Can flexibility be a mindset that fosters resilience?

May 18, 2022

In this week’s Here to Help, Indeed CEO Chris Hyams will reflect on Mother’s Day in the US with Romney Donald, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Generalist at Indeed.

Romney and Chris discuss how caregiving and work intersect and what each of us can do to take care of ourselves while taking care of others. They also explore what it is to be strong and soft at work that can lead us to misunderstandings. And why flexibility is a mindset that fosters resilience.

- Hello everyone. I am Chris Hyams CEO of Indeed. and welcome to the next episode of Here to Help. At Indeed our mission is to help people get jobs. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us going all day long and what powers that mission is our people. Here to Help is a look at how experience, strength, and hope inspires people to want to help others. On today's episode, we're going to be talking about parenting and caregiving. As yesterday, Sunday May ninth was mother's day here in the US. 108 years ago the first Mother's Day was proclaimed by president Woodrow Wilson on May ninth, 1914. He asked Americans on that day to give a public thank you to their mothers and to all mothers. And while a lot has changed since 1914, Mother's Day is still a day to pause and celebrate working motherhood in all its forms and all its complexity. May is also mental health awareness month, a national movement to raise awareness about mental health. Our conversation today will explore the importance of mental health awareness and education for everyone, but in particular for parents and caregivers. My guest today is Romney Donald diversity, inclusion and belonging generalist here at Indeed. Romney, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

- Let's start where we always start by asking, how are you doing today right now?

- I would say right now I'm doing all right. I am, of course, nervous and imposter syndrome did try to sneak up on me a little bit, but other than that, I'm doing really well.

- Well, I'm so glad you were able to join me today and I'm really looking forward to this conversation. Let's start by just asking, how was your Mother's Day? Did you have any chance to sit and reflect?

- My Mother's Day was pretty good. It was quiet. It did allow me time to sit down, reflect. I found myself kind of going through old pictures of when my daughter was a baby and just thinking about how much she has changed and grown since then, and also how much I've changed and grown since then. So yeah, very reflective.

- Well, let's talk a little bit about your mother and your experience growing up.

- Yeah, so my mom was a middle child just like me, sorry. She is a middle child, just like I am and she actually worked for the city of Stanford, which is where I'm from. And she worked for the city of Stanford for a while, but the hours there were very long and she recognized that working those hours was not beneficial to how she was able to parent us as kids. And she, like most mothers, made a sacrifice of changing jobs and she entered the school system, which allowed her to be more present in our lives and be accessible as a parent. And like I mentioned, the sacrifice of being selfless and caring and supportive was exactly what she did and who she is. She's a very caring person and with that change, it wasn't about the change of money. It was more about her being available to us as kids and as the middle child, she was able to also see how her brother and sister also adapted to life. Her parents were actually, well, my grandparents, my grandfather, he's actually a veteran. He was in the army and his parents were actually sharecroppers and so they were able to buy their land, build a farm, you know, have a farm and take care of animals. And that's actually what my grandfather did in the army. He took care horses. And so we have a very long line of hard workers, people who made sacrifices to support others. And that kind of ties into also even my own experiences growing up also as the middle child. I have two sisters. One of my sisters is actually a lawyer and who I have tried to get a job here at Indeed and I won't stop if she's interested. And then my younger sister is actually an activist in the community in Stanford. So, yeah.

- So you mentioned that your mother went into the education field. I know education was a big focus in your family. Can you talk a little bit about that and your own personal journey in education?

- Yeah, education was a non-negotiable in my family. It was either, you know, further your education or the military. And so, you know, there was kind of that ultimatum of continuing education also because of the history of black people in this country, we weren't really allotted a lot of access. So having access to education is a privilege and my mom wanted to make sure that we took advantage of that. And with my journey through education, you know, after high school, I would say I was actually unprepared for college. Let's just say that. I went to an HBCU for my first two years of school. But when I had gone home during my sophomore year of college, that's where my view and lens of life kind of changed a little bit. My dad, he actually was very sick and passed away during my time home during my Christmas vacation and having to manage grief, but also, you know, continue my education was very challenging and actually was my introduction to therapy. Because when I came back to school, I realized it was difficult to put what I was grieving and grieving the loss of my father aside and focus on school at the same time. So I was able to go to school, but I just wasn't happy there anymore. So I transferred out and I moved to Boston where my sister lived and applied to schools. Actually, I love cities apparently. So I was in Boston and then I applied to the school out in Chicago and I went to Chicago to school, but unfortunately like many people if you're doing student loans or paying out-of-pocket, I couldn't afford school much longer and I had to withdraw. And that's when life really kicked it up a notch for me. I was working full time just to try to pay student loans, but also afford going to school and wanting to go to school and complete my education. And yeah, so as life just kind of kept going and I took a break from school. I actually wound up having my daughter.

