Diversity in Customer Storytelling: Why It Matters and How To Advocate For More with Pascale Royal

On this episode, I was joined by Pascale Royal. She’s the Director of Executive Customer Programs at Coupa Software and has been in customer marketing for over 15 years at previous companies like ServiceNow and Citrix. Pascale believes that customer marketers have a significant level of influence when it comes to brand storytelling due to the customers that we choose to showcase. She cares deeply about pushing for more diversity in this arena and we talk about her tips on how to achieve this, as well as her thoughts on the state of corporate culture in 2023 and the importance of taking stock of you and your team’s mental wellbeing in light of everything that has transpired over the past few years. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Pascale. 

Margot Leong: Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I’m really excited to have you with us today. 

Pascale Royal: Thank you, Margot. I’m very excited to be here as well. I’m a huge fan of this podcast, so I feel this is a little bit surreal. I’m fangirling out a little bit. 

Margot Leong: Oh my God, I so appreciate that. That’s very kind of you and I’m just thrilled that people listen and that people find it interesting. And you are one of the guests that I’m super excited to have on because the topic that’ll be discussing today is also near and dear to my heart as well. 

So, let’s back up a little bit. Tell me about your background and your journey to essentially where you are today, this focus and love for the customer and customer marketing and advocacy. 

Pascale Royal: So I think the term that people use nowadays that’s gaining traction is to have a squiggly line career. My career definitely was not one that was on a straight path. I certainly had no aspiration to become a customer marketer when I was in college or anything like that, I don’t even think it existed at that time. 

But I certainly did have an interest in marketing. But my early days in my career, I was a professional dancer. I used to dance like contemporary modern dance and had a career with that and I was on scholarship at the University of Alabama and part of that scholarship was actually a work study assignment.

And my work study assignment was doing marketing and PR for the Department of Theater and Dance for the university. And so that was my first foray into marketing and understanding the ins and outs of really probably traditional marketing, direct mail pieces and phone calls and things like that.

But as my dance journey started to wane and I started to think, okay, what’s next? And how am I going to become self-sufficient and have a livable wage, what am I gonna do? And I started working in corporate marketing and communications for a national staffing company, and then just started getting some really deep experience in marcomm and special projects and video production and executive events and things like that.

After doing that for a few years, it sort of became what’s next? And in looking at the companies that were local to me, I’m based in South Florida, Citrix was a company that I knew. I knew some folks who worked there who were really enjoying it. And I knew that they were a global technology company and I thought it was great that they had headquarters here and not in California. It would be something that I could potentially do and not need to relocate. 

Basically I just uploaded my resume to their website and just put it out there. Let’s see what happens. Well, a few months later, I got a phone call that they were looking for a contractor, so not even a full-time employee position, but a contractor to do a six month contract to support their customer marketing organizations, specifically around customer advisory boards and the associated events with that.

So that was like my first opportunity to work within customer marketing. So what started out as what could have potentially only been a six month stint has turned into an over 15 year career. And through that time, I joined Citrix full-time and began working on a team with customer marketers. And we did every asset from storytelling and production to advocacy and advisory boards, right? 

So CABs was a big part of what I did for many years there to recognition programs and awards and also just learning how to run a team and structure a team to support a corporate marketing organization, to support sales, growing into having a community and getting the community launched and founded. 

And so all of those elements have been pieces that I was able to add into my sort of toolkit of experience. As I’ve grown in the career, the way that the industry has evolved, I’ve really been fortunate to have been in those early days to really get my arms around every piece of this particular niche. So I’m really happy about that. 

Margot Leong: That’s fantastic. What do you enjoy the most about this work? 

Pascale Royal: I am a people person. I think I am what would be considered an extroverted introvert. Like I love meeting people and I’m really good at making connections very quickly. It can be exhausting, but I still love it. And I love the storytelling piece. 

What’s interesting to me as I think back on my career, people will think, oh my gosh, how does dance and performance have anything to do with what you do now? And the reality is through the performing arts and through that discipline, dance is storytelling. You’re not using words, but you’re using movement and lighting and costume and sometimes props and stage design and set design. And you’re telling these really incredible stories through performance. And so I think a part of me has always been a storyteller because I have always loved dance and performance.

