Niki: I’m Niki Christoff and welcome to Tech’ed Up. Today, Malcom Glenn, writer, speaker advocate, and friend of the pod, joins me in the studio. We talk about two topics I’m incredibly passionate about. Mental health in the workplace and equity in tech.
Malcom shares insights about quiet quitting, Gen Z, and how doing right by people is good for business.
Niki: Today in the studio, I am really excited to have my good friend, Malcom Glenn. Malcom, welcome.
Malcom: Thank you, Niki. Great to be here.
Niki: So we go way back in the tech world. We worked together at Google. We worked together at Uber. We're both based in Washington, DC. You've been in startup world for a long time. You're a writer. You're a speaker.
Oh, I'm gonna say this! You have a killer website which we'll put in the show notes, but it is really killer. And you've recently shifted into consulting and you're an equity advocate. And I wanna talk about one, what does that mean? And then two, the topic I'd really like to explore today is something you've been speaking about recently, which is mental health in the workplace.
Malcom: Well, first off, I just wanna say thank you for your kind words. I should come on your podcast more often. I should have you be a cheerleader for me, and I'm really excited to have this conversation. Y’know, I think about being an equity advocate as really working to help organizations embed principles of equity in everything they do. And, I think about it in a sort of twofold way. A lot of organizations, whether it's for-profit organizations, non-profits, think-tanks, a lot of these folks think about equity in terms of their internal focused work. So hiring, retaining, growing employees from historically excluded backgrounds.
That's really, really important, and it's been a disproportionate point of focus and conversations around companies. In particular, tech companies over the last couple of years, in particular in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder and the social justice protests of 2020, but I really try to help organizations go beyond that and focus on equity insofar as it affects the communities that they serve.
So, how do you find the right partners in those communities, folks with lived experience? Feeling some of the issues, challenges, and opportunities that come with using your product, or your policies, or your services. How do you measure the impact of whether you're serving those communities well, and ultimately how do you make sure that you're tying what you're doing for those communities to your business so that it continues to sustain itself even in, say, macroeconomic downturn or when priorities shift? How do you make sure that it's tied to the business so that it can grow and be scalable in the long term?
So, I try to help organizations think about equity, not just in so far as their thinking about their internal facing work, but their external facing work as well.
Niki: Okay. So even though I started up saying we're such good friends, we've known each other forever, we both live in DC. I actually- this makes sense that this is what you're doing for a living, but I wasn't totally sure what you were doing for a living.
Niki: But the reason it makes sense is that when we were at Uber, this was your job.
You would think through communities, and I'm just gonna give, like, a very specific example. We were thinking about accessibility for the app and you, I remember, learned how to give demos to people, I think vision impaired folks; you had your business cards had braille on them, and doing exactly what you're talking about now, which is going into communities that might be underserved or need accessibility changes and figuring out what they actually need. So you, this is your background!
Malcom: Yeah, and I recall those conversations that we used to have at Uber quite fondly, and that's what really spurred me to go out, and kind of do this on my own. It was really valuable, and really enriching, and rewarding to do this work on behalf of Uber. To make Uber more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, to people who are deaf and hard of hearing, or wheelchair users.
There's a whole world out there of organizations who can do similar things in order to serve those needs of those communities. I don't have lived experience with a disability and so I had to do a lot of education for myself. I had to do a lot of listening from folks within those communities to understand: How many people who are blind or low vision actually read braille? Or, [Niki: Oh, great question] Actually not that many, you’d be surprised. I learned that after I made those business cards. [Niki: Oh, my gosh!] It was a, it was a revelation for me. [Niki: I didn't know that. Okay!]
Because of digital properties and the accessibility of digital tools, younger people, younger people who are blind or low vision, aren't learning braille because they can use VoiceOver on iOS or TalkBack on Android.
So when we were at Uber, I had to work with our engineers to make sure that our apps were compatible with those screen readers, that when we pushed an update every week, we weren't breaking buttons and making it impossible for a blind person to request their ride. So, I was doing a lot of exactly what we've talked about internally alongside you in a lot of those instances.
And so, now I've expanded my scope, and I'm trying to help organizations from the outside think about all of the things that I learned at Uber and, and some of my circumstances and really help them embed those same principles into the work that they do every day.
Niki: Right! And it's sort of this; it's capitalist in that it helps them grow their business.