- So you had your daughter early on in your career journey. Can you talk about how that impacted your choices in both your career and your life?

- Yeah, so I had Nia when I was 24 years old and she's currently 11, but what ended up happening during that time is that I was taking on the role of being a parent. And then my mom actually got sick within like the first year of my daughter's life. And as I was someone who was actually living back in Connecticut because I came back and I was helping her and she got very sick and was hospitalized. So at that point, I just assumed the role as her caregiver and was navigating, taking care of my under one year old daughter and also taking care of my mom who was on a road to recovery. But the way that impacted my choices in life was that I was putting myself last basically. I wasn't thinking about me. I was thinking about everyone else around me and, you know, through therapy, I was able to recognize childhood trauma responses and, you know, feeling responsible for bringing a life into the world, not being able to manage the stressors of my own life and trying to also find my own identity all in one. So it just impacted everything, whether I was looking for a job or not working, because honestly I wasn't working for the first couple of years because where do you find the time to work, take care of a child, and help out with caregiving a parent who needs assistance? So, yeah.

- How were you able to find some balance between the caregiving and caring for yourself and all of the things that were on your plate at this time?

- Honestly, there was no balance, it was more of autopilot. I was honestly just navigating through life the best way I could. And it wasn't until my mom had started to have independence and, you know, really able to take care of herself and do the things that she didn't need us to help her with going forward, whether that was driving somewhere or, you know, attending appointments. As some of my independence came back, I started to recognize that I wasn't taking care of myself mentally as best as I should have or could have, I guess. And so that's when I decided to find a therapist because I was now accepting my role of responsibility and the mental work that needed to be done in order to better equip myself and also learning about boundaries. I feel like balancing is also about boundaries and having respect for yourself. So I balanced that by saying, you know, this is what I know I can do. This is what I can't do. And I really had to learn not to do everything by myself.

- So you joined Indeed in 2018, but that was not the first time that you'd actually applied to a job at Indeed. Can you talk about your experience and how you ended up getting here?

- I like that the wording there, because when I actually went back in my emails and looked at when I was applying to Indeed, and I think it was around 2017 and I was unfortunately dispositioned because I didn't have a degree at the time. I was working in retail management and I lost two jobs. I was working at one company for about four years and because the store wasn't doing well due to some mall renovations, the company decided to close that particular location. And so I said, "Okay, I'll just find another job." It's retail. So I was able to find another like store manager job at another company and the same thing happened. They couldn't withstand what was going on in the mall. So they shut down that company as well like six months after I started there. So I honestly took that as a sign. I am a woman of faith. So I did take it as a sign that, you know, this is not where I needed to be and this is not my purposeful work that I should be doing. And I decided to go back to school because I was at that point, it was almost about a 10-year gap almost since I had gone to school. And I said, okay, well, since I can't work and I don't want to keep, you know, going on with this cycle of back to retail management, let me try to finish my degree. And so I went back to school and in 2018, the following year, Indeed had dropped the requirement for no degree and I was able to reapply. I was referred actually and that referral helped me to get the job that I had in 2018. And when I got to Indeed, it was somewhere that I knew I needed to be because I used to see all of the community engagement that Indeed was doing in the Stanford office in particular. I saw what the Black Inclusion Group was doing and for me it felt very homelike. It felt like a place that I could basically flourish. And even when I came back, when I got hired at Indeed, I was in school. I was actually in my second year. I was in an accelerated program. So I only had two years left and so I was actually in my last year of school basically. And everyone that I encountered during that time was very accommodating to me. I was very upfront about me being in school. I had a class on Wednesday nights and if anyone is from the Fairfield county area and knows anything about rush hour traffic getting to Bridgeport, Connecticut from Stanford at five o'clock is madness. And therefore my manager at the time was very accommodating and everyone was understanding and let me like leave a few minutes early just so I could try to get to class and get through that traffic and not actually be late to school. So my experience at Indeed started off on a very positive note.

