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Stellar Women: Julia Hasenzahl on Employee Happiness & the Double Burden

Mary Rechtoris

This month’s Stellar Women guest—ProSearch co-founder and CEO Julia Hasenzahl—kept it real, allowing for an engaging and substantial conversation with hosts Mary Rechtoris and Mila Taylor. Throughout the episode, Julia shares how ProSearch leaders polls their employees each week to gauge happiness, in hopes of identifying areas for improvement. Interestingly, Julia notes the goal is to not get a 100 percent happiness score, nor is the goal to get 100 percent participation. Rather, their goal is simple—assess where people are and understand how all the factors in the organization influence that score.

Julia also talks about the unfair societal burden that is placed on female professionals and why corporate policies about flex work do not go far enough if they are not explicitly targeting employees both female and male employees.

You don’t want to miss this month’s episode!

Julia Hasenzahl

Julia Hasenzahl

Co-founder, CEO



Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.

Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.

MR: Mila, how’ve you been?

MT: I've been good. It's been a little chilly in Miami I feel like. There was an alert on the news to watch out for iguanas. I guess once it gets below 45 degrees, the iguanas that are on the trees freeze and fall. There was an alert on the news to watch out for falling iguanas so that's been interesting.

MR: That is equally sad and disturbing.

MT: I know but it's like they haven't frozen to death. They're still alive.

MR: Oh!

MT: If it's a certain degree, their freezing bodies become immobile. But they're still alive.

MR: They're not dead?

MT: No, they're not dead. They just can't move and can't cling onto the trees as they fall out.

MR: That is so bizarre.

MT: Every time I walk my dog Boris, I'm always nervous now of falling iguanas. I haven't encountered one yet. And now it's warm again, so I think I'm in the clear. How are you?

MR: You know…I'm good. I think a snowstorm is coming.

MT: To Chicago?

MR: I saw some reports that it's coming to Chicago. I mean, I feel like every day has been kind of like a snowstorm that's cold and gross. So I don't know if this one's legit going to be bad, but I don't think it'll change my routine of lounging and staring out the window.

MT: Another exciting thing is The Real Housewives of New Jersey begins tonight. It's my favorite of them all.

MR: Oh, really?

MT: Yes, indeed.

MR: Is Teresa still on it?

MT: Of course. She’s the matriarch of the show.

MR: She's just so wild.

MT: She is wild.

MR: Until we take over a podcast about Bravo, why don't we get to today's guest? So for today's episode, Mila and I had the privilege to talk to Julia Hasenzahl. She's the founder and CEO of ProSearch. It was a really cool convo we had. We talked about the unequal burden that female professionals often face when they're navigating everything from work to home life and how we not only as an industry or corporations, but how we, as a society, really need to work to speak explicitly to both genders to try and reduce some of that burden. We also dove into how ProSearch is measuring their employees’ happiness on a weekly basis and addressing feedback in real time. So, it was a really fun episode, so continue listening on.

MR: In our industry, there are very few female CEOs. I mean, it could be the nature of legal and tech. I wonder if you have thoughts on that. How do we get more females into not only the CEO level, but more of the senior director roles and leadership ranks? What are your thoughts on what the industry can do to bolster female talent?

