How Stephanie Lepp Makes Room for a Reckoning


Stephanie Lepp is the creator and host of a podcast about how people change their hearts and minds-- it’s about people who decided on their own to completely change their world views. It’s about people who took a look in the mirror, and realized they did not like what they saw. How do you do that? Her show is called Reckonings...and it sure feels like our society could use a reckoning right about now. But do things need to change on an individual level first? I invited Stephanie to share what she’s learned about how personal change can lead to positive societal change.


TRANSCRIPT. We do our best on these, if you see an error, let us know!

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller. And today on Inflection Point we want a lot of people to change their ways right now. How far are you willing to go to let them?

Stephanie Lepp:                It's amazing what a gesture can do and are we willing to let alone give the person a job, just let the bad guy change?

Lauren Schiller:                  Join me and Stephanie Lepp of Reckonings. Stay tuned.

Stephanie Lepp:                I am Stephanie Lepp. When I feel comfortable with people I would say that I'm a tuning fork. I would say that I am a gentle mirror.

Lauren Schiller:                  Tell me more about the tuning fork.

Stephanie Lepp:                The tuning fork.

Lauren Schiller:                  I love that.

Stephanie Lepp:                I mean, I just came out right now. I guess I am seeing the gravity of the situation or sensing the gravity of the situation but also responding to it in a way that is hopeful and creative and maintains imagination and maintains humor.

Lauren Schiller:                  But it seems like both of your metaphors are about being in touch with the world and wanting to kind of play back what you're seeing.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes, because I think that's part of the idea of in order to get to anywhere we have to start from where we are. Part of it is yes, must see the nature of the situation clearly in order to go anywhere, but cannot stop only at seeing the nature of the situation clearly. That can also just lead us to stagnation and depression. So there is both a seeing clearly and a dose of creativity and imagination and hope to move us forward.

Lauren Schiller:                  This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller. And that's Stephanie Lepp, the creator, and host of a podcast about how people change their hearts and minds. And this isn't about changing your mind on the small stuff like, "Oh, I wanted to cook dinner in but instead let's eat out." It's about people who decided on their own to completely change their world views. This is not an easy thing. I mean, when's the last time you did that, or I did that or made room for someone else to? Her show is about people who took a look in the mirror and realized they didn't like what they saw. As someone said to me, it's like they took their own hearts out of their bodies, took a good look at them, moved things around a little and put them back inside. How do you do that?

                                                      The show is called fittingly Reckonings. And it sure feels like our society could use a reckoning right about now. But do things need to change on an individual level first? I invited Stephanie to share what she's learned about how personal change can lead to positive societal change. So where did you grow up?

Stephanie Lepp:                I grew up in the North Bay [crosstalk 00:03:41].

Lauren Schiller:                  Of California.

Stephanie Lepp:                Of California. Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did that influence the way you think about the world do you think?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah, my mom is a yoga instructor. My dad is in technology. I'm a Mexican Jew. I was raised very much... Spanish was my first language and my mom is an artist who would always kind of take us to every single museum within a 25 mile radius of wherever we were traveling I feel like, grew up in an area and in a family that was definitely very much about being open and available and thinking freely and asking questions. And Judaism also has kind of a practice of asking questions, right? There's kind of like the reinterpretation and re-reinterpretation of every single thing in Jewish history. It's kind of like we continue to ask questions about the same old things forever and ever and ever.

                                                      I think I've just been aware of my evolving consciousness from a young age. I mean, I remember in second grade waiting for the school bus for second grade. And I remember thinking, "Last year I didn't know anything. Last year was first grade. I didn't know anything. Now I really know what's up. I'm going into second grade." And then having that same experience going into third grade, and having that experience enough times that I was like, "Wait a second. I'm noticing a pattern here. Maybe I don't actually know everything there is to know now that I'm going into fifth grade. Maybe my mind is actually just in a process of changing and growing and evolving." And that stuck with me.

Lauren Schiller:                  So this concept of how people change their hearts and minds, I mean, why is that something you decided you really wanted to explore?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah. So that was through my earliest experiences with activism and social change in college and early into my professional life the question would always come up am I changing anyone's mind? Am I actually moving anyone on climate change or mandatory minimums or whatever issue I happen to be focused on at the time, which then of course, begs the question, how do people actually change their hearts and minds? And that question just kind of became a little bit of a fascination of mine. But I almost didn't even know what am I even researching here. What's the search term in my googling worldview transformation? Is that even a thing? I know behavioral economics is a thing, but I'm not looking to find out what makes people floss their teeth more often. I'm looking to find out what moves people in fundamental ways.

                                                      And it finally just kind of occurred to me that that question might be really powerful to manifest in the form of stories of people who have made these kinds of transformative change as a podcast. And so that's where Reckonings comes from. It is an exploration of the question how do people change, and really kind of more specifically, how do people change in ways that connect to or scale into broader social and political change.

Lauren Schiller:                  And so when you think about your role in bringing this understanding to light, I mean, how do you think of yourself?

Stephanie Lepp:                I mean, a mirror actually is very apt. That's really what I'm doing for the person I'm interviewing. I'm just being a gentle... I deliberately don't do interviews in person. Because a lot of what I'm asking people I'm asking people to talk about some really sensitive stuff sometimes. Sometimes it's the thing that they are the least proud of, the thing that they are really reckoning with. And I find it more helpful if I can just kind of be a little voice in their head that holds up a mirror to them such that they can just see clearly what they have done, the impact that they may have had on other people, and then how they have learned from that and grown from that. I want to make an uncomfortable experience like a tiny bit more comfortable, just a tiny bit, so you can just hang out in it longer and speak from that place.

Lauren Schiller:                  From the standpoint of the listener or the person who you are talking to?

Stephanie Lepp:                The person telling the story. Are we just going to keep taking the mirror metaphor everywhere? We might. I mean, yeah, the listener, there is kind of maybe a collective mirror of us beholding our own capacity to change. That's certainly part of what I'm doing, because I believe that we can at least even just for me personally in producing the show it's like what does it do to us to wander through the world with the belief that the people around us can change? It just creates more room for new things to happen that haven't happened before.

Lauren Schiller:                  Have you ever wanted to turn the mic on yourself? I mean, is there a reckoning of your own that you've been wanting to explore?

