Circle In: empowering employers, parents, and caregivers

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Jodi Geddes
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In this episode of The Remarkables, we speak with Circle In Co-Founder, Jodi Geddes.

Access to information is endless, with abundant advice around parenting and caregiving on the internet and in books. So, how do you know what advice to follow? The Circle In founders believe that information is only one piece of the puzzle, with managers playing a critical role in supporting their team to feel listened to throughout their career. Having a vision to help companies connect with parents and caregivers in their workplace, Jodi, and other co-founder Kate, have built an employee experience platform for HR, managers, parents, and caregivers to empower people along life’s journey before it becomes overwhelming.

In this episode, Jodi discusses the importance of empathy in the workplace, how we can continue to change the perception around caregiving, and why they continue to be inspired through their work with Circle In.

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or within your browser.

For more information on Circle In, click here.

Read the full transcript

Rebecca Archer 
Welcome to the Remarkables, Grant Thornton's podcast that seeks to uncover stories about remarkable people doing incredible things for their community, bettering the world for future generations and inspiring others to do the same.

I'm Rebecca Archer, and today I'm joined by Jodi Geddes from Circle In – a digital-first employee benefits platform. Jodi, and co-founder Kate, founded Circle In to provide expert advice through a range of tools, tips and programs for employees with caregiving roles, as well as their managers, ensuring that people can access support no matter where they are in their life journey. 

Thanks for joining us, Jodi!

Jodi Geddes 
Oh, it's great to be here.

Rebecca Archer 
So, Jodi, first of all, tell us how circle in came to be.

Jodi Geddes 
I'd love to. Well, I've got two little girls – they’re now seven and nine – and that gives you an idea of how long, you know, we've been working on the business and thinking about it. So, I had 18 years corporate experience, and I went off to have my first child and experience the feelings of disconnection out of sight, out of mind, and, importantly, lack of manager support. And what's interesting is the manager piece has now become a really core part of what we do, because we realise how important, you know, the role of the manager is through every stage of parenthood and caregiving. 

But when I returned, 10 months later, it had a huge impact on my confidence and settling back into the workplace. Kate, my co-founder had a similar experience, and she often tells a story that she, you know, returned to find that she was now reporting to peer who was based overseas, and no one had told her – and we often tell these stories, and were met with a lot of nodding heads. And we got together, realised that this was a bigger issue than just us. In fact, you know, we spoke to over 1,000 working parents, and they all told us that they were having similar challenges. And we also knew on the flip side, HR teams were seeking a better way to manage, you know, the parental leave experience and beyond. 

So, we took the huge leap of faith and left our corporate roles back in 2017, launched our business offering in 2018, and really proud to say that today, we now support over 80 companies – globally have a presence in eight countries, and, you know, what drives me every day is our purpose. And that is to create workplaces that care, it's what inspires us. And what we're here to do with actually create a more caring environment where people feel supported by not only their workplace, but also by their manager, and can achieve their both career and personal aspirations.

Rebecca Archer 
We were reading in your latest report that, ‘73 per cent of dads want to take paid parental leave, but 36 per cent of organisations still don’t offer leave on top of government entitlements that are on offer’. How can we continue to change the perception around caregiving do you think?

Jodi Geddes 
We’ve been in market now for, you know, almost five years, and we've seen huge change in that time, I've got to say. You know, when we first started, it wasn't the norm to see dads taking parental leave, but we are seeing change, and really thankful for the organisations that we work with, like Grant Thornton, that are really driving this change it.

You know, there's a number of ways – it’s having the right support in place, but it all comes down to having the right culture, you know, the role modelling leading from the top, you know, creating an environment where it isn't seen, as you know, only women taking parental leave; we want to make it, you know, gender neutral. And what's really interesting is that with the research that came out, you know, 100 per cent of men aged 18 to 24 plan to take parental leave. So, we're really seeing a shift in this next generation coming through and their mindset and how they're thinking about the role of a caregiver, which really excites us. 

