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Podcast: Work Is A Team Sport – The Evolving World Of People Ops And Management With Mikaela Kiner, Reverb Founder And Author


Mikaela Kiner S2F Podcast Image

Here’s a startling statistic: in April 2021, a record 4 million Americans quit their jobs. In June, that record was almost met again when 3.9 million people left their offices to work from home – for good.

Why are all these people leaving the workplace? Well, there’s a lot of answers to that question, some of which you can probably guess at already.

In the words of this week’s guest, human resources consultant Mikaela Kiner, “People are no longer willing to accept the unacceptable.” Micromanaging, a lack of support for parents who need to stay home with their kids, and a lack of connection with workplace peers are all reasons why employees might choose to strike out on their own rather than keep grinding at the office.

Employers that find themselves in the awkward position of losing their workforce should ask themselves: are we supporting and providing for our employees? Are we fostering a team spirit, or are we running our employees into the ground?

If your answers to these questions are negative, then you may need professional help to turn your workplace environment from toxic to triumphant. The best way to do that is to change the way you think about “human resources.”

People Operations, Not Human Resources

When you hear “HR” or “human resources,” what is your visceral reaction? If you shudder, then you’re not alone.

Here’s what Mikaela Kiner has to say on the subject:

“The term, Human Resources, has quite a bad rap. There are two articles that are ingrained in my head: in 2005, there was “Why We Hate HR“, and 10 years later, there was “Why We Still Hate HR“.”

Instead of “human resources,” Mikaela likes to call the work her consulting firm does “people operations.” It’s a small difference, yet a crucial one. “People” is much more user friendly than “human.” It implies that it sees employees as people, not just cogs in the machine. 

Mikaela believes that employees are missing the people’s connection. They’re being treated as if they are robots who can be demeaned by managers, misunderstood by coworkers, and driven to the point of exhaustion with their work. There is no element of teamwork, which is essential on all levels of a business, not just among employees. Managers and owners need to get in on the play, too, or else it all falls apart like a house of cards. 

We can relate at Stride. This teamwork mentality resembles our code of principles we live by. It’s the framework upon which we’ve committed to building an organization driven by purpose. Investing in ourselves and each other means that Stride is a platform for both personal and professional growth. Those that feel this empowerment have a higher likelihood of thriving, of enjoying their work, and sticking around.

Who Is Mikaela Kiner?

Mikaela Kiner is the founder of Reverb, a human resources – excuse us, people operations – consulting firm. Reverb helps businesses reevaluate their treatment standards and compliance with federal and state law, as well as meets with employees one-on-one to suss out workplace problems and deal with them head on.

In addition to working as a full-time consultant and business owner, Mikaela juggled raising two teenagers with writing a book. You see, Mikaela is not just passionate about helping business owners and employees of all backgrounds and genders; she’s also passionate about giving a voice to women in the workplace, and addressing the safety and equality issues that still plague the corporate world. Thus she wrote Female Firebrands, which chronicles the experiences of real life women in the workplace.

Through our interview with Mikaela, our Stride 2 Freedom listeners will discover a new perspective on HR and the importance of working as a team.

Who should I interview next? Please let me know by clicking here.                                 

In this Podcast episode with Mikaela, you will learn:

  • Why the distinction between “human resources” and “people operations” is so important
  • How complacency can lead to misunderstandings and destroy your team spirit
  • Why it’s essential to make your workplace inclusive
  • Why you need successful “people operations” to help your business evolve

Listen Now

We are fortunate to have Nitya available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Show Notes and Links From Episode:

Mikaela Kiner LinkedIn


Mikaela Kiner Email

Episode Transcript:

Russell Benaroya: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I’m the co-founder of Stride Services, a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States.

This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone. We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow. Thanks for joining. Let’s go.

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Stride 2 Freedom podcast where we help business owners get and stay in their genius zone. And what is your genius zone? Well, it’s what you do that feels effortless to you, where you feel the most capable, where people wonder how you do what you do. It is freedom where you feel the most free.

