In Conversation with Samra Zafar: Creating the Workplace of Belonging
Welcome to an exclusive interview with Samra Zafar, a prominent figure in the HR/Culture/People space, who will be delivering a captivating keynote session at this year’s Culture Summit. Samra’s talk, titled “The Workplace of Belonging: Where Inclusion and Wellness Meet,” on Wednesday, September 27, from 9:30 am to 10:30 am PT.
In this interview, we had the opportunity to catch up with Samra and gain insights into her inspiring journey into the Culture space. We also delved deeper into the importance of fostering inclusion and wellness in the workplace.
Q: What initially attracted you to the Culture space?
A: As an ambitious woman and a person of color, I faced numerous moments of exclusion and microaggressions both in my corporate career and personal life. These experiences resonated with countless individuals who reached out to me after learning about my work. This inspired me to delve into the intersectionality of human experiences, the science of inclusion and belonging, and how we can apply these learnings to foster equity and break barriers for everyone to thrive.
Q: How has your attraction to this space evolved throughout your career?
A: Over the course of my career, I transitioned from banking to psychiatry, combining the neuroscience of human behavior with the business world and authentic leadership. Our innate need to belong as our authentic selves drives us as human beings. This necessitates developing inner resilience, fostering workplace cultures that embrace authenticity, and implementing intersectionality and DEI in diverse workplaces. To unlock the power of diversity, we must first build psychological safety that welcomes and values the contributions of diverse individuals.
Q: What drew you to develop expertise in fostering mental health within workplaces?
A: My passion for fostering mental health within workplaces stems from a trifecta of lived experience, scientific expertise, and business acumen. Having faced trauma and adversity in my own life, I became fascinated with understanding the science of how our brains function and unlocking the power of inner resilience. Applying this knowledge to the workplace allows us to foster inclusive mental health and authentic leadership. By combining inclusion and mental wellbeing, we can create a sense of true belonging and empower individuals to reach their fullest potential.
Q: Could you share your thoughts on the business benefits of fostering a psychologically safe workplace?
A: The need to be part of a community is ingrained in the core of our brains—it’s not just a “nice to have,” but a fundamental requirement. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places social needs, including attachment, belonging, and recognition, just above physiological and safety needs. When these social needs are met, we can reach the pinnacle of the hierarchy—self-actualization, innovation, and creativity. By establishing a psychologically safe workplace where authenticity is welcomed and included, we take a vital step toward cultivating a culture of innovation, creativity, and business success.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for HR and Culture professionals post-pandemic?
A: In the post-pandemic era, one of the most significant challenges we face is loneliness. Extensive research demonstrates the negative impact of loneliness and disconnection on our mental health. While technology enhances efficiency, it also diminishes opportunities for organic human connection—sharing stories, personal interactions, and common experiences. Studies indicate that in-person meetings create more meaningful connections compared to virtual interactions. (See LinkedIn article June 2023) . Balancing technological efficiency with building inclusive, human, and authentic workplace cultures poses one of today’s greatest challenges and opportunities.
Q: It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue about?
A: I believe we are moving towards more open dialogue and inspired action about things we traditionally left outside of the office door. In 2030, my hope is that we will be talking openly about mental health, understand the role of intersectionality, and end the stigma around these difficult but necessary conversations.
Q: Why is your session a MUST-ATTEND event at this year’s Culture Summit?
A: Mental health and DEI are often seen as separate topics. In my session, I will unveil the extensive overlap between the two—they go hand in hand. The intersection between mental health and DEI is where true belonging lies. By attending my session, you will gain profound insights into fostering a psychologically safe workplace, unlocking the potential for diversity and innovation within your organization.
During my keynote session, I will share eye-opening stories, enlightening scientific insights, and valuable business leadership lessons. Get ready to be inspired to take action today and join me at the Culture Summit 2023. I look forward to seeing you there!
View further information on Samra Zafar’s Culture Summit Keynote: The Workplace of Belonging: Where Inclusion and Wellness Meet here.