- So you ended up completing that degree. You are now back in school again and are studying for a master's in clinical mental health and counseling. Can you talk about why it was so important for you to go back and get that degree and now get another degree?

- Yeah, I mean, for me, it was an accomplishment and something to show for the student loan debt that I've put myself in. I wanted to have something to show for that. I wanted to prove to... And when I say show for it, I mean, to myself, not to others. This was a journey that I started. So I wanted to finish it. It was very important for me to have an accomplishment under my belt, especially after going through a lot of changes in my life. This was something that I felt very passionate about. Completing school. It was not something that I thought I would be able to do. And I did it. So that's important to me because I proved to myself that I can complete things that I start and yes, now I've gone back to school for a master's program and that's because mental health is very important to me.

- Yeah, and can you talk a little bit about that? So it's mental health awareness month right now and we're shining a light on these issues in life and certainly in work. What is it that drew you to the field of mental health?

- So going back to even my first experience in mental health, dealing with grief, juggling parenthood and caregiving, I thought it was... The emotions that I was feeling were also because I was very aware of my emotions. I would say I'm a very sensitive person and being aware of my mental health was important to me. And therefore, I also recognized that I wanted to combat the stigma within my community. The black community. Mental health has been looked upon as being a weakness sometimes or shameful and especially when you layer in the possibility of needing medication as treatment. Statistically black people receive treatment at lower rates than white people when it comes to mental health. And it's important to note that black people develop mental health conditions just like anyone else. And unfortunately, with like our increased direct experiences with trauma, whether that is like police brutality, being harassed by, you know, just anyone on the street for minding our business. Microaggressions, like at work, generational trauma, even just like mistreatment in hospitals. We see that statistically within the black community. And for me, it was like a no-brainer. I knew that with my own experience, with mental health and mental health and seeing a therapist, how that had impacted me greatly and then recognizing that the representation was lacking significantly. African Americans only account for 5.3% of the psychology workforce. And when there's certain things like implicit bias and racial disparities within the healthcare system, we know that there's a lack of sensitivity and awareness and that leads to misdiagnosis in treatments. And that's why representation is very important. I knew that I was deserving of mental health and I knew that what I experienced was also a tremendous privilege. And even now my therapist today, I've been seeing her for six years. She's a black woman and I searched for her intentionally. I searched for someone who looked like me, intentionally, someone who knew the experiences of being a black woman in America. And I know how that had helped me and I wanted to be that helpful to someone else. Whether it's at work being a resource, whether it's in my own personal life to my child, to my mom, to my sisters, being a resource to others is very important to me. So that's why I chose mental health to kind of dive into deeper.

- Thank you for sharing all of that. So looking at where you are today, compared to before, when you had all of this responsibility on your plate and felt like there was no balance, it sounds like you still have a lot of responsibility on your plate outside of just your job as a mother and being in school full time. And so what are some of the things that we as an employer and all employers can do to make work better for caregivers and for parents and especially for working mothers?

- First, I would like to say that I think Indeed does an incredible job at creating spaces. And when I say, Indeed, I do mean us employees. You know, we have created such a great environment for others to really speak up and speak out and not be afraid to do so. And so I do want to at least thank everyone from SLT and even Chris for creating that environment that fosters inclusivity and diversity. And I would say honestly, in order to make work better, as I am a caregiver, a parent, and a black woman, I am also Romney. I'm also myself outside of those identities. I am a person and I would want for Indeed to just continue to listen to employees and continue to hear whether it's criticism, whether it's feedback. I just want that to continue. And I feel like working as long as we lead more with empathy, I think that that's going to make our workspace healthy. One of the things that I sometimes reflect on is how we have a great PTO policy, right? But sometimes that PTO policy will be depending upon your manager or their director. And honestly sometimes it can become a passive-aggressive relationship where we have the policy and if we want people to be open and feel supported, we shouldn't be getting things like a summary of how many days we've already taken off in comparison to others on our team you know or the company as a whole. And so I would also like to see a little bit more of that, like leading with empathy and understanding that not everyone is going to be as forthcoming and honest about what's going on in their personal life. But if they're needing and asking for the PTO, it's because of a necessity and not using that against them is something that I would like to see more of. I think it's a great area of opportunity for the company to look into that a little bit more. I've been very fortunate that I've had supportive managers, but also being a little bit more as a , more of a employee who is known for speaking out. I hear a lot more stories on the back end and I think it's very important that that's taken into consideration because being a parent and caregiver already comes with a lot of responsibilities. And that's how people see me as my identity. But that's also because I've shared that. There are a lot of people who might be suffering in silence and you don't know that and they might need it that day. And so I want us to keep that in mind, as far as making work better, not just for caregivers, parents, mothers, but everyone.

