Sydney Brown is a Bay Area-based executive and corporate consultant who specializes in conflict management and resolutions within corporate teams, and navigating gender, cultural and interpersonal dynamics in the workplace. She’s also pursuing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology where she’s leading research on the effects of blind loyalty among employees who work at technology companies. Sydney also assists in teaching a class on Executive Leadership at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Before coaching, Sydney worked in executive search where she partnered with venture funds and companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies to help build diverse leadership teams and Boards. Before that, she worked for nearly a decade in public relations at medium and large-scale companies.
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Alice: So, we just kind of start off with some more fun questions, Sydney. What is your favorite show that you have binged during COVID?
Sydney: I love this question. Well, I do not watch a ton of TV but over the holiday break I managed to binge “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix. I absolutely loved it. I played chess a lot as a kid, so brought that back up, that show is so amazing. Anya Taylor-Joy is just incredible. Loved that show.
Alice: Awesome, I have heard it is really good. I have to try it.
Sydney: It is really good. Supposedly, it was like in the making for years and years, fifteen years or something and it finally got picked up. Yes, it was great.
Alice: Wow, that is awesome. What is your favorite dessert?
Sydney: Birthday cake, of all kinds.
Alice: No like specific kind?
Sydney: No specific kind. I just love birthdays. I love celebrating people. So, birthday cake of all kinds is my favorite, extra icing.
Alice: I mean, that is the best part.
Sydney: It is.
Alice: And I also like sprinkles, you have to have like all of the rainbow to get on there.
Sydney: Yes, and all sprinkles are welcome.
Alice: And do you have a favorite season or is it just like any time there is a birthday?
Sydney: Well, I do love birthdays. I think my favorite season though is fall. I grew up in Arizona where you really have to look for leaves changing, and so, whenever I have a chance to leaf peep, I just love it. Fall feels so transitional more than spring and there is something that is just so uplifting and comforting about that.
Alice: Well, that is great. And you are living in San Francisco now, is there a way to like leaf peep there? I am not familiar with the weather there.
Sydney: There are ways to leaf peep especially if you get up to like wine country or drive over to Oakland. The Bay Area is much greener than the desert of Arizona, so yes. Lots of fall foliage to be had.
Alice: Oh my gosh, that was amazing. The only time I have ever been to San Francisco was in the summertime, and I did not bring a jacket because I am from Southern California and I was like, “Oh, it is the summer. I will just wear my shorts and a t-shirt.” But it was cold.
Sydney: It will get you every time. July and Fogust as we call it.
Sydney: Fogust, yes. It will get you every summer. What was the Mark Twain quote, “The coldest winter was a summer in San Francisco.” or something? We hear that all the time but, yes.
Alice: What is your favorite part about San Francisco?
Sydney: There are so many parts, honestly, speaking of the fog I think that is one of them. As I shared, I grew up in Arizona so I am sort of one of those weird people that too much sun starts to get to me. I prefer long sleeves and cozy scarves year-round. So, I love the fog. I love hearing the foghorns. I love the bay. I have recently learned how to sail, so there is just so much availability in terms of things to do on the water. There is so many wonderful things that you kind of forget about where you can be in forty-five minutes outside the city. From oyster beds to on your way to ski. It is such a special place.
Alice: Wow, that sounds really amazing. What brought you to San Francisco?
Sydney: I got transferred for a job. I was working in communications at LifeLock, the Identity Theft Protection company, and our communications and marketing moved to San Francisco. So, I got to move, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is such a wonderful place and I think it is home, definitely for a while.
Alice: Wow, that is awesome. Can you talk a little bit more about your journey? You have gone from the corporate world, into getting your PhD, going into coaching now. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sydney: Yes, my background academically is in psychology. I got my Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology. In parallel to that, I was always working in the corporate world doing communications, public relations, and then I worked in executive search. It was always so interesting to me. I loved the work that I was doing but I could not help but just to be so curious and constantly interested in the behavior in the workplace. The most rewarding work I would ever do is mentoring or helping advise people. And so, it was pretty early on in my career where I knew I had to just answer these questions for “Why people behave these ways in the workplace? Why people are motivated in certain ways?” And so pretty early on, I knew that I wanted to get experience in the corporate world, getting experience in the environment, but I always kind of always had my research hat. I knew that I always wanted to grow into a coach, and then later a clinical psychologist in the corporate world. So, that is what I am doing.
Alice: Wow, that is awesome. That is so interesting and good that you can like bring what you were doing then of like helping aid, coach, and mentor them when you were finding them and put that passion into action now.
Sydney: Yes, it is very rewarding. How I can help people, make the most of that time, and navigate the different challenges that come within the workplace is really rewarding. I feel fortunate to have had the work experience, to have had the leadership that I was under, and the exposure to things that all served as a case study that has given me a solid foundation in being a coach and to develop into a psychologist.
Alice: Wow, that is amazing. How has coaching changed? And how has the workplace changed now that we are all working from home and in the middle of a pandemic? Has it shifted how your coaching?
Sydney: Absolutely. I think from both sides of the coin, right? How I work as a coach, it has opened up my network in terms of who I can partner with from beyond the Bay Area and the U.S. I have clients now in London and Dubai, so it has been wonderful to open it up in that way. But then on the other side of the coin, there is a lot of work and a lot of issues or conflicts that have come to the surface. For example, expectations around what progress looks like and what progress feels like for the individual within the company. Keeping your standards high and your expectations low, even in this new year, around career evolution, and how we have defined progress can be a helpful first step. So, it has not only shifted sort of my availability and reach as a coach, but it has also really shifted the demands that people have based on what the environment is really able to provide right now.
