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Dr. Lily Jampo: “Take risks and lean into failure”

Boundaries, and taking care of your relationships and mental health are essential in doing equity work: Wow, did I learn this the hard way! There were months where I was working over 100 hours. I also engaged pretty much constantly with social justice news, discussions, & books. My partner has spent many nights feeding me […]

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Boundaries, and taking care of your relationships and mental health are essential in doing equity work: Wow, did I learn this the hard way! There were months where I was working over 100 hours. I also engaged pretty much constantly with social justice news, discussions, & books. My partner has spent many nights feeding me in my office while I tried to “make a difference.” But I have and sometimes still do burn out. I am trying to be better about making time for mental health and for my relationship because I can’t help improve well-being for others while I’m a mess.


I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Lily Jampol.

Dr. Jampol is a People Scientist & Consultant with the Diversity & Inclusion firm, ReadySet and works with organizations that span an array of industries to create safe and equitable workplaces for their communities. Lily has over 10 years of expertise in organizational well-being and behavioral science from her research at Ideas42 thinktank, Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell, where she got her Ph.D. in Social Psychology. Before working in the industry, Lily was a tenure-track professor at top tier business schools in the UK, where her internationally-recognized work on gender biases in organizations was funded by the National Science Foundation & the UK Royal Society. She loves horror films and roller coasters.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My path started in graduate school — I was enrolled in a program for behavioral economics but a few years in I wanted to switch my focus to researching gender biases in organizations. Instead of abundant support, I was warned by many of my academic colleagues and mentors to not study diversity-related topics because it would kill my career as a behavioral scientist, and no one would take me seriously, especially as a woman in that field.

That bothered me, but I was also excited because the fact that people were telling me that researching gender bias would kill my career, made it clear to me how big of an issue gender bias was and important it would be to do work to dismantle it.

A few years into being a researcher and professor, I decided I wanted to use my behavioral science background and expertise to try to drive meaningful change in organizations. Now, with my amazing team, I get to work with organizations that want to make their workplaces more equitable, diverse, and inclusive and I get to see the impact of that work every day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant, I often work from home. I have two cats and they normally sleep most of the day, so I often let them be in the office when I take calls with clients. One of my cats’ bed is on a shelf on my desk, right above my computer. I was in an important conference call with the CEO of a client, discussing something pretty serious when my cat Darwin decided to stretch over the computer, and before I could stop him had completely covered the camera with his paw. I could hear the CEO say, slowly, “is that….a cat paw?” and then burst into laughter. The lesson I learned is that you should always keep cats around your office for comic relief.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

ReadySet’s mission is to help organizations build more equitable, diverse, and inclusive work environments. We have an amazing, diverse team of experts with different backgrounds and life experiences, but one major thing we all share is a passion for social justice. Our CEO Y-Vonne Hutchinson thinks we are like the Avengers — It’s true that we do get things done, and some of us even have the outfits.

One of our superpowers is listening. We believe that each organization and each individual in the community has a unique experience. We spend a lot of time really getting to know people and listen to their stories. We then use that context to not only tell a story to stakeholders about why diversity, equity, and inclusion are important in their organizations but also to help us tailor strategy and workshops to be the most effective. I get to see first-hand how listening to people can help them feel cared for and seen — that impact alone is worth all the hard work.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You don’t have to do it all right now: I have always been an overachiever, but especially right after I switched careers I got into the bad habit of comparing myself to others and wanting to make the most possible impact, immediately. That resulted in taking on a ton of work, projects, and positions I couldn’t handle and being very frustrated when things didn’t pan out in the timeline I expected. I’ve since learned to slow down and appreciate how far I’ve come and given myself space and time to grow and learn so I can do things better, not faster.
  2. Take risks and lean into failure: I wish someone had told me that not only is failure ok, but that you should lean into it sometimes. I took a huge risk a few years ago and left my tenure track professorship in London. When my first job out of academia didn’t work out, I was devastated. But it allowed me to find my true passion and do some deep introspection about what I needed in a job. It also helped me understand that taking risks is important, even when things don’t work out. Failure is a crucial part of my career and personal growth. I fail all the time as I learn to be a better person, a better advocate, and do diversity, equity, and inclusion work effectively. Every time I do “fail” now, I try and see it as a learning opportunity and hurts a little less each time.
  3. Boundaries, and taking care of your relationships and mental health are essential in doing equity work: Wow, did I learn this the hard way! There were months where I was working over 100 hours. I also engaged pretty much constantly with social justice news, discussions, & books. My partner has spent many nights feeding me in my office while I tried to “make a difference.” But I have and sometimes still do burn out. I am trying to be better about making time for mental health and for my relationship because I can’t help improve well-being for others while I’m a mess.
  4. It’s ok to be optimistic: In this line of work, it is very easy to be the opposite of optimistic. We work so hard to make a change and the rate of return can be disappointing. There are violence and brutality everywhere, racial and economic injustice, sexism, ableism, and ageism are still rampant. I do think that a healthy dose of anger and sadness is motivational for caring about changing the world in the first place, but sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into the negativity and feel like nothing we do is making an impact. I used to think maybe I was naïve for being optimistic about the world, but the belief that we can make a change is what keeps me going. You are allowed to ignore the nay-sayers.
  5. Humility is the most essential ingredient for learning: I wish someone had told me how important humility was for my ability to grow, on a personal level and in my career. In order to truly grow, I have had to learn how to open myself up to criticism, to new and threatening information about myself, and allow others to help me get there through pointing out areas where I fall short. That wasn’t always the case. I thought I knew everything about diversity, equity, and inclusion because I had many years of researching gender bias under my belt. But I had no idea what I was doing when I started this career. I didn’t fully understand our country’s racial history, for example, and how I played a part and benefitted from a system of white supremacy, even while holding anti-racist beliefs. I didn’t realize how I consistently walled myself off from that threatening information — I didn’t want to see it. I have shifted to a growth mindset instead of an expert mindset — I hope that by bringing humility into everything I do I can keep learning, keep improving, and use my privilege to be a better advocate for people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I think about the saying “perfect is the enemy of the good” often. I have trouble with perfectionism in my performance and output, and I have had to work on keeping myself sane so I can actually do my job effectively. But I also think about it in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion: as an idealist I want to see everything in society change immediately, and sometimes I wish I could put these crazy ambitious strategies in place for organizations, immediately. But in order to move forward sometimes baby steps are more effective for sustainable cultural change. I have to remind myself that the good is still good, and perfect is an illusion.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

She is a little busy but, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — She’s so brave, and so real, and is doing such hard work. She is partly why I’m so optimistic about the future. I may be wrong, but I also just think we would really get along. I have a suspicion we are both weirdos and I would die to nerd out with her over a glass of wine. If she can’t do lunch, though, I guess I would be ok with a life-size cardboard cut-out ☺

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@Ljampol and Lily Jampol, PhD on LinkedIn

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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