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Natalie Wood

Founder of Engage to Evolve

Natalie Wood is the Founder of Engaging to Evolve – “from the inside out is our business.” Our goal is to help individuals to reclaim their emotional balance, identify with their values and strengths, understand basic needs to be well, and decide from a point of confidence, where to take their evolution next.

18+ years experience in corporate commercial & leadership roles

Postgraduate Diploma in the Neuroscience & Psychology of Mental Health

Degree in Education

Certified Mental Health First Aider ICF accredited Systemic Team Coach

Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.

the privilege of having been born into a loving family in a western wealthy environment.

By ‘western’ I refer to the general concept of freedom and – maybe more importantly – the safety a girl could find in the world. I’m not saying the safety was or is enough, but I think it was the highest safety combined with the freedom of development the world had to offer.

By ‘wealthy’ I mean overall general wealth, i.e. basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, education) are consistently met. This reduces life stress. My parents were not very wealthy, but also not poor, and that was enough.

I experienced unconditional love when I was young. I had the emotional safety to express myself, to be and to learn. I was fully trusted as a responsible human being.

This privileged start set me up to also thank an unlikely candidate – Corporate America. I was allowed to grow into business roles and a career that seemed improbable with my studies. My educational background mattered far less than how I showed up and how much I cared for what I did.

I now realize my luck of being of the widespread ethnicity, religion, etc., blending into the ‘normal’ population in the organizations I worked for. I will talk about the difficulties I faced later.

Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?

  1. A) That I have successfully navigated the business environment, big American corporations, for many years, not giving up my principles of valuing every human being for who they are, appreciating their particularities, and believing that the first motivation of everyone is to do well for themselves and others. Everyone wants to be noticed, liked, and accepted, even if not everyone knows how best to achieve this.
  1. B) My ability and my drive to ‘engage to evolve’, i.e. my willingness to learn, change and grow, to follow my path, that is not necessarily in accordance with what the expected steps might be.

I went from being a school teacher to a businesswoman to a student of neuroscience and psychology and eventually found Engage To Evolve. For me, there is a natural sequence in this evolution, which I thoroughly enjoy. It is my path.

Make ‘getting to know your biases’ as normal as personality profiles for ALL employees, and ensure an understanding that biases are normal – there is no human brain without – encourage awareness of own biases and encourage employees to look for possibilities & perspectives beyond their own biases.

What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?

I look for engagement and care.

Care for what they do and with that the expressed willingness to do their chosen work well, as well as care for others inside or outside the team. Engagement with life, themselves, others they work with, their own actions, and with that a feeling of responsibility for outcomes. And finally genuine human kindness in their natural behaviour.

I avoid lack of grace and of kindness.

By that I mean it’s right to be proud of achievements; however, at the same time, it is important to see that one alone rarely makes all the difference. A lot of our value lies in the connections we seek and entertain.  Therefore, I have little space for uncompromising competitiveness and lack of human kindness.

Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?

This is a question one can ask oneself a lot in corporate – especially being a ‘people person’ and a woman.

I do not remember overt requests of the kind, but I do remember feeling at a disadvantage as a woman, or rather as a mother. That’s when things really changed for me.

Not being able to put in the hours for reasons of childcare, but also due to exhaustion, and finding that attention, time, and quality ‘effort’ were demanded from work as well as motherhood, almost inevitably appeared to mean that one had to choose between one of the two, or -as I did- just push on into little health issues and overall dissatisfaction of not being able to show up fully anywhere and eventually slipping down (or even off) the wellbeing scale.

Apart from that, I felt all I could do was champion flexibility, care, and understanding with people I was responsible for – showing one could work flexibly and trusting those that used the flexibility they’d been granted.  Trust and responsibility go hand-in-hand.  Trust someone, and most likely they want to prove their trustworthiness and therefore won’t want to disappoint.

I also told HR that I would like to know of the first man who asked for a part-time position, as I would want to buy him flowers believing that only when part-time work becomes normalized for both genders can it truly be a solution with a future for women and men – at work and at home.