Julia Hasenzahl: Well, you know, this is what worries me about not being a stellar woman in e-discovery because I'm really not sure. Like you said, we're at the intersection of legal and technology. They’re two industries that don't have a great track record of attracting, retaining, and promoting women. And, you know, looking at competitors, you hit their leadership page and we're still at a place where most women are in marketing and HR roles. That's not inconsistent with other industries. It's evolving in our own company, maybe not at the executive level, but certainly at the level where people are leading our client service teams. We have more women in those roles, and I think that will translate into more women in the more senior roles. You know, I'll say … back to the pandemic, one concern I have with flex work and that messaging around the pandemic is that every media article you read is about how it has impacted women and impacted their careers. One of the most frustrating things to me is that the solution is not to change the dynamic of women who have a full-time job and a home to maintain and children to care for. It's not saying, “hey, shouldn't somebody be sharing that burden?” Instead, it is saying, “how do we make it easier for women to continue to carry an unequal share of the workload by having a flex work arrangement and making it possible for them to continue to carry that unequal burden?” That actually worries me because I feel like, however we do flex work in the future, we're not going to do it well initially. We have a future of work program, partly because I think we've been successful during the pandemic, but I don't really think that's the model for going forward. No matter how hard we try initially, people are going to be left behind because of the dynamic of who is in the office. That's again going to impact women. Now I'm just going to say something crazy, so this might hit the edit floor. If we think corporations are part of the solution for making it possible for women to balance careers, why is all the focus on women and not men? Why don't we have an initiative in our corporation that says, “hey, men and fathers, why don't you use some of your PTO to check on your kids? Why don't you work a flex schedule?” When we started in the pandemic and the last school year started, I said “let's proactively go out to every parent and say, ‘how can we accommodate their schedules?’” We're in a situation where we are client facing and we need to be working when our clients want to talk to us. That throws the whole ideas of flex schedule and flex work out of the window. It doesn't factor in the fact that you're in a client-facing job. You must be available and working when your client wants and needs you working. In the first round of going to everybody with the children and saying, “what adjustment do you need? Those without kids said they can work alternative hours.” Only women said that they needed an adjustment. I told HR—“Go back and check again because I don't understand why we don’t have more men saying that? We have more fathers here than mothers.” I actually said who the hell is watching their kids? If people are going to get ahead, we can't only help women be successful by accommodating their need to have an unequal burden in society. We need to remove the unequal burden. I don't know how, but I think as much as I can read a hundred articles about corporate policies to support women, I think, what's the corporate policy to support or encourage men? Some may not agree with this.

MR: This is not on the chopping block because this is a conversation that I felt passionately about, and we should talk about this.

JH: It worries me. I have no children and people have come to me during the pandemic. I say, “I feel bad because I can't relate to your story. I have none of your challenges.”

MR: I was listening to Glennon Doyle's podcast, which is awesome. She was talking about this unequal burden and this running list in your head. Women have this running list of things that need to get done. You take Timmy to soccer and all of this. And their husbands, their spouses, or whatever will be like, “let me know how I can help.” That in and of itself is the problem. You don't have that running list. You have to tell them to do certain things, and it puts the onus on you to figure it all out. No one has the answer but starting to talk about is a hell of a lot more than what a lot of people do. I love this idea. We could do a whole other thing on this topic. I really appreciate you bringing that up.

MT: The burden should be on everybody. Because women are carrying all these extra things, we should encourage the men to take on a little bit more. In addition to being the founder of ProSearch, you're also the CEO. What do you think makes you successful in this role? What have you learned along the way?

JH: Well, quite frankly, I think I am successful uniquely in the ProSearch scenario. I think that's because I've done the work personally myself. I understand the work. I care deeply about the work. That's essential to ProSearch in terms of where we are, who our clients are, and really the way we position and market ourselves in the industry. This industry can be tough and unforgiving. In the early years, I personally made mistakes. I produced a privileged document or more than one privileged document. I feel like it’s about understanding those challenges, how you manage those problems, and what it actually takes to do great work. That is uniquely important for me and my role at ProSearch. We're a small organization and are privately held, so we have the luxury really of making it all about the work. In this situation, I think that experience has been essential.

MR: Throughout your tenure as CEO, what's something you would tell yourself on your first day? Is there some advice you’d give to Julia?

JH: Let people help you more. Early on … Well, actually not even early on, all throughout [my career], Trevor, my business partner, and I had so much personally invested financially and emotionally. This was our baby. We used to joke that we have a data center and as we filled each rack with servers, I would take a picture and send it to my husband because those were our children. We probably missed opportunities where we just felt like we needed to carry the burden ourselves and do things ourselves. If we had let more people help us, I think we could have taken more opportunities. That's essential.

MR: I feel like that could be you as CEO or in any role—sometimes if you have a passion project or something important to you, you want to hang on to it.

