Community//

Women in STEM: “We’ve found that it’s crucial employees feel empowered to bring their true selves to work, are given the autonomy to make bold decisions, and feel supported and challenged along the way.” with Bethany Parker and Fotis Georgiadis

I believe organizations have the responsibility to change workplace cultures and one of the first places to start is finding ways to empower your employees. At Xero, we’ve found that it’s crucial employees feel empowered to bring their true selves to work, are given the autonomy to make bold decisions, and feel supported and challenged […]


I believe organizations have the responsibility to change workplace cultures and one of the first places to start is finding ways to empower your employees. At Xero, we’ve found that it’s crucial employees feel empowered to bring their true selves to work, are given the autonomy to make bold decisions, and feel supported and challenged along the way. That’s why we celebrate our successes as a team and make sure to call people out to let them know about a job well done. Recognition can mean different things to different people, but these celebrations are an important way for companies to foster supportive workplaces. Similarly, if companies make mistakes, fostering a transparent environment to discuss key learnings helps employees feel informed about the decision-making process. Doing so will help encourage innovation across the entire team and create a people-centric workplace.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bethany Parker, the Vice President of Operations for Xero in the Americas. Xero is a born in-the-cloud global online platform for small businesses and their advisors. Bethany is responsible for the end-to-end customer lifecycle, from activation to training and ongoing satisfaction and retention. Bethany’s team provides operational support, program management, and drives performance optimization so that the business can thrive.


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

Prior to joining Xero, I spent 18 years in financial services across a variety of disciplines including finance, operations, franchise development, and customer experience. It was quite the journey and after my last job, I decided to take off time to be with my family. While backpacking in Europe, I received a call from Xero. This particular role had so much relatability to what I had done for the last 18 years, so I was excited by the prospects. And, many people in my family are small business owners, which made me personally invested in seeing how Xero could be a trailblazer in changing the game for small businesses.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I first joined Xero, I experienced a “company-culture shock” because Xero was so fundamentally different from everything I had been a part of for the past 18 years. I had been in a very traditional industry and company and was now pivoting to a unique, fun, and exciting culture. Like anyone joining a new company, I went through an adjustment period. But, what stood out to me during this time is how truly #human Xero’s culture is. When I checked in with others, they were honest, approachable, and listened. Seeing that side from others I worked with really helped me during this transitional period and made me excited about the possibilities that were ahead.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At Xero, we’re hard at work building a platform that delivers leading-edge, data-driven technology on behalf of small businesses and their advisors. Xero’s cloud accounting technology improves the accuracy of data and automatically surfaces deep insights for small businesses and their advisors, creating a new era of possibilities and success. These breakthrough solutions will help small businesses and their advisors tackle the biggest financial challenges like getting paid faster, accessing a loan when it’s needed, or getting a real-time view of their cash-flow position. And, as Xero increasingly automates data entry tasks, small businesses and their advisors can focus on making sense of their data instead of collecting it.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I think one of the biggest reasons why we see so many unhappy workers out there is because companies go through different phases of growth and have trouble retaining the company culture that made it successful in the first place. As companies find themselves growing, culture needs to remain a top priority to ensure your employees are thriving and that you’re preserving the unique way of work your company believes in. Fostering a community mindset and promoting a strong culture will dictate how employees can flourish at work and as humans.

