The Talent Economy Podcast
Can You Train Managers to Be Empathetic?
The COVID-19 pandemic not only brought about sweeping changes to the way we work, but it also offered crucial insights into what employees truly want and need from their employers. In this episode, we speak with Tracy Layney, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of iconic apparel company Levi Strauss & Co., about the adjustments the company has made since the pandemic when it comes to flexibility, wellness, and overall work-life fit. She shares the lessons the pandemic has taught her and why she feels strongly that these learnings shape the workplace of the future.
Layney is responsible for Levi’s people strategy on a global scale, including recruiting, employee engagement, talent management, compensation and benefits, HR technology, and HR communications. She brings more than 20 years of experience in human resources and organization strategy to her role.
Prior to joining the company, Layney served as Senior VP and CHRO of Shutterfly, a leading retailer of personalized photo-based products. Before that, she spent 10 years at Gap Inc., where she held numerous HR senior leadership roles. Layney has also held positions at PwC/IBM Business Consulting Services where she worked with Fortune 500 clients in the high tech, financial services, retail, and healthcare industries. She is active in the HR thought-leader community and serves on the Board of HR People & Strategy, the executive network of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Also in this episode, Layney talks about what it was like to work in the Bay Area at the beginning of the dot-com boom and how she discovered her passion for organization strategy. She discusses how navigating the early days of the pandemic called for crisis-management skills, and how Levi’s pledged to emerge from the most tumultuous times stronger than ever. Finally, she explains why empathy is so integral to leadership, and why the company offered an artificial intelligence bootcamp to its employees.
Some Questions Asked:
- How did you navigate Levi’s COVID-19 response so quickly after joining the company?
- What are some strategies that the company is implementing to achieve a stronger, healthier, and more productive workplace?
- Do you believe it’s possible to train people to be empathetic?
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- How Layney credits her experience of being laid off with helping land her current CHRO position.
- Why Layney believes that forgetting the lessons learned during the pandemic would be missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
- How Levi’s has implemented a comprehensive employee support mechanism that includes child care and access to mental health services.
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Life is Good: Do What You Love. Love What You Do.™26:47Life is Good is the original positive lifestyle brand, dedicated to spreading the power of optimism through art and messaging. Co-founders and brothers Bert and John Jacobs originally set out to design T-shirts that inspired people to celebrate simple pleasures, and focus on what’s right in the world and our lives instead of what’s wrong. In 1994, after five years of disappointing sales and with just $78 to their names, Bert and John designed their first Life is Good tee and discovered how those three simple words could help people to focus on the good. For almost 30 years, Life is Good has been building a “culture of optimism” through its online shop and 4,500 retail stores. Life is Good’s mission “to spread the power of optimism” isn’t just a marketing angle—it influences every part of the brand, from company culture to philanthropy.Tom Hassell, president of Life is Good, joined Toptal’s Chief People Officer Michelle Labbe on The Talent Economy podcast. For the past three years, Hassell has overseen the Life is Good e-commerce business as it has grown from $30 million in annual revenue in 2017 to over $86 million in 2020. Outside of his role at Life is Good, Hassell has served in leadership roles at a diverse group of companies, including Lord & Taylor, Perry Ellis, Ann Taylor, and Eastern Mountain Sports. He is thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as the President of Life is Good, where spreading the power of optimism is both the company mission and his personal passion. In this episode, Hassell discusses his journey in the apparel industry, his work at Life is Good, the power of optimism, Life is Good’s social work through the Life is Good Playmaker Project, and more.Some Questions Asked:How does Life is Good maintain its optimistic culture throughout all levels of the company? (8:26)Who develops Life is Good’s creative designs? (17:57) Among the positive letters the company often receives from its customers, is there a particular story that moved you? (21:24) In This Episode, You Will Learn:How Life is Good believes in rational optimism. About Life is Good’s social work, the Life is Good Playmaker Project. How founders Bert and John Jacobs continue to lead the company. Links:Tom Hassell - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