My name is Russell Benaroya. I’m your host of the Stride 2 freedom podcast. The Stride 2 Freedom podcast is brought to you by Stride Services and outsource back office, bookkeeping, and consulting firm that provides services to professional service companies and their business owners to help them get and stay in their genius zone. Our genius zone at Stride Services is to help business owners use data to make better business decisions.

I am super excited today to be talking with a fellow Seattlelite and friend, Mikaela Kiner. Hi, Mikaela?

Mikaela Kiner: Hi Russell, great to have you. I love this whole notion of the genius zone. I’m into it.

Russell Benaroya: Oh, we were all over the genius zone. We’re always trying to find ways to spend more time in it, which is the greatest challenge we face. But you’re going to help us get there and I’ll tell everybody why.

Mikaela is the founder of Reverb, which is a human resources consultancy, but it’s so much more than that, as I’m going to let Mikaela share with you. She is also the author of a really incredible book called Female Firebrands. It’s an inspiring book, but it’s also a realistic take on women’s experiences in navigating the workplace.

I wanted Mikaela on the show today for two reasons. One, is because this whole area of people operations and HR consultancy is really important for business owners that are trying to figure out how to spend time focusing on growth, but know that they have an organization of individuals that they want to help thrive. I also want to talk about how do we collectively create an environment for women to thrive in the workplace?

That’s a very timely topic and it’s an evergreen topic. We could have been talking about this 10 years ago. We’re talking about it now, and the circumstance that we’re talking about now is certainly as good as any. So let’s jump in.

One thing I’m curious about because you are so talented and so varied in your accomplishments, Mikaela, what are you passionate about? What drives you and where are you in your genius zone?

Mikaela Kiner: Well, first of all, that’s very kind. Thanks again for having me. I’m passionate about a number of things. I feel like between the business and the book, I’ve had some great opportunities to meld those together, which has been really fun and exciting. I am super passionate about creating great workplaces. That probably goes without saying.

But to be more specific, I think some of the challenges that we’ve seen for decades in the workplace, and are coming to light even more with COVID and the remote work situation; toxicity in the workplace, a lack of flexibility in the workplace, and sometimes just a lack of humanity. I don’t know a better way to say it. Just treating people like cogs and not letting them be human, whether that’s at work or how they fit work into the rest of their life and family, etc.

I’m extremely passionate about making great places to work that are fun, kind, and free of politics and bureaucracy. That’s my goal. I just listed off a bunch of our Reverb values over there.

As a professional woman or a woman who worked in large companies and mostly a male-dominated industry, coming out of doing HR for technology, I am really passionate about inclusion, and in particular, gender inclusion in the workplace.


Just building those better, healthier, more inclusive workplaces that are great for everyone, and giving professional women of all ages and generations the tools that we need when we sometimes encounter those things that aren’t as professional in the workplace or come up against the challenges of why didn’t I get the raise or compensation that I deserved? Or why didn’t I get the promotion that I was anticipating? Why did I get interrupted and talked over in a meeting? Just helping give women some of the tools that they need to navigate.

Russell Benaroya: This question I’m going to ask you is not meant to be a lightning rod question. I want to make a distinction between the circumstances of women thriving in the workplace, and then the holistic approach that you shared around, “I want to create a healthy workplace where everybody thrives and it lacks toxicity and politics and bureaucracy.”

One of the thoughts that I’m having is that when there’s a particular situation around toxicity, or bureaucracy or politics, that you end up at that place because all parties, whether consciously or unconsciously, are committed to that result. Now, there’s obviously a power imbalance. I’m curious, we spend a lot of time helping business leaders, and that’s where you spend a lot of time, guiding them on how to create this workplace. What is the guidance that you have when coaching leaders in the organization that might not be in senior management in the roles that they have to play in not contributing to the toxicity, the politics, and the bureaucracy? Does that make sense?

Mikaela Kiner: Yeah, big loaded question for sure. Most people get up and come to work to do their job. They’re not trying to create a difficult or unpleasant situation. Most people are not trying to do anything bad and then all these bad things end up happening. I think some of that is unconscious bias, which most of us have learned a lot about recently, and didn’t really hear or talk too much about in prior years.

