Creating Belonging & Community in the Workplace with Susan Sanders & Rae English - Part 1

Human first, employee second. This is the approach that our guests Susan Sanders and Rae English take in their work: Improve the employee experience to build better organizations. 

Susan and Rae are on a mission to create space for positive change on the individual, organizational, and structural levels. They remind us that we don't have to know everything, we just have to contribute what we can and allow others to  do the same.

In this inspiring two-part episode of Uncover the Human, we discuss creating space to show up as our authentic selves in the workplace, building community and fostering belonging in organizations, and so much more.

Listen now and embrace positive change in your life and organization. 

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human








Alex Cullimore: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives. 

Cristina Amigoni: Whether that's with our families, co-workers or even ourselves. 

Alex Cullimore: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina Amigoni: This is Cristina Amigoni. 

Alex Cullimore: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.

Cristina Amigoni: Let’s dive in. 

Alex Cullimore: Let’s dive in. 

Authenticity means freedom.”

“Authenticity means going with your gut.”

“Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.”

“Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.”

“It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.”

“Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.”

“It's transparency, relatability. No frills. No makeup. Just being.”


Alex Cullimore: Well, hello and welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. Today, we are joined with two guests, Susan and Rae. We are thrilled to have you guys here a little bit to talk about mental health in the workplace and some of the fascinating work that you guys are doing. So first of all, welcome to the podcast, Susan and Rae. 

Cristina Amigoni: Welcome.

Susan Sanders: Thanks, Alex and Cristina. 

Rae English: Yeah, thank you. It's really good to be here.

Alex Cullimore: So let's – I would give an intro, but I think you guys will probably tell it better. What do you guys do? And how did you guys meet each? 

Susan Sanders: I’ll start. Rae is pointing to me. So I started over 20 years ago first working in HR and then discovering as the Internet was coming to be that I kind of had a knack and had more interest working in a technology space. And so for the past 20 years, I’ve been focused on what's now referred to more as employee experience, but just in the digital sense working on intranets and other digital workplace tools in helping organizations make that a better experience for employees. 

And then five years ago, it started to mean a lot more to me, and I started thinking about employee experience beyond the technology and working with companies to say how do we really make that experience better because of everything I had seen being in the trenches and everything I had seen being an employee from time to time as well, and really wanting to have that kind of impact. So it's a mesh of employee communications, HR, and technology. That's my experience so to say, like, if you look at my resume. But my passion is really around creating more thriving workplaces both for the business and for employees.

Alex Cullimore: That's great.

Rae English: So I started out studying literature. And as we know, what do you do with BA in English? I will forever quote that line. I found not a lot. And so what did I do? Well, I did what the famous musical says. I went to grad school and got an MA in literature. And I found that that wasn't – Even though I was doing copy editing for academic publications, it just wasn't really connecting me to something meaningful. 

And so there were two things that happened. The first was I was working as a writing center tutor. And I noticed, and I was doing this in University of Missouri St. Louis, which is well known for being a commuter university. That means, obviously, that a lot of people come in who are working full-time and are pursuing their education secondarily to having to make money to survive. And also, it works very closely with accepting the St. Louis community college students. 

Working in the writing center, I met everyone, because everyone has to write at some point when they are taking college courses. And everyone – I don't think I met one person who was not just terrified of having to write. And they were most often afraid of plagiarizing. And we just would have a simple quick who, what, when, where, why is this meaningful. Brief lesson about how not to plagiarize and decide. But inevitably, at the beginning of every hour-long meeting, it felt like a mini therapy session, where somebody was coming in. They're like, "Oh my gosh! Like, the bus was late. And this is due tomorrow. And I’m so stressed. And I have kids." And we just really had to take a minute to take a breath. This was a human being who was doing their best who felt uncertain and felt really threatened and kind of forgot their own strengths and capacity. 

So I would often say, "Listen, you're already here. You got into college, right? You have something to say. And this is simply a conversation that you are having with this professor. And only this professor. This is your opportunity to say what you've observed, what you're curious about, what you found out about these things. So let's just take a breath and let's do that." 

And I would have repeat clients. And we would build relationships. And I would get to know more about them and about the struggles and just how hard they were working to be where they were. And I thought, "Okay, systemically something is not happening here that needs to be better." And academia isn't quite the answer. It's not quite hitting it. 