I love being able to shine that spotlight and put our customers up on that stage and allow them to tell their stories. And I just find it really fascinating. I’m an avid reader as well, so for me, the world of stories and whether they’re autobiographical or fiction or whatever, like that world and the imagination and being able to dive into that and tell stories, I love it so much and I’m super passionate about it, and I think that’s what’s kept me going in this industry. 

It takes different forms, right? So what I’m doing now is a little bit different to what I’ve done in the past, but at the heart of it are the people and the stories that we get to tell. And I just love it. 

Margot Leong: I totally resonate with that. Storytelling, listening to other people’s stories, telling other people’s stories, it’s something that I really enjoy as well. And so I think this is a really good segue into the topic that we’ll be focusing a lot of our time on today, which is about championing diversity in the stories that we tell. 

And I had Bree Bunzel over at Dropbox on the podcast and we touched upon this as well, but I think something that stood out to me in our conversation was: you think about the customers that you’re showcasing, we have a lot of power actually. You know, a company like Dropbox or ServiceNow or Coupa or whatnot, the eyes that are on these stories, there’s a lot more power in that than you think. Why should you not think about diversity and really putting that forth in any of the customers that you showcase, whether it’s getting them on panels or for stories or whatnot.

So I know that you are really passionate about this topic. Can you share a little bit about why you’re passionate about it and underline why you think that’s important.

Pascale Royal: It’s so interesting that you talk about your recent conversation with Bree and in some recent conversations that I’ve had as well, as customer marketers, our superpower is our level of influence. We definitely do have a lot of influence over the look and feel of many global brands all over the world. Depending on which company you work for, by extension, we’re working with the Fortune 2000, Fortune 500, Fortune 100 companies, and we have influence over the way those stories show up in the general marketplace, by the way that they look, the language that’s used and by the storytellers that are telling those stories.

So for me, being a customer marketer, it’s our superpower is influence. So we can really directly influence the way these things show up and what happens there, what becomes very powerful is that if you keep diversity front and center and you think about always showcasing underrepresented or marginalized populations and you influence your customers to do the same, that can be very powerful.

In terms of a little nugget for customer marketers to think about how can I do that? For me, it’s perhaps even as simple as just putting a reminder into my interview guide template, , right? That as I’m talking to our customer contact, whether that’s a C-level executive or whatnot. Also, when I did my research, I probably went to their website and I probably saw that they had their own diversity and inclusion initiatives, and that’s probably central and core to their organization. So it’s just a reminder like, Hey, let’s make sure that we have diverse representation in this story that we’re gonna tell. And so that’s one really easy way for customer marketers to keep this going and to keep it central. 

Margot Leong: Two things come to mind, right? Is that stories are so powerful because the way that the medium is structured is that you can’t help but put yourself in someone’s shoes and so you naturally have empathy for the subject because you are in those shoes.

Another piece of this is that by keeping diversity front and center, you’re actually normalizing it. You are normalizing seeing people of color, women, right? LGBTQ+, right? In all sorts of roles as much as possible in these stories so that it doesn’t feel out of place. I absolutely love that. 

I’m curious, when did this start being really front and center for you as something that you really wanted to start actively making sure was a part of the process for all the stories that you were working on? Was this something that you’ve been doing ever since the beginning over at Citrix? Is this something a bit more recent? Tell me about that evolution. 

Pascale Royal: So the evolution has definitely been layered. The journey has had inflection points that have brought me to where I am now and to my passion for speaking out about this as much as I have been. Absolutely, it was not a thought in my early days at Citrix. Storytelling was very product focused. The case studies were essentially like white papers, you know, the product, the benefits, the features, the functions, and we showcased that. 

And as one inflection point, I think that as an industry, as we really started to shift our storytelling to be from the person’s perspective, right? So as we thought about our customer, we weren’t thinking about our customer as a brand. We were thinking about our customer as the person and who they are and the story that they can tell. That was an inflection point. 

I think that for me, I remember hitting 10 years at Citrix and being like, wow, I’ve been here 10 years. What is the next 10 years going to look like in my career? What’s the next chapter that I’m going to write? And starting to think about how I wanted to try to pull my personal values more into the work that I did, how could I make that happen? 

And coincidentally, and along the same lines as that is I had children in that timeframe. I have two boys and it’s been a journey for me in raising them. I have two very adorable, intelligent, inquisitive, and beguiling sons, but I’m raising black men in America and that is not without its unique set of challenges.

