Ronda Robinson: Bringing Humanity into The Workplace

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Studies have shown that a toxic work environment will make an employee ten times more likely to quit their job. It is therefore fundamental to establish a healthier environment, by implementing shared human values in the workplace. Ronda Robinson provides insight into the importance of her work, through sharing her personal journey and life experiences.

“My motivation to infuse more humanity into the workplace is simple. Everyone wins. Employees are happier, more productive, and stay longer.”

How has your childhood shaped you into the person you are today?

Picture a Norman Rockwell-like storybook childhood. That was my fortunate experience – until it was not. We each have our own journey, and the circumstances of mine led to the mindset required to thrive in the face of uncertainty, and adversity, which are hallmarks of entrepreneurship. 

I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood, surrounded by extended family and friendly neighbours. It was a safe and supportive community, where I had freedom to explore, be creative, and find myself. Like many children raised in the Midwest, I developed a strong work ethic at an early age. In addition to household chores and the occasional lemonade stand, I earned pocket money helping my father by occasionally taking control of the cash register or counting inventory. I got a taste of independence, ownership, responsibility, and a desire to push myself. 

And then, suddenly, my world flipped upside down. In a single year, my mother passed away, my father remarried, and we moved to another town. For a child, any one of these events can be unnerving. However, these disruptions gave me the gift of resilience. I formed mechanisms to adapt, overcome obstacles, face the fear of the unknown, and reframe disruption positively. It certainly gave me a broader perspective on the world around me. 

As a Master Performance Consultant, why is it your mission to incorporate an essence of “humanity” into the workplace? 

My motivation to infuse more humanity into the workplace is simple. Everyone wins. Employees are happier, more productive, and stay longer. Companies are more productive and profitable. I planted a flag on this mission in my last corporate job, during an acquisition. I have been through five mergers and acquisitions before. They go well on paper, but it is always harsh for the people. I knew there must be a better way.

In the last two years, the challenges of the economy, and COVID-19, have put a spotlight on employee needs. Millions of employees are leaving their jobs. While some are seeking better salary, benefits, or rewards. The Great Resignation is a symptom of a greater problem: we lack humanity at work. 

Employees want more than an exchange of work for pay. They are demanding more humanity, the cornerstone of which is empathy, which leads to respect, trust, and safety. With a business strategy to infuse more humanity into the workplace, organisations create a vibrant workforce that retains and attracts talent, while saving millions of dollars in cost of turnover. With a high-performing team, they will grow in their industry and cement themselves for the future.

You have years of experience working in biotech, medical and pharmaceutical fields. How was your personal experience working as a woman in STEM? 

Working in STEM fed my fascination with science. With an emphasis on innovation, problem-solving, and critical thinking, it felt more like a fun hobby than a job. When I started my career in pharmaceuticals after college, I was the only woman on my team.

I worked hard, and in two years, I was promoted to a new division in the company. I received a modest pay raise and a new job title. Two years later, I was recognised for my achievements and promoted again. The new salary was notable, yet the job required relocating to a higher cost of living state. But hey, I got a promotion and a sassy new title. I was on the rise, right? 

Shortly after starting the new role, I got a new boss. Marie was a tall, formidable, southern woman who would later make her mark in the industry. On my 1-year work anniversary in that role, I had a bucket of ice dumped on my head – the realisation of the pay gap between women and men. In a bittersweet moment, she informed me that I would not be receiving an expected 3% salary raise, but a 30% salary raise. That is right, the extra zero is real. 

This amazing woman had led a charge for better pay equity between men and women. I should have been ecstatic, so why did it feel like a bucket of ice dumped on my head? I realised how grossly underpaid I had been for years, and how this translated to the compounded loss of income over a lifetime. The ice went through my veins, however, when I realised that this 30% raise only brought me into the lower limit of the salary band; and I was expected to be grateful. 

Overall, I have had a phenomenal corporate career. Yet, as many other women in business, I have experienced sexist and dismissive comments and actions. I have been talked over in meetings by men, I have been expected to take notes, make coffee, and organise meetings. I have also been excluded from informal “guy time” social events after hours. 

Fortunately, I have learnt to navigate these circumstances more adeptly over the years and engage in candid conversations, to bring awareness to unconscious bias, as well as actively advocate for female/non-male colleagues. My advice to young women and girls wanting to pursue a STEM career is to trust yourself. Let your passion guide you to your purpose.

Start by gaining practical experience. Do projects, tinker, build, and explore innovative technologies both in a group and by yourself. Do not wait for a degree or a job to define a path for you; engineer your own career path. Finally, find a mentor and ask them to coach you on aspects of business, rather than how to “show up” as a woman in a man’s world. 

During your time working in the scientific industry, when did you realise that you wanted to pursue the entrepreneurial route? 

I have always had a pioneering spirit, but I caught the entrepreneurial bug early in my pharma career, when we launched a new specialty division that had a scrappy, start-up feel. I was surrounded by like-minded souls, with an appetite to do things better and fill a void in that market sector. Today, it still serves as a best practice model for the industry. 

From that point, I continually ask myself two questions, “what can be done better?” and “how can the impact be greater?” As a result, I developed a gift for putting unrelated items together that – when combined and executed in creative and pragmatic ways – have a profound impact. 

One day, I asked myself the same questions about my career. I realised that I could leverage the knowledge, training, and techniques that I had amassed over the years, in the fields of behavioural neuroscience and performance improvement, to help companies do better and fill a void for their employees. 

You have successfully infused neuroscience with your current developmental solutions, to resolve performance barriers in the workplace. Why is it important to apply different methods and techniques to achieve the best results? 

If you are trying to create something great, you need all the right ingredients. If some ingredients are missing, it will fall short. For example, baking a cake without all the basic ingredients could turn out to be dense and crumbly, lack fluffiness, or dry and tasteless.

In the mid 2000s, I was working in a dysfunctional work culture. People all around me were sluggish, disengaged, and quitting. Why? The company was missing some of the key ingredients for it to be a great place to work. Therefore, it is important to apply different methods and techniques to attract and retain employees, to ensure the right ingredients are included. 

Companies are trying to get it right. Significant efforts are underway to address obvious issues, such as salary, benefits, DE&I, and offering remote and/or hybrid work. Yet employees want more, so leaders guess and offer rewards like game rooms or Friday pizza parties. These attempts are misguided, based on an assumption that people make decisions based on external motivators, data, and logic. They do not.

Decades of behavioural neuroscience research illustrates that people react based on emotions, which are usually subconscious, and then use logic to validate their choices. Therefore, employee turnover, engagement, and productivity can only be addressed effectively when we acknowledge the emotional drivers that influence behaviour. These drivers include certainty, autonomy, relationships, equality/fairness, and feeling valued and appreciated. When these drivers are ignored or negatively triggered, people withdraw or quit to avoid feeling bad. 

The framework of Retain My Team™ does the thinking for leaders with pragmatic tools that combine neuroscience (how the brain works) with the art of performance improvement (how people work). It is necessary to combine these to achieve the best results.

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