Talking to a fellow working parent is what really sold Tiffany Harris on software company Folsom Labs.
Tiffany is the Head of People Operations at the company, whose tools to more efficiently design and sell solar arrays are helping to build a future of clean energy. She joined two years ago, moving her family to the Bay Area from Santa Cruz for the role.
She was nervous about the move. Moving away from the community, extended family, and school system her family knew and loved was a risk. (Not to mention Tiffany's roller derby league—more on that later.) But then Tiffany talked to Folsom Labs' Director of Sales and Marketing, Evan Sarkisian.
"One of the main points that he hit on was how family-oriented Folsom Labs was, and how supported he felt as a parent," says Tiffany. "They've definitely lived up to what Evan sold to me in my interview."
We sat down with Tiffany to talk more about her journey to Folsom Labs, including how the start-up has made wellness more than just a talking point, and what advice she has for others looking to prioritize their mental health and work-life balance.
Taking a chance on startup life
A few years ago, when her sons had gotten a bit older and they needed her less, Tiffany realized something big: she wasn't sure who she was when she wasn't being their mom. Or even what possibilities were out there for her.
"In a late night Google, I came upon the Santa Cruz Derby Girls. I decided right then that I was going to become a Santa Cruz Derby Girl," says Tiffany.
She joined, she adopted a derby name—Sin D. Savage, for the curious among you—and she got inspired. "It was an eye-opening experience. I saw so many women doing amazing things with their lives, many of them mothers," remembers Tiffany. She branched out from being a mom and a derby player and started working on the league's board; this led her to a role in HR and office management at a medical office, and from there, she found her way to Folsom Labs.
"It really seemed like a place I wanted to be, a place where I could not only benefit from being around great people, but where I could learn, contribute to that team, and use my skills to really drive what they were already doing," she says.
Fostering balance and inclusion at Folsom—for herself and others
Tiffany's role as Head of People Operations includes HR, diversity and inclusion initiatives, company morale, and, in the times of COVID-19, company engagement during a pandemic.
"A couple months into the pandemic, we began seeing signs of fatigue in employees," says Tiffany. "We had such a strong company culture in the office and really wanted that to transition to our remote team, but it was clear that everyone really needed time to recharge."
One of the limited available responses to stressed-out employees during a world-disrupting global pandemic is, of course, taking time off. But Tiffany noticed that Folsom Labs' employees weren't doing that. Neither was she.
"You're at home, so you have this false sense of being on vacation, but people weren't taking breaks. I found myself having my laptop in front of me most of the day," says Tiffany. She and the company's leadership team started telling everybody to take a day off during the month, whatever day worked for them.
They didn't, though.
It's a problem other companies, including those with "unlimited vacation," know well: despite the fact that vacation is allowed and even encouraged, employees don't feel comfortable taking it. Maybe they're worried about falling behind, or looking like they're not committed to the mission. But being a tech company familiar with the power of experimentation, the Folsom Labs team didn't stop with "maybes."
"We needed to rethink our approach and adjust," explains Tiffany, "so we decided to make the third Friday of every month a company-observed wellness holiday."
And it worked. "The first one people weren't so sure about, but now they're definitely expected," says Tiffany, who personally enjoys having the third Friday of every month off because it gives her some dedicated time to focus on her kids, her family, and her own wellbeing. "It's helped a lot of employees to take time for themselves, to breathe—they can schedule a hike on that day, or do whatever they might need to reset and recharge."
Folsom Labs' focus on taking care of their employees has included, in addition to extra days off, flexible schedules, low-stakes group discussions to talk about stressful topics in the news or in people's personal lives, and what Tiffany describes as "a culture of understanding, wellbeing, and empathy."
That empathy is reflected in the company's approach to DEI, too. Tiffany and her coworkers plan themes for each month that address different aspects of identity and social justice, from intersectionality to unconscious bias. Folsom Labs' employees read a relevant book, meet in small groups to discuss, and do team building exercises. In between themed months, they do a month focused on wellness "to give people a break and a time to reset and digest what they've learned."
Tiffany recently led an activity about intersectionality where team members talked about how they feel they're perceived and how they want to be perceived. "Getting to know people on that deeper level, you can gain a different level of respect for them—you can respect who they truly are," reflects Tiffany.
4 ways to find balance in your life
Tiffany considers herself to be energized by her work supporting others, but sometimes she has to remember to apply that same focus to herself. "Being a caregiver, you have to take that step back and realize that you need to focus on your personal mental health and wellbeing too," she says. She does that by:
- Staying positive. "It's easy to start focusing on negatives. The things you didn't get done, especially being at home. The things that you had planned pre-covid or things that you're missing out on. I try not to let those thighs take over my thoughts," she says. "My goal is to take things day by day, do things with intention, and pick a couple of things that I'm really thankful for."
- Give yourself five. "Taking a five minute break to sit in a quiet room to meditate or stretch. Making a commitment to be present in that moment—to not think about work, or the stuff going on outside the room has been a huge help for me," she says.
- Share your goals with someone else. "I find it helps when I vocalize my goals—no matter how small. Sharing goals with friends and co-workers gives me the extra push to hold myself accountable. It's also nice to have people around you to celebrate when you achieve those goals!"
- Celebrate your wins. "Even if they're tiny!" says Tiffany, who likes sharing updates in the Folsom Labs Slack channel for wellness. "Here, we definitely have people encouraging you on little wins, which is so nice."