I mean, we actually found this, in one more point about Uber, in Washington DC, it's the highest number of hard-of-hearing drivers [Malcom: yes] because we have Gallaudet University here. [Malcom: That’s right] ]And so it really wasn't that hard for the engineering team to figure out that you can give a notice to the rider that you're gonna have a hard-of-hearing driver to change the app a little bit.
And we, it helped us grow the driver population in, in Washington.
Malcom: It helped us grow the driver population. And then it also helped spur some other app innovations that weren't even specific to people with disabilities. So, you were required to put in your destination when you were connected with a deaf or hard-of-hearing driver because, of course, you can't have a conversation with them telling them where you need to go.
If you'll recall, in the early days of Uber, you actually didn't input your destination. You would tell your driver in the same way that you would a taxi ride where you wanted to go. And so, it was in part because of the innovation around deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers that we realized it's a better app experience for everyone. If you input your destination, you can just hit your GPS, and the driver knows exactly where to go.
So, sometimes, doing things for certain communities actually helps everyone in your business, and I think that was a perfect example of that.
Niki: Yeah! And I don't mean to be flip about this, but you and I have been at a restaurant recently when I'm like, I can't read the goddamn QR codes. [Malcom: laughs] I can't work it. I can't see it. [chuckling] My vision in low light- and I'm in my, I'm like, “How does anybody older than me figure this out? I can barely read this thing!”
Malcom: I can relate. When I go to restaurants now, the first thing I say is “That music is too loud.” And the second thing I say is, “There's not enough light,” and [Niki: There's not enough light] if you just make some accommodations for some people in the margins, everyone has a better circumstance. I can hear what you're saying. I can actually see my menu.
Niki: What a concept. [Malcom: What a concept. Right?] Okay, I'm against QR codes. Next thing.
Niki: Hard, hard segue!
Malcom: I'm not, I'm not against that at all. I agree with you.
Niki: No, it's the perfect segue. Next, we're gonna talk mental health.
Niki: So, one of the things, um, that you've recently been speaking about, I've been watching you on LinkedIn and you've talked about mental health in the workplace. And I have, I have a tiny business. [Malcom: Mm-hmm] I have three employees. [Malcom: Mm-hmm] We do have a list of cultural values.
The first cultural value is that we prioritize employees physical and mental health. One of our cultural values is that we don't work with assholes. And we also have a culture of transparency and people can speak up.
Setting that aside, mental health- I'm a small business. I'm not Deloitte, I'm not Google, but what can big companies do? What should they be doing? What are the trends you're seeing? Clearly, this is coming up in the news increasingly over the last couple of years. And what would you advise, from big to small companies to do?
Malcom: You know, it's a great question. I started my own consultancy during the pandemic in response to what felt like some mental health challenges I was having. So, I felt like institutions were not serving me well, and quite frankly, I felt like institutions were not serving a lot of folks well. And that was in part because we were in the midst of a global pandemic, and I was distracted by other things, and it was challenging for me to focus, and for me to focus at the, in the, way that my employer necessarily needed me to do.
So, I went out on my own. And what I've seen over the last couple years is, y’know, everyone is emerging from the pandemic in a different way, but we're not really grappling with what we've been through in any sort of meaningful way. Y’know, if you think about what we've just gone through, it was a collective trauma, the likes that we've basically never seen. Maybe, if you go back to World War II, there was a global trauma that we were dealing with. There were some existential threats quite clearly in the context of that. And the way people have emerged from it, if you would even call this an emergence, is without really looking back and engaging with some of the trauma that we're going through.
And so, where do employers play a role in this? Where do employers like you, where do other employers who might be listening play a role in this?
Well, I think they play a big role because if you look at some of the data, and there's a really interesting thing that Edelman puts out every year, their “trust barometer,” and they measure the trust of all sorts of institutions across American society. And if you go back to the days of, say, World War II, there was massively high trust in institutions, in government, in our work, in our medical system, in our schools, which kind of helped build a collective, sort of, effort around fighting the war effort. That doesn't exist now.
And so, if you look at this, Edelman Trust Barometer, the institution that folks trust more than any other institution is their, is their, employer, their personal employer. And it's by a significant margin. 74% of respondents say, “I trust my employer more than any other institution in my life.”
So, we're coming outta this collective trauma. People are not dealing with the challenges we've engaged with over the last two and a half years. Employers have a really important role to play in solving for some of those issues. Y’know, we've had these conversations around quiet-quitting and the great resignation. [Niki: Mm-hmm]
I think, in reality, a lot of that is new language for the same old form of burnout we've seen for years and years and years.