And as a mother, having to navigate that with them, I don’t have the luxury of turning off when I’m at work. And so it became, how can I again use my life and my influence to help so that when my children perhaps are older and if they choose to work in corporate America, you talked about normalizing, right? Normalizing this conversation. That was an inflection point for me, like just having my kids and really starting to have those conversations and particularly as my children started to get more kind of interested, you know, like, what do you do, mom? What is your job? What do you do for a living?

And when you start to answer those questions and then they know that I’m traveling to go film a video, and then being able to show them the end product and their curiosity around that, it became really, again, an inflection point for me that I felt that I had that responsibility to do.

And I think ultimately the final piece to this, which has really stoked the flames for me over the past three years have been a couple of things: my own personal mental health journey and my desire to be much more transparent and open about what that looks like and what that means on a daily basis. Coupled with, to be honest, the pandemic as well as the social justice reckoning that the world went through back in 2020. 

All of those things became a massive inflection point for me in wanting to continue to push these conversations to the forefront because for me, being a black woman in tech is not a trend. This is not a talking point for me. This is not a checkbox. This is my life. This is how I show up every day. I will go to bed as a black woman and I’ll wake up tomorrow morning as a black woman, and if my place of employment, my direct team, my supporting managers, if they don’t see me in my totality, then they can never empathize with my story, with my life, with the way that I even approach work. 

And so it became a point of how can I lead from where I am and try to be what I want to see and what I want to see change. So it was many, many inflection points along my journey and perhaps they’ve been accelerated in the past three years because of what’s going on in the world and because my children are getting older and I’m having to have really ” the talk” and real conversations with my boys about how they show up in the world. That has made me as passionate as I am about this topic and really, again, feel very privileged that as a customer marketer, I actually have some influence into effectuating the change that I want to see.

Margot Leong: Absolutely. Something that I see a lot especially on LinkedIn, in the comments that are especially polarizing, a lot of people will talk about, don’t you dare mix personal and professional. You really hit the nail on the head is there’s not really such a thing as putting the stark line between personal and professional. You are who you are and you live the life that you live. And it’s important for people to see all aspects of that, to understand all aspects of that. 

So I really admire that you are actively doing this not just in thinking about sharing these stories and the storytelling piece but just in who you are as a black woman and showing up within work and trying to make that more of a priority. 

Pascale Royal: Thank you for that, Margot. And it’s interesting, you touched on a couple things that have elicited a very visceral response for me in the form of goosebumps and things like that. But there’s a couple of things, right? 

Number one is that you mentioned in saying and observing that I’ve approached this without fear and I’ve been there and I just wanna clarify that it’s terrifying. The reality is when I made the decision to become honest with even the people in my closest circle about my mental health journey, right? Being high functioning with chronic major depression, it was terrifying to come out with that. 

But at the same time, I had reached a point where trying to maintain the facade of having that delineation of this is my work self and then this is my home self. I reached a point where there was a tipping point of I can’t just continue to put this smile on my face and show up every day and act as if everything is so perfect. It’s exhausting. The tipping point was almost a breaking point, but it was terrifying because I knew that there could be negative blowback to that. 

And I had to ask myself if the risk was worth the potential for that to happen. And I said yes, and I worked with my therapist on it, it was a whole thing. The same is true for my decision to become a bit more outspoken about the disparities and the lack of diverse representation and the lack of marginalized and underrepresented groups being really considered in the conversation because I reached a point where I was getting very tired of the corporate narrative being diversity and inclusion and belonging are super important to us, and we wanna make sure everyone has a seat at the table when the reality of what was actually happening was maybe everybody at a very junior level had a seat at the table, but as you started to work up the org chart and you started to get into the C-suite and you get into the board, for a lot of companies, that was just like a bunch of talk that was not true.

It was literally just lip service and it became do I want to start being vocal about questioning this as I managed up, pushing my leaders to acknowledge that while we may say it’s important to have diverse representation and diversity of thought, we’re not actually doing it. And you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

But that was also terrifying. And there are some days where it’s still terrifying. And so I try to teach my boys about what courage actually is. And I know there have been much more well known speakers who have talked about courage and fearlessness and bravery, and those things are not synonymous with having a lack of fear or a lack of being scared to do it. Being courageous or being brave means you’re gonna do it with the fear. You’re going to say, yes, I am scared, but I’m gonna take this step. 