- You've talked in a couple of different answers already about some of the additional challenges facing marginalized communities in particular black women. And can you talk about why it might be more challenging to show the full range of emotion or to be vulnerable at work?

- I don't want to speak for everyone because it is my belief that, you know, we are not a monolith. However, there are definitely themes that black women, men, and those in marginalized communities may relate to or notice. And for me, I would say it's harder because society expects us to show up and combat racism and generational trauma. We're expected to be stronger and mature and that's even from an early age. I always think about adultification bias, particularly among black girls and how we're expected to carry the weight, even at early ages. And even, you know, in our adulthood when we're at work, you know, we want to come to work sometimes and we just want to work. We want to do work without microaggressions, code switching, and when we think of that, you know, as far as showing full range of emotions, it can be tiring. You know, I want to come here to work and if I'm met with a microaggression or I have to code switch, or I know I'm getting paid less than my, you know, like white counterpart, it can be difficult for me too. Why would I want to be vulnerable in a workspace like that? Being vulnerable is a risk because I don't know how that will be perceived by others. I don't know if that's going to show up in my performance review later. I don't know if that's going to be used against me as I am underperforming because I'm having a rough day today and I need the day off. So for me it's like honestly, we're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't, but that's just for me, that's why it's harder. Because again, we're thinking about everyone around us sometimes except for ourselves and we come to work, sometimes we just want to work.

- So one of the things that you've sort of got at a couple of times is that we can't do everything ourselves. It takes community and support and we need help. How is it for you learning to ask for help when you need it?

- Oh, man. Learning to ask for help was really difficult for me. I was used to doing everything on my own. I saw asking for help as a weakness. Like I couldn't control what was going on around me, whether that's being a parent or trying to complete school. I had this realization that I didn't want to see, I didn't want my daughter to see struggle as something normal. And that's when I realized I needed to lean on other people and challenge myself to accept help. People would offer and just trying to be strong, I would decline help. I wanted to do it myself because again, I mean, I'm also a mom and I feel like no one can do it like me. No one can, you know, handle my daughter the way that I can. No one's going to talk to her in a tone that I'm going to talk to her and care for her the way that I can. So I really had to challenge myself that I didn't have to be strong all the time and I recognized that it was also a response to, you know, things that happened in childhood where I was afraid of people letting me down. And that was my response to it. I'll do it myself because I don't want to run the risk of relying on someone else and they can't deliver. And so I also learned that I was deserving of prioritizing myself. I deserve to put myself first because if I didn't, how was I really going to take care of the people around me? And so again, I know therapy is going to be that buzzword today, but that's how I learned how to also ask for help is just recognizing that it doesn't mean anything that I need help. It just means that I need some support. And I know that that I would be more than happy to support others, right? So knowing that I can help people, why shouldn't I expect that people want to help me as well? So yeah, I just learned to do it.

- Yeah, and that last part really feels key. It's the mutual support is what community is all about. And so can you talk about how you've built a community here at Indeed and in particular, what is the role that the Black Inclusion Group has played in your community?

- At Indeed, I found that being my absolute authentic self was non-negotiable. I wanted to be Romney 100% as much as possible. And, you know, I wouldn't even say that I built the community at Indeed. The community at Indeed pretty much embraced me and I've always felt very uplifted and supported. I do my best to open up and talk about the things that I'm dealing with and with honesty, you know? Even if I'm at a space where I don't want to open up, but I'll tell people I'm going through this. I can't get into it right now, but you know, this is what I need. And because of that, at Indeed, like I said, I was very much embraced and I was able to join the Black Inclusion Group very early on. Probably within the first 24 hours of being at Indeed I joined the Black Inclusion Group as soon as possible. And there's just something to say about having a community and a space. And, you know, I've always expressed that without the Black Inclusion Group, I'm not sure if I'd still be at Indeed. And that's very important to me because BIG's role was very impactful. It provides today a safe space at work for black employees and our allies and not to mention, I mean, being black in tech is inspiring on its own. So the Black Inclusion Group has also allowed me to be in spaces where I can be an ally to others. I've had the opportunity to be a part of other IRGs, such as parents and caregivers, WAT, Women at Indeed, and that has also created great relationships with other people that even though we don't share the same beliefs or we don't have quite the same intersectionalities, at the end of the day, we all want an environment where we can thrive and be in healthy spaces. So that's hopefully answering the question.