Additionally, I believe workplaces that promote a culture of openness help foster an environment where employees are free to be themselves and can develop relationships based on camaraderie, rather than competition. Many unhappy workers might find themselves in hierarchical organizations, where people can feel uncomfortable with the lack of transparency from leaders or not knowing why the company is making certain decisions. If you operate your team with a flat structure and culture of transparency, teams will benefit from being able to make human connections and being able to operate towards the larger mission or purpose at hand.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the impact of a negative workforce on employee health and wellbeing as well as company productivity and profitability. Unhappy employees can experience workplace stress due to a variety of factors — including work-related or home-related issues. If organizations aren’t addressing how mental health affects our work, relationships, productivity, or family life, we are doing a disservice to our employees. As leaders, we need to set an example by making sure it’s completely okay to talk about mental health issues in the workplace since that directly impacts employee health and wellbeing. We still have a long way to go, but the more we talk about it and create environments where anyone who’s struggling can open up and get help, the better off our workplaces and society will be. Research has found that one in five Americans have a mental health condition, and 40 percent of American workers describe their jobs as “very stressful.” In addition to the human toll of mental health, there is also a real economic impact — a World Health Organization-led study estimates that depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.

At Xero, we recognize the significance of mental wellness on employees’ health and productivity, so that’s why we announced changes to our Wellness Leave policy last year. Under this new policy, our staff can take time off for their own personal wellbeing, in addition to time off for physical or mental illness or when a family member requires care. We’ve felt the impact of wellness in the workplace both from the perspective of our employees and from the vantage point of our millions of small business and accountant customers, and strive to create work environments that are supportive and productive. To be a profitable business, supporting the total wellness of our people is an essential component of running our company.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Absolutely, here are five things that have worked at my company Xero, that managers and executives can do to improve their work cultures:

1. Stay rooted in deep customer empathy. At Xero, we’ve found that the best way to work is in a compassionate, “human” way where we can deliver intuitive and “beautiful” experiences to our customers. This is particularly important for Xero as an innovative tech company creating products that change the way work is done. We recognize that our responsibility doesn’t end once we’ve shipped a new feature. In fact, that’s just the beginning of our most important job, which is to work alongside our customers to ensure our products and services are having a positive impact on the way they work.

2. Be ruthless about your hiring practices. Hiring the right people is about much more than skills, qualifications and experience. We look at what a candidate has achieved, along with how they achieved it in order to evaluate whether they are a natural fit with our core values. We will quickly turn down even the most extraordinarily talented candidate if the interview process reveals a mismatch with our culture. There’s no room for any so-called “brilliant jerks” on our team.

3. Embed values into everything your organization does. We believe hiring people with the right mindset is only the beginning. For values to resonate, they need to be reinforced through everything your company does. Just as business results are incentivized and rewarded, so too should employees realize tangible benefits for modeling the way when it comes to company culture. For example, at Xero, we recently launched a program called “Praise,” which encourages employees to nominate their colleagues for recognition based on work that embodies the best of our core values.

4. Ensure decision-making remains flat. One of the best ways to ensure that things are done in a “beautiful” and “human” way is to empower our employees to make decisions. At Xero, we take ownership over our individual roles and as a company to truly change the accounting industry. This means we make decisions that deliver on our commitment to customers and have clear accountability for our work. However, the reality for many large companies with thousands of employees is that decision making becomes bureaucratic, with layers of approvals separating front-line workers from the people accountable for decisions. We work hard to eliminate these layers so that everyone is connected to customers and, therefore, feels the impact of company decisions. Everyone at Xero operates with this #ownership value in mind, so we can deliver results and on our promise to small businesses.

5. Communicate transparently and consistently. It’s easy to assume that employees will absorb company culture. But, we’ve found it’s absolutely vital to communicate our values and cultural expectations in a very tangible way. For example, we list our values on our website, broadcast them to prospective employees on our jobs portal and include them in company meetings like our bi-weekly all hands. This is a very deliberate effort to show employees, customers, and stakeholders that everything that we do as a company is rooted in our values. If we can’t show how an initiative links back to one of our core beliefs, then we shouldn’t be doing it.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I believe organizations have the responsibility to change workplace cultures and one of the first places to start is finding ways to empower your employees. At Xero, we’ve found that it’s crucial employees feel empowered to bring their true selves to work, are given the autonomy to make bold decisions, and feel supported and challenged along the way. That’s why we celebrate our successes as a team and make sure to call people out to let them know about a job well done. Recognition can mean different things to different people, but these celebrations are an important way for companies to foster supportive workplaces. Similarly, if companies make mistakes, fostering a transparent environment to discuss key learnings helps employees feel informed about the decision-making process. Doing so will help encourage innovation across the entire team and create a people-centric workplace.

