You could even say that it launched her career when she first wanted to become an HR practitioner in her teens. Since then, LaToya’s passion for people has fueled her ability to connect them to the employment environment they need and want. As a Chief People Officer, LaToya’s meaningful, forward-thinking leadership has helped form policies and practices that make sense for people. She has enabled growth and scale for teams. Most of all, she has created transparency, openly sharing information in a manner that “treats employees like adults.”
A Journey of Understanding People
LaToya’s educational path was highly intentional. According to LaToya, her drive was in “every single fiber” of her being as she sought her learning. She first pursued her undergraduate degree in neuroscience. She received a dual master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology and organizational behavior from Brooklyn College for her postgraduate work. People aware of this institution know it has a history of great leaders in psychology; for example, Abraham Maslow—developer of the hierarchy of needs. The energy around workplace psychology or IO psychology is rooted in an intense program and fueled her desire to impact human relationships with the job environment,
In addition to her studies, she worked in a cognitive neuroscience laboratory to earn pocket money. She discovered that her drive was in “every single fiber” of her being as she pursued her education in the experience. However, LaToya found deeper meaning when she focussed on understanding the dynamics of humans and individuals within the workplace.
As she developed her knowledge from the influence of her education, LaToya knew that it would take her into the workforce and across industries. As an HR person, LaToya admits that she didn’t want to be typical in her methodology. She never wanted to push paper around, build policies that didn’t influence, or produce work without motivators or intent. “I want to be able to be in a space where I can challenge business leaders, “ she said. “And also show up almost like a Product leader.”
Viewing HR from a Product perspective is insightful. As a Product leader, your main focus is continuously improving the product. The customer must find value by achieving the desired and needed outcomes. As an HR leader, you must create an environment that produces the desired results for both the employee and employer. However, you need to identify the outcomes first. LaToya believed that accomplish this, she needed to ask the right questions.
The Influence of the Now
In the last two years, a whole new way of living for people has evolved. We work and live in our homes, which impacts the work-life balance. Everything has changed drastically. It’s tough on human beings as employees. Amanda asked LaToya, as someone in HR and a leader, what should HR and leaders be doing to help employees during this time.
LaToya strongly believes that this time period of the COVID-19 pandemic, current social injustice issue, and challenging times, in general, impacted the work environment. “It held up a serious mirror for many HR leaders,” LaToya explained. “to work and be different. And businesses to open up their minds, hearts, and souls to the value that the [HR] department brings. Unfortunately, it took COVID and the subsequent events to kind of get to that place. But this is the type of work that is being pushed and required of us. Now is the work that we should have been doing from day one.”
According to LaToya, industries have treated the employee as a “factory worker in a sense” for nearly one hundred years. In the past, “Managers never really cared about their people’s personal lives. Managers and leaders didn’t care about the health and safety of their employees.” She explained that managers are curious about the social experiences of their employees. Whereas businesses never have. They were more concerned about the job you do, your presence in the workplace between nine and five, and you are doing what is asked of you. There is little concern for you as a person. However, the pandemic has changed that.
So many people are working from home and are productive. They still contribute to their company’s business during the pandemic. Proof of that was the number of companies who managed to go public during that time period. As LaToya said, “People are realizing that good work has been able to get done.”
Companies and HR recognize that employees can be at home, and the actual work that needed to be done was accomplished. Employees have earned the trust of their employers. Consequently, HR personnel have learned that they must pivot away from the past’s thinking and methodologies. While it may be difficult, they have faced the challenges and succeeded.
Now, HR must move with the progress made during the pandemic. They need to care about employees’ welfare, especially mental health. They need to encourage the balance of employees as family caregivers. In essence, see the employee experience and the human experience. “People have to ask and hold space and ask questions about the human existence, as opposed to the tactical deliverables,” LaToya explained. This pivot is powerful and impactful as now the workplace is no longer necessarily a physical place but a situational space.
An Ode to Self Care
IIn late 2019, LaToya gave a talk centered on the difficulties of the pandemic and the benefits of loving oneself and your job. It was an “Ode to Self Care.” Two years later, Amanda asked if LaToya would like to add, given the present circumstances.
La Toya acknowledged that the pandemic was a time when many of her colleagues were going through some personal matters and making hard decisions about their careers and themselves. Her Ode to Self Care was a call out to the businesses on understanding what love has to do with it.
“If you don’t love your job, don’t be in it, you know. Do something different,” LaToya stated. “I know that it’s a very privileged thing to say because some people have to work. Some people have to put food on the table for their families. I think I’m pushing it on the businesses to really make sure that people can have a loving relationship.”
She cited an incredible statistic: people spend 80% of their time at work. The amount of time on the job explains how our employment and workplace experience shapes our existence.
“We always say our friends and families shape us, but actually, where you’re spending your time, your view on the world, if you know your view on hierarchy, your view on integrity of work in business comes from the workplace.”
Care and self-care in the work environment are, according to LaToya, really asking ourselves what love has to do. LaToya thinks in parallel to Tina Turner, one of her favorite singers and performers. The reason she admires Tina Turner is that both women share common beliefs. Both are Buddhists. The second is leaning into their careers. For Tina Turner, she worked through her personal and professional challenges to get what she wanted in life—including her name. When Tina Turner was going through a divorce from her abusive husband, she gave up everything but her name. The movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It “recounts this event. She gave up her car, home, and money, but what she fought for was her name. If you look in light of personal branding, it is essential to take your name, own it, and connect to it as you process through your career. That means being confident in your decisions, both good and bad. Most of all, understand that, like the love you have, owning your name, brand, and control of your work has to do with this life you live.
To hear this powerful podcast in its entirety, tune to it on our Cohesion Podcast webpage, or listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.