Inclusion in live online learning with Brigit Ritchie

This podcast is a return to talking about live online learning.  When people signed up for the 2020 Remote Learning Conference we asked them what they wanted to know more about and inclusion was one of the themes to emerge.  In this podcast Robin is talking with Brigit Ritchie from WE.  WE is a learning studio facilitating workshops, retreats and art experiences to re-imagine relationships in and out of work.  This podcast explores what inclusion is and it’s importance. It’s also partly a case study of how WE delivers live online learning.  Brigit wraps up with a great discussion about the importance of listening.

About Brigit Ritchie 

Brigit is the founder of WE.  Brigit’s vision is to develop Relational Mindfulness® to equip people across the world with relational skills to thrive in life. Over the past decade, WE has facilitated experiences for thousands of people to explore how to connect deeply with themselves, each other, and our communities.  Brigit leads this work within the WE community across the USA creating cultures of inclusion and belonging in companies like Google, Instagram, and lululemon.  Brigit is a mother of two living in LA with an active studio practice where she paints commissions and murals for clients and brands.


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Links from the podcast

Questions and ideas to explore from this interview

  • How can you help to build inclusion by building deep connections between your participants?
  • What could the impact be for your organisation to build a more inclusive workplace?
  • Brigit talks about the importance of listening. During sessions are you really listening to participants, are you helping your participants develop their listening skill?
  • Are you effectively designing how your break out sessions work?
  • How could you use reflective activities during your live sessions?

Inclusion in live online learning with Brigit Ritchie

Robin: For our listeners Brigit. Can you just explain a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Brigit: Absolutely. I'll do my best. There's many facets to everyone but I'll share a little bit about who I am. I am Brigit Richie and I’m the founder and CEO of a company called We or Welcome to WE. Based here in Los Angeles we develop relational mindfulness around the world to give everyone the tools they need to have healthy and thriving relationships in and out of work. I'm also a mother of two and an artist and I'm living through a global pandemic, like all of us are, so that's where I'm at.

Robin: And then your video where you're coming from looks like your lounge room as well. Isn't it? So you're working from home.

Brigit: Yes, I'm actually working from my garage, which I've converted into an office. So we're all making do, right. This is pretty much where I am all day. This used to be where my car is. And now this is where my office is. 

Robin: So like many people in the learning and training area you've had to pivot to live online learning during the pandemic. How have you been able to build an inclusive environment in your live sessions Brigit?

Brigit: I appreciate that question. There's a couple of key factors in that as you mentioned, really the foundation of our experiences that we were creating for people. In order to learn about relationships, in order to redefine cultural wellbeing and their workplaces was really, I thought dependent on in-room experiences, I thought it was just very important, almost vital to be able to kind of look at the person in front of you and see the emotion in their eyes, hear their story and have the energy that happens in a room. And so, when we were required by our clients and by the world around us to pivot to digital, I, like a lot of folks felt some resistance and I felt like, oh, we're not going to be able to create these experiences of learning and development and transformation if we're online.

Actually, I couldn't disagree more now. I feel like there's been a lot of really powerful improvements. Of course, there are things that I miss about being in the room. But in terms of specifically, even in inclusion, being online has created a new way to engage. And just to kind of keep it brief, there's a couple elements we have noticed and really activate in our workshops digitally that I think are really helpful. The first one is just how humanising it's been in a lot of ways to see each other, like you said, in my garage, in our home, I think in some ways it's really kind of given folks a new perspective of people that they only saw in one container of the workplace, this office environment. And so, you know, my kids, my pets coming out of the room, I get to kind of share a little bit more about my plants and my space.

And I think it really is a great equaliser and in a lot of ways it's highlighting how we are often having different experiences of work based on our gender, our race and other things like that. But I do think it's a revealer of how human we are and I think there's been a lot of powerful moments of people connecting in ways that are more personal and more authentic and more genuine than they may have had in the workplace.

So that's one way that I think that digital experiences can be more inclusive specifically for our workshops. We do activate kind of different dynamics to bring folks into learning and development, whether that's breakout sessions, one-to-one or small groups, these kinds of group shares that we have where you get to hear from people across attendees and just kind of get to chime in your own learnings and your own insights and really continuing to refine the design of the way we bring people through the arc of the workshop to have moments of mindfulness and creative inspiration of images that we bring on the screen and really giving them prompts and questions that continue to bring them back to a place of you know, optimal learning that I think is more in some ways immediate, oftentimes online than it might be in person

Robin: There’s a lot in that Bridget, so I'm going to just draw into each one a little bit more because one of the other podcasts in this series was Ben talking about being human online and you used a really nice example of that. As you've heard, I've heard a few people sit there and go, oh, I'm sick of that word. I don't know what it means anymore. And it's just, it's interesting because essentially I think it's starting to become one of those, unfortunately, one of those overused words. Is it for you? What does it mean?