Stephanie Lepp:                I find that so intimidating. It's amazing that no one... I've been interviewed a little bit, a couple times. And it's amazing to me that no one has asked me the question of what I'm reckoning with, which I dread, which is so amazing to me or just hysterical to me because yeah, I mean, obviously, that's what I'm asking my guests to do. But I'm kind of just in total awe of all of my guests. I think what they do is so hard. It's like basically asking you in some ways to have a public therapy session. I mean, you're just letting out the hardest things. Have I wanted to turn the mic on myself? No. That sounds really scary. Which is part of why I'm so in awe of my guests.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, what are you reckoning?

Stephanie Lepp:                So therefore, you're going to ask me the question.

Lauren Schiller:                  What are you reckoning with?

Stephanie Lepp:                What I am reckoning with is put really simply my relationship with productivity. It took me a long time to understand what I want to do. And so I feel like I've wasted all this time. And I have all this kind of old regret, and so therefore I must use all of my time super productively. And so I'm in this tug of war with time and I just hold my time accountable to... I mean, even just my understanding of what productive even means it prevents me from really just kind of being inside of and experiencing my life, is what it's preventing. And it became much more apparent to me once my daughter was born.

                                                      I thought she was going to start challenging me when she turned 13. It started immediately. It's like the second she came out of the womb, she was like, "Let me hold up a mirror to you mom and show you how addicted you are to crossing things off your list of things to do, because the second I need something from you have a really hard time diverting from whatever your plan was for what you were going to do in the next 10 minutes or the entire day." So it's just become that much more apparent to me as a mom, and I feel I am reckoning with... I mean, I guess it's also just the way I relate to and then have in my life and I am wanting to feel less like I'm struggling against my life or struggling against time and more in a experience of gratitude and awe for my life.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller being fully present with Stephanie Lepp, host of the podcast Reckonings, a show about how people change their hearts and minds. You can cross one thing off your list when you subscribe to the podcast and make a contribution toward our production at Coming up, Stephanie will share clips from her show, including the reckoning of a former neo-nazi. And she'll share what she learned from a sexual abuse survivor and her perpetrator, both of whom managed to work through it using restorative justice.

                                                      I'm Lauren Schiller and this is Inflection Point. I'm here with Stephanie Lepp, host of the podcast Reckonings, and we're talking about how personal change can lead to positive societal change. Well, let's talk about some of the people that you talked to on Reckoning. I would like to start with your episode 19, which is about violent white extremists, because that... well, I mean, we can't walk away from it. So in this episode you talk with two different men-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... Jesse and Frank.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Why don't you tell us a little bit about each of those guys and then we'll play the clip.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah. So Frank is a former white supremacist. Jesse is a former jihadi extremist. And I weave their stories together. And part of the reason I do that is because I guess on the one hand we kind of think of those ideologies as somehow kind of like opposite or something. But you get to see how when you need something, when you are just feeling broken, and don't have many options and it's like you're going to reach for heroin, or alcohol, or white supremacy or jihadi extreme, whatever it is that helps you cope. And either one of them could have gone in the other direction. And there are times in the episode where you may not even be able to distinguish between their voices, but that's kind of part of the point.

                                                      So this is when Frank, he just got out of jail. He's looking for a job. He can't find a job. He has swastika tattoos all over him. And through a friend he manages to get a gig at a trade show with a Jewish antique dealer. And the Jewish antique dealer knows that Frank is a neo-nazi, but he says he doesn't care what Frank believes as long as he doesn't break the furniture. And so this clip picks up right after Frank has worked to this gig at the trade show with this Jewish antique dealer.

Lauren Schiller:                  And this guy Frank is the basis for the-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... character that Ed Norton plays in American-

Stephanie Lepp:                American History X, yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  1998 for those of who are wondering when did that movie come out. Yeah. So if you've seen that movie or if you go see that movie that gives a instantaneous visual-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... from what we're talking about here.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Frank:                                        He gave me a ride home that night. And when he gave me the ride home and then as he's dropping me off he just goes, "Hey, what do you do for a living?" I said, "I don't do anything." He goes, "Why don't you come work for me?" And I'm looking down at my Dr Martens on my red laces, which meant I'm a neo-nazi. And I keep looking down at the boots as he's talking to me, this Jewish man, and I'm trying to hide the boots underneath the other part of the seat. I'm just looking at him like, "Thank god this human being is in my life."

                                                      It's fear. I was full of fear. I was full of absolute fear for everything. And so I got with a group of people who also were fearful people, their fear for losing their homeland are going to lose their women to the black man. You name it. And my fear I felt made me weak. And so what they did is they turned my fear into an anger. And they made it to where it was my strong point. I was embarrassed. I was completely embarrassed of my beliefs. I was wrong, and I'd been wrong for the last seven years of my life. I'd been completely wrong. This is all [inaudible 00:16:42]. I believed in something that I was willing to die and kill for, something that is [inaudible 00:16:48].

                                                      I had so much seniority in this group. Seniority was important to me because I had nothing in this world. I cut everything and everybody that was not part of the movement out of my life. So that's all I have. So the car ride is coming to an end and he drops me off. And he goes, "I'll see you Monday, right?" And I took my pay and I went home and I could not wait to get home and get them boots off my feet. My whole image of me is gone. And I got to build something new.

Lauren Schiller:                  So for this episode the overarching question that you ask is what happens when we look past ideology.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  And, I mean, this guy that gave him a job, this Jewish guy that gave this neo-nazi with swastikas all over himself a job. I mean, it's kind of incredible.

Stephanie Lepp:                It's completely incredible. It's completely incredible. I mean, it's both incredible that he was willing to do that, and it's also incredible how much that does, how much a gesture like that can do. And yeah, it poses the question back to us if we were that Jewish man would we have given Frank a job? I mean, even less than that, like giving someone a job, even talk to people being willing to talk to people. So yeah, it's amazing what a gesture can do, and yeah, I take that back to are we willing to let alone give the person a job just let the bad guy change?

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean, one of the things that this episode made me think about and even just that clip is the responsibility of the person who is going to change or wants to change or maybe doesn't even know yet that they want to change and that it has to be a two way street. So there's the input from someone showing compassion. But then there's how is that received? How was he in that place at that time to be able to accept the work, even if he had reservations about whether or not he would get paid, which is part of what we didn't hear.

