Today, we chat with Aubrey Blanche-Sarellano, VP of Equitable Operations at Culture Amp, about her journey from academia to tech, as well as all things work-life balance.
Aubrey shares her experiences in adapting to various roles, creating a work-life balance, and the importance of regular self-reflection. She also discusses how small changes, influenced by Atomic Habits, have helped her manage both her professional and personal life effectively.
Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?
My career journey has been a bit twisty! I started out thinking that I wanted to be a professor, so I started a PhD program. I pretty quickly figured out that it wasn’t collaborative enough for me, so I dropped out and got a job at a tech company.
My journalism background helped me break into a company as a business development writer, but it was my passion for equity & inclusion that caused me to take another pivot. I was lucky enough to have a senior leader support my advocacy, and created a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) position at that company.
For the next handful of years, that’s what I focused on: building global, scalable DEI programs that had a measurable positive impact on employee representation and experience. Over the last 4 years at Culture Amp, I’ve tried to take my expertise in equity & inclusion and broaden it out into new areas.
Now, as the VP of Equitable Operations, I’m responsible for thinking about equity in the context of people systems, policies, and programs; sustainability; philanthropy; and how Culture Amp delivers solutions to customers to help them make DEI progress.
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
I don’t know that I have a “typical” workday, but I can give you a peek into the last week! Generally, I take meetings from around 7:30 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m, which allows me time with my team members in both the US and Australia. Those are mostly on Zoom, but I’m loving getting some in-person time at our Sydney office. In those meetings, I’m usually doing a mix of:
- Meeting with my direct reports individually to connect personally and understand how I can help them do their best work
- Checking in on progress of projects that are improving our employees’ experience
- Connecting with leaders and/or employees individually for coaching or to understand what would make their experience better
My afternoons (usually from 2 – 5 p.m.) are for really getting work done. I spend focused time emptying my email inboxes (I have three!) and responding to all those Slack messages I “saved for later”. This is also the time I block off for big focused design and strategy work (conveniently, when the US and Europe are offline!).
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?
I think the concept of work-life balance really only applies over time. I don’t think on any given day (or often even a given week) that my life is really balanced: it tends to swing between “personal heavy” and “work heavy”. I just try to enforce boundaries about what the minimum I invest in each area is.
The way I manage it is to have a set of priorities, and I don’t shift them. For me, almost everything I do falls into buckets (in priority order): personal, family / marriage, Culture Amp, friends / community, and “other” professionals.
I have weekly check-ins to look at how much time I’m investing in each, and how I’m feeling about it. When I notice that I’m leaning more heavily in one area than I’d like (or have been for a period), I specifically schedule in things that get me back into that long-term balance.
The most important thing for me has been implementing–and sticking to–that check in and reflection ritual. I’ve found that it allows me to live my life in a fluid way that makes space for priorities to shift over the short term but not get out of whack in the long run.
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
Family check in! This year, my spouse and I instituted a “family meeting” once a week where we reflect on the week past, set intentions and goals for the week ahead, and spend time connecting on how the other is doing and what we might need from each other. We even use a worksheet so we can track how things are changing and evolving over time.
This one ritual has vastly improved my ability to be in balance with what’s important to me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m spending more time on the personal side of the equation, but that I’m spending time on the right things that make me fulfilled and aligned to my values.
We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?
A book that really changed my life was Atomic Habits. I was often stumped when I was trying to make fundamental changes to my life because I was trying to tackle things that were too big all at once. The change that caused me to stumble on this book was actually moving from being a workaholic to someone who had more time and space for myself and the relationships in my life.
This book helped me reframe the changes I wanted to make in terms of micro changes that could become routines, which has made sustainable change much more achievable. I started with blocking off small amounts of my morning and evening for “me” time, and eventually overhauled my entire work calendar to meet my priorities over the course of a year. I’d recommend this approach to anyone who is looking to improve or adjust something in a way that’s both achievable and sustainable.
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I think that the most fundamental thing you can do is spend time in deep reflection getting clear on your values and thus your priorities. This is important both because “balance” looks very different to different people, but also because it will help you uncover the fundamental motivations for why you want to maintain your optimal balance–it’ll help you stick through it when something is threatening to pull you off to one side.