And then in August 2014, Mike Brown died in Ferguson, which is about 25 miles from where I am and where I live in the larger St. Louis County. And I thought, "All right, I’m a part of the problem. And I need to understand that." And a friend mentioned to me, "You should consider social work." And I thought, "Oh my gosh! Case management? No. I did not want to do that." I had seen far too many movies about just how life-sucking that was. And my massive respect for people who do case management. Because without them, so many people would not have access to resources that they need. But then I found out that there's clinical work involved with social work. And I thought, "Aha! That's it." 

So I don't want to do macro. I thought I did it first. I don't want to argue about things that we know need to happen. But there's no funding and there are people who are upset. And so I ultimately decided to do an individual one-on-one route. So I applied to Social Work school. Got in. Graduated in 2018, and have a private practice here in St. Louis. And I do telework. So I meet with people virtually. And I’m licensed in several other states as well.

Cristina Amigoni: Wonderful. That's very fascinating.

Susan Sanders: I think we probably couldn't have one or two different backgrounds, right?

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. So how do you two come together? 

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, how did that happen? 

Susan Sanders: We know each other? I don't know. No. It's an interesting story. So my husband passed away coming up on five years actually this year. He passed away five years ago. Thanks, John. And I knew – Rae and I had never met each other, but I knew they were good friends. And they were really good friends. Had a lot of conversations. I knew different aspects of her life and different stories. And I know she did of mine as well. And so I always had a little bit of connection, but I never really met her. And she wasn't living where we lived in part of those circles and things like that. 

So a year after he passed, I was talking to another friend who had lost someone. And he wasn't in that inner circle. And he was talking about how hard it is to grieve when you don't have that support and you don't have that network. And I thought, "I wonder what happened to Rae, because I knew she wasn't." And yet I knew that she was close to John.

So even though a year had passed, I reached out and just said I am recognizing this, and feeling this, and checking in, and making sure you're okay. And she can fill in some of those blanks. But since then, we've stayed connected. We've had great conversations. We have met each other in person. And a lot of that connection and also thinking about the impact that some of these things have on our lives. And then I started to reveal what it's like to be and working in the corporate world and employees. And we just started really interesting dialogues about that. And it was nice to have Rae's perspective as I started to think about if I’m talking, how can we change this? It should come from a place that's not HR and not from the company side. It should come from voices that are really working with the very humans that are coming inside of our organizations and trying to help them with their struggles. So that's how we stay connected and evolved to this point that we're at today. 

Rae English: Yeah. As you observed, it seems like we're so different. But I think, actually, I think Susan and I are pretty similar. Because as I was listening to you and tell your story about how you are doing what you're doing now, and I began to tell mine, I thought, "Aha! Difference. Change. Not necessarily accepting that things have to stay the way that they are." I think there's an incredible sense of hope and resourcefulness I think that we both share even though those show up in different ways and different ways of making meaning and earning a living. I think they're pretty similar. 

But, yeah, it was really moving to me when Susan moved out. I found out about John's death on Facebook living 2000 miles away. And it was really sad. And to not have anybody to talk to who knew him made it even sadder, right? It felt just really lonely, a lonely space. And so when Susan reached out, we were able to share a memory of someone who was special to us in different ways and unique. There won't ever be that person again. And so to be able to have that space to recognize and honor that person, I think that's why we have to grieve with others. We have to be able to do that. So super meaningful that Susan reached out. And it started rolling our friendship from that moment.

Alex Cullimore: That's a very touching story for one. But I loved another commonality of how you guys ended up in the work you're doing. You both necessarily didn't necessarily think about starting in helping people specifically one-on-one, or helping engagement, or employee space. But both of you have tapped into what it means to thrive both between things, like grief, as well as things like the employee experience, as well as writing classes. I mean, all of these. You tapped into what the real struggle is that people are coming out with, right? And what they wanted help with. And that's really, really interesting portion we see a lot with people who would work and get into more of the coaching and human and therapy spaces is understanding there is something else there and really working on that. And that's such a strong theme from two seemingly different stories. Interesting from you guys.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. I really love how you said, Rae, about there's a human behind this. And that was the first approach with Susan. And what you do is that's what you're really recognizing and elevating is the humans. Everything that we're creating in corporations and we're throwing at them. They're not desks. They're not chairs. They're humans. How can we actually understand the human experience on the other side and make it so that it's the best experience they can have so they can flourish and thrive? As supposed to just, "Here's your task list. Here's your process. Go do it." 