Stephanie Lepp:                Well, and it's a gradual... so Frank's transformation process actually started in jail when he started playing sports with black people and started getting to know black people really for the first time in his life. And it was coming from that experience and the confusion that that brought up of like, "Wait, actually black people are fine." Then he had this experience, so generosity from a Jewish person, and that just kind of sealed the deal in terms of revealing to him the absolute bankruptcy of his ideology.

                                                      And so it was a gradual thing. But yes, that is kind of what put him in the position and say, "Well, wait a second." Because you go through this process of like, "Okay. Fine, black people are fine, but Jewish people?" And it's like me with the school bus. After having enough experiences of seeing yourself repeat the same pattern you start to wonder is there a pattern here? Am I going to just say, "Okay. Fine Jewish people, but then the next person." Or am I finally going to say, "Actually, maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the way that I have been seeing the world"?

Lauren Schiller:                  So on this topic of domestic terrorism and white supremacism and the attacks in El Paso and Dayton and Gilroy, and you reference in this episode the Oklahoma City bombing. One of your characters, I wouldn't know if it was Frank or Jesse.

Stephanie Lepp:                It was Frank. It was Frank, yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  So Frank, the same fellow has insight into the bomber.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Timothy McVeigh. And so he wants to go and talk to the FBI-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... about that. So can you just share a little bit about what happens as a result?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah, he watched the bombing or he watched kind of footage from the bombing on TV. And it was one scene in particular of a firefighter carrying I think a very young girl who looked like she might have been killed. And he just realized like, "I actually understand where this bomber was coming from, and I need to help. I need to use that understanding I have to help us prevent this from happening." So that's when he showed up at the FBI and he kind of... I think they first kind of were a little disarmed, but he showed up, he was like, "I need to talk to you about the bombing." Like, "No, I don't know information about the person but I understand where that person was coming from. And I need to help you understand where that person was coming from."

                                                      First I think he worked with the FBI and then even started working with the Anti-Defamation League and talking to Jewish audiences about what gives rise to these kinds of ideologies. And I guess this is kind of the concrete thing if you want to share with this episode. Actually both he and Jesse are part of this... It's called the Against Violent Extremism Network. This is unbelievable too me. It's a searchable database of former violent extremists. You can literally search for the kind of violent extremism you're looking for, so that you can find someone, a former extremists, who can then talk to current extremists or their families and basically help people exit lives of extremist violence, because they can speak to, they were there, they can speak to who they are coming from and kind of make the bridge to where they have come to.

                                                      And yeah, it's unbelievable to me that something like that even exists. But that's basically what they have made themselves, both Frank and Jesse and the others who are a part of it, made themselves available for is available for people who are still in those ideologies to even just kind of explore, experiment, or conceive of the possibility of moving in a new direction.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Which gets back to this question of when is someone ready? How can their path change sooner before the violent act?

Stephanie Lepp:                I don't know if I have a specific answer to that question. But certainly making it possible, making it available for them. I don't know if the Against Violent Extremism Network has an anonymous hotline or something where you don't have to... yeah, I don't know. But at least having that be... and I don't know how it's promoted. And actually, here's a kind of a similar example. Are you familiar with Footsteps?

Lauren Schiller:                  No.

Stephanie Lepp:                And I do not want to equate these things at all but just kind of an analogy in the sense that... now I'm almost hesitating. But it's an organization that helps Orthodox Jews explore the possibility of leaving the orthodoxy. That's really all it is. And I don't know how they promote themselves, but even just knowing that there's somewhere you can go, maybe it's anonymous or the person doesn't have to know you where you can even just dip your toe in the water of change, just see how it feels, try it on, don't have to commit to anything, don't have to change your public identity about it yet. But yeah, I mean, it's like if we're going to ask people to jump ship we need to give them a ship to jump to. So to the extent that there can be ships out there, that is helpful.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's play a clip from another episode. This is episode 21, a survivor and her perpetrator find justice. For this one, you pose the question what does it sound like for a survivor to get her needs met? And what does it sound like for a perpetrator to take responsibility for his sexual abuse of power? Before we even play the clip I'm curious. How did you get answers to these questions? How did you find these people who are willing to talk to you?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah. So I was looking for them for a long time. I knew I wanted to find a perpetrator and survivor of sexual assault who managed to work through it using restorative justice. Because I just felt like that's what we weren't hearing and would be really helpful to hear the voice of a survivor who got her needs met and the voice of a perpetrator who actually graciously skillfully takes responsibility for his sexual abuse. And so I just reached out to and bugged all the practitioners of restorative justice for sexual assault violence that I could find, which, by the way, the fact that that's even a job that people have is amazing to me that that's some people's job, what they do for a living. So I reached out to as many of these practitioners as I could find. And someone named David Karp kept my name and got back to me a year later, and said, "I think I found your guests."

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's see hear this clip. So you've given names to these people. These are not their real name.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes. These are pseudonyms. They gave themselves their pseudonyms.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. Great. So just introduce us to who these people are.

Stephanie Lepp:                Unwin and Sameer. Yes. So Unwin and Sameer met freshman year. Sameer was into Unwin, and they started kind of seeing each other a little bit, but then Unwin kind of blew him off and one night they ended up at the same fraternity party, which is when Sameer convinced Unwin to come home with him and then coerced her into sexual activity. So that was freshman year. And then their senior year, and you're going to have to listen to the episode to find out what happened between freshman year and senior year, but their senior year Unwin invited Sameer into a process of restorative justice.

                                                      Restorative justice basically is a response to crime that engages offenders and victims in repairing the harm that was caused. So Unwin invites Sameer into this process, and I also want to be really clear that in this episode we hear from both Unwin and Sameer, although in this clip we're only going to hear from Sameer. So this is kind of in the middle of the restorative justice process. This is right after Sameer reads Unwin's written testimony of what happened that night.

Sameer:                                   I thought in my brain I had asked her to take her shirt off. I didn't. I told her. I did not remember emotionally manipulating her to coming back to staying with me. I thought from my perspective I was being a potential teacher when it came to oral sex. Turns out, I was basically coercing her into doing this even though she wasn't comfortable. For my end I was like, "Oh, this was just a fun hookup." But then from her end it's like, "This guy is like pushing himself on me," and it didn't sound like me. It sounded like a monster. But that was the hardest part was that this guy who forced himself onto this girl is me.