JH: I should just say that I don't have any children. I apologize if comparing servers to children and projects to children [offends anyone]. But, you know, I think it's like leaving your kids when you go to daycare. Like, who am I going to hand this client over to? Who am I going to hand this project over to and how could they care about it as much as me? I think people who are really passionate about what they're doing do hang on and are reluctant to accept the help that is being offered to them.

MR: For Stellar Women, we've had some awesome colleagues of ours want to join and help us build the program. I’ve realized we need to delegate and have people help us grow the program. They’ve had so many ideas that I haven't even considered or Mila, you hadn't considered. We’re both like, OK, if we want to make this continue to be successful, we need these new people who are passionate and who have these ideas. That really hits home with us. I'm sure for you too Mila.

MT: Yeah. And like, this leads to my next question. It is all about hiring people and having people join your team who match your passion and having people that you trust. The best relationship between managers and colleagues has that level of trust. We have the same goal and I trust you to do what you're going to do. You trust me to do what I'm going to do. And let's work together and get it done. This leads me to the next question, which is that employee happiness is an imperative for ProSearch. Let’s talk a bit about that. Tell us how that came to be. Why is it so important to you?

JH: I’d say that in some ways, I was introduced to it at RelFest in 2014, maybe 2015. I read the book in 2015 after an author and a book were featured—The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor. That's where the idea stuck with me. My takeaway from that book was that success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success. I really wanted to figure out how we flipped that around because I feel in all those discussions we were trying to figure out like, what do we do to make people happy? It was backwards. That led me to a company called Friday Pulse, which was a new company at the time. They were providing happiness consulting and a happiness survey. And this is so, so opposite to my personality. It had to be shocking to the organization that I was suggesting we do a happiness survey every Friday. We started doing that in 2016 and it was fascinating. It really looked at all of the things that go into a profile of what people are thinking in the way they're working. [It looked at] questions like how satisfied were you were with your work this week? Did you have an opportunity to be creative? It was things like that that really tell you about what people are thinking. That in and of itself was disruptive at first. Some people said, “well, you know, it's none of your business, how happy I am.” It's been a fascinating journey. We've kept it up for five years now and it's been really insightful. I don't think our organization realizes how much we look at it. Over the last four weeks, we’d had a team and it's anonymous … We have team-level information. By this report, we had a team that has been unhappy, and I don't think that anything other than that report would have told us that they weren't happy. It's actually gone back to the managers to say what's going on with your team? That led to some discussion about are we at risk of losing these people? Are they overworked? Is there some other discord among the group? They’re very useful metrics. Certainly, heading into the pandemic, we have a unique benchmark in terms of how our people felt. We've been doing this for years. Along with that company, they had gathered information. It gave us a unique opportunity to also track how people were doing and how happiness was changing over the course of the pandemic and how we might address it. It’s led to quite a number of initiatives in the organization. It's been a tool for managers. We actually have had sessions with the consultants working directly with managers about how they engage with their teams in weekly meetings to ask questions and inquire about how people are doing and about their happiness without saying, “It looks like you guys were unhappy on this survey. What's going on?” No one wants to be confronted with their unhappiness. We dig in and find out what's making people tick. If there's something we can do about it, we do. But I think oftentimes there isn't something we can do. People's happiness reflects what's going on in their personal life and what's going on in the world. It gives us a way of just talking about what people are going through, even if we can't change what's going on.

MT: It's such an advantage to be having these weekly data points. Some organizations do these quarterly or yearly, and then they’re shocked. They’ll say, “how do we lose touch? This whole department is unhappy.” It would be particularly interesting to look at the data, as you said, with the uncertainty with the pandemic. That threw almost everybody off in some way. So being able to say, “OK, what can we do?” Because obviously no organization could cure the pandemic. It's not possible. But [it’s asking] what can we do at our organization to make this uncertainty that is really crummy for a lot of people a little bit better?