Susan Sanders: Yeah. And I think that some of the expectations that employees come in and how you go about solving a problem if you're in leadership or you're in HR is if it's some kind of mechanism. And that you're just going to do this program and then that's going to solve that and never really thinking about who are all these humans that are here. And what are they experiencing in this moment? Just the whole idea of engagement kind of boggles the mind, because it's not some state that you reach and then you check the box. It's a place of happiness. It comes and goes. You can only create an environment in which engagement is likely to occur. But you can't make it happen. There's no game or trick. 

And I say, even in my own profile, how much experience I’ve had. And then I say, "I have a lifetime of being a human." And so I’ve been through some of those experiences too. And it's weird how, even as you do that, sometimes you forget to accept yourself as that as well and make a stand for like, "Hey, wait a minute. You can't do that to me. I’m a human, first. And your employee, second." I think that drove a lot of this kind of passion as well, is recognizing who we are and knowing what that feels like when you're not accepted in that way. 

Rae English: You just said something, Susan, and it made me think one of the values of social work practice is that each individual is the expert of their own life. And I’m thinking about how you have a lifetime of being a human. So you are the expert of what it means to be Susan, a human being. And it seems something that gets lost when we're in large crowds of people. We lose our sense of – And we might even call that community, but not necessarily. But we lose a sense of feeling. Like, "No. What I’m experiencing matters. And it connects to what that person is experiencing. And they're also saying that it matters." 

And I kind of also went to and associated with the work space as a community. But there seems to be some denial of that in what community actually is, right? And even a split, right? Because you hear about a lot of businesses. And by the way, I hear this, because I work in a solo practice, and then I worked as a copy editor individually. So I don't have a lot of direct experience except from maybe college working in a business or working in an organization. But I know, because I hear it from friends, and I hear it from the people who I have the privilege of sitting with, that businesses – Well, often, that organizations that they work for will often encourage community, right? "Get to know each other. Go have happy hour. Etc." But when that community rises up and says, "Hey, the culture here needs to be different." "What? Culture. No, no, no. The culture is profit, and come to this meeting. Did you get that memorandum?" So there's a split there. And that makes people dissociate from themselves. They walk in and they don't get to be who they are. And they don't get to see other people as they are. And they certainly don't get to see the people who are making these decisions as a human being either. It really causes everyone to look at each other as something other than human and themselves, as something other than human. 

Susan Sanders: I think that's changing. I think there's, even before COVID, this idea that you could be more vulnerable. Maybe we thank Brené Brown for that. I don't know. And I know there was this time where you really had to put the shield up, and we still carry that, at least I do, that can't ever come in and say, "I’m having a really bad day. I’m not on my A game." Or you just never be your real person. And it's always interesting when you get to know something deeper about the person rather than just who they are and when they showed up at work. 

And when we talk about community and connection, I think that's where a lot of that comes from. But we've been told for a long time to kind of turn that off, right? Like you have two different identities. And it's funny because there's this new TV series coming out that I want to watch that's about that. It's called Severance, and about how you have this thing happen in your mind so that when you're at work, you're only in your work mind. And when you're at home, you're only in your home mind. 

Rae English: Oh, fascinating. I've got to watch it too.

Susan Sanders: So I bring that up. I don't know if it's necessarily appropriate for me to give up the plug here. But it is an analogy of what that kind of feels like to do that. But I think it's changed. And I see more and more people telling the real story. And when they do that, then two things happen when change can occur. Because if you don't say things, everything seems fine. But the other thing is the other person says, "Oh my gosh, that happened to me too." Or that's happening to me too. And that's just so – I don't know what the right word is. But that just feels so much better. Maybe the word is belonging, because that's a word we all like to use a lot. When you don't feel like an outsider. And then there's just the support of all of that. If we don't get to be ourselves, we don't get to ask for help, and that becomes challenging in life when you're trying to balance things that are happening outside of the workplace.