- No, that's fantastic. You know, one of the things that for folks at Indeed they hear me say quite a bit that I want everyone's next job to be at Indeed and you have found your next job at Indeed. You joined in client services and recently switched to the diversity inclusion and belonging team. Can you talk about what motivated that switch?

- Well, Chris, mainly it was protecting my piece. No, . But I switched from CS to DI and B because just like my own personal work and the work within therapy, I realized experiences are important. Employee experiences in particular are important because it creates a healthy, inclusive space. And I wanted to continue advocating for others because I'm personally not afraid, but that's not the same for all. And I wanted to make sure that all voices were being heard and being part of the environmental social governance team, there's great goals like, you know, increasing Indeed's workforce representation of underrepresented ethnic minorities in the United States by 2030 to 30%. So goals like that were very important to me as well as reducing attrition. That's important too because while it's nice to increase minority representation, what's also, if not more, important is retaining those who are already here and being in a visible space I did have opportunities of hearing stories that were not as great as mine and I want to make sure that while we're the employees now, what we're doing is also monumental and it's also important work. So switching from client services to DI and B was kind of a no-brainer to me because within the Black Inclusion Group, I was kind of already doing those things and now I'm actually doing those things with this title. So yeah, all in all very important.

- So what does it mean to you to be strong at work?

- So, honestly a good friend of mine she likes to use the term, not subscribing to, to things and to me, I don't like to subscribe to being strong at work. I've unsubscribed to it and it's an attribute I don't want to be associated with. I want to be soft at work. I want to let people in, but also to the best of my ability and to the bandwidth that I'm allotted. I'm not like an open diary or anything but I am very chatty. So you might be surprised how much stuff you can get out of me. But you know, we spend a lot of time at home right now. We're spending a lot of time at work and those two have basically mingled together and I had to learn how to communicate my needs and being less apologetic. Saying sorry, I say it too much and that's part of, you know, being my strong side wants to acknowledge if I did something that I felt was incorrect and I've learned to just trust myself more and speaking my truth when I feel like I can and, you know, at work, you know, I've definitely cried over difficulties and whether it was family stuff happening. I couldn't disassociate the two. It's like, I'm home, I'm dealing with work, we're going through the pandemic, and I've had those hard, hard instances where I've, you know, I had to tell a manager, "I don't think I could do this today." Or I've cried on zoom. Like, you know, that's part of me being vulnerable at work and instead of being strong. So yeah.

- That's really beautiful. Well, as we come to a close here, I guess as a final question, I would love to hear about your daughter, Nia Siri. What do you hope the world will be like when she begins her work journey and what legacy do you hope to leave for her?

- I really tried to think about that for a while, because I was like, I was unsure what kind of world I'd want her to live in. And to me, I kind of go back to what kind of world does she want to live in? And I think about her perspective and not imposing my beliefs on her and I don't want to put expectations on her. So, you know, I just hope that when she does encounter the work field, that she's encountering a world where people are leading with empathy and kindness, and that she's able to be her genuine self. And as far as like a legacy goes, I honestly just want her to have courage and confidence and authenticity and just, you know, be able to have the freedom to be unapologetic and not fit into other people's expectations or boxes of her and what, you know, she wants to do. So as a parent, I want to do my best to protect her as much as possible. And, you know, the idea that I always. Well the concept I always think of is, you know, with kids it's like your heart living outside of your body and you can't really... You could protect it for so long, for only so long, but I just want her to feel supported in whatever she chooses to do and yeah, and all that black girl magic. I just want her to be able to embody it and encompass it however she wants.

- Well Romney, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your really, I think, you know, unique perspective on the world. I'm going to have the idea of being soft at work stuck in my head now and I'm really going to think about that. Thank you so much and thank you for everything that you do for Indeed. And thank you for everything you do to help people get jobs.

- Thank you so much, Chris. Appreciate you.