The Talent Economy Podcast


Can You Train Managers to Be Empathetic?

Season 2, Ep. 20

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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