Rae English: Yeah. There's this belief in therapy, and regardless of whatever style you use, I believe most therapists agree that this belief is, it's not that you have to get it right the first time, that feeling safe within yourself and safe within whatever microcosm to have a do-over. Or to come in and say, "Hey, I didn't quite get that right. Can we try that again? And here's what was going on with me. I imagine something was going on with you too," right? 

So we can try this again, because perfect isn't going to happen. That's a fantasy. And that's in conflict with reality, right? But the thing is there's this chronic way of being hoping that things will be different. And it feels conflictual. But when we actually step into reality, which seems frightening, there might be this acute sense of, "Oh my goodness. Conflict. This is going to be difficult. They might hurt me. Or I might look foolish. Or I might not say it right. Or what if they misunderstand me?" "And those are all possible. But it's not sustained. This conflict doesn't sustain. This sense of just taking that step better prepares you the next time that you have to say something. 

Humans almost always go back and rethink. Look at all the memes that make jokes about me saying something that I think is really funny. Nobody laughs. And then there's a picture of them up. And it's dark in the background. And their eyes are big. And they're like me thinking that same thing over and over all night long. And how I could have said it better, right? So people are natural storytellers and natural editors of their own stories, right? And so having that space, I think particularly in a workspace, which is supposed to have meaning for each individual and then collectively to say, "Hey, that didn't quite work out. Can we talk about that?" Not being able to do that keeps people in fantasy, right? Not in reality. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. And especially when it comes from the top. So when you see the leaders and, well, the management doing that, then it becomes a safe space to perhaps do that. And we all come in with our own script of how the conversation is going to go. Or our own script to what we expect the person to say or what we want the person to say. And it never – The script is never followed, because it's our own script. And they have their own. So it's a clashing of scripts. But it's really fascinating to see what happens on the other side of that. 

I actually have a former co-worker who still works with us every once in a while. She's one of my favorite people to work with, Nicole. And when I hired her uh some of the things that I was sharing with her were my struggles with my own bosses or with things that were happening to me, even though I was her direct manager. And I remember sharing how I have arguments in my head with so and so regarding something that touched a button or that it's really dear to me or something that's really affected me. 

And I remember the first time I mentioned that, she looked at me, she was like, "Wait, you have arguments with other people in your head too? It's not just me?" I'm like, "Yeah, I do all the time." And so she actually started approaching some of the conversations that were hard for her with me that way and be like, "Hey, I had this argument in my head with you last night. Can we have it in real time and see how it plays out?" 

Susan Sanders: Yes. Yeah. Oh my gosh! That's so great. That's just such a beautiful thing right there, because it's processing and it's mirroring, right? When we see ourselves mirrored in someone else, our humanity mirrored, we are free, we are liberated to also be humans as well. I think you're right about seeing things coming from the top. I think moving the idea of leadership away from this kind of theory and actual practice keeps it really close to being human, to being psychological, to being social, and malleable, not fixed.

Alex Cullimore:I’ll just say. That's something we like to talk about a lot at the work we do, is just what if we started working with human nature instead of against it? But if we started treating ourselves as social creatures that have these interactions, that have arguments in our heads, that have our own story of what's going to happen. These are all shared experiences, which no matter what policy you'd like to put out there, is going to happen anyway. So why not work with it rather than continuing to fight and pretend like we shouldn't be doing this? 

Susan Sanders: One of the things that's come up in the last few months as I’ve given a lot of thought to being human in the workplace is the idea, especially when it comes to like mental well-being, or well-being in general and things like that, is that we can learn so much from – That there isn't this difference. Not only isn't there a difference, like we should shut it off when we come in. But the way that we might want to approach and look at things can be really similar. 

So you talk about communications and relationships. Like why is how you would work through a challenge at work any different than you would work at a relationship at home? Obviously, the stakes are different. But the impact of having conflict, the impact of not being able to solve problems, those kinds of things can take its toll inside the workplace. And even things like trust. And like I’m working with a client right now. We're gonna have to be helping the leadership build trust. And it's not that they did anything necessarily horrible or wrong. And so like how do you do that? Well, how do you do that if you have to build trust in a personal relationship? They're not 100 different things. 