                                                      I think it was combination of desperation, validation, wanting to finally get the girl that I've been after forever. I wanted to have fun and run around and just have a bunch of sex because that's what I thought college was. But now I wish I could just go back and talk to the kid and just be like, "Hey, dude, your heart is may be in a good place right now. But here's some things you need to know before you start engaging in sexual activities with other people that will prevent a lot of pain. You're a larger guy. You can't just go ahead and ask things and then expect people not to be intimidated by it. If it's not an enthusiastic yes don't do it."

                                                      I've made it very difficult for her to enjoy many parts of intimacy. I absolutely terrified her for years just being around. She would spend every day or at least once at some point almost every day trapped in that night and basically reliving it and she's had to think about it every single day. And I'm not sure if the wounds are all the way healed. I doubt they are but it's a pain that I can't take away no matter what I do. I can't take that away, and I know I've said it 1000 times but I am sorry.

Lauren Schiller:                  I've listened to that so many times and every time-

Stephanie Lepp:                Me too.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... it just gets me the same.

Stephanie Lepp:                Me too. Me too. Yeah. Me too. Me too [inaudible 00:32:00].

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I mean, what was your takeaway from what they went through and what people who are listening to this could take away too?

Stephanie Lepp:                Well, first of all it's just so refreshing to finally hear a man take responsibility and do it in a... he did kind of at first get a little stuck in this whoa it was me thing, which is not... this isn't about you. You can't get too stuck in self pity because then you're not actually helping the other person. So it's not just about hearing someone kind of like grovel. It's see clearly what they did and then be inspired by it, take that as, I don't know if inspiration, but yeah, it's motivation to help and to heal and for Sameer to work on this issue in particular. And so it's really refreshing to hear a man do that gracefully.

                                                      And it actually sounds... I mean, that's part of what I feel like my job here is, is to make it sound more stunning, more powerful, more manly I could say, to take responsibility, and to, let's say even be also just communicate around sexual intimacy in an open and mature way than to do the other thing where we're just kind of aloof and don't know how we affect other people or maybe don't care about that. Part of my goal here is to make it sound more beautiful and powerful and sure, manly to do what he did. And it does actually sound beautiful and powerful to take a look in the mirror and grow from what we see.

Lauren Schiller:                  In kind of the bigger picture of social change and being convinced that there's a better way forward if we think things are going arise, say, I don't know, with our society [inaudible 00:34:07] people who we might not agree with on a whole host of issues from the political on down to the biological let's say. They think they're right and they don't need to change, and we think we're right and we don't need to change, and finding a way to open the conversation and communication feels like the hardest task of all. So in terms of the kinds of things that you've learned from hearing these stories, these stories of change, I mean, is there kind of an anatomy of change or a way to take this personal change and think about it in terms of how does that scale-

Stephanie Lepp:                How does that scale.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... to social change?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah, and that's kind of precisely what I'm playing with here, is the relationship between personal and social change, this idea that big change out there in the world can start in here, inside of us, and that therefore we can be the change. But how does that actually happen? What does that actually mean? Well, we can look at these episodes as example. How does Sameer's personal change translate into social change. It's one less dude who's just kind of going around engaging in sexual activity in kind of a mindless way and one more mindful dude who has done this thing and has really learned from it and grown from it and can talk to other men about it.

                                                      Frank. It's one less white supremacist and one more advocate who can talk to people who still live lives of violence and can also kind of help us understand where he was coming from and where people are coming from and what would speak to them. So part of it is, let's say, growing the cadre of advocates or allies, and these people are kind of like uniquely effective advocates because they are kind of these bridge people. Sameer can speak to guys. He's a young guy. Frank was a leader in the movement.

                                                      So part of it is growing the team. And I tend to think about things in terms of power. And we all have the power to change ourselves, but some of us have more power in this world than others. And put crudely, their personal change would therefore translate into even broader social change. There have been guests of mine, for example, who have a lot of influence. So let's say for former congressman Bob Inglis made a really dramatic shift on climate change. He has a lot of power, and so his personal reckoning had that much more kind of social impact.

                                                      Jerry Taylor was a prominent... he was kind of like the spokesperson for climate skepticism. And his transformation also can lead to... So when I think about my wish list of guests I kind of think about who are the fewest number of people that if they had a personal reckoning that would lead to the biggest social change? What if Charles Koch had a reckoning? But that's still kind of coming from how does personal change lead to social change. We can also kind of think in the other direction, how does social change translate into personal change? How does or should the experience of participating in social change kind of change us as individuals when we have participated or when I have participated in activism and social change? Has it made me more angry? Has it made me more compassionate? Has it made me more hopeful? How does even engaging in social change or how do we want it to kind of change us personally?

Lauren Schiller:                  Have you heard from any of the people that you've spoken with... Well, you know you can kind of like feel a cold coming on? You get a little tickle in the throat or whatever, have they ever talked about feeling a change coming on whether it's a mental or physical sign that I am about to think about something differently? And how do you recognize that?

Stephanie Lepp:                I love that question. I've never heard a guest say that. And also for some people, they hit a rock bottom and clearly something needs to change. A white supremacist I interviewed a while ago, he hit a point where he said he was sitting over a bridge with a gun in his hand, and he said, "Wither I'm going to kill myself now or I'm going to change." For other people there's also kind of a house of cards thing that happens where... because a lot of our ideas are kind of like interconnected or held up by each other.

                                                      And so once you start dismantling one thing the entire house of cards just comes crashing down. So there was a young man I interviewed who he was in the military. He fought in Afghanistan and he became a conscientious objector. And once he started dismantling his ideas about the military and war all of a sudden his ideas about religion, politics, everything came crashing down. So sometimes there's also just an initial change that is kind of like, I don't know, canary in the coal mine or the kind of like a sign that more change is coming.

                                                      A third thing I'll say is we kind of create opportunities for ourselves or at least we can for I'm thinking specifically of Yom Kippur in particular. Is my favorite Jewish holiday. It's a holiday where you basically take a day too fast and reflect on how you affect other people and how you want to affect other people. And thank God I could definitely use that once a year. It's really helpful. Thank you God.

                                                      I mean, that's kind of like planting opportunities for change in your life. So maybe it's not like I can feel it coming on like a cold, but I at least want to make a little space in my life for it to happen if it needs to happen, and it probably does need to happen on a somewhat regular basis throughout my life with intention.