And I have found now with a little bit of hindsight, where I’m still actively engaging on these topics, both the diversity front, the mental health conversations, I’m still actively pursuing that. And what I am finding is that with every little step into that fear, into that unknown, I gain a little bit of confidence. I can touch a person, someone’s mind, or someone’s heart or just shape the way someone approaches their life and their work.

I think the pandemic has been a forcing function to erase the delineation, erase the lines between work and life. We’ve all been able to peek behind the curtain of everyone’s life, people were working at home, we got inside into people’s houses, you get a peek behind the veil and it all of a sudden the mystique and the mystery is gone. And there have been pros and cons to that. 

But I just wanna point out that for me, I step into my days oftentimes carrying a heavy load that I just try to work through, day by day, oftentimes hour by hour, and in some cases , minute by minute, just depending on the conversation. But ultimately I come back to my boys as my North star because what they’re learning from me without me actually even having to teach them, is that no matter where you are in your life and your career journey, be true to yourself. Be honest with that. Present yourself to the world in the best way that you can.

But those things don’t come without a cost. It doesn’t come without fear, but do it anyway. I just wanted to touch on that. That’s my journey. That’s where I’m at. And I’m learning and I have up days and I have down days, and there’s light and there’s darkness and ultimately, I want to, from my sphere of influence in the things that I can control, from how I approach work as a customer marketer, as a marketing professional, this is the way I feel that I’m able to have a bit of an impact.

Margot Leong: Thank you so much for sharing that. I really appreciate you underlining that point about courage is not the absence of fear, right? It’s moving forward even when you feel crippling, terrifying fear. 

Something that has always struck me working in tech, you kind of have these two areas in which you are seeing this more predominantly white and male like representation at the very top levels of a lot of companies, right? You’re looking at board of directors or you’re looking at the founding team, that’s often predominantly white and male. 

But I think especially as customer marketers, especially if you work and are exposed to IT, oftentimes leadership is very white and male. It’s actually whenever I meet a female leader in this space or someone who’s more diverse, right? It’s actually like, wow. I actually notice it. Which shows you just how white and male it is. 

Pascale Royal: So fun fact, in all of my years of experience , I have literally only worked with one black CIO. I have yet to work with a woman CIO. I’m just one person, but that sort of says something.

 Now I have worked with finance leaders who have been either black or a person of color or a woman. I’ve worked with heads of people organizations, right? As technology and people groups have shifted to be more strategic, oftentimes the stories overlay. And so I have worked there. 

But to the folks listening to this, think about the totality of your careers and the people that you’ve worked with and interviewed. What did they look like? If the answer to that is, predominantly male and predominantly white, which I have a sneaky little suspicion that it is, this is where we can get into how can we influence the narrative a little bit. 

Margot Leong: I’d love to get into how you’ve approached this in the past and maybe your tips for people. Tell me about how you’ve baked this into your processes and how you think about this. 

Pascale Royal: Because of my particular lens, ensuring that there is diversity of thought and representation, it’s second nature for me. It’s just how I look at everything. Right now, one of the initiatives I’m working on is the executive track at Coupa’s upcoming Inspire Conference and within that, our chief customer officers doing a customer panel. 

So when I thought about who I was selecting for the panel, it was essential to not only hit the matrix that the company needed in terms of the right segment representation, the right persona representation. 

But for me it was like we also need to ensure that there’s diversity of thought. So if I have four people, they should be four very unique and different individuals. And so that’s what I try to look at. Of course it makes the funnel that much smaller, but I’m very intentional about it. And if I don’t hit that goal, that’s okay, but I’m striving to do that every time that I approach my work.

As customer marketers we can use our influence and build that in, something as simple as literally, tomorrow morning if everybody takes their interview guide or deck that they have, and just making a bullet point to yourself at the top or in the notes to say, make sure that I ask about diverse voices.

Because whomever you’re speaking with, I’m willing to go out on a limb that their organization also has diversity initiatives and programs within their charter and it’s important for them that they represent their organizations with diverse voices. 

And so it’s not to say like, we get it. Like the CIOs or the C-Suite is going to be predominantly white. Okay. Let’s start there. That’s fine. Let’s acknowledge that is what it is. I’m not trying to necessarily use my influence to change the C-Suite. I wish I could, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet. 