And so it's always surprised me that the response inside of organizations as you're dealing with relationships, and emotional things, and mental well-being is a whole different tact than if you're really trying to resolve it anywhere else outside of business. It's just like I don't comprehend that that's a huge gap.

Alex Cullimore: One thing you mentioned earlier about there being a community and we treat the workplace – I mean the workplace is a community, and we treat it like it's not. So I’m curious, for both of you, just off the cuff, what feels different? And I 100% agree. It does not feel like we treat this the same way even though we definitely relate similarly in this community. What are indicators you guys have seen that would make you feel like it isn't treated like a community? What are maybe gaps you'd like to see where it could be treated more like a community at work? Anything of that nature? 

Rae English: Sometimes I think about the way that I hear that businesses attempt to solve challenges within their organizational space. And I just think what if I did that at home with my kids? Instead of talking with them, even collectively or individually, I just said, "Here's a complaint box. Put it in there." And then once a month I read them. Can you imagine how chaotic it would be? 

I mean, we make it for a terrific short scene in a sitcom, right? But realistically, it just can't be done. Or even with a partner. You can't, you can't do that. It's not how it works. You have to process and talk about things together. And every individual brings into whatever relationship they are in, whether it's one, or two, or five, or 20 people, the ways that they have been taught that it is safe to trust communicating and being vulnerable with someone else. 

And so, I guess, when I hear about some of the ways that community space is managed within a business structure and organization, I wonder at really making the time to have conversations, not emails, not a memorandum, not tweets. Actually, boots on the ground people there talking with each other. And not only talking with each other and creating that space. Hearing from people who are in positions of leadership, or management, or supervision. 

Now, I know, from having had to study organizational structures, that there are benefits to hierarchically structured businesses. And there are benefits to laterally structured businesses. But what matters and what is consistent across both of those is the sense of belonging and the ability to communicate. That's what makes a difference. It's not that one is better. Both have their challenges. Those are the things that are central to the employees and the people there feeling and, therefore, believing that what they're doing matters.

Susan Sanders: I just picked up on the word belonging. I mean, I think community inside organizations, like a lot of other things, it's a mechanism. So the intent is never to have a sense of community. The goal is to have a community. And I know that's like a little bit of a distinction there. But it means a lot. So I think about even things like diversity. And most organizations have a diversity equity, and inclusion, and belonging function, or department, or leader. And one of the first things they do, they create employee resource groups, or also different names for them. And they create these groups. And then they're like, "We're so amazing. We have ERGs." And then you talk to the people in the ERGs, and they're like, "No one comes to the meetings anymore, because we don't know like why are –" You don't make community. Again, you don't make people engaged. And I think organizations see everything as a mechanism. And as long as you do that step and you do that project, then you have the result you're looking for. As supposed to saying, "How can we create a culture community?" And in that sense, you belong. You feel like you belong. 

But I think I have to really think about a little bit more, too, about when we think about community. I feel like part of that, too, is that we also have a similar purpose. Like there's community and purpose. And that isn't just always about the business. Or like maybe we get to work together towards something. So I think a lot of these communities don't have that purpose. They're just there. They have function and utility, but not purpose. At least not anything that is executable per se. 

So it's just different. Like, words that take place inside business are not like they're the same words. But the experience is not the same. So it's just different. And I think about – One of the things I talk about when we try to solve things around being human is we're always trying to fix employees. Like we're going to give them tools so they can be more productive. We're going to have this well-being app so they can be happier and more productive. They never look at it from a perspective of like what are we doing? What are we doing? 

And I liken that to you're in a really bad relationship and you all of a sudden just come forward, and everything comes out, and you're really upset, and you're like, "I don't know if I can do this anymore." And you get a gift certificate to a spa. That's kind of what it's like inside of businesses, is you're like, "Oh, I see. You're upset. Here. That should solve it." And, like, "Oh, we need more diversity. Here, an ERG, that should solve it." So it's just baked into how we've always done work, and led, and treated employees. And the workforce has changed. And these old school processes are just so ingrained, they have not. And it's hard to break those cycles and kind of – Even for the people working in those areas with the best intent, it's kind of hard to, like, switch the program. Like, to all of a sudden – It's like the red pill, blue pill in Matrix, right? Like to come out and finally go like, "Oh my gosh! That's what's going on. It's a real challenge. I'm curious if that made sense. I hope that made sense. 

