S4 E80 | Moments that Matter with Susan LaMotte

Sarah Smart sits down with Exaqueo's CEO Susan LaMotte to discuss moments throughout her career that were impactful

You’re listening to Moments That Matter a special CXR podcast series, where leaders and talent professionals share their own experiences with varying aspects of discrimination and inequality. Here on Moments That Matter, we are dedicated to creating connected conversations around specific moments. These are moments that matter.

Sarah Smart, Hilton 0:24
Hi, everyone. I’m Sarah Smart. I’m the VP of global recruitment at Hilton. And thanks so much for joining us for CareerXroads. Moments That Matter. A podcast where leaders and talent professionals share their own experiences with discrimination or inequality in their careers. I was recently interviewed for the series, and I’m really delighted to be on the other side of the table now and share with you today’s guest is Susan LaMotte the founder and CEO of Exaqueo, employer brand and consulting firm. Susan, thank you so much for joining us. I know you’ve had several moments that matter in your career, would you mind sharing one or two with this audience?

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo 1:09
Yeah sure. So thank you. First of all, thanks CareerXroads for having me and Sarah for turning the tables, I look forward to doing the same. And the the moment that matters for me that probably is most impactful my career is the moment that I found myself probably enjoying the most career success, success I’ve ever had. And at the time, I was running global employer brand, for Marriott International, and at the time, its portfolio of 18 brands. And you might wonder, gosh, if you’re, you know, feel like you’re doing really well in your career, where does discrimination and inequality comes in. And that’s when you recognize the challenges that lie ahead. It’s when you see the road ahead of you and you start thinking, Oh, my goodness, I don’t know if there is a chance for me if there’s an opportunity for me. For me, it was one particular day I was giving a presentation, I was sitting in a you know, conference room, like we all sit in around an executive table waiting for my turn to get up. And I was the most junior person in the room. Everyone around me was a senior executive within the human resources function at Marriott. And what I realized is that of the room, the majority who were women, everyone at that table, either didn’t have children, or they weren’t married, or if they were married, and they had children, they had a spouse or a partner that was carrying the heavy lift at home. And I was not married, and I did not have kids at the time I do now. And I stopped myself and thought, oh my goodness, I don’t have any role models around this table. They were role models for me in many ways. But in terms of being able to navigate a marriage with a spouse or a partner that also worked and also had a strong career trajectory, and children that you wanted to be able to spend time with and feel like you were playing a strong parenting role. That didn’t exist for me. And that was a really hard thing to swallow as a woman with career aspirations.

Sarah Smart, Hilton 3:04
Thanks so much for sharing. I certainly relate to that, as a working mom with a spouse that pre pandemic was traveling, so much of the time, did that influence your decisions in terms of how you manage your career at Marriott, or in other places? So you can share some of that.

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo 3:21
It certainly did. So shortly after that time, about six months later, I made the decision to start to pursue other opportunities. And I actually decided to leave corporate america completely. So it was at that time that I left to go start exaqueo, and I had the luxury of a little bit of time. So I took the first year year and a half to determine what is it that I really wanted from life. It was also around the same time that I got married, and my husband and I knew we wanted to have kids and we had our first child during that time. And it was just an opportunity to say okay, if I could craft a career for myself, where I could still feel like I fulfilled my aspirations, but take away some of those obstacles or things that I felt like were holding me back. I think my biggest frustration, especially with women in the workplace is we focus so much on getting women in the pipeline. And I hear talent acquisition leaders talk about all the time not just with women, but with diverse groups, too. That’s really great. Get them in the pipeline. That’s incredibly important. But what happens when they’re there? What happens when they are in the midst of their careers, when they’re at the precipice of a change when they’re feeling struggles, or they walk away from maternity leave? What happens if that maternity leave is extended for medical reasons? What do you do to support them? What happens to them when they come back? And so it’s that kind of I call it the messy middle. It’s that middle ground that I feel like we’re really lacking. And so that’s what I wanted to solve for is how can I have control so I wasn’t beholden to somebody else to determine, you know, I was off for maternity leave, was I really ready for that promotion? Was it fair for me to get it because, you know, maybe the male counterpart in the situation worked for, you know, 12 months, and I was really only working for nine because I was out for three You know, because I had a child. So it’s those kinds of things that when you start your own business, you have that control. I had an amazing experience at Marriott, they have done a lot to really support women and diverse groups. But for me at that time, a decade ago, it was really challenging to think just about corporate America in general, the way we work, does it actually allow for you to have the life you want? And that’s what really drove my decision.

Sarah Smart, Hilton 5:25
Yeah. And I think that’s a sort of an interesting way to frame it, which is the way that a lot of corporate america works does not work for working women, working moms working parents, let’s just call it that. Yeah. So what do you advise your clients today, you know, as you’re thinking through where their opportunities are to make their employer brand more impactful.

