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Building Workplace Cultures of Care That Transform Our Economy with Michel Fabode – Episode #32

How does a culture of care transform the workplace experience? The call for safe, caring workplaces is becoming increasingly loud, which means building these environments is an essential consideration for founders.

Episode Show Notes

In this episode, Alida Miranda-Wolff speaks with Michel Fabode, the author of Cultura: A Guidebook for Founders Building Diverse Teams. Michel’s work focuses on helping founders navigate the path to truly diverse, safe cultures of care that lead to business success on multiple levels.

Michel’s essential and practical exploration of workplace culture strives to show business owners seeking to build something better that they have the power to design environments in which diverse teams can thrive.

Recognize and rethink the importance of workplace cultures of care:

  • Why we overlook the care work component inherent in so many professions
  • How feeling valued and cared for in the workplace makes all the difference
  • Why it’s more important than ever to build diverse company cultures
  • The connection between delivering on the bottom line and creating a positive work environment

Important Links from this Episode: 

Connect with Michel Fabode:

Connect With Alida:

Advocate for underrepresented and underserved groups in organizations with Ethos


MICHEL: So to me, I don’t think it has to be an either or. I don’t think you have to deprioritize how you build the team in order to do the rest. In fact, I would argue if you can keep these principles in mind as you build the team, you actually stand to be even more successful.


ALIDA: Welcome to Care Work, a podcast about what it means to offer care for a living. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. For most of my career, I’ve been a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practitioner focused on teaching love, healing harm, and scaling belonging. In my books, Cultures Of Belonging: Building Inclusive Organizations, That Last and The First Time Manager: DEI I explored what care inside of organizations means. Join me as I continue this journey with guests who take meeting the needs of others on as their calling, both inside of organizations and in any other way.

How does a culture of care transform the workplace experience? This is a question that Michel Fabode tackles in her new book, Cultura: A Guidebook for Founders Building Diverse Teams. Michel’s work has always helped founders navigate the pathways to truly diverse, safe cultures of care that lead businesses to succeed and make money. And in today’s episode, we talk about the balance in doing that, as well as some real life examples that can help you as you follow this path yourself. 

Welcome, Michel, to the Care Work podcast. I’m so excited to be able to bring you on today. I had the pleasure of talking to you when you were developing your book Cultura, and now it is out. 


I’ve had a chance to read it, and I feel like so much of what you lay the groundwork for in that book is what we need to be doing inside of workplaces to create cultures of care. So thank you for being here. I’d love to start us off by asking, what is Cultura about?

MICHEL: Well, thank you for having me, Alida. It’s a joy and a pleasure to connect with you again on your podcast. Cultura is a guidebook. I wrote it to really give founders and other leaders material, actionable steps for how to build a culture around a diverse team. That’s really it in a nutshell. It’s for founders who actually want to do that though. And so there’s sort of a prerequisite you need to care about having a diverse team, and you need to recognize that it won’t just happen. You won’t get a high performing, diverse team by happenstance. There are things you have to do, and the book is really about what are those things? 

ALIDA: And what brought you to writing this book? And going deep into this area.

MICHEL: That’s a long story, Alida, but the abridged version is, as you know, many things. COVID is a central character in the story. I had done a lot of things in that kind of, um, a varied career. And I think the most interesting aspects of my career have been the people that’s how you end up in this space. 

But what COVID showed me was the things that we took for granted and the ways in which we were working got completely blown out the window. It just wasn’t going to work anymore. You couldn’t assume that you could just send everyone home and everything would be okay. We were dealing with very real issues, social issues, we had the murder of George Floyd, we literally had the pandemic as well, and to log in into your little Zoom box every day and expect people to do things as before. It just wasn’t realistic. 

So for me, it was a really interesting opportunity to say, let’s start over. How would you need to re-architect this for a truly diverse team? And at the time, I was actually fortunate to have a leader who posed that question to me and said, hey, we gotta try again. None of this is gonna work anymore. We need to start over. And so it kind of led me down a path to really get surgical and pay attention to all the things that happen when you’re building, ultimately building community, in this case, in the workplace.

ALIDA: We talk on this show a lot about what care work is, and there are a lot of preconceived notions of it. So, even when I am reaching out to folks to show up on the podcast, I have folks say, I’m gonna have to decline, because I’m not in healthcare, or I don’t have kids, or I am not caring for aging or sick family members. And I’ve had to say, if we’re talking about caring labor, the economic philosophy, what we’re talking about is, what does it mean that your job is to meet the needs of others. 