Rae English: Oh, totally. I have a question, because I'm really curious about the distinction you made. But I want to tell you something about the red pill and the blue pill. You might see, I have red glasses on. I don't think that I’m giving any spoilers away. But I do not have blue glasses on, right? So I had one of my patients say, "As I was watching this film, it made me feel really good that you wear red glasses." 

Susan Sanders: Oh, nice. 

Rae English: So it makes me feel like you're giving me the red pills. And I was like, "Wow! That's so beautiful that you brought that in." 

So my curiosity is, Susan, you said, "I might get this wrong. I’m going to do my best." That there's a difference between a sense of community and having community. And I’m curious about that, because then your mind, it seems, went to using an example of diversity, equity and inclusion. So I’m kind of curious about that. And then I have a second question about something you said later. Sorry. I’m curious about that. What does that mean for you?

Susan Sanders: Yeah. And I’ll answer that. But I’m curious, Cristina and Alex. Because, again, we're having a conversation. It'd be great to hear your perspective on community. 

Rae English: Oh, yeah. Yes, please.

Susan Sanders: Because I think it's so important. But the point is you have a community. You make it. You put up a Yammer group. You announce to your employees, "We have this community. And, like, sign up for the community," and things like. So that's where you're kind of making that community and assuming that I don't know what's going to come out of all that. Versus a sense of community, which is more organic. And that's why I was questioning. I have to really think about what are the qualities of community. we kind of have that in our neighborhoods, right? You make a community, like, maybe kind of a government thing. But it becomes a community when everyone comes together and feels like they belong and work together to make it a better place.

Rae English: Yes. I like that you're saying feels, because that's subjective. I thought you might kind of land where you did about sense, because sense is subjective. And that's why I love that your mind went to diversity, equity and inclusion, right? When we have people saying objectively what something is, it leaves no room for an individual to share, "Well, okay. I’m glad that that's your perspective and that's what you think community is. I do not feel like I am a part of this." And that needs to be valued. Yeah. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. That's definitely like someone feeling like they're not part of the team. And when you raise that, being told, "Well, you're invited to the stand-ups every day. What else do you want?" 

Rae English: Yeah. 

Cristina Amigoni: It's the spa gift card again. I’m like, "Okay, just because I’m invited to a stand-up every day, first of all, it doesn't – I’m not feeling invited to speak at the stand-up. Have you ever noticed how I’m always quiet?" And third of all, maybe that's not enough. That doesn't create the team. Just because you have a bunch of names on an Excel spreadsheet, you can't call it a team. That's not a team. That's just a bunch of names on a spreadsheet. 

Susan Sanders: I love that. 

Alex Cullimore: I'm definitely forming an amalgam of what you've said. I think belonging is what ends up being the feeling for me that I would say kind of defines a community, because you think about different communities in our lives. You might have a local church, or neighborhood, or something. There's some common things. Or a bowling team, whatever you want to do. There's some common thing that you've all come together to do, right? And you feel a sense of belonging when you're contributing to that team. You contribute to the community. You are part of it. They know you. You know them. And you want to be part of it. And I think the difference between that, and things like the ERG, and being invited to stand up. These are like – It's like if you take the local church example, it's like, "Yeah, well, we have the building. Is that not enough?" Like sometimes that's it, right? We're done. It's the same shape as the other buildings. Like, "Well, is that it? Are we good?" 

No. We have to have an actual community where people have a sense of connection to each other. And it does, I think, come back to you then sense that way. And you feel like you're connected because they're in – For companies, it becomes that common mission or that we're building something together. Or I just want to support these people, because I’ve grown to like them like a person who connects and has a relationship with another person. 

Rae English: Yeah. I’m also thinking about how important it is to allow various ways to participate in the community, right? I mean, business really rewards super extroverted people. 

Susan Sanders: I was just thinking that. 