Lauren Schiller:                  What are the lessons that you have learned from all of these stories that you're gathering?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes. So I used to have this extremely unscientific list of things that I thought radically transformed people. So falling in love, near death experiences, psychedelics, sometimes very rarely information because we usually just trust information that confirms what we already believe. And from what I have seen from the hours and hours of talking to people who have made transformative change, it's not that those things make us change. What those things have in common, or what they do, is that they reveal to us the difference between who we think we are and who we actually are, or the difference between the impact we think we're having on the world and the impact we are actually having on the world. And it's seeing that difference. It's seeing that gap. That is what initiates the process of transformation.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, what's the best advice that you've ever been given about how to change?

Stephanie Lepp:                How to change myself?

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah.

Stephanie Lepp:                What's coming up for me is a quote by a philosopher named Ken Wilber, which is, "Any good theory helps you get to a better one." So to kind of just treat where I am, what I believe as kind of the provisional on my way to where... it's not the end all be all. I haven't figured it out. It's just the next step. It's what's going to help me keep moving forward in my pursuit of unimaginable happiness, joy, understanding, peace, love, all of it. So yeah, to just treat what I believe now or where I'm at now as the provisional and part of the movement forward.

                                                      I'm not all for like peace, love compassion, always. I'm a mischievous, pragmatic pluralist. Within the context of restorative justice, restorative justice and traditional criminal justice are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone is sitting in jail doesn't mean they can't work to repair the harm that they caused somebody else. So people should enjoy the consequences that are appropriate to whatever they did. And if we're also interested in having people also learn from and grow beyond what they did well, then, restorative justice is really helpful. It's not compassion or consequences. It's all of the above, under the right circumstances, in pursuit of our collective liberation. We have the punishment thing down. We know how to do that in this country. Actually then learning from the thing we did, that's the thing that we like, have it totally engaged.


Lauren Schiller:                  If you're considering a change stick around and hear Stephanie Lepp's toolkit for how your small personal change can lead to greater societal change. I'm Lauren Schiller. And if you're wondering what personal change you can make that can lead to positive societal change here's your toolkit with Stephanie Lepp. First things first, Stephanie says we need to make room for change.

Stephanie Lepp:                Over the years of producing Reckonings I have been able to witness our human capacity to change. We are capable of all kinds of extraordinary change, and we need room. We need room to change. And we are such a punitive culture. It's like even after perpetrators have taken responsibility or let's say kind of healed things up with their survivor or their victim, which in my humble opinion that's the most important stakeholder here, we often are still not even willing to see them kind of beyond the worst thing they ever did, or let them help. I mean, Sameer is a perfect example. He tried. He reached out to local public high schools and tried to kind of tell his story as part of their sex ed program. And they didn't know how to let an ex offender help.

                                                      And so the personal change, I think we can make, that could translate into broader social change is yes, to make more room for each other to change and grow, to make room under the right circumstances for perpetrators to become allies, which might sound like a blasphemous thing, but then when you hear it within the context of Sameer that can make sense.

Lauren Schiller:                  Stephanie says to keep a conversation open try not to respond with judgment or shame when you hear ideas you disagree with.

Stephanie Lepp:                I mean, if you think about Me Too as an example let's think about how have we each kind of participated in the Me Too conversation, how have we talked to the older men in our lives or even the younger men in our lives, or what have we liked online, or shared online, or commented or tweeted? Have we kind of adapted our ideas about someone to the way they actually behave to whether or not they have actually taken responsibility? I mean, I can give a personal example. I had a really long conversation with my father-in-law recently. We ended up in a car together for a long drive. And he heard Unwin and Sameer's episode and he responded in, I hate to say it, but it's kind of like the typical way that men his age kind of respond which is like, "In my day that wouldn't have been sexual assault. And so is that really sexual assault?"

                                                      And my response to him is like, "Just because there wasn't sexual assault in your day doesn't mean it's right. It doesn't mean like someone wasn't hurt." And so I think in our conversation I guess I didn't respond to him with judgment or shame. I made enough room, I think, in our conversation for him to kind of expand his mind on this and in a way that actually made me want to talk to his siblings, like my aunt and uncles in law. They kind of came into the conversation at a certain point, and I decided I'm going to talk to them over Thanksgiving, which is the whole trope of not talking about politics at the Thanksgiving table. But yeah, I guess the question to ask ourselves is am I engaging in the issues I care about in a way that makes enough room for my adversaries To change.

Lauren Schiller:                  And number three, the easiest way to remove barriers is to make connections. Ask questions and understand where someone is coming from.

Stephanie Lepp:                What I have found is that you may actually have similar values or similar intentions or similar... My father-in-law is and example. It's like he would not want anyone to be hurt either. And so if we can agree from that then we can kind of reverse engineer how do we get there. The LGBT Center in LA, this is a story, but I think it'll help answer the question, the LGBT Center in LA so after Prop 8 passed in California, which anti gay marriage, there was this whole reckoning really like how did that happen in California, in a state like California.

                                                      And so they did this thing, which apparently is really rare and political polling, where they decided to talk to people who voted against them, who voted against gay marriage, to understand where they were coming from and kind of with this idea of like, "Maybe we're going to change their minds." And so firstly knocking on doors and talking to people and kind of like shaming them a little bit. And of course, that didn't work. And what they learned, what they realized was that all they have to do is ask people open ended questions. And you can actually watch these conversations. They have videos.

                                                      So you watch this person knock on someone's door. It's like, "Oh, how did you vote on Prop 8?" It's like, "Okay, do you know anyone who's gay?" And the person's like, ""Oh, yeah. My cousin is gay." It's like, "Oh, tell me about your cousin. It's like, "I love my cousin. We have Thanksgiving at their house every year. And he's amazing with my kids. And I love him," whatever. "Okay, great. Are you married?" Like, "Yeah, I'm married." Like, "Well, tell me about your marriage." It's like, "I have the best relationship. I'm in love with her. We've been married for 50 years," whatever. And it's like, "Does your cousin know how you voted on Prop 8?" It's like, "Well, no. I haven't really talked to them about it." "And so how do you think they would feel about how you voted?"

                                                      You watch this person in real time, a stranger just asking them open ended questions about their life. And what I've learned about what moves people to change it's really just about seeing the difference between who you think you are and who you actually are. And it's seeing that difference, seeing that gap, that is what initiates. So all these people are doing is just holding up a mirror. You think you are, whatever you think you are. Frank thought he was this defender of the white race, but here is what you actually are, Frank, You were just an angry and violent and bigoted individual. And that person can make their own determination based on that. And so yeah, I mean, this isn't like a short tip or trick but hold holding up a mirror showing people themselves asking them open ended questions about themselves. People can come to it.

