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The Key To Diversity, Inclusion and Performance featuring Stephanie Cawthorne

Stephanie, lovingly known as Steph to most, is a People Development Consultant at The Lab17, a brand working with startups to design people-products that drive high performance and engagement as they scale.

She has almost 8 years of rich experience in all things people development, HR consulting and coaching, learning experiences, and design, delivery and iteration of people products. But what fills her cup while she’s out there helping teams thrive?

She is energised by working with smart, creative humans in high growth environments - helping them to learn, connect and love their work. We’ve been following her work for a while now and reached out to pick her brain on a subject especially close to our heart: diversity and inclusion. Read on. 

Q1. First of all, how are you, Steph? How’s the last couple of years been, work wise and personally?

I’m doing well, thank you! The last couple of years have been a mix of highs and lows, but I feel I’m coming out on top thanks to a bit of hard work, a lot of support, and a bit of magic. This year in particular has been really interesting for me - moving from an in-house role at social impact start-up, Hireup, to a consulting role at The Lab17 - as well as moving up to the sunny Central Coast to make the most of remote work.

Q2. We know that you work with startups. I’m sure it’s a high-energy environment most times, but what’s your favourite thing about working with startups?

I often say to people I don’t think I’d survive in a large organisation. Although they come with a lot of awesome stability and support, I’m the kind of person who thrives on the feeling of solving problems at a fast pace, and the world of start-ups allows me to do that. Most start-ups I work with are either just kicking off their investment into the People function, or they have a small team who operate like octopuses trying to keep everything together. There’s nothing more exciting to me than embedded myself in an organisation’s culture, then using this knowledge to turn chaos into order in a human-centric way. I love what I do.

Q3. What’s your take on the importance of diversity and inclusion efforts for companies right now? Any special effort in that direction that you personally took charge of?

Every little interaction, ritual, process or habit in an organisation is what creates its culture - and the more you can do to make these inclusive from the start, the better. Although a diversity and inclusion strategy and dedicated person or team to lead this work is the dream state, many start-ups don’t have the capacity to do this early on. Therefore - diversity and inclusion needs to be established from the ground up, through the little things that add up to make a big difference. Working for disability tech organisation Hireup, I learnt a lot about what it means to be truly inclusive. I was lucky to have connected with amazing talent from organisations like Jigsaw and Xceptional, learnt how to design and facilitate an inclusive workshop or company event, and create content that could be read by a screen reader. These habits are now ingrained in the way I think and operate, and I feel really privileged to have had that experience. One of the really foundational things I think organisations of any size can do to create a more inclusive workplace is to have a simple and adaptable performance framework that gives employees the opportunity to co-create their performance expectations and determine how they want to grow. Importantly, the design of this product needs to be simple and adaptable - creating some consistency of the core features, but flexibility in the way they are used by different people with different needs.

Q4. Can you outline a few steps that you take to ensure an unparalleled employee experience at Lab17?


"Our internal employee experience at The Lab17 is a blend of the Netflix approach to fostering high performance, and Patagonia’s approach to being a human centric and sustainable organisation."

On the performance side, we believe performance is made up of both outcomes and behaviours - and we work hard to foster high accountability, self regulation and awareness in our team through habits like weekly impact ratings, quarterly goal setting, 360 feedback, values in action reflections, and regular 1:1s. 

We balance this with being human centric in all that we do. For the team - we invest in the 4 elements of wellness (emotional, physical, mental and financial) through things like additional wellness leave, team pilates sessions through Blys, regular retreats, and L&D on topics like DISC, public speaking and exec presence, cryptocurrency, Agile HR, content marketing and leadership coaching. Giving back to the community and world is also incredibly important to us - we are a 1% for the planet member, have offset our carbon footprint through Trace, and work with Indigenous Australian business House of Darwin to design our swag.

Q5. Lastly, I know that the commitment to improve people's experience is very close to your heart. If we told you that an EX bot can help HR leaders stay on top of changing employee sentiments and predict attrition and retain top talent, what would you say?


In my experience, it can be hard to ‘predict the pain’ and encourage leaders to take action before they’ve felt it - so a tool like this would be an amazing support!

Explore Amber to improve employee experience like the experts do.

Meet Amber!

Lakshmi Devan
Lakshmi Devan
You've probably chuckled at something she wrote on Linkedin. An unfriendly, non-sassy, lethargic, dog-hating woman in her sixties. Kidding. Make that moderately friendly, conspicuously sassy, significantly energetic, and massively dog-loving. She is often described as a sexagenarian stuck in a vicenarian’s body – a potpourri of convoluted identities and feelings.

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