Rae English: Yeah. I'm thinking it isn't quite so business-oriented. But it was in a grad school class in the 20th century. And wow, this professor, to this day, moves me and is a mentor. But it was grad school, right? And we were having to do quizzes. I’m like, "Why are we doing quizzes? I mean, you do the reading. There's a seminar. We're gonna be talking about it." And I asked this professor about that. And, wow! She was just so gracious. She said, "Well," and she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, and said, "not everybody feels so comfortable to speak their observations and connections about literature, Rae." She said, "So a quiz can be a space for someone who might feel more shy." Shy does not mean that you aren't social, right? It just means that it takes a bit longer for you to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. And writing might give that space where a conversation within a community or the community of class, in that example, might not allow time for that. And that was very moving to me. And I thought, "Oh my goodness!" I quite, literally, at 33, looked around and thought, "Oh my gosh! There's so many thoughts here." What a privilege that that professor gets to know the thoughts of the people who are sitting next to me that I don't get to hear. And I became curious then about that person sitting next to me, right? Instead of it just being, "Oh, that kid, Ben, I think. I don't know." Then Ben was like a student and curious about this story, just like me. And, oh, I wondered what his thoughts were.

Susan Sanders: That's really powerful, because it does happen a lot. And part of that's creating a safe space, one. But even then, it's just going to be really hard for certain individuals to be – you have to be more mindful and thoughtful about it. And I even did a little workshop on how introverts can actually take advantage of teams. And like there's actually some – Now it's not that passing you in the hallway. Or, there's these places. Now you can just chat. So there is this combination where you're communicating and writing and how, for introverts, this could actually be a positive thing, because you have channels that you can be more comfortable in to express your ideas if you leverage them, right? 

So helping introverts be less introverted is one thing. But, again, that's going and saying, "Go fix yourself," right? And what I would say is if everyone – Well, first of all, you want them to belong. But not only that. What are you missing out on in terms of innovation? Yeah. So, like, if you're a company that's touts about innovation, then you need to create channels for introverts. Not tell introverts to go fix themselves and be extroverted so you can hear their ideas. Like what do you want? You're not trying to raise extroverts. You're trying to create innovation in your company. And it's that switch of thinking about the real objectives of what you're trying to accomplish and being more human and realizing people are different. But that's – Like Rae, I am not an introvert. I don't know if that comes across. But that recognition at some point like shut up every now and then, too, and ask, and listen. So I need some fixing as well. So remembering that if you are going to help people grow and evolve, everybody has something they could be working on that fosters those spaces of community, and greater belonging, and greater innovation as well.

Rae EnglishProfile Photo

Rae English

Psychotherapist In Private Practice

After graduating with Phi Alpha Honors in Social Work from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in Saint Louis, I completed a one-year clinical fellowship at the Schiele Clinic, a community mental health clinic of the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute. In May 2020, I graduated from the Institute's Advanced Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Program as a Schiele Scholar.

Before entering social work, I studied literature at Southern Utah University as an undergrad, and literature and creative writing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis as a graduate. I worked as a copy editor for academic publications and in university writing centers as an intern director and tutor.

Though my tenure as a supervised clinical social worker and psychotherapist is new within the past five years, my broad life experiences and diverse formal education combine to offer a safe place for people to explore their thoughts and feelings.

Work is not who I am; work is a space for me to be curious about others, the world, and to participate meaningfully in this great community of human beings. When I’m not working, I’m reading, writing, watching film, listening to music, and getting outside as much as possible.

Rae can be reached via her website:

or via LinkedIn

Susan SandersProfile Photo

Susan Sanders

Founder & CEO

Susan currently leads Spinderok, helping customers expertly engineer and sustain the employee experience, harnessing workplace technology. She is passionate about enabling inclusive, compassionate and sustainable workplaces where both employees and the business thrive.

She’s spent over 15+ years in the trenches alongside senior HR, IT and Communications execs, including 8 years at Willis Towers Watson and 3 years leading Velaku – a communications technology start-up. Susan is a member of the People Intelligence Alliance and BARC (a radical collaborative focused on business sustainability).

She currently serves as the Advocacy Chair for IAMCP Chicago Chapter and on the advisory board for IAMCP Tech Equity Committee. She is also an avid sailor and an advocate of Women’s and adaptive sailing. She earned her MBA from Arizona State University.

Susan can be reached via her website:

or via LinkedIn