Leading with empathy in the workplace: Delivering on the goal of “Bringing your whole self to work”


On June 26, 2020, over four hundred participants came together for a lunchtime webinar to discuss how business leaders can prioritize more equitable outcomes in their COVID-19 reopening plans and in their workplace in general. The webinar, titled “Leading with empathy in the workplace: Delivering on the goal of ‘bringing your whole self to work,'” encouraged us to challenge the commonly held notion that we must “leave our personal problems at the door.” Beth Chandler, YW Boston’s President & CEO, moderated a panel with special guests Vernā Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, and Tara Spann, former Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Eversource Energy. Below are some highlights from this webinar along with a full recording of the event.

Takeaways from “Leading with empathy in the workplace: Delivering on the goal of ‘Bringing your whole self to work'”

“As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, and many workplaces transitioned to working from home, it became increasingly difficult to keep our personal lives and our professional lives separate,” Beth Chandler said in her opening remarks. “Those who were fortunate enough to not lose employment faced new challenges, such as balancing child care, elder care, physical and mental health, food insecurity, and more. Continued police violence and anti-Blackness have exacerbated the toll on our Black communities. Employees are being asked to put their grief on hold at work, an absurdity which Shenequa Golding expertly satirizes, stating: ‘I just witnessed the lynching of a black man, but don’t worry Ted, I’ll have those deliverables to you end of day.'” Beth Chandler continues by explaining that, “organizations often state their desire for employees to ‘bring their whole selves to work.’ So, we ask, how can we ensure that we account for the stress, pain, and trauma people are experiencing?”

It is imperative for organizations to ensure more equitable outcomes moving forward, and this begins by creating a more supportive environment for their employees. In our webinar, we explored the questions: What are ways to prioritize equitable and inclusive outcomes in our workplace reopening plans? And what opportunities does this moment in time present us with to address systemic inequities?

Ask the right questions and listen

Beth asked our panelists about the questions leaders should be asking themselves as their organization navigates crises–whether it be COVID-19 responses or supporting Black and brown staff during this most recent series of racist violence and nationwide protests. Vernā Myers encouraged leaders to ask themselves, who are you asking to come back to work? Who are you letting go of? Who are you asking to stay? And why?

Incorporate empathy and trauma-informed leadership into your workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion plan

Our panelists suggested that businesses should improve mental health resources available to their employees. Investing and prioritizing these employee resources is important and we must recognize that human beings have personal needs that impact their ability to do their work.

Weave diversity, equity, and inclusion into your crisis response planning

In order for DE&I professionals to be a part of inclusive crisis response planning, their influence must extend beyond their role and into other parts of the organization. Tara Spann suggests accompanying long-term DE&I goals with short-term plans and meaningful metrics. In particular, tying meaningful compensation to diversity goals can serve as a driver for CEOs, board members, and leaders to prioritize organizational change.

Become an effective ally

Allyship is an important long-term commitment and should not be considered a passive activity that is performed in the service of others. As Vernā Myers puts it, “white folks are also harmed by racism but are asymptomatic and should think about those experiencing the direct impact. So much of allyship begins with the self-work rather than asking others to educate you.” Being an ally involves:

Advocacy and amplification




Access a recording of the webinar below to get more insights from our panelists:

We wish to thank Vernā Myers, Tara Spann, and everyone who joined us for this important conversation. If you wish to explore additional resources related to this topic, check out the links below:

  1. An Equitable Approach to Re-entering the Workplace by Tara Spann: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/equitable-approach-re-entering-workplace-tara-spann/ 
  1. Working from home while Black: https://hbr-org.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/hbr.org/amp/2020/06/working-from-home-while-black 
  1. How to hold workplace conversations through stress and trauma: https://www.ywboston.org/2020/06/leading-with-empathy-how-to-hold-workplace-conversations-through-stress-and-trauma/ 
  1. 7 ways to make virtual meetings more inclusive: https://www.ywboston.org/2020/04/leading-inclusively-during-a-crisis-7-ways-to-make-virtual-meetings-more-inclusive/  
  1. Uncovering the trauma of racism: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201901/uncovering-the-trauma-racism-new-tools-clinicians 
  1. How racism, trauma and mental health are linked: https://www.sideeffectspublicmedia.org/post/how-racism-trauma-and-mental-health-are-linked 
  1. Racial Trauma, Weathering, Internalized Racism, and Historical Trauma: https://theresponsibleconsumer.wordpress.com/racial-trauma/ 
  1. Black Joy Photography, Stories, Poems putting a smile on your face by LeadBoston alum Thaddeus Miles: https://blackjoy.blog/ 


About YW Boston 

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed. 

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sheera@ywboston.org