I might come to work and things work really well for me because that workplace was designed for me, the person in the majority. So I might not even recognize it. I’ll use a totally different example: if you’re tall, you’re not going to recognize, “Hey, this shelf is up kind of high. There’s a whole bunch of people who can’t reach the shelf.” That’s just human nature until you start being made aware and increasing your intelligence around that.

The other things are the systems that are at play at work. Again, there are things that are so entrenched, they’re so systemic that it’s not that any one individual came in and said, “Hey, I’m going to pay women less.” But historically, women have been paid less. Then historically, the way we’ve determined wages is to say, “Well, Mikaela, what was your last salary?” Or, “What do you expect?” My number is going to be lower, and therefore, I’m going to get paid less.

These are self-perpetuating systems. So I feel like a lot of the recent work that’s been done is making people aware of bias, getting us all to take another look at these systems, understanding things like if I’m a woman and I attempt to interview at your company, and I interview exclusively with a group of men, maybe, one, I’m not going to feel comfortable, or welcome. Therefore, I may not choose to join the organization. That group of interviewers might also miss out on something about me because there’s just a different experience that they have in the workplace and in the world.

These are a lot of the kinds of changes that are being addressed and talked about today. Sometimes we get a leader who knows where they’re like, “I know that I have a blind spot,” or, “I want to work on inclusion,” or, “I’ve been told I was really emotionally intelligent, but now I’ve recognized that that’s been with a group of my all-white male peers. Maybe when I’m talking to a different set of people, I don’t seem emotionally intelligent at all. How can I get better at that?”

Those things happen too, but I think the majority of folks fall into that earlier category of just marching along doing their job and not thinking about all of this stuff until more recently.

Russell Benaroya: You started Reverb in 2015, right?

Mikaela Kiner: Correct.

Russell Benaroya: What did you see that was missing in the marketplace that you felt like an organization like Reverb could fill and address?

Mikaela Kiner: I think there was what I saw and there was also what I wanted to do. I was just really fortunate that the two came together. I saw a need for these really flexible HR services for startups. Not just HR, but as you talked about, we do some other things. I started with both HR and leadership development. Everything from first-time frontline manager training up to executive retreat and mission-vision-values alignment, and things like that.

Those services are out there. It’s not like I’m the first person who brought those services to the Seattle market. But to me, flexibility was really key. Part of why I say it worked so well for me was because, after my long experience in corporate organizations, I was passionate about doing what leaders need when they need it.

I had an experience in my last six months of work where it was succession planning time at that company. When it’s not time, that’s what you do in HR and that’s what your leaders have to do. It’s a big priority. I remember sitting down with a leader, and he had so much going on in his business. He had these vacant roles at a senior level and global expansion he was working on, and I was like, “Hey, Steve, it’s succession time, and we have to fill out the thing. We have to have this conversation, fill out this template.”

We had to do this exercise. It’s not an unimportant exercise, there were just things that would have better served him and me at that point in time. We just couldn’t get to them. I think he and I both found that really frustrating and really painful.

I wanted to do what people need when they need it. I think that’s the beauty of consulting, and in particular, consulting with startups. They don’t even have that annual cycle yet. It might benefit open enrollment or something, but they’re like, “We need a performance process,” or, “We’re lacking feedback, can you help us learn to give and receive feedback better?” And the answer is yes and we can. We can come in and we can help you do that right now. You don’t have to wait until you have all this other stuff out of the way.

Russell Benaroya: You used the term people operations, which I think is pretty cool. Is that an industry term or is that something that you’ve coined?

Mikaela Kiner: I do not get to take credit for people operations. The term, Human Resources, has quite a bad rap. There are two articles that are ingrained in my head: in 2005, there was “Why We Hate HR”, and 10 years later, there was “Why We Still Hate HR”. They were a fast-growing company or something.

I was aware of those articles and I was at an event where it was one of these brainstorming events. I could pose a question to a group of people from different industries. The question I posed was, “What do you think of when you think of this term Human Resources? Literally, around the table, they will like, “The dungeon”, “The dentist’s office”, “The torture chamber”.

