During our daily routine, between meetings and deliverables, often we forget that our organizations and our work is ultimately about being with other people. Yet, recognizing who is around us and how they relate to us can actually be key for combating burnout. According to recent research, expressing empathy can often have a calming effect and even has a positive impact on our nervous system. Taking the time to learn about others and walk in their shoes can be helpful, not just for building relationships, but for our own well-being.

Empathy is also essential for advancing inclusion. As Deloitte’s chief inclusion officer, I think about who I’m surrounded by, how my actions impact others, and how I can contribute daily to Deloitte’s inclusive culture. There are a lot of different elements when it comes to inclusion–there are metrics, programs, and conferences. But, for me, the aspect of my role that energizes me and brings me to work every day is, making the experience that people have at our organization a positive one, and inspiring empathy and understanding.

I was reflecting on this when I was attending the wedding of my friends Tristan and Rolf a few weeks ago. My husband and I had met them on our 10-year anniversary in the Galapagos Island and they instantly became close friends and our go-to travel buddies. Through my friendship with them, I witnessed some of the struggles that same-sex couples can face. Of course, I had been aware that these issues still existed, discussed them with acquaintances, and read articles, but it feels differently when you witness it happening to your close friends.

For example, once when we were going to see the Derby together and were checking into our hotel, the owner was appalled that Tristan and Rolf wanted to share a room. We weren’t sure if he was going to give them a key. The idea of having to find a different hotel was frustrating, but witnessing this stranger questioning their relationship when they so clearly love and care for each other, was simply unacceptable. Standing there with my husband, I imagined what that would feel like, to not only have all the normal challenges that arise from being in a committed, long-term relationship and then having to justify that to the outside world. It was something that I had thought about, but never faced with a situation that truly personalized it for me. I realized how my friendship with Tristan and Rolf had exposed me to new experiences, new aspects of my own understanding of different life experiences, that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

This is something that can be forgotten–the power of seeking out different perspectives and meeting new people. I reflected on this as I watched them take their vows at sunset on the beach in Connecticut. There were less than 10 of us there. Marriage equality was only passed three years ago. I reflected on all the different ways that I was grateful to be present in that moment.

I became friends with Tristan and Rolf because we love to travel and to laugh, but I have gotten so much more from our friendship–a better, personal understanding of the life experiences of others and the power that that can have in inspiring empathy.

For me, empathy is essential, not simply just for our inclusive culture, but for my daily resilience. What truly energizes me is to learn about other’s experiences, put myself in their shoes, and expand my understanding of different perspectives. It’s what gets me up in the morning and inspires me throughout the day. It’s that human aspect that we need, even if we sometimes lose sight of it in the middle of a big project or tough conversation, to truly connect and understand one another.  

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