So, the reality is, you know, companies have to actually keep up. I'm confident that change is happening – maybe not fast enough – but it is happening and really excited with, you know, the companies we work with, and some of the results and impact that we're seeing.

Rebecca Archer 
Do you think that this mindset change is something that we are going to see happen fairly rapidly? Or do you think that there is still really a lag with both Government and private sector organisations?

Jodi Geddes 
Yeah, it's an interesting question, and it's probably a whole other podcast. I think there's a bit of both here. I think government do need to step up, and we are seeing change, although, you know, if you look at us, you know, across all OECD countries, we’re still quite towards the bottom in terms of, you know, our paid leave offering and how we're approaching this, you know, compared to say, the Nordic countries and Europe and so forth that are incredibly progressive. 

Companies do need to play a key role in this, and I think what they're now seeing, and COVID is fast tracked, you know, flexibility, our thinking around this in that, you know, it's no longer about work and home life – the lines are blurred. And if you want to be seen as a great place to be work and attract great talent, you know, you need to be supporting all types of, you know, needs. And a major need is those of caregivers and parents. So, we're certainly seeing that organisations want to be seen as a family friendly workplace, and to do that, they want to make sure that they've got the right support in place. And I often talk about, you know, it's one thing to have a great policy, but you need to have the support as well. 

And that's where we come in, you know, from a Circle In perspective – you can't have one or the other, it is about having both. And you know, my experience – I had an amazing policy at the time, but I lacked the support. And for me, the support was actually more important. So, needs are different, but I think overall, it’s employees now driving this change in that, if you want to attract great staff, and if you want to retain talent, you absolutely need to be, you know, supporting them with their needs.

Rebecca Archer 
Now you talk about ‘authentic conversations’ improving employee experience. I'm wondering what advice do you have around those authentic and potentially in confidence conversations?

Jodi Geddes 
Yeah, so we talk a lot about empathetic leadership, and it's something that I am incredibly passionate about. And in fact, you know, we've started our own podcast about this talking to leaders and what it means and the leaders I've been talking to – it’s such an interesting conversation – you know, when I asked them, ‘are you an empathetic leader?’ how many of them actually come out and, you know, say, ‘I wasn't, but I’ve learnt the skills’ and that's okay. 

I think, you know, being authentic and being an empathetic leader, it's about, you know, listening. Listening has come up a lot, you know, that's a core skill, actually active listening, you know, showing respect, having respectful conversations and – someone said to me recently on the podcast that I love, they said, you know, the cheapest bonus you can give is by simply saying thank you. 

Again, it's these simple things that, you know, employees are craving. And I know, when I speak about, you know, what makes a manager great, what makes a manager bad – it comes back to, you know, they cared for me, they listened, they respected my needs. You know, we all know that you can't have a high performing team without showing empathy and without that empathetic leadership. So, it is super important. It's something that now, it's not a ‘nice to have’, it's actually a core skill set that we know that leaders need to demonstrate and that employees are craving for.

Rebecca Archer 
I'd love to hear more about your podcast series. So how did that come about, and what sorts of things do you cover? What's coming up in that series?

Jodi Geddes 
You know, with what we do, we know the role of managers is so critical. And, you know, often managers don't know what to say, or what to do, and they just need to be reminded. We know managers that are time poor; they genuinely want to do the right thing. And, you know, what we know is that showing empathy, and those listening skills are so critical, especially in those key moments throughout an employee's journey within an organization.

You know whether it's someone telling a manager that they're now going through menopause, telling a manager that they've just lost a loved one, or maybe their partner's just been diagnosed with cancer – how do you respond in those moments? And how do you show real empathy. And, you know, I was talking to someone recently, who was incredibly senior, and had been there for six years, and you know, she finally had the courage to tell her manager that she was embarking on menopause, and he sat and didn't actually respond to that, and then continued the conversation with, you know, her next one on one and what's needed with her performance and so forth – just totally disregarded everything. And she went on to say that she resigned four weeks later. You know, so showing empathy is so important. So, it's really – it’s core to what we do at Circle In. 