The firm used to be called Uniquely HR. Before we got around the table, because I had this idea that I might need to change the name, I was like, “That’s it. I gotta change the name.” So we changed the firm name. At the same time, this evolution was happening in the industry and I think it started in tech. In some cases, HR was either replaced or augmented with the term People Apps. The augmentation was what I think about as all the good parts of HR, the people-centricity, taking care of people, developing people, creating a great employee experience and engagement.

Some companies still have HR that’s doing the more traditional admin and bureaucratic parts of the function, but then they have people apps that do the people-focused stuff. We call it all people operations. I hope that what the connotation is it’s a better, more modern, more caring, and more innovative form of HR.

Russell Benaroya: I wonder if you could talk about the stages with which a client finds themselves coming to you. If we liken a client to an athlete, sometimes an athlete is injured, and they need PT, and they’ve just got to get better. Then sometimes, they are getting a little bit better and want to start getting a routine going again. Then sometimes they’re feeling strong, and they’re like, “Okay, I’m ready to go to the next level of my athletic ability.”

In that customer journey, Mikaela, where do you typically find people are calling you to start the relationship? Then how do you navigate with them through their journey?

Mikaela Kiner: I love that analogy quite a bit. I would say different clients come at different phases of that journey. Some clients come really early. I don’t know what you think of a young athlete who’s like, “Hey, I think I want to go get some coaching and learn to scale.” We have worked with teams as early as two founders, often two founders who have done this before. They will come and say, “We recognize the importance of things like values, things like having a feedback process so we want to get ahead of that.”

But often, people come when there’s pent-up demand. They start to recognize that there’s  maybe some creaky joints. “We’re hiring a lot, we need onboarding.” “Maybe we’ve had some mishires so we want to make sure that we’re really conducting a good interview process.” Also, anticipating growth, like, “We’re growing from 15 to 25, or 25 to 50 and we know we don’t have the infrastructure. Some stuff’s gonna break or there is stuff that we just don’t have time to get in place ourselves.”

The phase you mentioned, like, “I want to get even better,” or, “I want to maintain”, I think that’s where people come in for things like leadership development and executive coaching.  I’ve got those fundamentals. I’m hiring, I’m developing, I’m onboarding, I’m compliant, but we’re growing a team of managers, or we have some new executives or senior leaders, we want to make sure that they’re firing on all cylinders.”

“As a team, we’re firing on all cylinders so that’s where leadership development and coaching can come in. If you think of us as tage-appropriate, you’d say we’re early, we want to get that HR stuff in place. We’re growing. Now we have some managers. We want to make sure they know how to manage well. We’re going to do that.”

Then, “Okay, we’re evolving even further. We have some individuals who have skills they want to tweak or new skills they want to build out.” Maybe that’s a case where we want to do some one-on-one or team coaching. Then it’s all cyclical because then you get bigger and those HR needs grow, or you need the next layer.

Russell Benaroya: That area of people operations feels very strategic for me in developing individuals and developing culture, I get a lot of energy from that. There’s another piece of your business, I assume, that is like compliance. There are things that you have to do because we work in a state and in a country that just has a lot of rules and regulations. We got to stay on top of it. Do you also provide that as a bit of a non-negotiable must-do, if you want to be in the game?

Mikaela Kiner: Yeah, exactly. We created something that I personally love, and it’s our HR review. Some people might think of it as an audit, but we call it “From Culture to Compliance”.

When we first meet you, we don’t want to sit here and be like, “You need to create this great compensation and incentives and hire the best,” but over here, you’re out of compliance, or you’re doing something that’s risky or illegal without even knowing it. We don’t want you to have those kinds of gaps.

We would feel like we’re doing a client a disservice if we didn’t poke around and help you and make sure that that stuff is in place. Something we notice about clients a lot of times is it is the compliance that brings them to us because people know. Someone’s going to tell you like, “There’s paperwork.” “You got to file some A9s.” “You need to keep track of your employees versus your contractors, make sure you get some HR help with that.” 

A lot of people, that is the side of HR that they know, and they’re not as familiar with the stuff that you and I both love: the strategic, the talent development, etc. We love to open people’s eyes to that as well. We’ll come in and we’ll help make sure you’re compliant, but we also want to plant those seeds.

