Conversations of Hope, Heart, and the Human Spirit

with Danielle Schmelkin


Hummingbird Humanity videos now with captioning.

In this episode, Brian and Danielle cover. . .

  • The role of executive sponsors in Covid-19 
  • How to promote and support mental wellness as a leader
  • The work required outside of the office to be an effective executive sponsor & inclusion champion

      Leaning Into Humanity

      The hidden emotional toll of the pandemic

             The hidden emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on people around the world is becoming less and less hidden every day. Employees are suffering in quarantine from isolation, anxiety, depression, grief, racial trauma, sobriety, and being caretakers for loved ones. To support these team members that are struggling in silence, Danielle schedules an informal meeting every morning for her team where they can converse about personal topics without an agenda. She encourages them to not feel embarrassed by their appearances while on screen. If she gets a sense that someone is really not doing okay emotionally, she makes an effort to reach out and offer support one-on-one.

             Danielle also offers her indirect reports the opportunity to have individual meetings with her. It is not common for entry and mid-level employees to have direct access to someone in the C-suite, but Danielle believes treating people as humans are essential to good leadership; it boosts morale, relieves them of hiding their problems, and helps her address their needs quicker.


        Leaning Into Humanity

        What does it take to be an executive sponsor?

               It is a great goal to be an executive sponsor, but the work required should not be understated. Contrary to what you may be thinking, most of the effort occurs mainly outside of the office. Danielle teaches us that to be an effective workplace inclusion advocate you must be willing to 1) champion these causes in your personal life and 2) find your voice to speak up for yourself and others. If you want to truly commit to supporting your employees in this way, you need to “walk the walk” in all facets of your life. 

               Danielle regularly talks to her kids about societal racism and other social issues because she wants to raise “good humans.” She wants to raise children that will be empathetic and speak up for all those around them. 

               She found her passion and her voice on these topics after a personal experience with gender pay discrimination. When Danielle was graduating from college, there was a company that gave job offers to her and her cisgender male friend (a classmate at the time). Given their comfortable relationship with each other, they discussed their offers, including their prospective salaries. Danielle learned her offering salary was significantly lower than that of her male counterpart. They had similar grades and qualifications, the only difference between the two was gender. Danielle chose not to brush this aside and confronted the recruiter about this clear act of sexism. That day, and every day after, Danielle used her voice to speak up for what is right.


               Danielle Schmelkin is an eclectic force. She is the Chief Information Officer for the unisex denim brand, Madewell, she is a queer wife & mother, and for so many, she is an advocate for those who have been othered in the workplace. For Danielle, no conversation is off the table as she believes it is the responsibility of workplace leaders to lean in to discomfort. Because the uncomfortable is where we start to recognize and embrace humans in the workplace.