. Let's just be honest.
ASHLEIGH: Put them on payroll.
CHANTÉ: I’ve got to get that idea. Now you're talking my language. I'm telling you, I'm telling you if I had it my way, all organizations would offer that as their employee health and wellness benefit is to have somebody who's like on-site and depending on the ratio of people, if you have too many, you got to get several organizational psychologists and folks who are well-versed in trauma.
ASHLEIGH: Totally. Yeah.
CHANTÉ: But it makes me think of the conversation I often talk about, which is the difference between sacred space and safe space.
CHANTÉ: The sacred space is like those ERGs. It's like, yeah, we're going to have our unique identities where we can show up, talk to each other, see each other, and be like, “Oh my God, that really sucked,” or “That was really good. Good job in there.”
The places where we're like – the safe spaces are harder because we have to make sure that everyone, when we say psychological safety, they're like, “Yes, I know what that means,” and that people are committed to doing some kind of work, which is why I'm like, “Organizations need to focus more on culture.”
CHANTÉ: And this is where the like magic can happen, or where it can all fall apart. The sacred versus space is so huge. So, so huge because we can't have enough of people like you, Ashleigh. The world needs so many CEOs like you, then the world would be better and different and I wouldn't mind going to corporate work. [chuckles] But the reality is that you are few and far between. It's based on your identities, based on your lived experience, which is why it is so important to talk about it and to spend time with this episode getting into it.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah. No, I completely agree. I also really like the idea of what's the difference between a safe space and a brave space, which plays into that a bit, too. I think in order to be safe, we have to be brave and it's kind of like what comes first vulnerability, or the courage? All the nuance in that, that ends up being this mushy gushy and I completely agree, we need it all and it's possible and I'm a firm believer in it's possible.
The people that keep telling me that people first companies can't be profitable. I think it's bullshit. I think it's absolute bullshit. When we focus on people, the profits will come. If we're all safe, if we all believe in the mission, if we're all there because we want to be there, guess what? It will happen in and it will continue to happen and the foundation will be more sturdy and we'll be able to pivot easier because guess what? We move as a pack and I don't know, I guess, I'm just here to prove them all wrong.
CHANTÉ: I feel like I love that and I'm also really sad that we have to work really hard to prove that people matter over productivity, [chuckles] that people matter over profits.
CHANTÉ: My favorite, well, one of my favorite people to follow is Dan Price. He's the CEO of Gravity Payments and he's the guy who went viral when he basically gave up parts of his salary and paid everyone a livable wage. He tweets every day and of brings attention to this. It's just like you're right, Ashleigh that people first companies are rare and I can't believe that that's still happening in 2022, but the ones who are, stick out. There are definitely folks who people fall in line to submit their resume and want to work for you and you have no issue with hiring great talent and probably keeping it. It's the organizations and corporations that are literally extracting people's best parts of themselves in hope of getting a profit for their shareholders.
ASHLEIGH: That just sounds so icky, doesn't it? [chuckles]
CHANTÉ: Yeah. Yeah. It does.
I haven't looked to see who your community is in terms of being venture backed, but when you went out, fundraised, started your company, and you said you were going to be people first, what were the reactions? Did it take you many tries to find folks to fill your cap table who believed in that, too?
ASHLEIGH: So our first funding round, it was mostly retired elevator people that want to see the industry turn around, that believe in the industry and feel really crummy about where it's at now and how lost it is. Our entire first round was completely private and then after that, the next round was mostly those people coming in again.
I wanted to go non-VC for as long as possible because I know I'm niche, I know I'm different, and if you don't get the vision, I don't want to waste my time trying to explain to you what we're doing, because we're too different. So if you're not with me, I don't have the time to sit here and convince you. The industry is a $100 plus billion a year industry and if you don't see that and don't get it, then bye.
But then we ended up taking on some VC funding this round because I got tagged in a LinkedIn post that someone was like, “Where are all the PropTech women?” 98% of the people pitching this VC were all men.
We ended up getting a meeting because I've always turned down any VC meeting. We just hit it off and then we went out to lunch and we were very similar. He was a founder himself and so, he understood what I was doing. I was like, “Hey, I'm not building this company to report to venture capitalists and so, if you're someone that expects me to work for you and not to work for my employees, we're not the right fit.” He was like, “No, that's what I expect you to do. Call me if you need me. Otherwise, I'm out of your hair.” I was like, “Great, okay! We can do this.”
