Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Jessica Bensch of Vanguard Voices Is Helping To Change Our World
Just start and learn along the way — It took me a long time to have the courage to publicly share Vanguard Voices. I want to do a good job on everything, but I was (and still am) especially sensitive about the messaging of Vanguard Voices. We want to attract those people who sincerely care about this cause and so in my mind, the wording had to be immaculate. What I eventually learned was that I will not get it right all the time. By just starting and putting Vanguard Voices out there, I am learning what resonates and adjusting the approach along the way.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Bensch.
Jessica Bensch is the Founder of Vanguard Voices and is revolutionizing the way employees and companies are approaching psychological safety and work-culture. Over the course of Jessica’s career, she has lived, traveled, or worked in close to 40 countries and regularly saw instances of abuse of power. Having learned from a young age about the importance of advocacy and speaking out, Jessica championed a grassroots and value-led movement that has gained tens of thousands of followers that has generated dialogue that can’t be ignored.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Happy to! I was born in Canada in an Indian family. Growing up my family belonged to a larger Indian church community. I learned at a very early age the importance of having a sense of belonging. My parents had immigrated to Canada and longed to carry out the customs and traditions they were brought up with. This community was a safe haven to share experiences in a new country and served as a collective support system for everyday challenges in Canada.
From this community, I was also taught the importance of hard work and the integrity to carry out tasks diligently, even when no one is looking. ‘‘A job worth doing is worth doing well,’’ is what my dad often said.
Now I’m living in Switzerland with a family of my own yet my roots are still strongly implanted in my home community. I know without a shadow of a doubt, if ever I need help, even after decades of not being in contact with a number of people, I could reach out to any one of them and they would be there for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The number of people who have reached out to me personally and who have shared their own experiences on psychological safety touches me quite deeply. They see what I see behind corporate doors and are willing to help support the cause, even if it is a bit scary to speak out at times.
Recently I met a supporter in person, who happened to travel to Switzerland from the United States. It was such a blessing to me to feel his energy live, knowing that he would take that excitement back home and spread it within his own networks.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
While I don’t necessarily have a funny mistake to this point (knock on wood), what I can say is, while it is very exciting, how funny it is, the amount of individuals I have influenced and how far the Vanguard Voices message has spread. While I knew I would help people through Vanguard Voices I can’t help but smile when I see individuals being impacted by what I am doing!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We are only at the start of our journey but already I am encouraged by the support we have received.
So far we are raising global awareness of the issues people face in the workplace through storytelling. Sharing stories is powerful because it reminds people that they are not alone. These stories can build people up and restore confidence in themselves. And what makes our network unique is the authenticity of these voices.
But I also believe that we do not change the world by simply talking about change. We make change happen through our significant and considered actions. Over time, we will be supporting people and companies through improved policies and processes and helping people heal through individual coaching.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One particular lady from the U.S. comes to my mind. We had already been corresponding back and forth online. When we spoke directly through a video meeting, I felt her connection immediately. Her words, ‘I realize now that I’m not alone. How can I help?’ was particularly heartening. She mentioned that she had been struggling to find her life purpose for a long time in large part because she struggled to speak her truth at work. She was fearful of how she might be perceived by her colleagues — that is until she found Vanguard Voices. Now she’s working on her confidence daily and she says that she is starting to live a life ‘according to her terms.’
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Vanguard Voices is actually hoping for people and organizations to stand up in order to bring change. Psychological safety is a multifaceted topic. In one sense it’s quite straightforward — Afterall, in its simplest form, it’s about having conversations at work! In another sense, it is not as straightforward — because it’s about bringing to light what might be ingrained behind corporate walls. That’s why we need to take one step at a time with this movement in order to solve the root problems.
Concretely, we are looking for people to (1) share their stories (they can be shared anonymously via our website) and (2) pledge their support for prioritizing psychological safety through their social media channels (they will also receive a digital badge from us!).