But what I can do is say, how can we bring these stories to life with an abundance of careful thought and really just being very meticulous and intentional about the voices that we bring to the fore? 

So who on your team can we bring to help tell these stories? And just asking that question. Put it this way. Since I started asking that question, if I’m interviewing a person, a CIO, whatever, right? And they are a white male, if I just ask the question like, Hey, as we continue to tell this story, I wanna make sure that we also capture the diversity that your organization has.

I have never had anyone pushback on me to say no. Usually the response is, always absolutely. Oh my gosh, our company is so diverse. Then they start to say, oh, we have these women, we have all these different people and then they start to think about their teams and it’s a forcing function, it’s just a reminder, like a little nudge.

But if I hadn’t asked, then I think what would tend to happen is they call their buddy to the left and their buddy to the right who looks just like them and that ends up being the three or four people that are in your story. Asking the question makes such a difference. 

One of the simplest ways that can start to create a little bit of a tidal wave for us in the customer marketing, advocacy space is put that reminder in your templates. Just remind yourself, because eventually it’ll become second nature for you too. 

Margot Leong: Once you have that in there, some place to remind you, then basically what you’ll actually start doing is you’ll pay more attention to this. They talk about how, when you, for example, buy a new car, right? You buy Hyundai or something, and then you just start seeing Hyundais everywhere. It’s the same exact thing. 

Pascale Royal: It’s creating that habit and then once that habit is formed, it’s second nature. I don’t think you could ever really quit a bad habit so much as you try to replace a bad habit with a good habit. This is replacing the habit of not asking with the habit of asking. Just ask the question. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the result of that. 

Part of it too is whether it’s a customer for SKO or a customer for your user conference or whatever, oftentimes your executives want to have a C-suite executive on that stage. But what we have to, again, acknowledge is that the C-suite is very homogenous. Sometimes it’s just asking the question, you might get a no, but asking the question to say, Hey, what if we click down into maybe the SVP level or the VP level for somebody on stage?

Because I think that if we were to do that, we might have more diverse representation of voices, and as a storyteller for that organization that’s just as able to communicate the core messages that we need them to communicate. That’s trying to use our influence to help our own leadership team think a little bit more broadly just by purely acknowledging the data to say, I know you want to get a C-suite person up there, but you also have goals for diversity. Those two things are not compatible right now. So what can we do to fix that? 

One thing we could do is let’s take a look. Let’s click down and see if we can widen our pool and diversify our speakers and our thought leaders and things like that. 

Margot Leong: I love this and to your earlier point about speaking out about these things more, people internally hearing that as well. That’s a really good reminder. Because people usually put this in the sphere of, okay, this is DE&I, right? The DE&I leaders are handling this, they live in this silo over here, and we don’t really think about it as it pertains to our work that we’re doing. But the more that they hear that you are doing this, they see that you’re doing this and they’re on those conversations as you ask others and basically encourage this, people can start to think about the influence that they can have as well, right? Because there are other teams that are touching customers that are not just customer marketing, right? So I think that is really, really interesting. 

Pascale Royal: And it’s so funny because people would never bat an eyelash or have a second thought about going to a user conference and every keynote speaker up on that stage is a white male or just male. It’s just a non-issue. 

Now, if you were to flip that script and every speaker that was on stage was a woman, or every speaker that was on stage was a person of color, all of a sudden people would probably not want to acknowledge where their discomfort is, but they would feel it in some way because it would just be different. Will not name names or companies, but I have attended user conferences where every keynote speaker is a white male, but then every performer for entertainment is a person of color. And that’s not lost on me. It’s just not. 

What can I actually do about that? And so what I can do is these small things to try to, again, influence the leaders to make different choices. Because if it’s not lost on me, it’s not lost on others in the workforce. And that’s where you get into situations where people feel underrepresented, demoralized, whatever language you wanna use, it’s systemic, right? 

Why wouldn’t you question an all white panel, but you would be like, oh, we can’t just have all women on the panel. I’ve literally been in meetings where people have said that, oh, we can’t just have all women on the panel. I’m sorry. Why is that? Why can we not? Because we’ve never questioned when we’ve had all men on the panel, or we’ve never questioned when the whole panel has been white.