Are you thinking about how you’re going to grow people? Are you thinking about not being in the 69% of managers who never got training as a manager, and therefore, don’t know how to manage people? Whichever side we get called in for, we always want to take a peek and plant seeds on the other side as well.

Russell Benaroya: It’s so interesting because for so many businesses, your workforce is your number one cost of sale that leaves the building every single day. They are your machinery. They are your major producers. To leave them to chance is such a disservice to building something that can transcend you, as the business owner, something that is much bigger than you.

We find this, by the way, in bookkeeping accounting, which is a lack of understanding of how effective your labor is against the jobs that you’re working on. Wouldn’t you like to know? Is this a profitable job or not? Are we overworking our team or underworking them? Without data, you can’t make any decisions, or you’re guessing. There’s probably a lot of guessing that happens.

Mikaela Kiner: I think that’s really true. When clients do things like an engagement survey or a culture survey, or listening circles and things like that, a lot of information comes from those. On one hand, I think a common client’s response is, “Well, why weren’t people telling us these things?” But on the other hand, why ask for feedback if you thought you had all of the information?

You’re right. It’s all data at the end of the day. The more data and information that we can have about our people and what makes them effective, and what helps them be productive and happy and challenged at work, the better off we’ll be for sure. Especially in the midst of this new mass exodus of 40% of people wanting to quit and have a different/better lifestyle, I think we need to really be on guard for that.

Russell Benaroya: Which has me thinking about a pro tip you might give us or get us under the hood, in your experience. Why do people leave their employer? I know I’m asking for a very general response, but I have an inkling that it’s not what most people think. I’m curious what your experience has been.

Mikaela Kiner: It’s interesting. Hopefully, everyone is listening and thinking, why have you left your past employers? I think there’s a really common challenge. One is certainly overwork. I would say the two companies where I spent a lot of time, I was pretty happy. I felt like I was about 25% overworked, and I thought of it in terms of that time, “Man, if I could have a little more time to myself, it’d be fun and I would probably still be there.”

People leave their managers. That’s a classic and that’s true. Your experience and connection point is so largely tied to your manager, regardless of the rest of the company culture and what else is going on. If you don’t feel liked, respected, supported, challenged by that person, that’s really going to impact your experience.

More and more, there’s research too, that people leave peers. Work is largely a team sport today. There’s so much collaboration and if you don’t enjoy your peers, if you don’t feel included or heard, that can be really frustrating.

Most people don’t leave for compensation. They might likely get higher compensation in that next role because changing companies is a good way to get a big comp increase, but I would say largely, that’s not what drives people. It’s not just, “I love everything about this place, but I’m looking for more money.”

Russell Benaroya: Now let’s apply what’s happening in the environment; the resignation wave, the big tsunami of change that we’re undergoing right now as people are reassessing their circumstances in light of the pandemic, is your response different? Are people assessing their circumstances differently now and what are they wondering?

Mikaela Kiner: I read an interesting article the other day, and it was one of the many about the great Exodus. There was a line I really liked which was that people are no longer willing to accept the unacceptable. That really encapsulated for me these things that I had experienced and railed against.

One was toxicity/rudeness, and the other being overwork. If you put aside the safety concerns with COVID, a lack of childcare with COVID, there are some slightly different drivers. At the end of the day, I think people are wanting and demanding more flexibility that works for life and family.

People are tired. There’s a lot more anxiety, there are a lot more mental health challenges currently. So, I think expecting the workplace to be kinder and more humane is more pressing for people than it was. I think the reasons are largely the same, even though the context feels different.

Russell Benaroya: When clients hire Reverb, what can they expect from you in helping to address some of these circumstances that are having people considering whether or not the place they work is the place they want to stay? How do you help?

Mikaela Kiner: Well, a lot of the work we’ve been doing for the last 18 months, whether it was safety — we don’t provide mental health services — but helping people think about how to connect and engage folks for a minute, thinking about how to return to the office now.