Brigit: No, I appreciate that. I mean, I would say there's a lot of these terms, whether it's inclusion or whether it's human or all of these things, they tend to become very trendy and they really lose their juiciness, their meaning. So that's why it's important for us to give people an experience of those concepts, not just a definition but for me, what I think human means, is really bringing people again, out of the one dimensional way of knowing each other.

Sometimes at work, you think it's best to show up as your ‘quote’ professional self, right? Like I have this professional persona it's me very articulate, very put together, very kind of, you know, unemotional. And the reality is what we're really seeing inside of workplaces is that people need and want to see each other in a more three-dimensional way. You're bringing your personal story, your personal overcoming, your challenges every day to work. Often that's the wisdom that is driving you to have problem solving and innovation and creativity in your teams. But in the past we haven't really had access to these emotions, to these stories. So when I say human, I really think it's that component. It's a more complex experience of each other, not just that one dimensional way we used to operate in terms of quote professionalism.

Robin: Yeah. Actually, it just reminded me of a moment during our first lock down in Australia. I think it was week one or two, it was as if we moved home but we actually moved home to work but we weren't actually having a lot of restrictions on us yet. I started to do this whole end of the week celebration of what we'd achieved because we were just going through so much change. A couple of the Sprouts sat there and said, does this have to be professional? I went ‘Nahh’ and one of them talked about how she decided to donate part of her income, to performing arts people for a period of time because they weren't able to work. Another one talked about how in a good karma network he helped a random person move some wood. I actually got off the phone call crying because it was just one of those lovely moments to sit there and go, they turned up, they taught, shared stuff that was totally to do with personal life.

It was just a really nice moment for me and it actually triggered a really different way of working with the team. Drilling into the other one, which is about the design bit. And one of the interesting things I know people who listened to this series would have heard me say this a few times but as we've moved online, a lot of the problems with our face-to-face had become really apparent. And we've actually had to think a lot more about the design. It's really interesting because you talked about really powerful questions but I'm partly interested in really exploring a little bit more because I've actually had some really lovely online experiences recently that worked in this sort of way of personal time, group time, small group time and then large group time. And it's actually a formula that's a way of working that's really interesting. For you, especially that quiet time, how does that help with the inclusion side of things?

Brigit: That's a great question. I mean, we’re sort of similar in that we call it four dynamics but it is more typically three in the sense of, we give people a space to connect with themselves. Maybe you call it quiet time, personal reflection, analysing where you're at, assessing where you're at with information and learning, checking in with yourself. So there's that personal time, which I'll give you some examples of how we activate that. And then there's that interpersonal, whether it's one-to-one or a small group. And like you said, then it's that experience with the whole group. And so designing that I think is really important because first of all, it's inclusion just in terms of learning styles, right? And there's the way that we're all able to kind of activate this information in different ways.

So for example, when we talk about the personal connection or that quiet time, we have people oftentimes do what we call free writing, which is just kind of a term to say, look, let's do some of the stream of consciousness processing, what comes to mind. What's a memory that comes to mind when you hear the word inclusion for you? And so we'll take four minutes out and have everybody just kind of write. We've kind of lost the art of writing pen on paper and it feels good for people just to kind of get a moment to process something beyond the surface level of I'm just reading a definition on the screen. So I think that's really important in terms of going look, we all learn in different ways. We need to touch and contact and experience this information in these different dynamics.

I think that's important but to take it a step further to give you a specific example, we are often seeing, with even something like a mindfulness practise, we aren't necessarily seeing that, people of colour, under-represented groups are necessarily being represented in the facilitation of these things. So it's an opportunity for us to have one of our facilitators or a guest facilitator come in and get to experiment with and teach people a new short, brief, mindfulness practise they can use in the workplace. Whether that's a little bit of breath work or whether that's a brief visualisation or meditation, we're able to create some more inclusion around the fact that mindfulness isn't just for white folks in LA like myself and it really is something that's much broader than that. It's actually not based on that at all. So it's a brief moment of kind of having access to a new representation, new voices.

