ARTICLE | Q&A
Benefits & Leaders That Walk the Walk | Q&A with Lindsey Lanzisero
We sat down for a Q&A with Lindsey Lanzisero, the Vice President of Total Rewards and HR Systems & Operations at H&R Block. Lindsey believes in the power of leading by example in order to build a place where associates feel that they belong.
As a mother of two, an advocate for neurodivergent support, and a caregiver to her husband with MS, Lindsey has a unique perspective on what it takes to create an inclusive and supportive workplace culture. Read our Q&A to learn about the actions she takes to make a difference in the lives of H&R Block’s associates.
Q: So, you are a transformative leader, in charge of really influential companies that are leading the way that we live and work and care. But you’re also a caregiver. Can you shed some light on that aspect of your life?
A: Mostly, I have considered myself to be a mom taking care of the responsibilities that come with that role. But coming to think about it, I do feel like I have taken on some aspects of the role of a caregiver when it comes to caring for my son who has autism. We did have to fight to get his diagnosis. We had to find therapists that worked with him well. We had to fight the IEPs and all of those things. That is more than just being a mom.
Q: It is really interesting to hear that you didn’t consider yourself a caregiver. That’s common, right? You’ve just been thinking of yourself as a mom who goes about her day and fiercely fights for what her family needs. So, if now you consider yourself a caregiver, do you think that gives you a sense of authority? Confidence? Does it change your role or the perception of what you do in any way?
A: I think it helps lift the burden to acknowledge that I am in a caregiver role and that’s part of my life.
Q: And essentially, you’re a caregiver for your associates, and a key part of various Employee Resource Groups. I’d love to hear more about that.
A: When I joined H&R Block two years ago, I was thinking about the journey that I had been on with my son. I had even connected with another HR professional at the company about the journey that she’d been on with her son who was also on the spectrum. I was like, we don’t talk about this enough.
As Benefits leaders, we’re constantly talking about the mental health stigma and how we have to get people talking about it. But here, we have a whole population that doesn’t get talked about enough. Around 1 in 60 kids have autism, and that means 1 in 60 parents are also dealing with this.
I recall how lonely I felt. I felt like I had to figure out everything on my own.
So, I was consumed with how we could help our parents that are at different points in their journey. So, we started focusing more on neurodiverse caregivers. In the past year, we expanded the group to include Neurodiverse Associates.
We do everything we can to push them through, and we help them to adulthood. So, like every other kid, they eventually leave the nest. And those are the kids that are going into the workforce that isn’t equipped to deal with a neurodiverse associate. And so, it was really important to me that we were bringing those associates in as well because you just have to manage them differently. They’re very smart. They are very capable, and just having a manager that knows like, “Hey, I have an autistic associate on my team. I know he’s not going to look me in the eye, and trying to force that is against everything that his body is telling him to do,” can go a long way.
Now, I don’t want to generalize autism, but one of the common things is that eye contact is difficult. It’s too much stimulus to make eye contact. So, just little things like that that people don’t think about. If we can get that out into the open and get people talking about it, it’s less isolating.
Q: Wow, that’s amazing. So, a lot of it is education and talking about it. Now, what would you say to people who want to support neurodiverse workers?
A: Yes, education and talking about it will be a huge step in the right direction. We were seeing big companies create entire programs to hire Neurodiverse Associates because they recognize the value that those associates can bring to their organization, and if we’re not supporting that, if we’re not recognizing the importance of that, again, you’re getting left behind. You’re leaving a key demographic behind. You know, all these companies talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and this is a key diversity. There’s a diversity of thought right there.
Q: Thanks for bringing up diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I would like to dig into DEI&B.
A: At H&R Block, we don’t use the DEIB or DEI nomenclature. We call it belonging. And our overarching tagline on our belonging journey is we want the associates to bring their whole selves to work. And so, when I think about the benefits programs that we implement or that we’re trying out, I think about how it’s serving different cohorts, and I think about how we ensure that we have equitable benefits across the different cohorts.
So, that means implementing a program like Rethink that provides neurodiversity support or a program like ianacare that supports caregivers. That puts the action behind those words of bringing your whole self to work.
We can say all day long “We want you to bring your whole self to work.” But then if we don’t do anything to demonstrate that, people are still going to be afraid to bring their whole selves to work, right? If I’m sitting here as a VP talking about my neurodiverse son, it allows others to be vulnerable as well. In our neurodiverse associate group, we have someone crying at every meeting because they’re so relieved to be able to have a community to discuss these things with.