I’d say there are a few ways that we can help that might be unique, even to organizations that might have some of their own HR support. One is that there is this reality about us being an objective, third-party organization that can create just the right amount of distance, that people might feel safe opening up to us because we’re not a member of that organization. Whether that’s helping with engagement surveys, culture surveys, even connecting one-on-one or through some small focus groups, and just talking to people about how they’re doing.

I think objectivity helps. It’s also bandwidth. Most companies aren’t staffed on their HR team to, for instance, connect one-on-one with every employee. That’s something that we have been doing for some clients who asked for help during COVID saying, “This is really important to us. We’re not resourced to do it so we’re going to bring you on to help with that connection.”

Another thing is because we see so many organizations, we have the benefit of learning from great leaders and heads of people and DEI experts and seeing a lot of best practices that have worked for them in their organizations that then we’re able to adapt and share.

At the beginning of COVID, I was also part of a coalition that was helping to support working parents and just thinking up creative ways to support parents who were having a 24-hour a day childcare job plus an eight-hour day work job. And there were some things that were so innovative. Whether that was people with older siblings tutoring younger siblings or companies bringing in a magician on Zoom for an hour and you put your kid in front of that if you need a breather, or recording meetings for parents who dropped off or sitting their kids.

Companies started recording all meetings so that parents could stay in touch that way. I think we benefit from seeing this great array of companies at their best that we can share. Then I think also helping the leadership’s voice and the employee’s voice meet.

Sometimes leaders, even if they’re trying really hard to have that connection, first of all, people won’t tell you everything when you’re the boss. It’s just not going to happen in most organizations. Sometimes it’s hard for leaders to separate their personal feelings and preferences from what’s going on for others in the organization or what’s right for others in the organization.

Leaders might feel really strongly, “I moved to Whistler during this whole thing. So I think we should all be remote working from anywhere.” Or leaders could feel strongly, “I’m in the office and I need FaceTime. I don’t know what people are doing if I don’t see them.”  I think neither of those extremes have been very popular. Now, the hybrid model is really popular. Sometimes some kind of translation and interpretation is needed to help get everyone on the same page.

Russell Benaroya: I find that it’s really important to be consistent in the message of the strategy, whether that be the workplace strategy or the business strategy. Keep saying it, and keep repeating because everybody interprets their own way. The way that I receive that comment from the said individual is going to be a function of maybe how my day is going. I may not hear the message. There’s nothing sexy about that; it’s just consistency.

Mikaela Kiner: There is a saying that all leadership is communication, which goes to exactly what you’re saying. You’re so right about repetition. People hear it differently. They’re not focused. Now there are new people in the virtual room.

We were talking to a group the other day, and there was a particular team that was really struggling with some challenges and anxiety. We were trying to show them, what do you have already? Do you have an employee assistance program through your own benefit broker? They did.

We remind people and let them know about that at the beginning of COVID, well, they probably forgot. Or if they didn’t need it at that time, it just went right by them. We need to remind them why we’re seeing this anxiety. People were forgetting to call that number and something like that can be a great resource. The company already has it, it’s effectively free of cost, they’re just forgetting to tell people that it’s out there.

Russell Benaroya: Let’s segue into your authorship. It’s one thing to be passionate about creating environments where women can thrive in the workplace and overcoming some of the institutionalized forces that have made it difficult for them to thrive. It’s another thing to sit down and write a book.

It’s another thing to gather 13 exceptional women to contribute to said book. You really made a commitment to this cause. Talk a little bit about the impetus for sitting down and writing this. And then, what has come from the experience of giving this to the world?

Mikaela Kiner: Thank you. I always wanted to write a book. I wrote some books when I was nine and sent them to some publishers. I recently found a box of rejection letters. So I always wanted to write a book.

I had the experience of giving a talk at ladies in Seattle tech event where I had my aha moment about, “Here’s the book to write and the other way to make it really powerful is by sharing different women’s stories, different experiences from women of different backgrounds, different industries, professional settings, etc.”

I found the process really energizing. I wrote the book on top of a full-time job managing the company and also with two teenagers at home. I wrote mostly on nights and weekends. And it was really fun. Occasionally, I felt tired, but it was really fun. I think there was so much adrenaline that was involved in that process. It was such a joy to receive the first physical book and hold the book in your hands.