So, we started what we call now ‘Empathy Talks’. And what we're trying to do is speak to leaders about, you know, what it means to them, and actually unpack, you know, is it a skill set you can learn? Is it something that comes naturally to them? You know, yesterday, I spoke to the former, you know, founder of, you know, a huge engineering construction company. And he spoke about that, for him, it didn't come naturally, you know, he was a very direct leader, but he learnt it over time. 

So, it's really just unpacking that side, but importantly, what are some practical things you can do, because you don't have to have all the answers. And you know, I love that – the cheapest bonus you can say is by saying thank you. There's some really quick little things that leaders can do to actually start to build that muscle of being more empathetic.

Rebecca Archer
That's a really great example, but I'm curious, how do people learn to be empathetic? I mean, how can people get better at walking in other people's shoes and experiencing what they're going through? And then learning from that experience to be better leaders?

Jodi Geddes 
It's funny you say that it's actually a new product we're working on at the moment. What we find, and I think, you know, it goes back to Circle In – we all learn through storytelling. You know, that's – I really am a big believer. Today I'm sitting here telling my story. You know, it's, it's by sharing the good the bad. 

I know for me, as a leader, I learn more through what not to do, than what to do. So, what we really want to do is, is we want to help leaders – and actually all employees – to be more empathetic. And we're going to do that by storytelling and sharing practical examples. So, not only the what it is that you could do, but the how, and actually, you know, bringing it to life through good and bad examples. 

So, it's not a hard skill to learn. I think it's also, you know, I'm a big believer in that you don't learn these things through a one-day workshop, or a, you know, a three hour webinar – it’s about how do you build that continuous muscle? And it's a bit like exercise, you know, training each day? How do we give people short, sharp grabs that are just going to continually educate them on what they can do to make that mindset change?

Rebecca Archer 
Do you think things like volunteering in the community or becoming a little bit more open to discussing the way that you're feeling – things like that – could those sorts of techniques help someone who feels as though, ‘Oh, look, I didn't really have empathy or didn't lead with empathy’?

Jodi Geddes 
Oh – 100 per cent, like, it's about opening up the conversation. And, you know, some of the simple things like, add your personal touch to your meetings – ask everyone to share the highlight of the weekend, ask everyone to share how they're feeling. There's so many things that you can do, you know, saying thank you for hard work, you know, connecting with your team and sharing a personal story, inviting people to share their stories, encouraging people, if someone's had a difficult meeting, send them a little text or a little note to say, ‘hey, well done, and thank you for your contribution’. 

People at the end of the day, want to feel cared for, and want to feel like, you know, they are valued. And it's the simple things like thank you, and it goes back to listening. So, we're not trying to teach technical leadership skills here. This is simple, active listening and simple skills that everyone can build. 

Again, it's just getting those little nudges to remind you, and I know, when I get that little nudge, you know, hey, you know, ask if I want to share a personal story, that that gives me a little trigger to think I might do that in my next meeting. How great will I look? So that's actually what we're trying to do – is nudge people to give them these beautiful little tips that actually, you know, are going to enable them to be a more empathetic leader.

Rebecca Archer
I remember working for an organisation that I won't name on this podcast years ago, and I was, you know, quite young, early into my career. I was doing a lot of hard work, really long hours, staying quite late, putting 110 per cent into everything I was doing – and I just sort of got to the stage where I thought, no one has even acknowledged this, no one has said, ‘Great work’ or ‘Thank you’ as you're saying – thank you is such a powerful expression to use with people. 

And I got to the end of that period and went I'm going to claim every single little minute of overtime, because I felt so undervalued by the lack of acknowledgement of my extra effort. So, I guess that this is, you know, just to illustrate that, I suppose every person would have a story like that, where they've really worked hard or to the best of their ability, and it feels as though it's gone unnoticed.