And so, if employers want their employees to feel good going to work, if they want the best product out of their employees, if they want their employees to stick around for as long as possible, it's in their best interest to create mental health programs that really help them not want to quiet-quit, not want to resign and find a different role.
Now that's challenging because of a couple of things. As you mentioned, you're a small business owner. Small business owners don't have a ton in the way of resources. You're worried about literally keeping the lights on, [Niki: Right] Notwithstanding all of these issues around what your employees are dealing with internally,
Niki: [interrupts] Don't freak out, don't freak out, team!
Malcom: If you're listening, everything's fine. The lights are gonna stay on!
Niki: [interrupts] But It's true, right? You've got the macro headwinds. You're small, you're making sure you have to pay everybody's just their paycheck, and the rent, and then, and yet you wanna be a place that they want to work and is supportive.
Malcom: It's a huge consideration. It's, you gotta think about all of those things. And then, you also gotta think about the fact that employee needs are very different across different communities. Y’know, I'm a black man and so I have grown up my entire life engaging in various ways with the stigma that exists towards seeking mental health services for people of color. And I push back against it, and we've made a ton of progress, and it's by no means a consistency across everyone in the black community, but it's something I have to deal with.
You know, if you look at the disability population, again, folks in the disability community have been requesting accommodations for generations, right? “Can I work from home because I have a chronic illness? Can I get an additional software opportunity to interview without going in person?”
And so, the fact that now people are talking about some of these mental health challenges, the fact that employers have this level of trust, I think, creates a unique opportunity for employers to actually create programs that meet the mental health needs of everyone across their employee base.
And it's not because it's the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do, but that's not the pitch you're gonna make to a business owner. The pitch you're gonna make is: “Do you want your employees to stick around? Do you want your employees to do their best work? Do you want your employees to stay here as opposed to trying to find another opportunity?”
I know that's hard, but if you make that a point of focus and if you make it a point of focus in the long term, I think it's gonna be better for your business. It's gonna be better for your employees, and I think it's one of these rare win-win situations where both sides of that coin can really benefit.
Niki: I think that this is one of the most important topics that, well, first of all, the stigma has changed quite a bit, but it's not eliminated, right, around mental health. Certain things are less stigmatic than other things in the workplace. And, and I think, it spans the way you cope with your mental health issues. And, and one of the things I do, and I've been doing this for years, even when I was at big public companies, is just putting on my calendar, my therapy session.
Malcom: I remember when you used to do that when we would work together.
Niki: Yeah. I would always do it [Malcom: Yeah] because I wanted to make sure people didn't pretend they were going to the chiropractor. They don't have to put it on, but that's where I'm headed, right? So, I'm headed to my therapist.
We have a significant mental health, heavy genetic mental health load in my family. So I grew up, this was a very common topic, and hygiene around medication, therapy, sleep. That was just like very common to talk about. And I think that there's strength in just demonstrating to other people. Like, I don't actually feel stigmatized about it. This is what helps me operate my best. Like, you're starting to see athletes do this. When athletes get mental health treatment, they're gonna operate at their best. So if you, if you think of it in that way, I think it's helpful to model.
I definitely, as a small business owner, I can't afford the kinds of programs I would want to have for people and, and that even extends to how much leave I would want people to be able to have. ‘Cause when you're really tiny, you can't do that. But you certainly can say, which has been a policy, again, I've done this for ten years. “I will call you on the weekend if we need to talk.” [Malcom: That's right] I don't, I don't send emails on the weekend.
Now, [chuckling] I'm using that delayed send Gmail button, a lot. And so, Monday morning is, is ugly. But on the weekends, if it's not an emergency, you don't have to be lashed to your phone. And I think these are small things that I can do, but it, it does, I think you're absolutely right. Like, the fact that you're advising people on how to think through creative ways to do this is ultimately gonna make them more competitive as an employer. Cuz people wanna work at places where you're actually cared for and seen.
Malcom: And I think something you said is really valuable, the notion of normalizing this behavior.
So, what you would do with your calendar, we all saw that, and that really benefited us. And so that made a difference, and that's something that I think a lot of small business owners can do, right?.