I think there are two really cool things that have happened since the book came out.  One is when an individual tells me that the book has been helpful to them or it was helpful in any way, shape, or form. The goal was that the book could help at least one person have a better life/work experience. So, I love hearing that from people.

The second is I get to meet authors now. I’ve met so many women authors because someone will say, “This woman is writing a book or is thinking about publishing or is just interested in how that process works.” This is a side benefit that I didn’t anticipate, but I’ve met so many amazing people through that process.

Russell Benaroya: The timing of the book with the Me Too movement, and Time’s Up has been notable. I’m curious if that is somewhat coincidental, and how that has impacted or shaped the narrative of you communicating the underlying themes of the book, given the circumstances of our time.

Mikaela Kiner: Yeah, absolutely. I started writing posts that are kind of like Harvey Weinstein, Me Too, that part of the movement. You said when we first started the book was timely. Sadly, it felt really timely then and I felt a sense of urgency. I say sadly because it’s still just as timely and just as urgent. I hope that one day that will not be the case.

It’s certainly shaped the narrative. The process that I used when I interviewed the women was that I asked each of them the same set of questions. Then I based the chapters on the themes, and what generated interest and energy. Not surprisingly, every woman I interviewed had had one or more Me Too moments. So that became an entire chapter of the book.

You’ll find things in it that people had just become more open to sharing those experiences and realizing that they were not responsible or not to blame for those experiences. I also think it gave language to women of a younger generation. It became a shorthand that was an easy way to talk about a variety of situations that happen to women in a workplace setting.

And it’s a big bucket. I want to acknowledge it could be anything from an inappropriate comment to much more extreme assaults and things like that. I think having that common language is really important in how we talk about things and when we talk about both those experiences. Also, what are the tools? How do you recognize it? How do you recover from it and be resilient?

I think it’s helped younger generations to be “ahead” of women of my own generation. That really came through in the interviews because I largely interviewed women who are called mid-career professionals, which means that when we were coming up in the workplace, we didn’t have this language. Many women have been brought up that this is normal, this is expected. You just laugh or look the other way. You don’t complain. You don’t want to be labeled as a complainer.

Much more recently, they realized that that is not the way to deal with these things. We need to address these issues head-on. And many described having mentored and even helped the hands of younger women when they came forward with similar complaints, where they were like, “We are going to help you bring this forward. We’re not going to keep this quiet because things need to change and people need to be held accountable.”

I thought that was great recognition of learning even that I personally had from interviewing these women, just to how they were helping and guiding the women who came after them.

Russell Benaroya: How do you bring female firebrands into the workplace through Reverb? 

Mikaela Kiner: Great questions. Something that’s been really fun for me is doing author talks with organizations of all stages and sizes. My first talk before the book came out was at Microsoft. I’ve spoken with early-stage startups as well and continue to do that.

What’s fun about it, and it could be a talk for women, it could be a talk for everyone because there’s a lot in the book that also speaks to male advocates about how to get involved and how to show support and connect with women colleagues. I found that a lot of men want to do that but didn’t always know how or whether it’s appropriate or what to say. So, it works for an audience.

One of the things that we’ve been able to do through those talks is really customizing it. There are some things that can be really fun and empowering that we do when we engage with groups or some that can be more towards skill building like what do I do in a hot moment? A hot moment being if you experienced or witnessed something that is inappropriate at work.

I think women and men want the skills and tools to stop those behaviors in the moment and that’s what I love to focus on. What’s something practical that you can be ready to say? So you’re not caught off guard, you’re not having to think on your feet, but you can be really confident when those instances arise. It’s been fun to share those tools with people and hear their experiences about using them in real life.

Russell Benaroya: Great tools. I imagine that creates a lot of company and team camaraderie and culture bonding when we come together with a shared language around how to address conflict. What is something that people don’t usually ask you in these types of interviews that you wish they would?

