People

Inside Change with Gabrielle Gonzalez

May 11, 2021

What is your favorite part of your job?

As a Senior People Specialist, I develop cultural strategy and programming. We have a roadmap each year of the different connection and engagement activations that are aimed at fostering inclusion, and connecting staff to one another and our mission. 

Currently, my favorite part of my job is developing our new Community Resource Group (CRG) strategy (otherwise known as Employee Resource Groups)! CRGs are staff groups based on identity or lived experiences. We’re currently implementing an operational backbone that provides these groups with the necessary tools and resources needed to support their members’ personal and professional growth. Most recently, we’ve been working with our Transgender & Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) group and our Asian & Pacific Islander (API) group in creating space to support their community-building efforts. We’re looking forward to working with the other groups that have formed and helping them formalize in a way that feels true to them.

How would you describe Change.org’s culture?

We’ve been working to create a culture where personal and professional growth is the norm, proactively striving for inclusion and equity as an expectation — not a “nice to have” — and a culture that puts our users first, with our mission at the core of all we do. 

There is no doubt that the deeply caring, empathetic, passionate and hilarious humans who work here are the ones who uphold this culture. It’s truly the only place where I’ve felt I can be my full self at work — where I’ve grown as much professionally as I have personally — and it’s made me feel at home. We’re not perfect, but for the most part I think if someone were to walk through our doors, they’d be pleased to see the level of respect and compassion we have for one another. We’re working to build a culture where everyone knows they’re able to be human first and foremost. 

Tell me about one professional accomplishment you are proud of.

I’m really proud of the onboarding strategy & program I’ve built at Change.org. I spent the last three years building it and it’s just now in its most evolved and fully operational phase. It’s a program that’s truly rooted in fostering a sense of inclusion and connection early on in a new hire’s tenure and it’s shown enormous success. The program continues to score above industry benchmark (!!) and is said to be an empowering experience for new hires. I look forward to coming out of the pandemic and being able to have our new hire retreat, Generations, again.

What’s a cause or social issue that you’re passionate about?

I spent five years working with the homeless population — youths, adults with mental illness, families, and refugees. Reflecting back, working with the homeless population is a large part of what led me to my role at Change.org. Homelessness is the representation of many social issues intersecting and is the most obvious representation of social exclusion. My work in org culture reflects that intersection in many ways but on a different scale, of course. Homelessness and the work of mine that’s transpired beyond has all been rooted in my fundamental belief that absolutely everyone belongs. Regardless of who you are, where you come from, and the obstacles you have faced, it’s a company’s job to offer an equitable and inclusive culture that empowers everybody to be their best selves, particularly those from marginalized communities, and to belong.

What does Mental Health Awareness Month mean to you?

This Mental Health Awareness month, I’ve been thinking a lot about shifting awareness into integration: How can Change.org integrate conversations and build a culture where talking about mental health happens daily, monthly, yearly? Part of being a fully inclusive workplace means establishing awareness months as an integral part of our day-to-day operations and how we treat one another — one where normalizing mental health is integrated in our culture, beyond awareness.

What that looks like practically is giving myself, and hopefully encouraging others, the permission to not be ON all the time. What makes this even more meaningful is when an employer gives that permission as well. I have generalized anxiety and there are moments where I can’t give 100% and the simple acknowledgement of that being OK at Change.org alleviates a lot of the feelings of pressure I put on myself. Naming my anxiety is intentional – It both helps me acknowledge the anxious-thoughts to myself and I’d like to think that it encourages someone, somewhere to feel validated in their own mental-health journey. 

My grandfather in one of his many collages 

What is changing about mental health awareness?

I grew up in a household where just about everyone had some sort of mental illness. The hardest being my French grandfather’s schizophrenia. He grew up in a time when therapy and access to medication were very taboo and it took a toll on my family, particularly my grandmother and mom. That said, his story also taught me about the beauty that lies in mental illness and what it means to accept someone for who they are. Mental illness can be tragic and beautiful. When people ask me if I’d get rid of my generalized anxiety if I could, I say no. Most of the brilliant, creative, and hilarious people I know have some form of it and their deviation from “the norm” is what makes them them. I’m not convinced they’d be who they are without it, and I feel grateful that my generation and those beyond are beginning to challenge the stigma that negatively impacted my grandfather.

What is Change.org doing to support employees’ mental health?

I’m so proud to work for a company where one of our top priorities is staff health and wellness. We’re humans first, employees second. We’ve tried to create an environment where staff feel able to step away and take care of themselves and to express this to their managers and HR without judgment — whether taking care of children, a loved one, oneself. Staff have consistently offered high ratings for personal support and safety through anonymous surveys. We’ve tried to set an expectation where staff know and embody that it’s okay to take a mental health day, it’s okay to tell your manager that you’re struggling with depression, it’s ok to cancel a meeting if you need the mental-space.

If we’re talking more explicit support, we offer a generous stipend per month for staff to do something for their wellbeing and mental health. We have access to an app called Whil that has meditation sessions and wellbeing webinars. We also have a Slack chat where staff share articles, resources, and stories about mental health, including their own.

My happy place in upstate New York

What advice would you give to others managing their mental health during the pandemic?

Be kind and compassionate with yourself and that being unproductive, for whatever reason, is okay. As I said earlier, I try to remind myself that to be “on” means I have to allow myself to be off, to be productive means that I have to, at times, be unproductive, and that to not be anxious means that I also have to sometimes be anxious. Reaching out for help is not weakness — in fact, the more companies and HR teams start to adopt the idea that mental health and wellbeing is normal, the more space there will be for staff to be themselves and for companies to be stronger and more representative of who they’re made up of.

Are there any mental health resources you recommend?

  • Open Path – Sliding scale therapy for anyone in the US who needs affordable therapy
  • Balance meditation app – Ofonsu’s voice is what dreams are made of
  • Get a happy lamp for seasonal depression!
  • Yoga – just about anywhere you can do it 🙂  
  • Soup – any type of soup