Jodi Geddes 
Oh, it's that's a beautiful example.[13.24] At in the day, everyone wants to feel appreciated and acknowledged, and you're gonna get more out of your employees, more out of your team, if you can show that little bit of acknowledgement, show them that you care – you will get tenfold back. 

We all want to work for someone who appreciates us. You know, it's no different to your relationships with your friends, with your partner at home – you want to feel respected, acknowledged, cared for – all of those things. And how beautiful is it when someone says to you, ‘hey, great work’, ‘I'm so proud of you’ – you feel great, and you want to give them more. So, there's no doubt, you're going to get more out of your team, out of everyone in your environment, if you can actually start to show these simple skills. And you're right – start by saying thank you more [14.10], start by saying, ‘Can I try and say thank you three times more a week?’, and what will that do? And then take a moment to reflect on how someone responds to that. You know, what's their facial language like? What's their body language? Because you'll see people smile, and you're going to feel great as well. So yeah, there's a lot to be said for you can see how passionate I am about this empathetic leadership, and I get that there's technical skills that we all need as leaders, but for me, I feel like this is the more important side and it's what, what people want now in this new working world – it is a different world [14.43]. You know, where I keep saying the lines of work and home are blurred and we're opening up – I’m coming to you today from my house, you know, I have a lot of kids running around. You're now in my environment. 

So, we do want to start with perhaps a personal conversation, ‘How are you? How are things for you at home this morning?’ Again, it's that level of respect.

Rebecca Archer
You started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but obviously that huge global event or people working remotely and isolating – how much of an impact do you think COVID has had in terms of changing people's perceptions around leadership and workplace culture?

Jodi Geddes 
Enormously – I mean, when we launched back in 2017, we were almost creating the market – we were quite new. I remember we went to the US, and we had a really successful trip. Out of that, we signed some incredible brands; we were very new. Supporting caregivers and parents was quite a new thing. 

Then we saw COVID hit, and everything changed overnight. And what created was this thing called the ‘care economy’. And I've never seen more startups and more programs than in the last few years around supporting caregivers, because it's now become an absolute must have. And in fact, one in three now say that family benefits are their most important benefits that they're seeking, you know, for an organisation. 

And, you know, we recently hired two new senior people to our organisation, and through the interview, it wasn't salary that was driving them – it was our purpose, our benefits – ‘tell us about how you work flexibly, tell us about hours, is it about output?’, you know, they really wanted to dive into how we are going to support them. They're both wanting to work four days a week, and we've supported that. So, for them, that aspect was far more important. 

So yeah, COVID has absolutely changed everything. I think, you know, and what we're certainly seeing is that organisations that are prioritising this, that are creating a budget for it, and are making this something that is critical for their staff, like we're doing for Grant Thornton, you know, they're reaping the rewards because employees are feeling like they're cared for. And that goes a long way right now.

Rebecca Archer 
Jodi, you've obviously had a great impact on a lot of your clients – big name clients too. Are there any remarkable stories that you've come across through your work? 

Jodi Geddes 
Oh, I mean, there's so many and I can talk about, you know, at a macro level, you know, the impact we're having. But, you know, for me, I still don't go past like the beautiful individual emails we get from parents or users and just the impact, or it could be, ‘this resource enabled me to have a better conversation with my manager’ – and that's what gets me excited. 

I was really proud of some of the work we did around menopause and raising that as a topic. You know, it's something that we don't talk enough about, and the reality is more women are going through menopause than going off and having a child each year – no one's talking about it. They don't know; it's like this big taboo. And what we found through our research is that, actually the symptoms and the impact it can have on your career, so much more significant than going through pregnancy. 