Robin: Yes and this is a lovely way of getting it. So re-integrating into some different types of voices. There’s a friend who's a writer who essentially works and explores race across history. So she actually looks at the world in a little bit different way and she made the comment one day, she started to go along with mindfulness classes. She said, well all the teachers are male and the participants are female. And she just went, the dynamics really weird. So yeah, that's really interesting. That's sort of just starting to mix up the who's facilitating as well, because essentially it changes people's view of things in interesting ways. So in actual fact that means, say if you've got an hour and a half session, you've got multiple people, multiple voices coming through in that session as well.

Brigit: Definitely. I mean the majority of the facilitators that teach our programmes, we call them our relational mindfulness facilitators because that's our methodology; about 70-80% of them are people of colour and are female. So we really just try to work with and collaborate with and partner with people from a very wide range of stories and perspectives. And that's absolutely added to the experience of the attendees because again, when you see yourself in the facilitator, there's nuances that happen there where you're able to engage with it and learn in a different way. I think that's so important in terms of the future of learning development, being so much more diverse and so much more inclusive for not just, folks in HR or there's just so many types of diversity. I think that we have yet to tap into, in terms of leadership and development training. So I'm excited to see that happen even more. And for us that's just been, like you said, highlighted even more in the digital space.

Robin: Yeah. Okay and this is, a whole series of really big questions rushing through my mind at this particular moment, Brigit. So the other thing I just want to point out is that a lot of your clients are actually tech companies. So there's a stereotype of male and white in those organisations as well. So essentially it's very unusual to have women of colour in those. Sort of this mixing up and getting things working a different way. I suppose, getting back to the whole, working at home, being human, turning up in a different way, just partly fascinated by that and one of the things I'm really excited about is that the crisis has put inclusion and diversity at the centre of a lot of conversations and wellbeing as well. Why do you think that's happened?

Brigit: I definitely think it's happened because people, again, when you come back to this kind of humanising effect, I think you can't talk about how to re-imagine the workplace of the future without acknowledging inclusion and diversity of so many different types, so many different kinds and I think the science behind it, it's showing it's no longer tolerated I think for us to just do business as usual, there's such a, kind of a global shift happening psychologically. So many people are kind of saying, we're not just going to do business as usual, not just going to go about life with these assumptions that we have to be overworking or that we can't really make a change in, in our cultures. We can't understand well being beyond a ping pong table, like in Silicon Valley.

So for us, we're really seeing kind of from the grassroots level, almost as well as top-down people, really willing to say now is the moment to make a change. Everything is being shifted. There's so much uncertainty, there's so much deconstruction of these ideas of the way it's always been. That it really is an opportunity, I think, to think very differently about inclusion diversity, not just being a token box that you check to make sure that the talent you're trying to recruit knows that you're a good kind of warm and fuzzy company. It really is becoming absolutely crucial for workplaces of the future to make this a very actionable reality.

I mean the data is here to prove it, like one of the stats that I love to quote is that workers on teams that they identify as inclusive, are 19 times more likely to report high job satisfaction. And that's just a super high number. I mean, it's not like five times more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. They're 19 times more likely to be satisfied in their jobs and when you're satisfied with your job, you stay, you invest, you contribute. So, it's not just to have warm and fuzzy feelings in the workplace. It's really the ROI and the data and to be relevant in the future to move with the times you're going to have to take inclusion very seriously.

Robin: That's a pretty amazing figure. I haven't heard that figure before but it's like most organisations would sit there and go, wow, if we could do that, yeah, it's really like that whole bottom line sensibility. It really plays to that in a really lovely way. So getting back to the sort of where you're working with some of these ideas during an actual session as well, I've got an interesting thing around that and I'll keep on coming back to the quiet time, the mindfulness and reflection. Because I think it's interesting that you bring a group of people together online, and then all of a sudden you actually take people out of the group. How is that working face-to-face and how does that work differently now online?

Brigit: I think the thing, like you said, it's interesting, these mindfulness moments. It's not a lot of our experience but we tend to do it at the beginning and the end and throughout the workshop, essentially to get people out of their analytical brain for a minute and into their body, into their emotion, into their three-dimensional self because oftentimes when we're trying to learn, we're used to having this sort of passive retention of content. It's just like watching these definitions and screens. And so we want to give people more of an experience of learning, so mindfulness tends to really help you do that. It's just a breathing exercise or you know, a visualisation. It really helps people ingest and really kind of have to work with the material. We're trying to teach them in a new, personal way.