New York Life: A Creative Approach to DE&I42:16As the largest mutual life insurance company in the US, New York Life has been advising policyholders on investment decisions for more than 178 years.Toptal’s Chief People Officer Michelle Labbe spoke with Kathleen Navarro, New York Life Insurance’s Senior Vice President and Head of Human Resources Business Enablement on The Talent Economy Podcast.Kathleen Navarro leads New York Life Insurance’s integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and manages the HR business partners, strategy and analytics teams. During Navarro's tenure, the company has received broad recognition for its inclusion efforts, including being named one of the Best-of-the-Best Corporations by the National Business Inclusion Consortium in 2022.Navarro has held a range of roles in finance, strategy, and operations since joining New York Life Insurance in 1994. She has been recognized as a Top 10 Champion of Global Diversity by DiversityGlobal and was included on the Top 50 Chief Diversity Officers list issued by the National Diversity Council.Some Questions Asked:New York Life Insurance is a mutual company owned by policyholders without outside investors. How does this ownership model affect your talent strategy and company culture? 11:30Employees are increasingly looking for flexibility and balance in their jobs. With three days in the office and two at home, what sort of impact has your hybrid model had on hiring and employee happiness? 19:29New York Life Insurance was one of Seramount’s (formerly Working Mother Media) “100 Best Companies” for 2022 and listed as one of its “Best Companies for Dads.” How has New York Life Insurance created such a supportive culture for working parents? 29:50In This Episode, You Will Learn:What has made Kathleen Navarro want to stay at New York Life Insurance for nearly 30 years. Why The Dave Thomas Foundation recently listed New York Life Insurance as a 2022 Adoption Advocate.How New York Life Insurance maintains consistency across a distributed and independent workforce.Links:Kathleen Navarro - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
40. Vimeo: Leading With Intention28:54Vimeo, a video-sharing website that allows members to view, upload, and share videos, was a top competitor to YouTube when it launched in 2004. But in 2017, Vimeo saw an opening to pivot to a software as a service company, offering tools for independent creators to produce, upload, and share their own content. In May of 2021, Vimeo went public and soon afterwards, Crystal Boysen joined the company as Chief People Officer. In her role, Boysen has led various initiatives aimed at cultivating an engaged, diverse, and inclusive culture at Vimeo. In addition to sharing her career story, Crystal Boysen offered her HR philosophy, as well as her perspective on leading in a hybrid environment, crafting meaningful benefit packages, and more. Some Questions Asked:Why does the quote “you don’t build a business, you build people and the people build the business” resonate with you? 5:37What is Vimeo doing to assure DE&I? 12:35What trends do you see emerging amid the current economic slowdown? 16:20In This Episode, You Will Learn:About Vimeo’s employee donation matching program How Vimeo builds talent from within Why Vimeo gives equity stakes to their employees Links:Crystal Boysen - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
Web Summit: Katie Bolger, Community Manager, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion41:40With past speakers such as the CEOs of Dell and Wikipedia, and the COO of Reddit, the Web Summit annual conference, founded in 2009, has become a critical meeting place for the tech community. At the 2022 event in Lisbon, Portugal, Katie Bolger, Community Manager, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Web Summit, joined Toptal’s Chief People Officer, Michelle Labbe. They discussed the conference, Web Summit’s Women in Tech program, and equity in representation among attendees and speakers.Some Questions Asked:What is Web Summit’s mission? How has your role in the event-planning field evolved since the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the most effective ways that leaders can advocate for more women to enter the tech workforce?In This Episode, You Will Learn:What led to Web Summit’s involvement with Women in Tech.What accessibility features were available at this Web Summit.How Web Summit ensures that the conference adheres to organizers’ priorities and culture.Links:Katie Bolger - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
Web Summit: Branch Co-Founder, Mada Seghete27:51Branch is a deep-linking and mobile-attribution platform that helps companies build and measure user journeys. In 2014, Mada Seghete co-founded Branch on the fundamental principle that breaking down silos on the internet is critical to a brand’s ability to build engaging and relevant end-user experiences. Branch initially focused on delivering a deep-linking solution to navigate the complex mobile ecosystem and get users to the right destination. Its platform now also powers mobile attribution for 50,000+ of the world’s most advanced apps, helping companies like Airbnb, Pinterest, Slack, Ticketmaster, Tinder, Starbucks, and Yelp measure their users’ journeys. While attending Web Summit in Lisbon, Seghete, Branch’s current Managing Director and VP of Marketing, joined Toptal’s Chief People Officer Michelle Labbe to discuss creating Branch, women in tech, the future of work, and her Web Summit experience. Some Questions Asked:How does Branch differentiate itself from its competitors?Why do you think so many people who left their jobs during the Great Resignation are deciding to return? How do you see the future of work evolving in the next few years? In This Episode, You Will Learn:What inspired the founding of Branch. What the culture is like at Branch and how the company upholds its mantra of “Build, Grow, Win.”Advice for women who want to launch their own tech startup.Links:Mada Seghete - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