Lauren Schiller:                  That was Stephanie Lepp, mirror, tuning fork, and the host of the Reckonings podcast. I've got a link to her show on my website at You'll find this episode in the Inflection Point podcast feed in two segments. One is the full interview, and the other is the toolkit you just heard. With three ways your personal change can lead to positive societal change. Find Inflection Point episodes in any podcast app, or go to This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller, and this is how women rise up.

                                                      That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on Apple podcasts, RadioPublic Stitcher, Pandora, NPR One, all the places. Give us a five star review and subscribe to the podcast. Know women leading change we should talk to? Let us know at While you're there support our production with a tax deductible monthly or one time contribution. When women rise up, we all rise up. Just go to We're on Facebook and Instagram at Inflection Point Radio. Follow us and join the Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small daily actions. And follow me on twitter @Laschiller.

                                                      To find out more about today's guest and to be in the loop with our email newsletter, you know where to go, Inflection Point is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco, and PRX. Our community manager is Alaura Weaver. Our engineer and producer is Eric Lane. I'm your host Lauren Schiller.



The End of Human Trafficking May Begin with Radical Empathy - Julia Flynn Siler

In 19th Century San Francisco's Chinatown only 1 in 10 people were women, and most of them were forced into prostitution, trafficked by criminal tongs. In today’s episode, meet the Scottish sewing instructor Donaldina Cameron and the women she collaborated with and helped escape from sex slavery between 1870 and 1930. This week on Inflection Point: Julia Flynn Siler talks about her new book The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Prepare yourself for bomb scares and bubonic plague quarantines, court cases and crowdfunding efforts. Join us in what is, ultimately, a conversation about standing up to a broken society, and how women can help women rise up.

Recorded at the Bay Area Book Festival in May 2019 as part of their Women Lit programming.

Photo courtesy of Julia Flynn Siler

Photo courtesy of Julia Flynn Siler

“Put down your male fragility”: Scene On Radio’s John Biewen & Celeste Headlee on how men can help fight patriarchy

What’s going on with men? Why is it so hard to negotiate the gender power dynamic in everyday situations, like work meetings? Can masculinity exist without its more toxic forms? And why can men get away with sexual misconduct---and even end up seeming like the “real” victim when they’re accused?

While I’ve taken this season of Inflection Point to focus on what women can do to rise up and have more power, John Biewen and Celeste Headlee of Scene on Radio - MEN have been examining how the patriarchy that we’re rising up against was formed in the first place--and what to do about it.

Today we’re taking a look at the conversations we’ve had over the past seasons of both shows and comparing notes to see if we can find some answers---together.

Celeste and John option 2.jpg

Stitch Fix Founder Katrina Lake gives the C-Suite a Makeover

At age 35, Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake became the youngest female founder and CEO to take a company public in 2017. Stitch Fix is now worth over two billion dollars. She has not only changed the way many of us shop for clothes, but she’s also changing how we think about leaders. Find out she learned to embrace her history-making role as the youngest woman to take a startup to IPO.



Katrina Lake:                       " I was almost like prickly about being a female CEO in the early days and I think it was at a time when you would see companies like Dropbox and AirBNB and whatever else and I was like, I just want to be a CEO and I don't need to be a female CEO, and I don't need to be the female CEO. "

Lauren Schiller:                  Meet Katrina Lake. If you've got a Facebook feed there's a good chance you've come across her online personal styling company, StitchFix. If you haven't come across this phenomenon it's like having a personal clothing stylist pick out clothes for you, ship them to your house and not complain when you send anything back. At age 35, in 2017, Katrina became the youngest female founder and CEO to take a company public. Stitchfix is now worth over $2 billion, and she got there by breaking the mold of what you might still typically think of when you think of leadership.

Katrina Lake:                       "I think a lot of the things that you think about as an entrepreneur, you think somebody who's like super risky and somebody who's going to stay up for all hours tinkering with something in their garage. Not that I didn't spend all hours doing StitchFix at some point, but you know, I don't think that I had like the typical traits of an entrepreneur. "

Lauren Schiller:                  Katrina has not only changed the way many of us shop with StitchFix, but she's also changing how we think about leaders. For one thing, you may have caught all the press hullaballoo over the picture of her from the Nasdaq IPO when she stood onstage with her young son on her hip unintentionally setting the tone for a new generation of women leaders. Her executive team is as close to a 50/50 gender split as you can get and now she plans to send a message intentionally about the importance of family leave because she's pregnant with her second child and is going to take a full 16-week maternity leave.

Katrina Lake:                       "I had to do the same research of trying to figure out who were the people before me that took a maternity leave when they were a public company CEO? Like, I mean, you can do the math. If I was the youngest female founder and I'm 35, you know, there's not going to be a lot of other examples out there of people who faced that, and so there's not a lot of precedent. So, somebody who now is raising young people and is thinking about like how the world that you see impacts who people become, there aren't great examples."

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Case in point, before starting her own company, Lake was convinced that someone somewhere would have developed a new vision for disrupting retail, but after meeting with hundreds of entrepreneurs she became convinced that the only way to find that company was to start it herself. I spoke with Katrina Lake onstage at Inforum at the Common Wealth Club to find out what makes her tick and how she turned this startup into a successful IPO.


Lauren Schiller:                  I have to make a confession before we really get into it, which is that I had to change my clothes like 14 times before I got here.

Katrina Lake:                       I did too. It's okay.

Lauren Schiller:                  I don't know about all of you, but it was really hard to decide what to wear, especially when sitting down with a fashion entrepreneur such as yourself, but it made me start thinking about what the role of clothing is for women and men and the way that we thinks bout it and how it says who we are, and I'm curious what your thoughts are? Your entire business is around making sure that people are wearing stuff that they look good in and that they're comfortable in. How do you think about the role of clothing?