And by that definition, most people engage in some kind of care work. They’re just usually thinking about it as, quote unquote, emotional labor. But it is very much in that same vein, especially as we have in the US, become so much of a knowledge based economy where it’s about the service you provide and what you know. And I’d like to ask you, when you think about who you are as a care worker, how would you characterize yourself in that way?

MICHEL: I work in human capital, so in a way, I kind of cheat in the sense that I describe the work that I do to others as, I’m here to serve the needs of the people in this organization. And so it lends itself very well to the notion of care. And I, by definition, have to think of care expansively. 

So not just, for example, in terms of when someone has a health need, or they need to go out on leave, or, or, you know, maybe they’re out for medical or maternity leave, or all manner of other caring for other relatives. But I also have to think about care in terms of your psychological safety. I have to think about it in terms of, are we ensuring that the folks in this organization are set up for success? Because, you know, your self perception and the ability for you to thrive and do your best work, to me, also has to do with the environment you’re in and being able to, in this case, design an environment that is caring for you in that manner. 

And so it has a lot of facets for me, I think, and to blow that out even more, I think every leader has to think about care. Maybe they call it something else, but you won’t get the best out of your team if you don’t think of them as people first. And people are three dimensional. Yes, there’s outputs, yes, there are inputs. But you have to, for example, knowing, in the old days, people would say, you need to know baby names and spouse names and pet names and all the things. And that’s how you take care of your team. There’s a thread of wisdom in that, because what it speaks to is you need to know who they are.

You need to know what matters to them, the community around them. You need to know them as individuals in order to understand how to design an environment in which they can do their best work. And to me, all of that very much falls into the category of care. I think, unfortunately, we have affiliated care as something, like you said, emotional support. We tend to give it a gender, and we tend to thus, like, demote it in the priority of things right up until we need something, in the most critical moments, then suddenly, you know, we’re finding those people who do that care work that is so critical, but that we often tend to sideline. So it is important, it is critical, and it always has been.

ALIDA: I wonder if you might share an example of when you have felt cared for at work.

MICHEL: I’ll go back to that leader I had during COVID. So, let’s back up. I had a great leader, truly she’s phenomenal. And this was shortly after the murder of George Floyd. And so it was an emotional time. We’d just kind of come to terms with the fact that this pandemic thing wasn’t, like, a month long situation. And then, you know, we are  witnesses to this hideous murder. And I felt like the ask implicitly was to just go along with it, get back to work, act like everything was okay. And I knew that that was probably not gonna work well for me. 

And so I decided that, okay, let me just take some time away, and I’ll sort myself out and sort my family out. The kids were home from school. It was chaos and mayhem at home anyway. I was like, this is not going to be a productive environment. And so I resigned from my role, and I was letting my leader know. So she was my manager, boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss. And she said to me, is there anything else that you’re not telling me? As I was like, oh, thank you for opportunity, you know, my going away speech, anything you’re not saying to me? 

And I said, you know, kind of said to myself, there’s really nothing to lose at this point and so I said to her, honestly I think that to ask individuals right now to get on with business as usual is probably not appropriate, certainly a missed opportunity. And I’m probably not the only one who would like to step back, I’m just fortunate enough to be able to do so. And she listened. She heard me. She took the challenge, and that turned into a relationship that I don’t think I would have written that book without that conversation. 

She recognized my why. She could have just said, okay, it’s covid, you know, she’s quitting, whatever. On to the next. But she took the moment to ask the one additional question and to find out what else, is there something else here that you’re not saying? And just by giving me that space, I was able to be just a little bit more transparent than I would normally be, and that took us down a totally different path. 

So quitting, or my attempt to quit failed, actually. I ended up not quitting that role after that conversation. I ended up taking a little time away, coming back in a different capacity. And helping her to redesign the culture for that team so that others who were also struggling, like me, could feel like they had a better opportunity to thrive. And, you know, it was a journey, and it wasn’t just me. It was a team effort, but it certainly led me down a very different path.

ALIDA: What do you think it is that creates the conditions for someone to ask that question? Why was it her who asked and not someone else?

MICHEL: There’s something to be said about her, we call it intuition, we call it gut instinct I would say humanity. She just cared. She was curious, and she wanted to know it wasn’t just a business as usual discussion for her. And does that mean it couldn’t have been asked by anyone else? No. There’s also something to be said for me in that situation, and that I felt comfortable sharing it with her. 

And so one of the things I talk about in my book is that belonging, the invitation, has to be extended and received. And so when she extended the invitation for me to share, I believed it, and I received it. Perhaps, and I don’t recall another leader asking, but perhaps I didn’t receive it from them, I don’t know. But when she asked, I felt that she meant it, and I readily accepted the invitation to share. And like I said, it took us on a different path. And I think, obviously, very highly of her, so I’m biased, but I think she cared. She meant it, and I knew she meant it.