At Xero, we’re proud to be a mission-driven organization. We put our company values and beliefs into practice every day and communicate these frequently with our employees from the top-down. To foster this environment, we’ve found that all-hands meetings or “ask me anything” sessions have been effective in communicating our values and strategy and ensuring everyone at the company feels invested in our mission and purpose. I also believe that when it comes to company culture, there’s always room for even the best companies to improve. That’s why we use Officevibes surveys to help measure and improve employee engagement and gather anonymous feedback. While this might seem like a simple thing for an organization to do, it provides immediate insight into things you can do to address employee concerns.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

My management style is grounded in taking a human approach to being a leader. Being #human is a core company value at Xero and it means we’re open and honest, approachable, and committed to our team and customers so we can get things done and go the extra mile. I also believe humility is the key to establishing a strong team environment that’s built on trust. As leaders, we know it’s important to be present, listen, and treat others with respect and set this example from the top down. For instance, at Xero, no one has their own office. Leaders sit in the middle of the office with everyone else so people can walk right up to talk or ask questions. When there is as little hierarchy as possible, it’s easy for people to feel more like they’re part of a team. At Xero, we also provide our employees with the flexibility and trust so if they need to take a work-from-home day to pick up or drop their kids off at school, they have that option. These resources are important for empowering our employees and ensuring they can do the best work of their lives.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother-in-law was a force of nature who did everything through a lens of positivity and inspires me on a daily basis. Throughout my career, she helped me build resilience and the ability to cope, which is something I appreciate so much. I’m forever grateful to her for giving me that ability because it’s given me new perspective anytime I face a challenge. Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, but even in her final days she remained so positive on what was happening in our lives. She had such a new and thoughtful perspective that has helped shape my views of the world.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In the workplace, I believe there’s a huge opportunity to support and encourage females to become the next generation of leaders. Early on in my career when I was in financial services, I always felt like I needed to look, act, and be exactly like the companies I was a part of. At some point, I realized I needed to stop doing that because it was holding me back and I was spending too much time and energy trying to fit in. Now as a leader, it’s my job to set an example and encourage others to dream big in their own careers. We need to empower female leaders to feel confident about being who they truly are and remove any pressures they might face to conform. Doing so will empower the next generation of female leaders to be bold and unlock their capacity to bring new ideas and perspectives to the table.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is from my mother-in-law, “Promise yourself to be too large for worry, too noble for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.” This is a quote that inspires me as a leader and how I go about setting an example for everyone that I work with. While my job is to drive operational excellence at Xero, I also know that I can use my role to empower the next generation of leaders. If we act in the ways described in this quote, we can reset the playing field for everyone involved.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see more workplaces creating diverse and inclusive environments where everyone feels like they belong and that their voice will be heard. Sometimes we operate in environments where we aren’t even aware of the day-to-day systems in place that might be producing a bias or preventing others from bringing their true selves to work. People then bring these assumptions into the workplace and if we don’t think these through, it’s harmful towards creating a diverse and inclusive environment. As part of this movement, I’d want people to become more conscientious of these systems in place so we can change the norms and ensure we all achieve balance and belonging in the workplace.

Thank you for joining us!

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Alessandro De Carli / EyeEm / Getty Images
Wisdom//

New Study Shows Employees Would Give Up a Quarter of Their Lifetime Income For This 1 Thing

by Scott Mautz
Photo by pmbbun
Community//

Five Ways to Encourage Inclusion in Your Office

by Angela Roberts
Community//

Why Confidential Coaching is a Must Have for Progressive People Teams and Workplace Health

by Erin M. Faverty

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.