Katrina Lake:                       It was a major point of inspiration to me and I think two different angles. So, one, there are so few other categories where people really thoughtfully think about like oh, I'm coveting this and I want this and you think about something for weeks and you get inspired by it and I mean, there's so few other categories. Food is probably one of them also where you have the same emotional connection to it, but with clothing it's just one of these things that is so important in people's lives, and not in a materialistic way, but in this way that like you thoughtfully decide every day what you're going to put on your body and that means something. And, so, I think that made it very attractive to me because I think it's just this really interesting huge category that people weren't really thinking about what does technology bring to it and what's the next generation of it? I think the second element they're getting to a little bit is like it really does have an impact on who you are. I know this, and this was shared recently, but I'm now, I don't know, four or five months pregnant. I'm in that phase where you're like chubby but not pregnant yet.

Lauren Schiller:                  Nothing fits.

Lauren Schiller:                  Congratulations!

Katrina Lake:                       Nothing fits and it's such a good reminder of the humility of like how much I really appreciate when I have clothes that fit and when I know what I want to wear every day. The reality is if you're feeling great about who you are, if you're feeling confident about who you are, it really does impact all the touchpoints in your day. I think all of us know that feeling of when you're not quite feeling that way or the flip side is when you are and I think how electric that can be and I think in all these little micro moments in your day it can change your life of how kind you are to somebody, how kind you are to your kids, how outgoing you're going to be, how confident you are when you're at work doing something that's really important. For all those reasons I love that apparel was both super meaningful in people's lives and I think in these really small, but meaningful ways has an impact on people's lives every single day.

Lauren Schiller:                  What was happening in your life when you came up with the idea for StitchFix?

Katrina Lake:                       It's hard to say exactly when I came up with the idea, but I guess some history. Growing up as a ten-year-old, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have told you a doctor. It had never occurred to me that I should want to be an entrepreneur, I would be a good entrepreneur. You take all these, I forget what they're called, like a Myers-Briggs test. You take these tests when you're growing up and like zero of them told me I should be a entrepreneur. My mom was a public school teacher here in San Francisco for a long time. My dad was a doctor, but always in the university system. He was here at UCSF for probably over 20 years or so. There was not like an entrepreneurial bone in my body.

Katrina Lake:                       My journey was a little bit of an unconventional one where I worked at a consulting firm. I did that kind of out of indecision because I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I wasn't ready to do that yet. I worked at a consulting firm and was lucky enough to kind of stumble into the retail and restaurant practice, and that is where both retail and restaurant I love because they're just these big meaningful categories.

Katrina Lake:                       The journey was more like I loved those categories and I was like, I want to work at whatever is going to be the future. I spent a bunch of time looking to join that company, and so I interviewed a bunch of places. I almost took a job at Starbucks. Ultimately, it didn't quite feel like that was exactly it and then I worked at a venture capital firm, thinking, okay, this is going to be a great way for me to meet the person who's going to create the future, so I went and met with 100 entrepreneurs in my two years there and didn't meet the person that I thought was going to be the future of retail, but got to meet 100 people who were all like pretty normal people who were not qualified to be an entrepreneur. I realized that any person could be this, and I think you get exposed to the Mark Zuckerberg and the Steve Jobs of the world and you don't have in your frame of reference that could be me. By meeting 100 people, you meet a lot of different types of people, so I realized I could do it. You know, I was really on this journey of I just want to work at whatever company is reinventing retail in the future and the formation of StitchFix was really just realizing that like, if I believe there is a different future out there, I could start it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just create it. Just make your own future.

Katrina Lake:                       That was the beginning.

Lauren Schiller:                  Were you always a shopper? I mean, from an intellectual standpoint it was interesting to you, but in terms of your own personal, was that something that you either hated doing or loved doing?

Katrina Lake:                       Maybe both. I have a sister actually who's here. She's not the shopper either, but we have a sister who's the age in between us. She was a shopper and so she was the one who was definitely always the expert. She was the one taking the fashion risks. Natalie and I were probably more the followers in taking her hand me downs. What I still loved, and what I think even people who hate shopping can resonate with is there is nothing better than being able to feel like you have clothes in your closet that you love and there is nothing better than putting on an outfit and being like, this is a great look. Like, there is nothing better than that feeling. I really loved that and I loved the ways that clothing could contribute to that.

Katrina Lake:                       My middle sister literally will like, she would spend her free time looking at like the new arrivals on websites and that's not really how I spend my free time.

Lauren Schiller:                  Now you just have a company that has a combination of machines and people doing that for you.

Katrina Lake:                       Right. Well, and I think that's part of the inspiration too is there are people who love doing this and who are experts and know everything and in their free time love to do this, and wouldn't it be great to be able to create a job for people like that. That actually ended up being part of the inspiration too.

Lauren Schiller:                  How important was going to business school and creating this idea?

Katrina Lake:                       For me it was important because I wasn't this super risky entrepreneur type. I was never going to quit my reasonably well-paying job and have a gap on my resume. That was not something I was comfortable doing. For me, it was important because it created this two-year period of time where I could take this risk. I went to business school and my plan was to have a company off the ground, paying myself a salary, paying back my student loans the day I graduated, and if I wasn't able to have a business idea that was good enough that someone was going to give me money, if I wasn't able to have an idea that I wanted to do so that I would want to spend so far seven plus years on, then the worst case scenario is well, I have this MBA and I can go work at a great company. So, I saw it as kind of a risk-reduced way to start a company. For me, it was really important because I have a hard time imagining how else I would have been able to find kind of a two-year time period like that.

Katrina Lake:                       You know, I think that there's a network element that's somewhat valuable. The classes were great. It's so fun. I think, kind of like, probably the reason many of you are in this room, like getting to be an adult and go and learn is just like a really fun experience and getting to choose what you're going to learn. I definitely valued the experience, but the time was actually the part, I think, that was most valuable to me.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, I'd love to talk a little bit more about this idea of risk because, you mentioned this a few minutes ago, that people have this idea in their head that entrepreneurs are these massive risk takers and anything goes. In fact, I saw a book just earlier today that said, How to Raise An Entrepreneur. It was like, teach them to take risks, like all these things that just go counter to what the actual common wisdom is about how you start a successful business, which is not necessarily to just let it all fly. Can you talk about your mentality around that and what you've run up against in terms of the perception of what an entrepreneur should be?