Mikaela Kiner: I looked at your questions and this was the one that really stumped me. The thing that’s interesting is, because it’s great to focus a lot on what Reverb does, and I love talking about the book, but I think there are also those pieces of the entrepreneurial journey, like, how did that happen and what was scary?

For me, I have two kids. I’m a wage earner. My new fabulous husband is an artist and a preschool teacher. He’s worked part-time ever since we had the kids who are now 16 and 19. So it was really scary to leave a company where I had stock options, and I had benefits and to go out on my own.

This is how I had to talk myself down to make that leap. One was all those things that we think of as security that can be bought with money. I can buy stock in companies I like. I initially had to purchase benefits out of pocket for myself and my family, but it’s just dollars. I think we have to translate it and remember it’s just dollars. I don’t need to work for Microsoft or Amazon to have good health benefits. There are other ways to achieve that.

Then I had to know that I could go six months without making a penny. Fortunately, that did not happen, but I had to know that I could. You want to allow time for your business to grow, you want to settle into it, you want to figure out what you’re doing a little bit.

Then I also had to remind myself that if for whatever reason, 12 months from now I don’t like this or it’s not working out, it’s not what I thought, I have skills. Seattle’s a great job market and I can get a job. It might not be my dream job right off the bat, but I had to remind myself of all of those things. It basically comes back to security, that there is a safety net.

I never looked back. The moment I got started, I loved doing this, and I love running a business, but it did take a lot of mental preparation and dealing with all of those fears. I don’t know what works for others, but that’s how it worked for me.

Russell Benaroya: You’re an entrepreneur, supporting other entrepreneurs. Last question, what is your genius zone? 

Mikaela Kiner: I was really listening when you said this and I loved your definition. I also think of it as that thing that you do that, one, doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time, and two, it comes naturally where sometimes you’re like, “Is this common sense?”

Russell Benaroya: Shouldn’t everybody know this?”

Mikaela Kiner: It’s because it’s your thing. I’m actually an introvert. I love talking to people one-on-one so coaching, like executive coaching, but also coaching a leader or founder on a situation that they’re going through, especially if it’s interpersonal, messy, conflict-laden. That is my kind of thing.

I do that every day versus people who might not encounter situations like that too frequently and it can be scary.  Also, if it’s your situation, it’s scary for you, but it’s not scary for me. I can just sit here at the objective.

When I look at my calendar,  anything I see that’s one-on-one doesn’t feel like work to me.  That’s just how I think of it. Another way to put it is a colleague who I had worked with within an organization shortly after I went on my own was like, “My spouse is in this merger and acquisition thing. It’s really messy, and there’s tons of conflict so I thought of you.” I was like, “Great. If you’re dealing with a messy conflict, please think of me.”

I also joke that coming out of an HR background, I don’t mind listening to people vent at all. It’s not something that bothers me. Sometimes I feel like I should just go on Instagram Live and do one-on-one venting. People do need to vent sometimes. Sometimes we need to be more constructive, but sometimes we need to vent and I don’t mind. So if anyone wants to email or call me for some venting, I’ll give you 15 minutes.

Russell Benaroya: That’s the best offer we’ve ever had.

Mikaela Kiner: Take me up on it. I mean it. I’m sincere.

Russell Benaroya: Good. I have your cell phone. I’ll be calling you right after the podcast. I will make sure that everybody who listens to the podcast or comes upon the blog knows how to get connected to Reverb, knows how to get a link to Female Firebrands, and has an opportunity to learn more about you. Mikaela, I appreciate you spending time with us today.

Mikaela Kiner: Thanks for having me, Russell. It’s great getting to chat with you. I really appreciate it.

Russell Benaroya: You said one thing that I really liked. You said work is a team sport. If we think about work as truly being part of a team and we put it in that sports dynamic, and many of us whether we played in a serious way or even in a recreational way, growing up, we know the dynamics of what makes a good team and what it means to participate in a sport, it’s a fun way to think about the environment. Thank you for introducing that. That was really cool.

Mikaela Kiner: My pleasure.

Russell Benaroya: All right, Mikaela, thank you so much. Thanks so much for listening, everybody. We’ll see you next week on the next edition of the Stride 2 Freedom podcast. Take care.

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