Speakfully Insider: Mikaela Kiner

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Welcome to Speakfully Insider, a weekly series featuring thought leaders on important topics surrounding workplace mistreatment, company culture, workplace safety, social justice, and more.

Please introduce yourself. 

I’m a native Seattleite, mom of happy teens, and cat owner. I’m also a founder and CEO of Reverb. First-time author of Female Firebrands.

What was the driving force for you to found Reverb in 2015?

The biggest driver was that I got certified as an Executive Coach in 2014. I was in an HR leadership role moonlight as a coach, but the only time I had to meet clients was early mornings before work. I realized if I wanted to spend time coaching and improve my coaching skills, I needed to do something different.

At the same time, I had spent 15 years doing HR for big companies. I love HR but wanted to do it without the bureaucracy. My goal was to give leaders what they need when they need it. I felt the best way to do that was to start my own firm, with a focus on startups.

Last but not least, my kids were 10 and 13. I’m the wage earner but I still wanted more flexibility to spend time with them.

How has your past experience played into what you are doing now with Reverb and in what ways has your work in the field changed?

My HR and coaching background serve me well. Those are the core services we offer to clients. My experiences help me understand what clients need and hire the right staff and consultants to do the work exceptionally well. My own people leadership skills have also helped me build relationships and grow the firm.

It would be a mistake though to feel like that expertise is enough. Both fields are constantly evolving. Last year alone, clients’ needs changed significantly in response to both COVID and the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd.

We have to keep listening to clients, growing our own skills, and innovating our services to stay relevant.

Will you describe how you are helping companies implement healthy and engaged workplace culture?

No matter what service we’re providing, we start by asking leaders to examine their organization through a lens of a healthy, inclusive culture. I like to say no culture is healthy unless it’s also inclusive.

When we do an HR Review (similar to an audit) we include diversity, equity, and inclusion questions. We ask leaders if they have a diversity strategy if they’re paying equitably, and how they think about diversity hiring.

We choose to work with companies that are mission-driven and value their people. If a company just wants basic compliance or is not invested in treating employees with respect and kindness, they aren’t a good client for us.

In your opinion, do you feel we are making an impact overall as it relates to diversity and inclusion, dignity, and kindness within the workplace?

I do! It is not as fast or deep as we want but I am optimistic. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • When we surveyed HR leaders, they told us that DEI is a top priority for them in 2021. For many, this is the first time. And most have a budget to support the work. While that may feel insignificant, DEI has been underfunded for decades so it’s important to recognize that more companies are budgeting for it this year
  • I have personally witnessed hundreds of employees in the last two years learning about topics like white fragility and microaggressions and putting that learning into action to increase inclusion. People in the majority are learning to amplify and advocate their underestimated peers and understanding how they can use their privilege for good.
  • Increasingly, I see companies like ours that have kindness as a value. They are using that value to decide who to hire, who to partner with, and who they will serve. I know companies first hand who turned down business opportunities with “unkind” clients.
  • I have two teenagers and they are learning in school about inclusion and social justice. They learn to identify stereotypes. They have a language we didn’t have at their age to call out #MeToo, microaggressions, and inappropriate comments. And they will bring that knowledge into the workplace.
How do you see companies morphing and changing in 2021 specifically as it relates to building inclusive cultures and inspiring employees?

Leaders are stepping back and looking at how to take a long-term, strategic view of DEI. They’re examining everything from how to reduce bias in hiring, to measuring inclusion and evaluating supplier diversity.

Companies are also being more vocal, not only about their own commitments to DEI and social justice but about making statements on inequities in society and refusing to partner with or contribute to individuals and businesses who embrace racist and colonial practices.

Younger generations in the workforce expect their companies to have a sense of purpose, and they expect their leaders to speak out and uphold their values. Passion and purpose have become integral to attracting and retaining people which is something that companies can not ignore.

Examples from 2020 that I expect to continue:

  • Paid time off for social impact activities, such as marching in support of BLM
  • Observation of the Juneteenth holiday and renaming of Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day
  • An increase in companies doing not only engagement surveys, but culture and inclusion surveys using tools like Culture Amp and Inclusology
If you could sit down with a historical figure to discuss equal rights and civility, who would it be, what would you discuss, and why?

I would like to sit down with Shirley Chisholm, the first Black Congresswoman. I didn’t know much about Ms. Chisholm until I came across her quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” That resonates with me and most women I know who have worked in corporate settings. I can only imagine the hurdles she had to overcome as a Black woman who came to power in the early 1970s.

I would like to know what motivated and inspired her, and what were the hardest battles she had to fight. I wonder if she ever anticipated leaving behind such a powerful legacy.

Specifically, I’m curious who her allies and advocates were and what advice she would give those of us who want to become better advocates and allies today.

Where may readers find you?

Instagram: @Mikaela_Firebrand

Twitter: @MikaelaKiner

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikaelakiner/

Female Firebrands Podcast: https://reverbpeople.com/femalefirebrands/podcast/