Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: “Always remember that everyone is motivated differently” with Jana Morrin of Speakfully
Always remember that everyone is motivated differently. Not everyone works the same as you do. You could be missing out on someone’s potential by not recognizing that early on.
As a part of my series featuring accomplished women in STEM, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jana Morrin. Jana is CEO and Co-founder of Speakfully, an HR- and employee-aiding platform that exists to serve those experiencing workplace mistreatment. Speakfully aims to create psychologically safe workplaces through its documentation, reporting, and support resources.
After experiencing workplace harassment herself, Morrin learned firsthand about the lack of resources available to help people like her document and prepare their case before bringing to it HR. Seventy-five percent of incidents in the workplace go unreported, and Morrin was determined to find a better way to support those uncomfortable situations. She channeled her passion for changing workplace culture and leveraged design and technology to create a platform that supports individuals, human resource departments, and leadership to address and improve workplace issues, and create a safer work environment.
Prior to Speakfully, Morrin’s career spanned leadership in the mobile technology and healthcare industries. Morrin is an animal lover and serves on the board of Bob’s House For Dogs, a non-profit dedicated to the care of senior dogs. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been the type of person that has been able to speak and get along with anyone. I like to think that I’m naturally confident, passionate and dedicated to building a successful career, so naturally when I was recruited for an exciting new position that required me to leave a role that I had been at for a while, move to another city, start a new life, I took the opportunity.
I reported directly to a C-suite leader who instantly took an interest in what I thought was my success — I later realized it was more him “grooming me.” Quickly, I came to feel trapped. If I acted like the big and confident me, he took an unhealthy interest and obsession in what I was up to, if I acted small and distant, he would blow up and get angry at me. I tried everything I could think of to stay on this career path, as it was following a trajectory in my life that I worked so hard for, but I had no other choice but to leave.
One of the hardest things was that I never thought something like that would happen to me. I was so strong. I was so confident. I was so capable of speaking up for myself, and yet it happened. And so, in the six months after leaving that job, I slowly put myself back together.
I moved and found a friend and business partner who had previously founded a successful software company, and who happened to have people close to him who had experienced something similar to what I had. We started to build the tool that people experiencing workplace mistreatment needed during these periods in our lives. Something that could have helped us know we weren’t alone, that the company cared about us, that what we were going through and even after we left deserved to be shared with HR, and most importantly that supported us. To me, creating a tool that lets others feel heard, that lets others speak up, and speak fully is why I do what I do every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The outpouring of support from people I don’t even know who have reached out to express how much my story resonates with them as they’ve faced similar challenges has been eye-opening. But it’s also encouraging, how much they love the idea of Speakfully and what it represents — people are ready to have these conversations and fix the workplace for good. It’s astounding how many women have faced these types of challenges in the workplace and have never spoke up because they don’t feel safe to do so. I hope that we can drastically shrink the number of people in these situations, and I hope to hear in the future how things have changed for the better.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At one of my first jobs out of college in healthcare administration — supervising home health aides — I had to fire someone for the very first time. It was terrifying, but justified, as they were lying on their timecards, saying that they worked more hours than they actually did. When I had to relay the news to the employee, they did not handle it well. The last thing they said to me before storming out the door, was, “YOU’RE A SNAKE.” (There may have been another added word or two added in there, that I won’t say in here, but you get the point!) It was alarming, and if I could paint a picture of what I looked like in that moment, I would depict myself very wide-eyed, mouth wide open, and utterly floored. I learned a ton from that incident. It’s never easy to let someone go, and at the end of the day, even when someone has blatantly done something to justify their firing, it’s highly possible that they still don’t see it. That doesn’t mean that you are wrong in doing so. Trust your gut and the facts of the situation and know that you are doing what’s right — even if you get screamed at in colorful language!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Speakfully isn’t a one-off tool to solve a temporary problem. It’s there to cultivate an ongoing, positive culture by providing a place where their employees feel psychologically safe. By giving a platform that encourages them to do that, it will allow the employees to feel more comfortable to come to HR and/or leadership sooner with any uncomfortable experiences they have in the workplace.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on new features to the product that will allow HR and leadership to have even more real-time insights into what is happening within their organization’s culture. These features will pertain to not just incidents, but other topics in HR as well, such as compensation, benefits, development, plus more, that will help HR teams be more proactive in addressing and prioritizing areas for improvement before they become a point of contention.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Not really. It’s frustrating that this still has to be a question that gets asked, but I understand why. I will look forward to the day where it doesn’t even need to be addressed anymore. It would be nice to have more women in leadership roles and women receiving equal pay for equal work. I see it happening more, but not nearly enough. Having more women in these roles, will bring other women into the industry to help fill the gap of women in STEM!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be your authentic self and incorporate humor into your everyday work. People can read right through it if you aren’t authentic and genuine, it’s easy to spot and can be demotivating if its sensed. Sprinkling humor into your daily regime not only will make you more relatable to your team, but also organically motivates your employees.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Trust your intuition, as it’s probably right. I don’t know how many times I’ve questioned myself. Whether it was hiring a specific candidate or a deciding something about the direction of the business, more times than not, I should have trusted my gut. It would have saved me from a lot of agonizing, which would have freed up a lot of mental energy for other things.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As cliché as it sounds, I have to say my parents. They’ve been through all the ups and downs with me, especially when it came to my professional life. I’ve always appreciated them as they haven’t ever pushed me to get married, have kids — you know, the traditional path that a lot of people decide to take. They encouraged me to follow my passions, which meant a focus on my career. All that other stuff will happen when it’s supposed to happen. I loved that about them, and it made me who I am today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I LOVE dogs. So, anything I can do to help dogs in need, I will. I’ve brought my experience to the board of Bob’s House For Dog’s here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We help area shelters by placing senior and disabled dogs in a comfortable home-like environment while they wait to be adopted. While fostering, we provide meticulous healthcare, high quality food and lots of love and attention! 100% of all adoption fees go back to the shelter we fostered for.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Always remember that everyone is motivated differently. Not everyone works the same as you do. You could be missing out on someone’s potential by not recognizing that early on.
- It’s ok to not know everything. Not only is it ok, but it’s ok to actually say that you don’t know it all too. When you can admit it and utilize the people around you, you’ll be more respected than pretending that you do.
- Be patient. When you’re in it day after day, it always feels like things should be moving quicker than they actually are, but in reality, it likely hasn’t been as long as it has felt.
- Take risks. Without taking risks, there won’t be any breakthroughs.
- Whether remote, distributed, or onsite teams, ensure that you have solid group communication in place. Don’t get lax on it, commit to always doing it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would inspire a movement that has to do with health equity. There should be way more opportunities than what we have now for everyone to be able to live the healthiest life possible, regardless of who they are, how much money they make, or where they live. A world with greater health equity would allow more individuals to be their best selves in all that they do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you know how to do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later.”
I think everyone worries that they don’t know enough or don’t have the skill set to accomplish far-out-there ideas or tasks in their life. But the reality is, so many of the people we all look up to have had to learn as they went along. I’ve definitely done that many times in my life and I don’t anticipate that I’ll stop going out on a limb and doing things that make me feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, help me grow immensely.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
This is a hard one — there are so many people to choose from! I would say Michelle Obama. All of the different ways that she has promoted physical and mental health is astounding. She advocated for girls’ and women’s health and education, brought attention to the childhood obesity epidemic, and advanced equal rights and equal opportunities. And that’s just the short list. If I could sit down and pick her brain, my mind would be blown, no doubt!