And finally (3) by reaching out to us directly, we can align other efforts together. We need more and more people to raise their voices on this topic — in a unified way and with bold action.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership is about having a vision and a humble mindset and serving from behind. Leadership is not a status symbol or title — it’s about bringing the best out in others. We all have skills and talents to share in this world and good leadership helps identify these talents and develop others to unlock their own potential. I would like to add that leaders do not lead on every topic all the time. We also need to know when to step back and be a follower too.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Just start and learn along the way — It took me a long time to have the courage to publicly share Vanguard Voices. I want to do a good job on everything, but I was (and still am) especially sensitive about the messaging of Vanguard Voices. We want to attract those people who sincerely care about this cause and so in my mind, the wording had to be immaculate. What I eventually learned was that I will not get it right all the time. By just starting and putting Vanguard Voices out there, I am learning what resonates and adjusting the approach along the way.
- Be Prepared & Be Concise — When I first started, whenever I shared the story of Vanguard Voices, it was a long rambling one. Over time I learned the importance of keeping it short. Sometimes you only have one shot at something — for example, a meeting with a senior leader or a speech at a big event. Always be prepared. Know the perspective of your audience, be clear on your own points and stand firm in what you believe. People’s attention can be limited so use their valuable time effectively.
- Meet people where they are at — Everyone comes with their own experiences and stories and they might be very different from yours. Listen with curiosity and enjoy the richness of sharing together.
- There will be toxic positivity & resistance at times — We all have different levels of positivity and optimism. When I started sharing stories, I was told that we are being negative. I was a bit frustrated at first because I feel that sharing real workplace stories lived by so many people is as authentic as it gets. I had to learn that there will always be some sort of resistance along the way, especially when you are challenging the status quo. Keep going in spite of the circumstances. It can be difficult at times, but keeping the focus on the vision is definitely the motivator.
- Adjust to different situations — By nature I am a reflective person. I prefer to have time to myself and not necessarily at any stage. Through the Vanguard Voices experience, I’ve had to learn to adjust myself and my energy levels according to the different situations I encounter. I continually remind myself that we do not change the world by keeping quiet and keeping my reflections to myself. We can make change happen by confronting our fears and speaking out our powerful truth.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Well, a global movement is exactly what I’m building! My vision is that values are lived in the hallways, psychological safety is prioritized in every organization across the world, and all employees feel safe in the knowledge that they are. All the research points to the fact that psychological safety is the foundation for successful workplaces — and when it is prioritized, employees win and companies win too.
We need a collective cry on this topic- and while there are many people and companies working to improve workplaces in their corner of the world, wouldn’t it be more powerful to join forces and apply positive pressure on what we expect from organizations today? I think so.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorites is, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” by Angela Davis.
I am a wife and a mother of 3 young girls with a full-time job — and together with Vanguard Voices, life is full — but also fulfilling. I believe that psychological safety affects every area of our lives and those around us. If one doesn’t feel safe at work, one can easily carry mental and emotional baggage to the family and greater society. Vanguard Voices’ vision to prioritize psychological safety in workplaces everywhere is so strong and clear in my mind that it keeps me focused and working towards it every day. Creating safe workplaces is the enabler of other topics such as diversity and inclusion and mental health topics at work. When addressing psychological safety we can change the world in so many ways — I truly believe it’s possible.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
There are so many people I would love to share a meal with, but more than that align forces in a concrete way — Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, Adam Grant, and Amy Edmondson to name a few. They all consult in this similar space and I believe that instead of working in our different corners, by joining up our efforts, we could make a tangible difference for countless numbers of people.
However, there is one person I particularly respect from afar — Malala. Malala represents so much of who I am but also who I hope to be more of. She’s an advocate for girls’ right to learn, and after she spoke up, she became a target. But she never lost sight of what she stands for. She says, ‘“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls.” I feel a connection with her because I believe the same about workplace stories.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I regularly post on my LinkedIn and you can sign up to join our community to help build out our movement at Vanguard Voices.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute! I’m excited about the potential opportunities and even more connections with those who believe in our cause.
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Jessica Bensch of Vanguard Voices Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.