I think being in a pandemic has really prioritized a lot of different concerns for people. What it means to thrive in the workplace and what it means to survive. And through that, some of the things that hadn’t really mattered before have started to kind of percolate to the top, and people are considering growth in new ways that meets those priorities and expectations.
Alice: That is interesting because I think it has given us a lot of time to sit back and take stock of how we were working, as well as like what our lives look like. It is very different and that is so cool that you are able to talk to women in London or Dubai.
Sydney:Yes, I think it has also created perspective for people to view their companies in new ways. There has been a lot of uncertainty for people beyond their own personal lives, societally and culturally, the direction our country’s headed, for example. People are really finding comfort and stability in their companies. And through that process, comes sort of an inventory of how the company is aligned with the individual’s priorities, values—these are their non-negotiables. What is the mission of the company? What is the impact the company is having on the market? On the world? And so, leaning into that stability, depending on that structure, is having people prioritize and take inventory of their workplaces and careers in new ways.
Alice: That is really interesting. And as a coach, I was reading more about your practice about how you really help people negotiate gender politics in the workplace? Can you talk a little bit more about that? That is something I just do not really know about.
Sydney: Yes, it is a big topic. I do a lot of work around conflict management and resolutions and within this, navigating various dynamics in the workplace often comes up. And I think specifically with gender, I think beyond creating systemic sustainable change that prioritizes inclusivity and a sense of belonging systematically, for the individual, there’s an opportunity to consider what’s going on within the individual. For example, what is the behavior? And what is the motivation behind the person who is behaving politically? So, I think a lot of politics that we navigate in the workplace, they really stem from this place of conflict. When you break conflict down, the seed of conflict is really just a misalignment of motivations. And, the shell of that seed is an inefficiency in communication. When you are navigating any type of political dynamic, behavior is at play. Focusing on what the behavior is, why the person is motivated to act that way, then determining how you respond, it starts to kind of crystallized. And our emotional responses are able to simmer a little bit, not to make it sound like robots, but we are able to get clarity on why people are behaving this way. Then we are able to adapt and tap into a different response that sort of meets the demand of the situation.
Alice: That is great that people are able to talk to you about these different ideas, and so they can get more clarity on what is going on, and how they can relate better to their co-workers or bosses.
Sydney: Yes. I think it is often hard you know, “Why is this person acting this way to me? Why is this happening? Why am I being faced with this?” and so much of behavior is around motivation. So, getting really clear on that helps to sort of dictate or determine, if you will, how to respond.
Alice: Yes, can you talk to me a little bit about your coaching and your coaching practices? Is there a client that you could give us an example of how you have helped them?
Sydney: Yes, I think that is such a nice question. I will bring it to something more recent during this time. Just to sort of start out, that right now, for so many of us, it is such a self-reflective time, right? Especially towards the beginning of last year, once COVID really hit, it was this kind of reshuffling of expectations for the year. And so many of my clients, we have had this conversation around, “What it means to have a fulfilling career”? “And what does progress look like now”? Our priorities have shifted and so helping people think about job and career transitions, and of managing expectations around progress and time within that, has been really helpful. There is a couple of clients in particular in terms of wanting to have more impact. Thinking about this in terms of times of crisis, we all are sort of in this state of grief as the psychological community is saying, we tend to get very binary in our thinking, right? It is like, yes or no, stay or go, this or that, and helping people to instead see decisions not sort of in a binary way, but more on a spectrum.
For instance, I had a client who was wanting to do more impactful work so she was thinking of leaving her role in a tech company and joining a non-profit. That is certainly very admirable, but there is lots of different factors that sort of went into that. And by really kind of taking inventory, what we uncovered is something more of an advisory role so she joined a non-profit board. It would be more fulfilling for her than completely removing herself. She also signed the non-profit on as a corporate social responsibility partner within the organization, and the company that she was at large tech company was able to make more influence that way. She felt more fulfilled that way.
Managing expectations around what progress looks like right now, your time constraints within, but then also sort of trying to get away from the transactional thinking that being in this sort of fight or flight or crisis response might give us. And think about all the different options and what you are looking to achieve and why, may lead you to have more options to choose from.
Alice: Wow, that is amazing, Sydney. That is so interesting to think about how it is not so binary. If I go outside, I am going to get COVID, or if I do not leave the house, I will be fine. But, to think about like how this spectrum of options that we can create for ourselves is still there and still on the table.
Alice: That was a terrible example.
Sydney: No, I think it is very real. We are living our lives like this. Psychologists are saying we are all in a state of grief, right? And with grief, if you have ever been in grief, not to make rash decisions, right? We are sort if in the sustained period of that. I like to give the example of like an old-school radio dial, right? Where you are kind of one stipple in between the extremes, and you can amplify the dial or turn it down. But where you sort of fall on your spectrum of growth has many more options in between, staying in your role and leaving, for example.
Alice: Yes, that is wonderful. That is really good to think about and something I need to practice a lot more during this pandemic. Not the black and white.
Sydney: It is definitely a process.
Alice: Yes. If you had any advice to give a woman you just met on the street, or maybe not meeting on the street, but any woman a sentence or two about like living in this time, what would it be?
Sydney: I think I would just say, “You are enough. Go. Go for it. Go do it. You are ready, you are competent, and everything will follow you as it needs to. You are enough.”
Alice: That is awesome, Sydney. Thank you. And how can viewers and listeners find out more about you and about your coaching services?
Sydney: Sure. I think the easiest way is by email: [email protected]
Alice: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on, Sydney. It was great to have you and to learn more about you.
Sydney: Wonderful to be here. Thanks for inviting me. I wish for all listeners to have a wonderful start to the new year. Tread lightly. We are going to get through this time, and just know that progress comes in all ways and lots of different forms.