ALIDA: When you were putting this book together, who were you thinking about when you were writing it? Because obviously, this conversation sparked this book for you. Right? But you were talking to somebody who, in many ways, embodied what you think needs to happen in these workplaces. So who were you writing to?

MICHEL: Interestingly, I was writing to founders. Particularly of early stage companies, but recognizing that the content was relevant beyond them the reason I chose founders of early stage companies is because often, by the time you get to the organization I was in, it’s a mature organization. It’s just a lot harder. It’s big, it’s gangly, it’s late, frankly. And so it’s like moving a giant ship to change things. The fundamentals still work, but it’s just, it takes more time. It’s a lot harder. 

When you’re in the driver’s seat and the organization is your baby. You can do things a lot faster, and there’s an opportunity to essentially get it right from the start. And so the name, actually, Cultura, is Latin for cultivate. It’s also an acronym, a double entendre,  but the idea of cultivating what I wanted to get at is kind of embedded in the soil from the beginning of the organization’s life. And I felt that founders were in the best position to do that. 

And so if you can embed certain ideals around, having a diverse team as a priority from the start, just makes the whole thing easier later on, it’s not like a giant pivot. If you have embedded in the foundation of the organization, that, hey, in order to have a team in which you want to be here. A diverse team wants to be here. We are going to think about things in a certain way. We are going to be very intentional about those things. When you do that from the beginning of the organization’s lifespan, just makes it a lot easier down the road. 

So that’s why I was kind of setting up the perfect, air quotes around perfect, perfect use case. The perfect scenario knowing that in most cases that won’t be true. But if it were, how sweet it is when you get this right from the start. But you know, obviously, if you’re not at the very beginning of the organization, the ideals are still quite relevant.

ALIDA: With getting acculturate and starting from the very beginning. So startups are accountable to their investors. They have to grow. And we all know that rapid growth doesn’t necessarily come with intentionality, thoughtfulness, restorative practices. That the maintenance phase that is required for a lot of culture, establishment and care is something that can get pushed aside when there are all of these external pressures. 

And one of the things that has really been on my mind is that, especially with the Silicon Valley ethos of, we can save the world with technology and we can really make the world a better place through innovation. We’ve also seen the development of a lot of really harmful practices coming from this world. And so I’m wondering, what happens in the startups that you’re advising, that you’re coaching, that you’re training, when there is this tension between putting people first and creating shareholder value?

MICHEL: That is the million dollar question. I think. For every founder, that’s it so even as I was writing the book, I’d have folks read it and give me feedback, and that’s the pushback. And to that I say, yes and, it is a mindset of, that founder. You still have to return value to shareholders, you still have to prove product market fit, or, you know, whether the product is a service or a tech platform, or whatever it may be, you still have to raise capital, you still have to do all the things. There’s no path coming. And you have to build a team to deliver differentiated value in the market. 

The question is, how are you going to build that team? And so to me, I don’t think it has to be an either or, I don’t think you have to deprioritize the, how you build the team, in order to do the rest. In fact, I would argue if you can keep these principles in mind as you build the team, you actually stand to be even more successful. 

So I want to challenge the notion that you have to choose. I think we know what happens when you don’t make building high performing, diverse team a priority from the beginning. It just never is a priority. And maybe down the road, you’re doing a lot of cleanup work, but I’m just not convinced that it has to be either or. I think you absolutely can embed it into the foundation of that organization from the and it makes you better. 

And, you know, I talked to a number of leaders and founders who have found that to be true. Does it make the journey easier by any stretch, but there’s no easy way through entrepreneurship. It’s just a matter of, what choices are you going to make as a leader, and how do you intend to build that team. And I think with just that thoughtfulness, you really do stand to set yourself apart. 

Of course, there’s also the market dynamics and the fact that our demographics are shifting. And so I would argue that these leaders really stand to benefit, as we look ahead in the next few years, because the next generation is more diverse and they care about being in organizations.That are psychologically safe, that are caring and so if you want the best talent, really do want to be able to design a culture for truly diverse group of folks.

ALIDA: Something that comes up for me is that both Gallup and Pew Research Center have looked at orientations towards socialism, capitalism, and anti-capitalism, within the generations. And one of the things that most struck me is that 51% of Americans who are young Millennials and older Gen Z favor socialism over capitalism and ascribe to anti-capitalist beliefs. Which is a very big difference from older Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. 

And so, again, there’s, I think, this tension coming up where we don’t just have this desire for greater equity, but we also have a generation who maybe doesn’t believe in the system of work, fundamentally, ideologically, and is entering workplaces. 