I think online it's so important because there's so much screen fatigue and there's so much of this exhaustion that we feel and really truly we're oftentimes hitting a new wall. I just had a conversation earlier today with a client who said, just now the reality that I've been working home for a year is really hitting me. I didn't realise I've been pushing and pushing and pushing and this is the first time I'm really feeling burnout, which is a huge danger right now. I think around the world, in some ways, people are saying the burnout is coming and what do we do? So having these mindfulness moments is really helpful because it's giving people a tool to say, take three minutes out of your day, just pause and just be quiet and just breathe and just experience a sense of being in your body, not just being on a screen all day and not just rushing from thing to thing. And so I feel like it's really been helpful for people to have that experience.

Robin: Even for me personally, I was going into a programme where I did 65 hours worth of screen time, really? It was actually interesting as a participant who was like, oh, these moments where I'm being asked to pause or reflect and have 10 minutes of time and then the breaks as well. Where it's quiet time was just really powerful as a learner.

When you go into your breakout rooms, it's interesting, I want to really dive into the details of them, Brigit because essentially it's one of the things I'm seeing that people, some people do really well and other people are pretty average at it. Some people do a whole, "oh, go off and talk about... or "we'll go into breakout rooms and share." How do you do it to make it work?

Brigit: That's a great question I get really energised by that question because I think this is where the art of facilitation comes in. I'm very intentional and my team is as well about creating containers, right? We want people to have, to modify it, to work for them. We really want them to have an individual experience and not feel like it's overly structured but I think a level of structure is really important. And this is where for us, we activate a lot of practise that's very important to our methodology, which is active listening. So we do, we assign people a breakout room and then we give each person the same amount of time to share. And that way it's just like, again, it's an inclusivity of extroverts and introverts, everyone gets the same amount of time to share whether it's a prompt or their learnings or their ideas.

Then we give them a very simple model of feedback for the breakout sessions, so that there's sort of a structure for how to respond when someone shares. And you have two options. One is you just reflect back what you heard, which sounds like such a simple thing to do but when you say I heard you say and you just reflect back the key piece that person shared, it's very validating. It helps remove miscommunication. It's a really great practise of listening.

Then the second option for feedback is expressing appreciation. So you get to really express some appreciation for what this person took four minutes to share with you  or however many minutes they had to share. So we structure our breakout sessions and we find that's very supportive for folks to go a little bit deeper, to have a little bit of a richer learning experience from each other. Peer-to-peer mentoring happens, I think, more effectively when it's not just a free for all. Occasionally, we'll have a very open-ended kind of round table discussion but most of the time in breakout sessions, we do facilitate that active listening framework so everyone gets equal time and they have that sense of ease that they're going to be acknowledged for what they shared.

Robin: I love that way in breakout rooms you can broadcast messages to sit there and have time to move onto feedback for speaker one then time to move on to speaker two. So in the main room, you're still sort of orchestrating how that flow happens as well. Also I love that simplicity of the feedback of choosing to start the sentence with the whole I hear, I really appreciate it because it gives people a choice Brigit.

Brigit: Always give people a choice.

Robin: Really subtle, rather than sitting there saying, Oh, your feedback has to start with the word...

Brigit: It is important. I think in learning, you would know this, whether it's in person or digitally, it's very important to really give people an experience of agency about how they interact with content, with each other because that's where the creativity happens. And I think that's again, where a sense of personalisation or being your, you know, where you are, is so important. So we encourage folks to opt out of certain activations. We do encourage people to modify. We have alternative prompts at the same time. We do ask them to really commit, to actively participate, at the beginning of the workshop. We say, if you're going to be here, we need and want to hear from you. You're a huge part of this learning. It's not going to be the facilitators. We only talk about 20% of the time, 80% of the workshop is made up by the attendees. So it's that much more important that they're given some level of choice because they're really designing this learning experience alongside us.

Robin: I want to pick up on a word you said during that last bit, when you started to talk about breakout rooms, that was connection. What's the link for you between inclusion and connection?