But now the only time you have a full panel that’s a person of color is during black history month. Or the only time you have a full panel of women is during International Women’s Day. It’s like this exception. So what I’m trying to say is, we need to use our influence to try to create new habits so that we don’t bat an eyelash at all of our keynote speakers being from an underrepresented group because then there’s more representation and maybe someday we’re not talking about the underrepresented groups. We’re just talking about the people that we put on stage to showcase. 

These are very systemic, very deep issues. All hope is not lost. For this particular podcast where I know that the audience are folks like me who deal in executive engagement, customer engagement, advocacy, marketing, storytelling, we can have an impact and that can be just from making very small changes in our day-to-day approach, in our templates, the way that we just approach our work. If I do a little bit and you do a little bit, one other person listening to this does a little bit, all of those little bits add up to a really big change, right? So if we all just do our little bitty parts, we can continue the momentum and start to see real change.

Margot Leong: They talk about think globally, but act locally. That’s one of the most valuable things that you can do because you get overwhelmed by all the things that you could do, but actually, if you try to make a difference in the area that you can actually make a difference in, whether it’s work or your local community, you can have an outsized impact.

And so I think it’s exactly what you’re saying is really pushing this point home that customer marketers, 90%, 95% of the customers that you are choosing to put into the stories we’re going with. 

Pascale Royal: Yeah, like customer marketers are like the OG influencers and like you just talk about influencers and all that, not for nothing, but honestly customer marketers, we are the OG influencers. So use that influence, lean into that and allow it to be the thing that propels your work to the next level.

Margot Leong: The next piece that we wanna talk about, which is, it’s all interrelated, right? We wanted to talk about mental wellbeing. As you mentioned earlier, you’ve been more open with your own struggles with mental health. We talked about this mixing of personal and professional that there’s no stark line anymore. You mentioned as well is the importance of having really. meaningful discussions about mental health. 

Share with me how you’ve been feeling about the state of corporate culture for the past few years and how you’ve been feeling about it now, we’re about end of February 2023 now.

Pascale Royal: Wow. So interesting that this conversation is today just because it’s an interesting time in my personal, professional life. I have been much more open publicly about my mental health journey. I’ve had major chronic depression for about 20 years. Trigger warning for people, but suicide has been a conversation that has come up for me and a survived experience. I mentioned it earlier, it became untenable for me to continue to put on the facade for work when I was going through some really difficult depressive episodes. So I have been more vocal about it. 

Again, that came with conversations with my family, with my therapist. I didn’t approach it just willy-nilly. It was very much a decision that I thought about and contemplated for several months before I actually just started to share. And I’m not really a person who journals, but I do use my social platform, it’s very cathartic for me and it helps me feel a sense of community when I share my stories out there.

And so instead of curating this false life that is the picture perfect husband, two kids, the dog the job, it’s all of that and I have depression, and some days really just suck. And some days are great. Some days are easy and some days are hard. There are some seasons that are hard, right? It’s not just about, oh, tomorrow will be better. Sometimes there are seasons which are months long that are hard. Being able to become more open about that has been in one way, very healing for me and also brought a whole different sort of community to me, so I’m able to bond and connect with people at a much deeper level, which has just been really lovely. And I have also had opportunities to help some people who have been struggling and suffering in silence and not sure how to get help and things like that. 

The double-edged sword is I have been more open about this within my professional landscape as well and it’s interesting. I’ve had supportive managers and things. I think though, when you ask about corporate culture with this, what I’m starting to realize, because the pandemic has been this forcing function of pushing the conversation of mental health and mental wellbeing to the fore, you have people who are just exhausted, physically exhausted, mentally, emotionally exhausted, people who are sick, people who have died.

There’s a shared trauma. Globally, we have lost millions of people. And if we don’t acknowledge that trauma, all of these things are coming into the workplace in a way that we’ve never seen before. 

What I’m starting to realize is there is a pretty significant training gap for our leadership to really understand what it means to lead and to have a team of people that might be a little bit broken. How do you lead an organization where you have people who are exhausted and tired and have depression or anxiety, or any number of other mental health challenges?

What does that mean for you as a leader and how do you continue to keep the morale of your team and really what does that really mean? We can talk all day long employee assistance programs or take a mental health day. 

