The Game Changers

Q&A with Rachel Druckenmiller: From intern to entrepreneur

By Yasmeen Qahwash

Mar. 16, 2020

Rachel Druckenmiller, founder and chief executive officer of Unmuted, started her HR and leadership journey long before receiving the Game Changer award in 2019. In this Q&A, Druckenmiller tells Workforce what she has learned along the way, and gives advice regarding how to keep pushing forward in the face of change.

Workforce: How have you grown professionally over the course of your career?

Rachel Druckenmiller: I’ve learned how to discover and use my strengths. I have pursued learning and development opportunities every year, whether it’s reading a book, attending a conference or training, taking an assessment, or learning from teachers, coaches and mentors. I’ve pursued what my dad calls “interest-driven work.” I became a health coach in the midst of dealing with my own health challenges. I went back to school to study my field more intensely and earned a master’s degree in health science in my late 20s. I have completed trainings and certifications in the area of workplace culture, well-being and professional speaking. I’ve worked with mindset, performance, improv, writing and vocal coaches who have helped me show up more fully and boldly. 

Just over a year ago, I started to more intentionally pursue training that would ultimately give me the confidence to start my own business as a professional speaker and trainer. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to grow and learn and will continue to pursue growth by challenging myself and immersing myself in new ways of thinking.

WF: How has your career changed?

Druckenmiller: I started at a small company as an intern in 2003 and transitioned to full-time in 2007. It was there that I had the freedom to become an intrapreneur, someone who has many of the traits of an entrepreneur but does so within a company and with a stable paycheck and benefits. I started primarily as a consultant working for an employee benefits consulting firm. I’ve morphed into a thought leader in the field of well-being and a speaker who is focused on humanizing the workplace. Last year, I made the decision to follow in my parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps and launch my own company as a speaker and trainer. I’ve never felt more fulfilled or free. It’s been wonderful.

WF: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in HR over the past few years? 

Druckenmiller: I’ve been encouraged to see the trends toward humanizing the workplace and putting people first. For a while, it seemed that policies, procedures and perks were what mattered most, but much of that was surface-focused. HR was tasked with “fixing” workplace culture, but we’ve now come to realize that it’s not just HR’s responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility to shape the culture of their organization. HR recognizes that having a great culture goes beyond the perks like ping pong tables and rock-climbing walls and is really more about how we can make people feel seen, heard and valued. 

I’m seeing more of a focus on creating memorable and meaningful experiences from employees throughout the employee life cycle. Whether they’re using scavenger hunts as part of the onboarding or team building process or incorporating more pulse surveys to gather ongoing feedback, there is more intentionality than ever before. HR is committed to fostering connection, especially among dispersed workforces. Using video conferencing technology allows remote workers to feel more connected and to see their colleagues. 

I’m seeing HR become more integrated into the strategic discussions within their organization instead of being viewed as “the people police” in their own little silo. They’re being incorporated into more learning and development conversations and strategies, as companies embrace more customized, micro-learning approaches. They’re often the ones bringing attention to the importance of upskilling in the area of emotional intelligence, something that is lacking among many leaders today. The strategies progressive HR leaders are putting in place are helping organizations brand themselves as best places to work and employers of choice.

In the field of well-being, which has been an increasingly important aspect of HR strategy, there has been a shift. The focus is on the value of investment and genuinely caring for people’s well-being instead of just focusing on the immediate financial return on investment. I’m grateful to see that shift. I’m also encouraged that HR and other business leaders are embracing a whole person approach to well-being, one that incorporates financial, career, social-emotional, community and physical health components. The increasing focus on mental health, humanized parental leave policies, flexible work schedules and sabbaticals is exciting. It’s been a long time coming for us to truly put people first and to make decisions that will benefit all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Employees expect employers to care, and HR realizes that and sees the need to respond. 

WF: What advice would you tell yourself five years ago?

Rachel Druckenmiller, founder and CEO of Unmuted

Druckenmiller: Keep showing up. Sometimes we show up and don’t know that anyone is noticing what we’re doing, whether that’s speaking up in a meeting, creating and sharing content or coming up with new ideas. We don’t always see the immediate impact of our contributions, but the key is to be consistent. Keep showing up, even when you don’t feel like it. 

Trust yourself and trust the timing of your life. You have committed to years of training and development and honing your skills. You have an important message to share, and if you keep sharing it from a genuine place sharing with the intention of serving others versus serving your ego,  it will pay off. Everything will unfold in its proper time. What is meant for you will not miss you.

You will gain confidence as you continue to do your work. Do the inner work, do the relational work, be open to feedback and be open to changing what’s not working. Doing the hard work builds strength and will help you sustain yourself when things are hard. 

Spend more time with those you love. Work is important and it will always be there. There is always more work that you can do. But we can’t replace the moments we miss with the people we love. Go on weekend getaways with your husband and your friends. Have more lunches or dinners with your parents. If you are successful at work but depleted at home, then you are not going to be happy. Invest in relationships.

Ask for help when you need it. You’re not a burden. You’re not weak. You’re not going to be seen as incompetent. You are a human being who has limitations. Open up to people and share your struggles. Let other people help you and support you. Whether it’s seeing a therapist or asking for more support at work or at home, speak up for what you need. 

WF: What have you learned over the course of your career in HR?

Druckenmiller: Focus on the good in people. So often, HR professionals can become jaded because they’re often dealing with all of the dysfunctional aspects of a workplace. Remembering why we are in this space — to serve and support people and to create workplaces where people can thrive — can encourage us to keep going and to keep showing up.

Reach out to your peers when you’re struggling or need input or insight. You are not a burden and you deserve as much support as anyone else. You are a helper and giver by nature, but if you constantly pour out from your cup and don’t fill it back up, you won’t be good for yourself or for other people.

WF: What are some things that you value most about your career?

Druckenmiller: I have a platform that gives me the ability to use my voice to speak up, speak out and spark transformation at work that carries over to our lives at home. As a speaker and trainer, I’m finding that my messages around humanizing the workplace, igniting intentional leadership and unmuting our voices are resonating with people in all levels of leadership. It’s an exciting time to be in a field that celebrates and elevates the human side of work. As one of the founding members of the Baltimore Chapter of HackingHR and as a member of the online community Humans First, I’m encouraged to see all the good that is happening around the world as HR and well-being continue to evolve. 

Yasmeen Qahwash is an editorial associate for Workforce.

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