But as a result of our work, you know, it actually encouraged five organisations we work with to implement a menopause policy. You know, we saw one organisation actually create a ‘Hot Women’ Slack channel, you know, for women to actually gather and talk about, you know, how they're feeling. And I just – I love all those little stories. That's what gets me excited. So, yeah, there's lots at a bigger level here at a company level, we've gone on to complete three raises, and we had incredible backing of some of Australia's biggest investors. But it goes back to those individual stories and the impact and change that we're having. 

Rebecca Archer
I'm interested to know, when you were setting this up, obviously, you would have done your research; were you finding that there were any providers like Circle In in the market? Or were you really just the first to get there?

Jodi Geddes 
There were a couple, but what we found is that the way they were doing it was quite old school, quite traditional, and we wanted to shake things up. You know, I never, when we approached this, we didn't want people to feel like this was homework. For our brand, we often say it's very real and very practical. So, we do a lot of storytelling, and we bring everything to life through practical examples. 

You know, I don't want to read a big article on autism in kids about what it is, tell me how – how you can help me, what can I do, what are some practical things? So that's the lens we've taken with our products. So, I think when we first launched, there were only a couple. Now there's a lot in market, and we all have our differences. We don't really see anyone it's competition, because at the end of the day, there's a big enough market for us all to play in. We're all doing amazing things and, and really, you know, if we can all be helping organisations, that's a great thing. 

It's interesting when you look abroad, and what's in the US, I mean, they've got a very different paid parental leave, or they don't have paid parental leave in eleven states and believe it or not, you actually apply for disability leave in the US when you go off to have a baby. But you know, they're much bigger on the one-on-one support because, you know, in the absence of having a health care system, they need a lot more health support. So, they've got very different offerings. And then in the UK, it's different. So, it's definitely not a one size fits all. But yeah, we're really proud of what we've been able to do, and I think the markets changing pretty quickly, and yeah, we're excited with what we're looking to bring to life this year.

Rebecca Archer
And just finally, Jodi, before I let you go, I wonder what's next for Circle In? Any exciting collaborations with other businesses? Or what are your plans going forward?

Jodi Geddes 
I've talked a little bit about this, but we're going to be launching a new product later this year, that will essentially help employees/managers to be more empathetic. But we're really looking to disrupt the space and do it a little differently, which is exciting. We don't like to be the norm. So that's really energising me at the moment. It's still early days, but we're getting incredible feedback from our customers; we know there's a huge gap, and I think what we're seeing is, you know, we're now talking to six generations. So, the way one generation at the older end is consuming content is quite different to the young generation coming through. So, we're really looking to hopefully address that, and look at those early managers coming through. Let's equip them, let's get them out armed with as much as we can, and set them up for success because the reality is, they're now growing up and leading in a very different environment, you know, not face to face. Who are they learning from, you know? 

I learned from leaders sitting next to me at my desk, and so forth. So, it's a very different world we now find ourselves in but at the same time that presents incredible opportunities. So, we're super energized; we've just closed our third round. So, we're set up for success and future growth and scale.

Rebecca Archer
Jodi, thank you so much for your time, it's been so interesting to hear about the very, very important work that you're doing. If people want to follow your journey. How do they do that? How should they go about getting in touch or looking at what you do in a little bit more depth?

Jodi Geddes 
I'd say – I mean, we're really active on LinkedIn, follow us on LinkedIn and follow myself personally, or my co-founder, Kate. Otherwise circlein.com you can have a look at, but we obviously support Grant Thornton with our platforms. 

So if you haven't subscribed, please jump on. There’s so much there; there’s so many great resources to support every type of parent/caregiver, across every stage – whether you've got teenage kids, you know, you're about to go through pregnancy, or you know, you may be caring for a loved one. There's over 900 pieces there to support you, so really encourage you to, to jump in and have a look around.

Rebecca Archer 
If you liked this podcast and we'd like to hear more remarkable stories, you can find, like, and subscribe to The Remarkables podcast by Grant Thornton Australia on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Leave us a review or ideas on who you'd like to hear from next. I'm Rebecca Archer, thank you for listening

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