So one of my clients, in particular, is an organization called the Health Action Alliance, and that's a coalition of public health officials, businesses, and philanthropists that created this entity to help renew and increase trust in public health. Largely in the context of the pandemic, but of course, things have shifted over the last couple of months.
And so, what we do is we put together toolkits and resources, talking points, even sample emails to help small business owners communicate around these topics with their staff. So you don't have to come up with it yourself, right? There are times that you're gonna have to tailor things specifically to your workforce, but that's really hard.
It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of resources. And so, if you are just trying to kind of start and figure out how you can do this stuff, seek out the services of folks whose intention is to create resources to help folks like you thrive. And in addition to that, do what we just talked about, normalize the notion of seeking these services, so other people across your company feel comfortable doing the same.
Niki: And I think that can even extend to, I think, and I know that this was true for me, so I, I have invoked this many times, but when I was at Google, my stepfather who had raised me, but was not my dad. I did not qualify for Family Medical Leave Act when he needed me to leave and help him when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Now admittedly, it was Google during, like, boom-time Google [Malcom: right], so they had a lot of resources. [Malcom: right] But I had this extraordinary boss, Jacqueline Fuller. She runs Google.org. She's been doing it for a million years, and she just said, “Go, go! Come back when you can come back.” And I needed to do so many things, and I was so grateful for them, like understanding that this was, like, a moment of grief, and stress, and complexity, and that it wasn't, kind of, fitting within the normal family structure.
Like, I don't have kids. It wasn't that it wasn't a biological parent, but it was a need I had to take care of. And again, not every company can do that, but it engendered an enormous sense of loyalty. Like, I came back recommitted to my team, like “Thank you so much for picking this up for me.” I think I was gone for almost six weeks setting things up back home, which is a huge amount of time to take off, no questions asked.
I truly think that's why I never say anything bad about Google [chuckling].
Malcom: Niki, I think you make a great point. You're, you're right. That was during boom-time, right? All sorts of benefits and offerings were on the table at Google, and it felt like, y’know, this company was going to the moon, and they were taking care of their employees and taking their employees along with them.
But what mattered most in that situation was what Jacqueline did for you. It was what your individual manager did for you. And so, great that you work at this amazing company, but if you as a manager, just look out for the folks on your team, irrespective of what your formal policy is, just do what's the right human thing to do, you would be surprised.
I suspect you, Niki, would not be surprised, but maybe other people would be surprised at how far that goes. And I think that's a perfect example. The institution is great, and we should do what we can to make the institution as equitable as possible, but at an individual level, if you can just show up in that way for your employees, you would be so surprised at how far that goes.
Niki: And I think, and I don't know that we'll have the answer to this, but at the moment, the term du jour is quiet-quitting you. [Malcom: Yes] Right? So this idea that people are just sort of, I guess, lazy, or disinterested, or doing the bare minimum, or they don't wanna have a job.
One of the misunderstandings is, to what you said, it's not quiet-quitting! People are fried. [Malcom: Yes!] They have had chronic stress. So, I actually felt better in lockdown because I sort of knew there was like this endpoint.
I'm struggling more now with re-acclimating. My stamina feels low. I don't,, I just, I can feel something's off. And as you said, it's like we've all experienced this collective trauma, chronic stress for a period of years, and it's manifesting in ways where I feel like “low energy Jeb.”
And so, then it's like you wanna be energized in the work you're doing because it's just something it's gonna fall off the plate. I think, if I had to psychoanalyze the American workforce [chuckling].
Malcom: I think you're right about that. I think we are all going through this sort of never-ending string of traumas or stressors at a pretty macro level, at a level of intensity that I don't think we're equipped to deal with.
And it's also not over, right? We just went through a midterm election season. It's just preparing us for the big election season that's gonna stress people out [Niki: Right] just like it did four years ago.
Niki: And by the way, we live in, like, Yucca Mountain, man [chuckling].
Malcom: We live right in the thick of it. [Niki: [chuckling] Washington, DC] Everywhere we look, it is stressful!
Niki: It's so stressful!
Malcom: It's so stressful. Even if we're, y’know, arm's length away from the real muck.
Niki: Yeah! And you and I are even in, we're not in politics, and [Malcom: we're not in it] we’re not even in the same party, and we're both stressed out. [chuckling]
Malcom: We're not in it.! And so, I think those stressors are very, very real. The other thing that I think is generational is: work is important, but work is also just work. And sometimes setting some expectations for yourself for what work is going to be and what work is not going to be. And that doesn't always have to be the case, but as you deal with a disproportionate number of stressors outside of your work, that can kind of help you set expectations for what your work is gonna give you.