Brigit: That's a great question. I think they're absolutely connected if you will. There's a link. And I think for me, the work that we do at our company, as you know, is all through relational mindfulness and what we've come to see and really truly believe, is that inclusive cultures are only going to happen through relationships. There's other ways that you need to be educated but sustainable change is only going to happen if it comes back down to your relationship with yourself, the other people you're working with and your relationship to your company. So this experience of connection helps you to really understand. It brings about that self-awareness, that empathy, those key emotional intelligence skills, to be able to build relationships with other people who are different to you. And that's when inclusion becomes a real priority because it's, again, it's no longer this idea of like, it's the right thing to do.

You start to see the cost of not having inclusive environments, meaning you're not getting diverse opinions and ideas. You're not having all the voices be heard. You're not really being innovative and relevant in our time. So I think for me, the connection between inclusion or I would say the link between inclusion and connection is so important for people to actually be allies and to create inclusive cultures beyond a concept, really bring it back down to the people in front of you. People who are actually working with that's when change is possible. So learning is, of course, what we're doing, right? We care about that. Here's some new ideas, here's some new statistics, here's some new research but none of that matters if you're not implementing that through connection to other people, connection to yourself and connection to the company because otherwise it's just ideas and it's not really being implemented.

Robin: Yeah. I'm pleased I asked that question because that framework you gave of personal connection and relationship. Relationship with others and relationship with business, with business and organisation, they need to all line up. So in your live sessions is it the main way you build that connection, the breakout rooms or are there other strategies you use?

Brigit: Yes, I think it's through that dynamic of having personal moments again, whether that's journaling free writing or if it's mindfulness. It's also through those partner or small group shares, it's definitely through having folks take the leap and share with the whole group, whether that's 30 people or 300 people. And I think that connection happens as you really let yourself go on this journey of realising, oh, I'm not just a passive bystander. I'm actually required to contribute. I'm being invited to listen and I'm interacting with this material in a very real way and so that connection really happens mostly through those dynamics.

But also we really try as facilitators to be just very genuine people. You know, we share our own stories of our professional journeys. We share our own mistakes. We're very vulnerable, as much as we're professional, obviously inside of these huge tech companies, we have to establish a level of trust and credibility but we always make sure there's a level again, of that word, that humanising effect, of sharing our own examples, our own stories, that we are real people and we're bringing that to the space as well.

So I think that connection happens because we have a way of inviting people to be vulnerable in a way that feels genuine. It feels productive, it feels relational and I think it really supports the learning.

Robin: Yes. And I think that particular, actually I was about to call it strategy. I said no, it's not a strategy. It's just a way of being. That would probably be the best way of putting it. To link this back to Ben Faranda’s  podcast. When Ben did some work with one of our clients and he'd made a typo on his slide and he hadn't realised and it was one of those times when he actually had to be vulnerable because someone pointed it out to him and it was just a really nice spot. It was just sort of like, yeah, okay. So you're actually being put up as the guest presenter in this particular community but it was just, yeah, it was really sweet, how it worked.

Coming to the end of the conversation, Brigit. I'd like to wrap up and one day I might actually collect all of these gems of advice into an ebook or something. A lovely summary of conversations quite often. What's your greatest gem of advice to someone who's trying to build a more inclusive environment in their live sessions?

Brigit: I think it's really simple and it's one word, listen. And I think really learning how to listen and really asking people who have a different story than you or maybe someone who has a similar story to you, just really pausing and slowing down. I think so often we do, we mean well, and we want to jump into action and we want to make the change now but there's really no better way to learn about inclusion than really listening to the people in your workplace, in your life, the person right in front of you and hearing their story.

Now that doesn't mean that everything they share with you is going to apply to everyone else that looks like them. That's not in any way what the case is. It's more just continuing to come back to what's the change that needs to happen for us here and now? For some people it might be hiring for other people, it might be an employee resource group, for other companies it's really rethinking their policies and their handbooks, whatever it is, those things are, are kind of secondary to the person, right in front of you where you can really learn so much more about what inclusion really means when you really refine that art, that skill of listening.

Robin: Thank you. That's a lovely way to finish the conversation. If people want to find out more about what you do and what your company does, what's the best way to hunt you out?

Brigit: You can come to our website, which is or you're welcome to see us on Instagram, which is also Welcome to We or LinkedIn, same thing Welcome to We. So we'd love to hear from you. We'd love to work with you and share more about our programmes.

Robin: Thank you very much for a fantastic conversation.

Brigit: Thank you so much for having me Robin. I really appreciate it.