One last one to keep in mind: pinpoint what's going wrong. That's something Tiffany has learned from running Folsom Labs' quarterly wellness survey. Instead of blindly diagnosing imagined issues, operating with a real data set helps Tiffany and her team really understand what's wrong and work to solve it. "We try to focus on the passion points of our team. This gives us a clear sense of direction to set attainable goals," she says. That seems like good advice for all of us to follow for ourselves, doesn't it?
"It's the most
wonderful stressful time of the year…."
All jokes aside, we're certainly feeling the end-of-year stress here at PowerToFly, and we're sure many of you are in the same boat: scrambling to wrap up professional tasks, make socially distanced holiday plans, and keep your personal life afloat all at the same time.
It's not easy juggling so many priorities and 2020 has only made it more difficult.
So, as we wrap up what has been an extremely trying year, we're excited to share a few self-care tips from Cherry Mangat, Wellness Lead at global legal and compliance tech company Relativity. As Cherry says, before we can take care of our communities, "it is vital that we take care of ourselves."
A product manager for most of her career, Cherry learned about mindfulness a few years ago and has since become a passionate mental health advocate. Relativity encouraged and empowered her to launch and lead a company-wide wellness program.
As Cherry explains, "Mindfulness is about keeping your awareness in the present moment. Many of us tend to ruminate in the past or worry about the future. And it's all about coming back to the present moment." A self-professed "control freak," Cherry admits that she's found staying in the present challenging, but the benefits are clear, and she's working on a whole host of initiatives to help her fellow Relativians pursue better physical, mental, and emotional health.
Check out the video below to learn more about how she pivoted careers, and read on for the three things Cherry believes everyone needs in order to practice self-care and stay well:
1. An Unshakeable Foundation
When Cherry talks about an unshakeable foundation, she's referring to the things in life that give you a sense of stability. It may be work, family, spirituality, a hobby, or something else altogether.
But the key is thinking of what anchors you specifically. It will be different for everyone, but these are the things that no matter where you are or what you're doing, you turn to when you feel overwhelmed.
When you start to feel stressed, Cherry recommends pausing and thinking about your foundation: "Keep that foundation front and center…Maybe incorporate it into a daily ritual so that it's ingrained in your mind even more."
2. An Evolved Support System
This goes hand-in-hand with your foundation.
As Cherry says, "Take inventory of, and frequently turn to, your support system. Pre-pandemic, this network may have been different—made up of people you frequently spent time with in-person. Now, it may look different based on the circumstances of your living situation."
Identify who is a part of your support system and, Cherry says, ask yourself how you are connecting with them in meaningful ways. The ways in which you connect will almost certainly look different, but the key is that you find ways to connect that best energize you. Maybe you love Zoom hangouts, or perhaps you're more partial to phone calls or socially distanced walks. Identify what—and who—fills your cup and focus your time on those activities and people.
3. A Daily Act of Self-Compassion
Last but not least, Cherry recommends building an act of self-compassion into your daily routine. "Every morning at 8:00 a.m., a notification appears on my phone to remind me to practice self-compassion. I take 30 seconds to pause, reflect on how I'm feeling, and to think about what I need in order to have a good day. It allows me to have more awareness of my own state, rather than charging into the day on autopilot."
Starting your day off with this time to reflect can be the difference between scrambling all day long and feeling focused and engaged.
This doesn't mean, however, that you need to be "on" every single day, Cherry notes. "Every day is unique and we need different things at different times to help us through. One day, it may binge watching a favorite TV show. Another day, it may be a socially distanced visit with family. Let that flow be okay, don't judge yourself, and don't expect that every day has to look the same. We must give that kindness and compassion to ourselves first before we can extend it to others."
Interested in learning more? Check out the rest of Cherry's advice in her original blog post here. And if you're looking for a company where you can put your well-being first, check out Relativity's open roles here.
Attention India technologists! MINDBODY, the cloud-based platform that powers wellness bookings, partnered with PowerToFly, a women-run community that connects skilled professionals with each other and fast-growing companies, for a virtual night of tech talks and networking featuring MINDBODY's women tech leaders.
Speakers from MINDBODY included:
- Bhalchandra Namjoshi, Managing Director and Head of India Operations
- Ekta Kamdar, Lead Product Manager
- Pallavi Kulkarni, Manager, People & Culture
- Namrata Kulkarni, Senior Manager, Software Engineering
- Isha Samant, Technical Program Manager
On July 11th, PowerToFly partnered with MINDBODY on our third event together. This particular gathering for women in tech took place in in the San Francisco HQ of Frederick for MINDBODY and featured a product demo, tech talk and, of course, plenty of opportunities for our guests to network with MINDBODY leaders and each other.
The night kicked off with a spirited keynote address by Regina Wallace-Jones, Vice President, Product Operations. Regina also spoke at our event with MINDBODY in New York and she is a truly a thoughtful, inspiring presence. If you see that she's speaking at a conference near you...go!
After Regina warmed up the room, we moved into the evening's tech talk hosted by Mariane Bekker, Director of Engineering. It was a pleasure to have Mariane in the room and to hear directly from one of the skilled professionals behind MINDBODY's product.
Mariane and Regina stuck around for a panel discussion and audience Q&A where they were joined by Pallavi Pershey, Software Engineer and Emma Flock, Software Engineer. Our panel shared their own career journeys while also diving deeper into their lives at MINDBODY. After our panel wrapped up, attendees had plenty of more time to mingle with each other before closing out the night.
Getting ready for the big night!
A great night to network!