Web Summit: Toptal CEO, Taso Du Val: The Evolution of the Talent Economy13:55Toptal is a network of the world’s top talent in business, design, and technology that enables companies to scale their teams on demand. Founded in 2010 and now the world’s largest fully remote company, Toptal has served more than 21,000 clients and has a global network of talent in 140+ countries.Kimberly Hall, Toptal’s VP of Revenue Operations, sat down with Toptal’s CEO Taso Du Val at Toptal’s Women in Tech Lounge at Web Summit 2022 in Lisbon. Du Val shares insights into the future of work, Web3, the financial benefits of implementing a remote workforce, and more.Some Questions Asked:Why was this a key year for Toptal to take part in the Web Summit conference?What was the inspiration behind the creation of Toptal’s Women in Tech Lounge? Will Toptal continue to lean into the Web3 space? In This Episode, You Will Learn:What companies should be thinking about as the workplace evolves.What the future of the talent economy looks like.The financial benefits of implementing a remote workforce.Links:Taso Du Val - LinkedInKimberly Hall - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
39. Suzy: Challenging HR Directly29:46Suzy is a leading global consumer insights platform that integrates quantitative and qualitative research with high-quality audience insights into a single connected research cloud. In this episode of The Talent Economy podcast, Anthony Onesto, Suzy’s Chief People Officer, speaks with Toptal’s Chief People Officer, Michelle Labbe.Some Questions Asked:How do you incorporate the book Radical Candor into Suzy’s cultural philosophy? 6:42What is the importance in challenging directly and allowing for contrarian ideas? 10:21How does Suzy support employees who have a side hustle? 15:45 In This Episode, You Will Learn:How Onesto decided to implement Radical Candor into Suzy’s culture.How Onesto came up with the idea for his comic series, “Ella the Engineer.”How Suzy is using data and analytics in the benefits space. Links:Anthony Onesto - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
38. Chegg: Taking On Employees’ Education Debt25:10Chegg is a connected platform enabling students to learn more in less time—and at reduced costs. The company offers discounted textbooks, online tutoring, and other student services, while providing diverse employee upskilling and development opportunities. Debra Thompson is Chegg’s Chief People Officer, infusing the brand’s culture of innovation, transparency, wellness, and work/life balance throughout the company. Previously, she served as Director of Compensation, Benefits, and HR Operations at Amyris and held directorial and managerial roles at RMS, CNET Networks, and Lucent Technologies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and personnel administration/industrial relations from California State University, East Bay.Some Questions Asked:What is Chegg’s approach to the upskilling, learning, and development of internal teams? 5:17What is the culture like at Chegg, and how do you maintain it? 11:53Can you tell us about Chegg’s partnership with the Tides Foundation? 21:54 In This Episode, You Will Learn:How Chegg offers learning opportunities for all employees, such as its Level Up initiative that includes seven different flagship management trainings, like giving and receiving feedback and behavioral interviewing, as well as its EDU for You program that gives staff money to pursue education in their personal fields of interest.That the culture at Chegg is built on openness, assumptions of positive intent from everyone, and optimal work/life balance—and that the company holds an annual culture, belonging, and diversity summit.How the brand’s philanthropic arm, Chegg.org, partners with groups to combat hunger, promote good health and well-being, deliver access to quality education and decent work opportunities, and reduce inequalities throughout the world. Links:Debra Thompson - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast
37. Yelp: Why Remote First Works29:24Users depend on Yelp for great customer reviews but how do its remote team members depend on one another? CPO Carmen Orr talks about the company’s recent transition to remote work, how the company invests in employee well-being, and what a thriving culture looks like. Carmen Orr joined Yelp earlier this year with 20 years of HR experience. Her main focus has been on transitioning the company into a remote environment. Some Questions Asked:What attracted Orr to Yelp? 4:17How does Orr guide her team to support Yelp’s employees? 12:52How does Orr manage her self-care and model that standard for her employees? 21:24In This Episode, You Will Learn:About the company’s plans to invest in their employee experience.How Orr maintains a thriving, remote work culture.What Yelp does to manage authenticity on its platform.Links:Carmen Orr - LinkedInYelp - LinkedInMichelle Labbe - LinkedInToptal - LinkedInThe Talent Economy podcast