And so, I think a lot of younger folks oftentimes expect their work and their lives to be intertwined in a way that they're gonna get a level of fulfillment that it'd be great if they did get, but it's hard to get, and particularly hard to get earlier in your career. [Niki: Yes] And so I think setting those expectations for oneself that older generations, I think, are probably a little bit more equipped to do, might help some of those younger generations better create balance between parts of their life. So that, yeah, you still wanna find fulfillment in your work, but while you're dealing with these other stressors, it's totally okay to put a little bit more emphasis on those while you figure out how to create that balance. Such that when you go back to your work, as you were talking about earlier, you're refreshed, you're ready, and you're ready to get the most out of what your job is.
Niki: It's such an interesting point what you said. I think that's true that I hadn't considered, which is that there's an expectation, I think, that people are thinking, “Oh, Gen Z doesn't wanna work as hard,” but really, it's that they want work to be fulfilling. [Malcom: That’s right]
Whereas when I was in my twenties, let alone, we were talking, we were chatting right before we started recording about our first jobs. My first job, which it sounds fake, but it's true!
Malcom: [chuckling] I didn't believe it when she said this, by the way.
Niki: [chuckling] My first job was stocking fireworks in a factory in central Indiana in the summer when I was 15. I mean, that was not a good job!. It was not fulfilling! I worked all through college, and then I was an attorney, which was not fulfilling [chuckling], but I had student loans to pay off. And I think that the reason Gen X or these other generations, it's, like, I don't, I sometimes lack empathy for how quickly people want work to be fun and engaging.
Like, I love my career right now. I have so much fun doing it. But that was not the case in my twenties. [Malcom: Yeah] like it was absolutely not that at all. It was not glamorous. It was a lot of hours. And so, I think that you end up with an empathy gap. It's, like, trying to see it through their eyes, [Malcom: Yeah] and their expectation,s and why they've had those expectations. And then helping them see, like, the path to get to a more rewarding place at the company, at the firm, or where they're gonna go next.
We used to talk about this all the time. [Malcom: Yes] You're not gonna stay in this job forever. We had active conversations, “What do you wanna do next? And what can you do to get there from here?” And I think that also is part of mental health in the workplace.
Malcom: It's such a good point. I really reject the notion that folks in the Gen Z Generation don't wanna work.
I, I reject that notion. They seem like some of the most passionate, engaged, invigorated when they're in the right circumstances, people on this planet. But I think they might be asking for the wrong things from the wrong places in their work.
And, y’know, I, like you, have a first job that I, y’know, might not be aligned with what you would think for a person like me. My first job was, before I even went to the high school, cleaning the high school that I, I would ultimately go during the summers.
So I would clean the toilets, I would clean the desks, I would get the school ready for the kids to come back. Eventually, I was one of those kids. But y’know, it was a job. It was a way to make money. It was a way to have some extra flexibility as I went about my life. And so, I appreciate that younger folks might have different expectations for that. That's a privilege that I don't think we had.
But I think in order to, going back to the earlier conversation we had, be thoughtful about your mental health. Understanding that a balance is necessary might be a useful way to think about it before you get to the point in your career where you're doing all the things that you love, which we're fortunate enough to do, but it's taken us some time to get here.
Niki: It's taken us a lot of time to get here. Well, I am so grateful for you coming on. I'm excited for your business. Honestly, when I saw the name of it, wait, remind me the name of the consulting firm.
Malcom: MG Equity Consulting and our website is www.mgequityconsulting.
Niki: I'm gonna actually put a couple links to some of the speaking you've done, too. ‘Cause I just think you're, you have a really, a really good way of communicating a message that is meaningful and values-based, but understanding that y'all, these, this is business. [Malcom: Yes]
So, so how do we do the right thing and make money doing it? I'm delighted that you've also started a consultancy and we're both gonna be weathering, [chuckles] weathering the ins and outs and ups and downs of that.
Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Malcom: Thank you, Niki, for having me. I appreciate it so much.
Niki: In the next episode, I’m in the studios chatting with Stefanie Drysdale, VP at corporate intelligence firm Prescient. We talk all about the cyber security business, how workplace treatment of employees can create risk, and the personal liability for CISOs. Also, she’s not a Russian spy, although people sometimes think she is.
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