Not sure if I owe those flowers by now.

Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?

It is hard to say what people “should” be interested in, but I can share what I think can be immensely insightful.

“How emotions are made” by Lisa Feldman Barrett (neuroscientist specializing in emotions) – This is an eye-opening insight into how our brain makes our reality, how we do not see the world ‘as is,’ how our brain continuously predicts what is likely to occur (based on its history), how emotions are not all innate and how there are few-to-no universal expressions of emotions.   This book increases understanding of our inner life.

“A liberated mind” by Stephen Hayes (the founder of Acceptance Commitment Therapy) – This is a practical book that teaches ways to distance oneself from one’s thoughts and the reality that the ‘clever, reasoning’ mind has created, which at times works against us.  This book is about learning to handle our inner life with compassion and understanding.

Podcast: The Huberman Lab – to get information on the latest science of the brain, the nervous system, and our biology in areas that are relevant for application in modern lives. I find this fun.

Looking outside ourselves: “Seven brief lessons on physics” by Carlo Rovelli (a brilliant theoretical physicist with the gift to translate physics into fascinating books to read). A different kind of book that can open up thinking and views on what we perceive and has led me to question reality further. I’m currently enjoying his latest book “Helgoland”. Pure pleasure.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?

Self-awareness is a big topic for me here. We all have biases, this is human and unavoidable. There are evolutionary and neuroscientific reasons for this.

So when I notice a judgment creeping into my mind, some thinking of how things ‘should’ be or how someone (including myself) ‘should’ behave I ask myself why I would think that.

The difficult step is to notice the judgment the moment it is formed. That’s where self-awareness is required. I do a lot of practices, meditations, and reflections, not only to move beyond the judgment of others but also to notice self-judgment and to change perspective and see possibilities beyond my usual thinking.

When interacting with others, whether privately or professionally, I strive towards allowing them space to express themselves, which is not easy, especially when feeling strongly about something or disagreeing. I want to create the psychological safety for others to be themselves. Then, once opinions, thoughts, and feelings have been recognized non-judgmentally we can figure out the disagreement. This approach allows us to take the subject matter out of the person, and we both discuss the matter, not challenging any individual’s integrity.

So you see I have a wider view of what inclusion and diversity really entails. It’s aware of one’s own thinking, feeling safe in one’s identity, and not seeing anyone else’s identity, thoughts, or emotions as a threat to the own safety.

What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?

Everyone in an organization should understand that making room for DEI initiatives such as employment quota, increasing flexibility at work, or days of celebrating cultural exchange are good steps, but having employees join such initiatives and ensuring DEI is understood by all on a cognitive level does not automatically change corporate culture.

In essence, we are seeking widespread behaviour change and with that overriding automatic brain processes.  This is possible.  But just like training a muscle, it requires not only good intent but also regular practice.

When we want people to embrace diversity, we are actually asking them at times to expose themselves to their brain signaling discomfort or even ‘threat’ without allowing them their usual defenses (such as avoidance) or giving them the tools to outgrow that discomfort.

We are by nature curious beings, so we should leverage that curiosity to grow diversity. But curiosity is shut down when the brain smells threat, discomfort, or feels unsafe.

Therefore my recommendation to improve DEI is to keep the DEI initiatives going while giving equal importance to the following:

2) increase psychological safety; start with workshops, then ensure that certain simple, short exercises become part of any team meeting. Reward leaders of psychological safety, with the goal of weaving psychological safety into the DNA of organizational behaviour.

3) make ‘getting to know your biases’ as normal as personality profiles for ALL employees, and ensure an understanding that biases are normal – there is no human brain without – encourage awareness of own biases and encourage employees to look for possibilities & perspectives beyond their own biases.

Diversity means embracing what is different, which inevitably leads to questions and discussions. In a safe space, opinions can be exchanged. It is no longer about comfortable, well-known (self-) narratives or about protecting one’s identity. Disagreement can be expressed as a way of tackling a problem. The problem is in the space between people, it is no longer inherent in anyone.

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