What is your take on how we create these caring cultures, especially in founder-led companies that are very much operating in a capitalist system. That the whole thing about startups is they raise capital, and the people they’re hiring are mostly young people.

MICHEL: You know, it’s going to be really interesting. I’m seeing some of that, too, almost fundamentally different ideological beliefs coming in through the next generation. It’s going to change the way we work. But the thing I will challenge, though, is, yes, founder-led organizations will tend to hire and recruit this younger cohort of folks, but there’s still a lot of other folks still in the workforce. 

And so, yes, we will have this different set of ideological beliefs that will challenge us and that will push us and I think that is actually a good thing. But we also have to think about the folks that are still here, because it won’t be a light switch. We still have a lot of Boomers in the workforce, and yes, they are retiring at, I think, the last status, 10,000 a day as we kind of enter into the great retirement. But they’re still here and they still have a lot of influence. 

You have the Gen Z’ers, you have the Millennials. And so it’s the mix that I think is going to be really interesting and for my book and for the work you do, how do we create cultures and organizations in which that mix can not go heinously wrong? Uh, if you will. In which people can continue to work together and have productive output, productive results, thoughtful conversations that are mutually respectful it seems to me it becomes even more important to be able to design environments that are thoughtful and caring and that enable a truly diverse team to thrive. 

And that diversity may not only just, may not, certainly won’t just be a function of race and ethnicity and gender and gender identity. It will also be ideologically, it will also be political beliefs. It will also be, you know, views on capitalism. But it’s that mix that’s gonna get us. So we have really gotta be thoughtful. 

And that’s why I think these leaders, I call them 15 degree founders in my book, but these leaders who can manage and lead teams with that mix of ideologies, those are the ones I put my money on, those are the ones I’m going to bet on, because those are the ones that are going to bubble to the top.

ALIDA: What do you see as the fundamental responsibilities of leaders in workplaces to create these healthy cultures?

MICHEL: There’s a number of things, but I would say the first and foremost is understanding who you want to be to your customer, and then reflecting that in your values internally. So just being really clear in who you are, it seems simple, but it often doesn’t happen. Who you are externally is who you are internally. 

And so Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Talent Officer will, they all kind of say the same thing, that your customer experience will never exceed your employee experience. And so basically, it’s a mirror. Who you are externally is who you are internally. So be really clear on who you need to be internally so that you can be who you want to be externally. And own those values. 

When there is a values misalignment, particularly now with the next generation coming in, people call you out like, there’s far less tolerance for, you know, FaceTime and looking the part than there may have been in prior generations. So you really have to have to mean those values. You have to model those values. You have to define the behaviors that make those values real. You have to reward and recognize those values. And then you have to foster belonging, and there are a number of things around that. 

But I think if you can do those kind of, in a nutshell, really own who you have to be internally as a company in order to be who you want to be externally. Define what that means behaviorally, model it, recognize and reward it, and then really foster belonging within the organization, if you get that right, on the whole, I think you will have done your part as a leader to really create and architect a culture for a truly diverse team. That’s not to say it’s easy to do. I never said it was easy, but it can be done.

ALIDA: Well, thank you. My last question for you, Michel, is just if you are thinking about the folks listening to this episode and you say one thing that they need to take away, what is it?

MICHEL: I would say you are able to design more than you think. You can create environments perhaps more easily than you might imagine. Things are not as random as you might think they are. You can, in fact, design an environment, design a culture in which diverse teams can thrive. 

You can, in fact, do things to ensure that you’re able to listen and hear the sentiments of the team. And there are things that don’t have to be totally revolutionary to do that. You can do quite simple things that can have a big impact on the experiences of your team members. And I would encourage anyone who’s interested in doing so to take a few minutes and find out how. You can buy my book.

ALIDA: Well, that’s the very last piece, Michel. Where can people find you, and how can they stay connected with you?

MICHEL: I’m easiest to find on LinkedIn, Michel Fabode at, that’s the easiest way to connect with me.

ALIDA: And obviously buy your book.

MICHEL: And my book, you can find my book on Amazon and anywhere books are sold.

ALIDA: Well, thank you so much, Michel. I appreciate you and all of your wisdom and lessons today.

MICHEL: Thank you Alida. This was fun.


ALIDA: Thank you for listening to care work. Please share this podcast with your community to help uplift and advocate for more caring cultures everywhere. 

This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and me, Alida Miranda-Wolff. I’m also your host. Theme music Vibing Introspectively was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass. Audio editing and post production assistance was provided by Organized Sound Productions. 

If you want more of me, be sure to order my books, Cultures of Belonging and The First Time Manager: DEI.


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