Kat Ortiz, M.S., is a boundless resource for those of us here at NextUp. Her expertise as an industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologist pierces through the layers of corporate culture to the core — to what must change, and how to change it. I/O makes transforming workplace environments into hard science, using data to fuel powerful outcomes to better our workplaces for women.
In this interview, we dive into the power of psychology to change perspectives from the individual level right up to changing whole organizations. This article is excerpted from the full interview, which can be read at nextupisnow.org/blog.
Angelina Bice: So, thinking about the development we offer members, what do you look for when you’re looking at a leadership development program? What’s a green flag for individuals to look for that shows a program is actually going to create change, either for the individual or for the organization?
Kat Ortiz: In the world of leadership development, there are people we can call influencers who feel they have something worth teaching, some wisdom that they feel like they need to share. I think that’s fair. But because it comes from the gut rather than from a scientific background, there are things that are not sound and sometimes not particularly safe. When you root something in science and make sure that it is actually going to cause the outcomes that you’ve measured for, it becomes so much more than a high-level, easy-to-digest platitude. We’re talking about real change, and you will have to do work to make that happen.
For example, I’ve seen prominent self-help books, New York Times bestsellers, that advocate just pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and getting over the hard stuff. That’s not psychologically safe — not for individuals, and not for organizations.
When you can help someone understand what it’s like to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, and see themselves for who and what they really are, there are learnings to take away. It keeps that person from putting things into a denial box, shutting them away and making them too scary to deal with. And it also keeps you from ruminating on it.
Acknowledge where you’ve come from, rather than denying it. Look at the good and bad of yourself, and use that knowledge to propel you forward. History can repeat itself if you don’t acknowledge it.
AB: When we talk about individual leadership development supporting the retention of women and other marginalized groups at work — even in the midst of historic events like The Great Resignation — why do you think it works?
KO: It’s the feeding of hope. When you give any single individual hope, they’re more likely to live creatively and live healthy. So, when a training is given to somebody, when it inspires that person to grow and to see hope in themselves, they end up being more creative. They stop feeling like they need to be in fight or flight when stress comes their way. You’ve put them into a growth mindset that starts creativity and stops fear. It increases that person’s resilience and ability to stand up against stressors. So [it’s] repositioning your perspective into a positive mindset of “I’m going to grow. Good is going to come from this, and I have hope.”