Q: That’s leading by example in the way that you said. So, as you design the support infrastructure within H&R Block, it feels like there’s been more of an emphasis on ERG groups. What are all the components of building a supportive infrastructure?
A: Well, I think it has to be at an organizational level. And then the different groups need to understand what their piece is in it. So, as a benefits leader, I view my role as a key part of ensuring that our benefits are walking the walk.
Our senior leaders need to walk the walk and back it up through their actions and their support of the ERGs. I remember very vividly that I had joined Block the week after George Floyd. Our CEO sent a company-wide email that Saturday, which had been drafted from the heart. And you know, he’s a white male, who acknowledges that he doesn’t understand the African American experience, but that email showed he was in the right place.
Q: This is an instance where the leader is walking the walk and showing they care. That is what sets apart different employers. I’d like to get to caregiving a bit again. So, this is a big passion that we both share. But tying together your own experiences and your view must have influenced how you then saw what your associates needed. But of all the priorities, what made you think of the importance of caregiving? Did you always think caregiving was an important thing or did it progress? How did it change due to the pandemic?
A: When we first met, I had only been doing benefits for about six months. I was a data nerd comp person, but I wanted to learn the benefits. My introduction to you was through a startup accelerator, and I was like, “Wow! This is cool. This is a great idea.” It wasn’t something I had thought about up to that point. And then, I was thinking more about our associate base and what they need. I realized that on average, our full-time associate is 45. Our average seasonal associate is 55. With those two age groups, there’s a pretty good chance that they are caring for older parents or family members, as well as kids.
So, how do we provide support for them in meaningful ways? And ianacare jumped back up into my brain.
Q: How did you know what associates need, and how did data play into your decision-making?
A: We used data to support our proposal for paid caregiver leave. We were able to show that paid caregiver leave is so uncommon in the market. Less than 25% of companies offer it today.
We knew that we were leading the market there, and if less than 25% of companies are offering paid caregiver leave, they’re not offering a caregiver support platform. Having a support program has given them access to knowledge, education, and resources that support people on that caregiving journey. I felt like that was taking the action that we needed to take.
Q: That’s so great! We spoke about how as a leader you have to share your story. Not everyone is comfortable doing that. So do you force yourself to be vulnerable and to share? How should leaders think about that responsibility, which could feel heavy at times?
A: For me, it’s about building trust and respect with my team. You have to demonstrate to your team who you are as a person and what you stand for, and for me, that’s really about bringing my authentic self to work. I remember when I first became a leader, I was like, well I have to be super professional and set boundaries and do all these things. But that’s not me. People won’t share with you if you’re not sharing with them. People won’t be vulnerable with you if you’re not vulnerable with them. Now, that doesn’t mean airing your dirty laundry, but it does mean that you meet them part way.
Q: So, being a leading employer, you probably had your pick of the solutions that you want to implement. You probably get 10 or 20 emails every day. So, why ianacare? Why do you feel like that was a good fit for your organization?
A: So when I met you and Steve in December of 2019, you guys were authentic, you were real. You cared about caregiving. And a lot of the times when you meet with some of these companies, especially some of these startups, you can tell when the goal is to sell the startup.
You can tell when they just want to be acquired. There’s no doubt in my mind that you guys generally care about fixing this in America. And that was the key thing. That’s why I called you.
When we had first spoken, you guys were just trying to get things off the ground. And when we talked last year, you went from having an appointment-type thing to connecting to local resources to connecting to our benefits to connecting to care coaches that somebody can call and speak to. And so, it felt like a very holistic solution that would work no matter what, how you wanted to engage with the platform, or where you were on your journey.
Q: Love that. Well, it is truly an honor to work with you and to partner with you. We’re partnering to serve your associates and you teach us so much by the way that you lead, and we’re so grateful that you are a part of this Alliance. We need employers like you. Also, we can’t do without decision-makers, policymakers, culture changers, etc., with us on this mission. So, in your own words, why do you think it’s important to be a founding member of the I Am Not Alone Care Alliance?
A: It’s similar to what I was saying earlier. If you’re not having the conversation, nothing’s going to change. No one is going to recognize what is happening behind closed doors. You said it yourself, “90% of caregiving happens at home.” It doesn’t happen in the hospital. So, if that’s happening in millions of homes across America every day in silos and no one’s elevating that conversation, nothing’s going to change, and it can’t just be on employers. It can’t just be on family members; it can’t just be on the government. We all have to work together to fix this issue and to help people not have such a burden of caregiving.
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