And then we ended up getting a couple more folks. I think it was really because I got on the phone with them and I was like, “I'm not taking your money,” and they were like, “Excuse me?” I was like, “I'm not taking your money. My round is full. I'll talk to you only because Zane wants me to talk to you. Otherwise, I don't have a conversation with you,” and they were like, “Please extend your round,” and I was like, “Okay, I guess.” So how could this happen?
CHANTÉ: Wow, that’s – [overtalk]
ASHLEIGH: Is it because I’m being a jerk? [laughs]
CHANTÉ: No, it sounds like it happened because you were more aware of who you were and you were sticking to your values and principles, actually. That's what it sounds like from my seat. So speaking of that, are your values of the company reflections of your personal values, or are they collective –? [overtalk]
ASHLEIGH: Oh, a 100%.
CHANTÉ: To the folks who work with you?
ASHLEIGH: Yeah, I think both and we found each other. But building out the values and the mission and the vision was something that I spent a lot of money doing with The House of Who, who is a great organization and the East Bay. They're a branding company and they really helped me articulate the vision, the values, and the mission in a really eloquent way right in the beginning.
I think everyone probably looked at me like I was bonkers for spending money on branding before I had any sort of software, or [chuckles] any sort of anything. But for me, it was so important that we had a way to articulate this to the team in an eloquent way that got people on board and really said, “This is who we are and this is who we're going to be.” How do we know what we do before we know who we are? It's not possible. So at that point, the people that align and that gravitate to what our values and vision are, I think we just kind of find each other.
MANDY: That's awesome. I loved hearing a little bit about your journey, especially when it comes to venture capital, because I think lot of us just get a weird icky feeling from even hearing about venture capital. So it's always good to hear the good stories.
MANDY: But since we are coming up on the hour, I was hoping that we could go into reflections and this is where we talk about something that stood out to us, maybe a call-to-action for ourselves, or the listeners. I can start.
There was something at the beginning of the show that you said, that I had to write down, was just eating a shame sandwich once in a while. I'm not going to try to say that ten times fast.
You invited people to call you out and I love that. That's something I always try to do and model. It's the best way to learn, when invited, saying, “If we're talking, I'm going to ask you this. If I'm wrong, can you please let me know? Because I want to learn. I want to grow.” I think that's something that's super important and something that I try to do, especially with children that I'm around. My child, other children that are friends with her, just be like, “I was wrong. I was wrong. I'm sorry and it's just such a good thing to do, just to be humble in that ability to say I was wrong and I learned.” Thank you for that.
CHANTÉ: The thing I really love that you said, and I haven't really heard this often, is you said your north star is being excellent to each other and I feel like most people have a north star of growing, or making an X number of profit, or whatever. I just love that. It is because it really does, I think eliminate your value of being people first and demonstrates that that's where you're going to put your time and money.
Not only if I had the money, I'd be like, “Okay, Ashleigh, when you're having your next route, I want to invest in you.” But I feel like leading with that and saying that often tells people who might be interested in a job what you're about, tells your clients what you're about, and obviously, the communities in what you're serving. I just love that. So thank you for sharing it.
ASHLEIGH: Yeah, absolutely.
Chanté, my favorite part of today was you talking about the intersections and celebrating the intersections of identity and I've had so many conversations with friends about the different lanes into the intersection, but I really like that you focused on the intersection. So that intersection as a whole was very cool to me.
AARON: I think one of the things I'm going to take with me was your this doesn't make sense log. I love this concept. This speaks to me on so many different levels.
One is the way to raise all these little things that get missed without having to work up all of the energy to try and give someone feedback in a one-on-one meeting, or whatever else. But also, as someone who deals with ADHD and from an engineering mindset, just this place to be like, “Hey, I ran across this and it makes no sense. Can we revisit this?” Because the answer might be, “Oh, here's this explanation for why we do it that way,” and you're like, “Oh, now it makes sense to me,” or it might be like, “You're right. Let's figure out a different way to do that.” I just love that there's just this running place that anyone can just dump these thoughts as they run across them is really cool.
Well, Chanté, Aaron, Ashleigh, it's been such a great conversation and thank you all so much for showing up and being vulnerable and having this discussion. It's been great. So with that, I just want to thank you again, thank the audience, and we'll see next week.Support Greater Than Code
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