But my depression can’t be scheduled. I don’t wake up on Wednesday and go, I think I’ll take Friday off because when I wake up on Friday, I think I’m going to feel that depression really hitting me hard. There are days where I just wake up and it’s a struggle to turn off the alarm and think, oh my God, I have to adult today. I have to get up cause I have to get my kids up and I’ve gotta get them out the door and remember all this stuff for them. And then I gotta show up at work and I gotta be like a top performer and I gotta do this. And then my mother who has dementia needs me and there are just some days where the weight is crushing. And then there are some days where the weight of it is crushing, but I can just take a breath and I’m like, okay let’s just tackle it. 

And so I think that it’s creating a really interesting training gap. And it’s something that I know I’ll be looking at in the months ahead. What can I do? How can I move this forward? But what I want to convey is that if you are a people manager, or even if you’re not, if you’re an individual contributor, how you really think about compassion and empathy, those aren’t just words and those aren’t just talking points or bulleted items. 

Be an empathetic leader, be a compassionate leader. That’s what I’m starting to see a lot of articles coming out about, but what does that really mean and how does that show up every day? How can we reevaluate work, workloads, prioritization of work, the number of hours that it takes for people to do things, the way we structure our teams? Do we have an attitude of this is just the job. It just is what it is, and you can either do it or you can’t. 

Or do we try to say, okay, how can we work through this in a way that’s beneficial both to us and our projects and our programs and our companies, but also beneficial and worthwhile to you as the worker? And I don’t think that we’re there yet. But these are questions that I’m asking myself and would be really interested to hear from even other people that perhaps are listening to this if you wanted to reach out to me on LinkedIn or whatever, like if you wanna reach out to me and have this conversation, I would love to have it because I’d be really curious about what others are doing as well. 

Margot Leong: Something that sort of struck me right, is there’s definitely aspects that can be controlled. Like for example, if you’re a people manager, right? And I’ve managed teams in the past and I think I’ve always been in this understanding with people on my team is we’re not automatons. We’re not on a factory line. We’re not just churning out widgets mindlessly and X money widgets per X, many hours per day equals increased productivity, X amount, whatever. You’re a human being, that you ebb and flow and there are things that happen in your life that you cannot control. 

If you have good people on your team, as a manager, you have to build that really deep trust and understanding with them that, you’re at a job, you’re getting paid, right? Things do need to get done at a certain point, but the ebbs and flows of how you feel around and in between that, it’s totally fine. 

Pascale Royal: And it’s being really honest in little ways. So one of the things recently that I’m thinking about is what we reinforce as leaders, what behaviors we’re reinforcing, either in big ways and in small. 

What I’ve noticed a lot of times lately is people who have either been putting in extra hours or working even when they don’t feel well, those behaviors are being recognized and then the people who may actually take a sick day because they’re sick or plan that personal day, there’s no mention of that. So that behavior is just not recognized. 

And I think we need to be very cautious as leaders that we are being mindful of the behavior that we recognize and reward. Because if you continue on this line of, oh, this person burned the midnight oil, let’s all give them a hand, you’re reinforcing that’s the behavior that’s going to be rewarded and recognized.

But then say, but we all need to be mindful of our mental health and take personal days and balance it out, la la la, but you’re not reinforcing or recognizing that behavior. So it’s just things like that that are starting to creep into my consciousness more and I know that I will be trying to be more mindful about making those choices and being much more deliberate about the behavior that I’m trying to reinforce and replicate as well.

This is such an interesting time because in tech, at least, there’s been a lot of layoffs and I, for, I’m super grateful for my job, for my place of employment, for my team, for all of that. So it’s not coming from of a lack of gratitude or appreciation for what I’m doing. It’s also not coming from a place of a lack of understanding that businesses have goals and shareholders and different things that they need to meet, right? It’s not that. 

Also, I do think that for those who go above and beyond, that should be recognized. I mean, I think there’s a time and a place for that. I’m not saying don’t recognize the people who go above and beyond because that’s amazing if they’re able and capable of doing that and they’re willing to do that, and it’s not wrecking their mental health or their physical health, then absolutely recognize it.