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo 5:46
So I think that empathy and understanding is really important, you get a lot of senior executives to say, Oh, I get it, I was in your shoes, you know, I to maybe started as a server at a restaurant, right and grew my career in hotels. But the challenge is, once you’re out of that environment, it’s really hard to put yourself back in it, and recognize that that’s the challenge. I’ll give you an example. We were working with a health care company. And they wanted us to do some research with a particular call center. And we were talking to the employees in the call center. And what we heard from them was really, really impactful. There was one decision that a VP made he he came to the call center to do a tour, you know, as executives do, we’re gonna go check out our regions or whatever we’re in charge of. And as he walked around that call center, he decided the call center was too messy. And there were the employees had control over their desks, there were no rules. So you could have whatever you wanted at your desk, as long as you did your job. So after he left the call center, and did his tour duty, if you will, and you know, he was really kind he he walked in, obviously, fully dressed in a suit, so already stood out from the employees, he shook hands, he was very kind, but he left instituted this rule. And employees, excuse me, were really, really upset. And the engagement scores in that call center dropped tremendously, because one of the rules he said is you can only have two pictures on your desk. Well, I’ve got two pictures behind me. I’ve got two kids. So that works out great. What happens if you have three kids? What happens if you have no kids and you want pictures of, you know, things that matter to you like your puppies or your nieces and nephews, imagine having to make that choice, I only have two pictures on my desk, check. My kids are my partner. Those are the kinds of things that may seem really inconsequential at an executive level. But they matter so much to the people. Now that call center was largely diverse population, because of the kinds of jobs because of where it was geographically located in the city that it was in. And I think that’s one of the biggest things we can do is make an effort as executives to stop making assumptions. Even though we’re in our roles, because we’ve performed really well, it doesn’t mean that we understand our people, it doesn’t mean that we understand what it’s like to be them to be in their jobs to live their lives. Because even if we started as a server, life, and the world was really different, maybe 2030 years ago, when we were in that job. And it’s one thing to have the empathy and to have the conversations, it’s another thing to actually invest in research, beyond engagement surveys that just told me if I if I’m engaged in my work, which kind of is self serving for the executive, instead, do research that really, you can really understand what’s important to those individuals, what matters to them, when they come to work? What are they thinking about at home, that whole self research? So we spend a lot of time doing that at exaqueo, in building and player brands, because that’s how you get a true picture of how to brand and market employment to a potential candidate or an employee, is that that sort of true self and I will say, you know, full circle, we shared that research faculty executive team, you know, they were really taken aback, and they had no idea that such a small decision, you know, made such a big impact. And so that, for me, personally, is really valuable to know that those employees were going to get their pictures back on their desk. Again, inconsequential to many but really powerful for them.

Sarah Smart, Hilton 9:05
Yeah, yeah, that’s a great story. That’s a great story. And I think probably resonates even more for me now, as we are in, you know, still in pandemic work from home lockdown situations for so many workers around the world and then understanding what feels good for them when they return to the office, do they return to the office? What are their preferences? And, you know, do we actually believe we’ve seen a productivity drop, because so many people have been working from home? I keep on seeing conflicting research on that. I’d love to get your take on that just as we close out.

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo 9:41
Yeah, I think some of it is the shift of what’s important to us. So the reality is, only about 20% of all jobs are actually eligible to work from home. But I think when you think about reporters and media, they’re really focused on that because that’s the situation they’re in right and journalists tend to write about the things That are important or interesting to them. So we already have this kind of bias towards paying attention to these white color roles. Now, yes, it’s important. And yes, it’s going to switch and a lot of these individuals are going to work from home. This is a story on Salesforce the other day and the big decisions that they’re making to give people a choice. But I think we also have to step back and say, let’s look at the totality of our workforce. And let’s make sure we’re not trying to keep up with the Joneses. Oh Twitter’s doing this Salesforce is doing that when it comes from work from home. That’s all important. Let’s look inside. Let’s talk to our people, our high performers, let’s figure out what their lives are like right now. What really matters to them. And then let’s make some decisions based on that. Not on is all a Silicon Valley is allowing people to work from home, I’m a tech company in Silicon Valley, we’ll shoot. We better try to keep up with that too. Because there might be another option. There might be other ways to deliver on those needs, rather than making those assumptions.

Sarah Smart, Hilton 10:55
Susan that’s great. Susan, thank you so much. This has been really enlightening. And I have learned and and it’s been a great conversation. For me. I understand that you’re going to be interviewing someone Next, you’re turning the tables. You share a little about that?

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo 11:11
Yeah. So I am very lucky to get to pay it forward. And I’m really looking forward to having Laurie Ruettimann join me. And Laurie is the author of Betting on You, which is her brand new book, check it out. She is a career HR leader, but more importantly, has an incredibly fresh perspective on careers, and how to really make sure you take ownership of your own career and accountability for yourself too. And not place blame on everyone around you, which I think is really powerful right now. So looking forward. forward to joining Laurie and thanks again to CareerXroads for having us.

Announcer 11:44
You’re listening to Moments That Matter. a special CXR podcast series, where leaders and talent professionals share their own experiences with varying aspects of discrimination and inequality. Here on Moments That Matter, we are dedicated to creating connected conversations around specific moments. These are moments that matter.