JH: We have a lot of type A people. One of our first challenges with the survey is that the results came back in color coding from green to red. Our team's first response was we need a green score and we really had high happiness scores compared to what Friday Pulse had experienced. But with our team, I feel like initially it was sort of competitive like, well, we need to be green. We get a number, and it was a 73. People thought we were failing. So, we really had to make an adjustment about what we were trying to accomplish with it. We weren't trying to get 100 percent. We're not trying to get 100 percent participation. We're not trying to score 100 percent. We're just trying to measure where people are and understand how all the factors in the organization influence those metrics and people.

MR: Julia, I think that's a really great point. People want to be heard right? Often people leave because they don't feel that they’re heard. And, too, they want to see follow through. It's one thing to be heard, but it's another thing to see action. You said you’ve had a number of initiatives to tackle some of the results. Do you mind sharing an example of what you did to act on what you were seeing in the data points?

JH: It's evolved so much over the past few years. I will say that one of the first things that came out of it was really a need to that about what drives happiness. We actually had the CEO of Friday Pulse come out and do a town hall for our company to talk about what drives happiness at work and how happiness leads to success. One of the challenges was that there was pressure on people who wanted to be content. It’s OK being content and there shouldn’t be pressure to be effusively happy. That’s one of the things we learned as an organization is to realize if you want to talk about a different dynamic of diversity is, we're always talking about career paths, pushing ahead, and getting to the next place. There are people who at different times in their life, different things are going on and they want the stability of the job. They like the way things are and they want to be recognized for doing their jobs well. It has really created more of an understanding. I had a conversation with a couple of managers just this week on that. As we head into a performance review season, and at ProSearch it does feel like a season, we need people who want to do their current job well and to not pressure everyone to be looking to do something else. And I know that's probably counter to what I should say in terms of goal setting. Actually, this year, I changed our policy that we used to require everyone to set goals at the end of the year. And I said, “we're not doing that this year.” The people who want to set a goal will set a goal and we're not going to have a window of time that we set goals. When people are ready to set a goal, we'll set a goal. When they're ready to talk about a goal or a promotion, we'll have those conversations. But this artificial thing at the end of the year where you create your goals for next year as though that's the cadence of your life doesn't work anymore. That's one disruption from the pandemic. Everybody is at a different place. While we need an annual performance review process, we don't need to force everybody into the same schedule for setting goals in their life and achieving those goals because that's a really fluid process in an industry that's changing and with people's lives changing. That's one thing that is a concrete change we've made recently. That's really comes from the sum total of years of this survey. We’ve had to really think differently about where people are at and let them be on a different schedule. They don't have to be on a corporate schedule with their career.

MR: Even throughout the year, I've noticed with myself that I have different goals. For a couple of months, I'm very career-focused and upleveling a certain skill. Other times, and with the pandemic especially, I just want to get through the day.

JH: That might be a legit goal, but you don't get to put it in the performance system. I think that changing that format so that people can think about goals when it's important to them [is important]. I also think when you force that at one time of the year with managers, they have to discuss goals and set goals with everyone. They don't have time to spend time with you and really create constructive goals. Spreading it out and letting it be a natural process will make the goals more meaningful and ensure that people follow them up. One thing I've noticed in our performance management system is that, as the new year starts, people just start deleting all their goals from last year. I'm not really sure we did anything. We made goals and now we're deleting them all because we need to make room for the new goals just because it's the end of the year. That's crazy. So, you know, that's been a big adjustment that we're making.

MT: I very much plus one that. What is the end of the calendar year? It’s merely just the end of the calendar year. It’s an arbitrary date. If you have something you want to do, go ahead and do it. I don't think you need to put pressure on yourself. Just because it’s going from 2021 to 2022, you don’t have to be this new motivated person with all these new goals.

JH: I think my favorite thing about a new year is to have a fresh slate.

MR: I think so too. And in spirit of our industry being so fast moving and innovative, a goal that was applicable in February might not be applicable in April.

JH: Absolutely.

MR: We've had a lot of fun on this episode. I love the authenticity, Julia. I love what you're doing to focus on employees and really acting on the responses that they have. I think that's really cool. Thanks for joining us.

JH: Thank you.

MR: And for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.

MT: I’m Mila Taylor.

Both: Signing off.

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Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.

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