diversity and inclusion

5 Questions with Leadership and Culture Coach Rajkumari Neogy

Because Health Equity Partners works with a network of expert consultants, we wanted to introduce you to the brilliant minds who make us who we are. “5 Questions” is a new, ongoing series that highlights each of our practitioners –our team– and their diverse talents and compassion. They know their game.

First up: Rajkumari Neogy. We met Rajkumari a few months ago after an HR executive friend told us: “What you’re doing with Health Equity Partners is totally in line with what Rajkumari is doing with organizational epigenetics. You need to meet her.”

We then replied, “What the heck is organizational epigenetics? And uhm, yes, please make the introduction.”

Rajkumari is a popular speaker and executive coach who directly links neurobiology (a.k.a. the nervous system) to how people can live better lives. The workplace is definitely a big part of that experience. Rajkumari is a featured speaker at CultureAmp’s Culture First conference, happening this week (6/12–6/13) in San Francisco.

This interview was conducted June 10, 2018, and has been edited for brevity.

HEP: You spent a few decades in Silicon Valley working in startups and big orgs like Facebook before starting your own consultancy. Why did you decide to get into the people business?

RN: I started my career as a technologist, training clients on cutting edge technology: MPEG2 compression (Zapex), DVD authoring software (Daikin) and Dynamic Imaging (Adobe). I LOVED conducting trainings because I loved connecting with the people in the room and getting them to laugh and feel at ease at some pretty complex technology. I quickly realized in my career that technology bored me immensely, even though I was “good at it”. I stayed way longer in a field I didn’t enjoy as the Bay Area salaries kept me ensnared and committed. In 2006, I started a 2-year coaching program at NLP Marin. And in 2008, I started graduate school while working full-time at Adobe. While there, I began asking peers and managers if I could coach them or lead workshops on better team engagement. On a case by case basis, a few agreed and that’s when the hunger became insatiable and I eventually quit Adobe to start my very first consulting firm in 2009.

HEP: Exclusion is something we all feel at one time or another, but often times we don’t always know we’re doing it. Do you think it starts with the individual being more aware of how he/she/they processes their own exclusion before he/she/they can re-teach themselves to be more inclusive and mindful to others?

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Rubik’s cube, which has infinite ways of getting to the solution, so does exclusion. It’s impossible to be aware of every single way I might cause another person to feel excluded. Luckily, there is an incredibly easy fix to this. Simply ask the person or persons with whom you’re engaged for feedback on how you showed up, or how your behavior or words may have impacted them. This starts the beautiful cycle of vulnerability and trust, which begins to secrete oxytocin. If you’re too afraid to ask that person, then exploring the fear in asking for feedback is exactly the place to start.

HEP: We really like how you talk about trauma because, well, you don’t really use the word. Why is that?

RN: Trauma is simply an experience or an amalgamation of experiences that triggered the nervous system into a Fight, Flight or Freeze state. Each of those states are associated with feelings. And each of those feelings are rooted in unmet needs. Focusing on the unmet needs and feelings allows greater traction in gaining clarity and understanding of the experience (or experiences) and accelerates us into a positive and engaged state. I am always focused on honoring the past experience (because that was a truth for them) and providing options of possibility (a new truth). As humans, we can easily hold multiple truths. It’s one of our superpowers. 😊

HEP: It’s timely that we’re hearing and reading about more and more research pointing to how workplace stress is a serious topic in America. It’s clear that leadership teams have to be more accountable, that it’s not just “you’re on your own” or “talk to HR”. What’s your take on this? Is it real progress or just a trend?

RN: We need to revolutionize how we build companies, period. We need to disrupt our ways of engaging at the workplace and start incorporating play, joy and sadness into our everyday experiences.

First, we need to make it okay to be express ourselves based on situations. Feeling sad about coworkers being fired or laid off, missing a deadline or not getting a promotion is a natural human experience. Being able to express those states appropriately is key to staying connected to not only ourselves, but to our team and the organization. We stay engaged when we trust others around us and feel safe to express ourselves. I teach executives all day long how to give themselves permission to feel their feelings, learn what their needs are, communicate their experiences from an accountable stance and set boundaries.

We’re wired to belong and form relationships, so when we experience someone not listening to us, or not taking the time to connect, it registers in the brain as physical injury, lowers oxytocin and increases adrenaline and/or cortisol. Reconnecting to ourselves and others is about becoming fluid and fluent in both hemispheres so that we are fully resourced in our lives. How we build relationships with ourselves and with others is by hanging out in our right hemisphere way more. This results in smiling, being nice, holding open a door, not interrupting, asking if someone needs something, saying “I am sorry”, saying “thank you”, letting someone in front you while driving. The basics go a LONG way, because we’re human, not robots. Well, at least not, yet.

Secondly, there is a growing body of research that talks about how supporting ourselves and others positively impact the nervous system. When people believe they have support, the pain centers in the brain are activated at a significantly reduced capacity or even in some case, not at all, depending on the closeness of the relationship. And the closeness we feel toward others is directly related to the levels of oxytocin in our bloodstream.

When we motivate ourselves or others from fear, we create a culture of hopelessness. When we motivate ourselves or others from engagement, we create a culture of hope. Shifting the internal narrative from “I better not…” to “I wonder if I could…” changes the state of our nervous system.

By teaching humans how to be even more human, we can redesign ourselves, our relationships and our world. Also, TEQuitable is a great resource. To learn more, contact Lisa Gelobter for information.

HEP: You’re going to be a featured speaker at Culture Amp’s Culture First conference, any other events coming up?

RN: Nothing publicly beyond that now.

HEP: Final question: your most favorite place for noodles in the world?

RN: This is the most difficult question, being that I am a self-proclaimed foodie. But here goes:

  1. San Francisco: Cotogna

  2. Rome: any place, right?

  3. Thailand (Koh Mak Island): a tiny thatched roof place that served mind blowing green curry for $2. I was there for two weeks and ate there every day. And yes, I had the same dish each time.

  4. Laos (Luangprabang): Le Petit Nid: phenomenal coconut soup with noodles