But I think what we’re starting to fall into that makes me nervous or cautious, is that the above and beyond has become the norm. And if you’re not doing that, then you’re considered an underperformer. If we’re falling into that becoming the norm, then I’m going to call into question the integrity of your organization if at the same time you are communicating a message of being concerned about your employee’s physical and mental health. Be mindful that if you’re not recognizing different behaviors at all, then what you’re silently communicating is that those behaviors are not okay.

So it’s a difficult dance and it’s a difficult balance. These are very complex issues that run deep and at a time right now where we are seeing so many layoffs in our industry, even with customer led programs, those are being cut and slashed. So it’s really difficult to fall into the trap of, let me go above and beyond every single day. Let’s take a breath and be very careful about our next steps and about what we do over the next few months. 

Margot Leong: The thing that I run into is that from an incentive standpoint, businesses are there to try and, bring in revenue. A lot of times if you’re at a public company then it’s about satisfying shareholder interest in the short term, right? Quarter to quarter. And so all of that dictates down the line really what ends up happening, unless you are at a company in which the leadership is trying to additionally make employee wellbeing a priority.

Maybe it’s a very cynical view, but in my opinion, basically, a lot of the times when you talk about employee wellbeing, it’s really only so much as it’s tied to if the employees satisfied or happy to a certain extent, then they’ll keep working for us.

Pascale Royal: We care about you to the degree that you can accomplish all of this. 

Margot Leong: Exactly. Yes. You said it much better than I could. I worry about that. 

Pascale Royal: I see this too. I don’t know. I don’t know. I would love to hear from others on this because I think that’s probably one of the big questions. Is there truth to that? And should companies really start to figure out a different way of messaging things to just be more honest? I don’t know but it’s true like we care about you and we care about your mental health to the degree that you’re able to do all this stuff. And if all this stuff is something that you’re not able to do, then maybe this isn’t the place for you.

Is that the right approach? Is that smart from a retention perspective? Is that smart for the way that you wanna lead and build your organization and have that kind of a culture? These are all questions that I’m posing. I don’t have answers to, but I think it’s something that we need to think about. And if you’re in a leadership role, you should be asking yourself that. 

I think it’s about whether or not your company is thinking about winning or just thinking about being successful. And those are two different things, how you define success. 

Margot Leong: It goes back to that idea of personal and professional, right, is basically what is good for the company, only in so far as it aligns with the professional happy face that you put on in terms of the work that I can output. 

But the vast majority of people that are working in the world work for companies. They’re not employing others. They are employed. And so if you think about the people that are in the positions of being the employers, there’s the aspect of yes, take care of people insofar as they continue to work for you. 

But then what are the larger ramifications for society? Can you go the extra step of can I treat people like humans and maybe measure productivity in a different way or whatever it is. I think in general amongst a lot of people working today, I think a general sense of malaise in the face of what’s happening in the world, this sort of shared sense of trauma we went through and then what’s to come that we’re also scared about. 

Do companies have a larger responsibility to take care of their people in a way that also fosters better mental wellbeing so that they can go back to their own communities and promote that as well. You spend so much time at work that of course it’s going to have an impact on how you are being back to your family, your friends, back to your community. It’s a responsibility and I don’t know if companies really think about it like that.

Pascale Royal: I don’t either. These are the conversations and the questions that I would want to continue to have, right? And press upon again, those who might hear this, who are either leaders or have influence over their leaders. These are those types of questions that I think you need to start asking yourself as we get into this year and moving forward.

And with the languishing and with the collective deep breath that people have to take every day to get up and function and to not pretend that we’re past all of this and then to not fall back into bad habits that existed prior to the pandemic where we weren’t really having these conversations. I hope we just don’t go backwards and I hope we could continue to evolve and figure out a happy medium. 

Change takes time and change can be difficult. I really wanna continue to have these conversations and discuss it and use my experience to try to bring some awareness to how we’re operating in these models and in this time.

Margot Leong: No easy answers, right? But at least having the discussion and having people think more acutely about these things, it’s all really important. I’m so glad that you came on this show. This was a really rousing and interesting conversation. If you would like for people to connect with you, if they have more questions or just wanna chat about some of these topics, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

Pascale Royal: I am super easy to find on social platforms because my name is a bit unique, so Pascale Royal. Just remember that my first name has an E on the end and my last name doesn’t. So Pascale Royal, you can find me on any social platform. Reach out to me on LinkedIn for sure. And yeah, I would just love to continue this conversation. 

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody. 



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