Katrina Lake:                       First of all, I think I am a good leader and a good CEO. I don't know necessarily that I was a great entrepreneur, to be honest, and, you know, maybe people think of, I mean, I don't know. Like, I just, it wasn't kind of where my comfort zone was. I don't sit back. You'll meet some founders who get to this stage of the company and they year the scrappy phases again and they like the building part. You'll hear that from people. I did like it, and it was really fun and crazy, but I don't know that that's the part that I feel like I thrive in, and we'll probably talk about this later, but you can also argue that I wasn't good at it. We've built a $2 billion company using $40 million of capital, not because I was like, I want to raise as little money as possible. It was because I could not raise more than that much money. In today's world a good entrepreneur is one that can raise the most money and hire the most people and buy the most time. You could argue I wasn't good at those things and ultimately was actually good at creating a company, which is maybe different.

Katrina Lake:                       I hope to be able to be a role model of a different type of entrepreneur because I think there are lots of women and men out there that might be thinking to themselves, that's not for me. I can't see myself being that crazy out-there person, and I felt the same way and I think ultimately like I actually think I'm good at this job and I don't know that I would have discovered it had it not been for kind of the convoluted path that I took.

Lauren Schiller:                  When you talk about StitchFix, I've heard it talked about as a fashion company, a technology company, the intersection of fashion and technology, what is it?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, it is both. My theory on the whole thing is I think the world is, we are going to a place where like being a technology company will be table stakes for you to exist. You know, the idea of a tech company doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Like, I think Facebook is a marketing company, Uber is a transportation company, AirBNB is a hospitality company and we sell clothes. That is our business model. I think the reality is if you want to be around ten years from now,if you want to be successful ten years from now, all of us are going to have to be technology companies. Technology is certainly what is differentiated about stitchfix. I think what is very special about StitchFix, that at the end of the day the business that we're in is retail apparel. Actually, I just heard that on the analyst side, the investor side that Tesla has now been moved into the auto category for most, which makes sense. They make cars.

Lauren Schiller:                  They make cars. Where were they before?

Katrina Lake:                       They were in technology, and so there's this weird catchall bucket of people who have used technology as a differentiator that, like I think you're going to see more and more of that migrate back into. Even at StitchFix as a stock, we're covered by mostly tech people, actually, and then a couple retail people. I think you'll see more and more people recognizing that like, hey, these businesses are the same businesses they were before, just powered by technology in a way that we didn't see before. You know, I think we're both, but I think the marka tion ten years from now will probably be retail.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. You had these big goals for yourself coming out of business school. Did you meet them right away? I mean, you wanted to pay yourself a salary. You wanted to have a stay-at-home business.

Katrina Lake:                       Not right away, but I really wasn't going to do this if I wasn't paying myself a salary and paying back my student loans. That wasn't an empty promise. Like, I really wasn't going to do it. So, I was very committed. I spent a lot of my second year in business school out here. I spent probably a week or so a month, like sleeping on people's couches. I was able to get a term sheet from Steve Anderson who's a seed investor who's one of the first investors I saw Kevin on. This was all real. Kevin was actually like my reference check for Steve the investor. He was the first investor in Kevin at Instagram. I was lucky enough to meet him early on and so he gave us what would now be considered a very small seed check of a half million dollars and so we closed that. In April of 2011, we started shipping fixes in that month and then I graduated in May and then kind of moved everything out here in June. I guess we closed the money a month before I graduated and so maybe I got in just under the wire. We didn't have a sustainable business model yet at that point, but I was able to pay myself a salary, pay rent, hire some people.

Katrina Lake:                       I think the other part that was important to me too in the investor thing is yes, it was important to raise money, but I think it's also important to have somebody who believes in you invested in the business. There's a lot of, I think, confidence and credibility that comes from the fact that an investor who's met a lot of entrepreneurs and seen a lot of companies, believes in the business. I think one of the things that you can do as an entrepreneur is delude yourself into really, really believing in something. Sometimes that's great and sometimes it's not reality. Having investors involved I think also helps to build confidence that like this thing is real and it's possible.

Lauren Schiller:                  How many nos did you have to hear before he said yes?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, the seed was relatively easy I would say of just like, I think fundraising at StitchFix has always been either really hard or really easy and nothing in the middle. With him, I had worked with this woman Sue Kenderson-Cassidy who had been an advisor of mine and mentor of mine and she introduced me to him and so that part worked out well. Basically, he gave a term sheet for $750,000. He was going to put in $500,000, and he said, "Go find whoever else to fill in the rest of the $250,000. I probably talked to, I don't know, 20 or so people and everybody else said no, and I was very freaked out, like is he going to get cold feet when I go back to him and say nobody else wanted to. He actually said, and I think he meant it, he was like, "I'm glad that nobody else did. I'm happy to put in the other quarter million." I was, great.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's amazing.

Katrina Lake:                       And so, you know, he was like, "It just makes me even happier to see something when other people don't see it," is kind of the way he put it. That round we got done. Later rounds, I think, were a little bit more difficult.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did he tell you what it was he saw, I mean, what it was that made him believe in you?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, at that stage anybody can come up with this idea. Anybody can come up. StitchFix has this great product market fit because when you tell people, wouldn't it be great if you could fill out a style profile and have a stylist who would send things to your home and then you could try things on at home and just pay for what you keep. The concept is so strong itself that I think we benefit from having a lot of just natural product market fit from it, but the flip side of that is anybody can think of that and anybody can pitch that to an investor. And so, I think with Steve it was really about am I going to be the right person to do it and honestly I had no experience that should have led him to believe that I was credible. Like, I had no entrepreneurial experience whatsoever. I had no network of engineers and whoever else to draw from, but for whatever reason he felt like I was going to be the one to be able to do it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, congratulations to him and to you for that. I want to go back to you maybe being a doctor at some point when you were ten. I understand that your mom came to America from Japan to go to graduate school. Did she have that immigrant mentality that my daughter must achieve absolutely everything to live up to the expectations of our new American family? Did you run into any of that growing up?

Katrina Lake:                       I'm looking at my sister. I don't know really.

Lauren Schiller:                  Keep her honest.

Katrina Lake:                       I think academics were very important in my family. Both of my parents really believed that succeeding in school, that having a great education would open doors and so I think that element was definitely very much ingrained and growing up, my mom immigrated here from Japan for graduate school and so we spoke Japanese growing up. In San Francisco there are schools you can go to so that you can keep up with the Japanese curriculum because Japan has a national curriculum and so every Saturday until I was in seventh grade I think, every single Saturday and then every day in the summer I went to Japanese school. I mean, that's like a lot of days of school if you think about it.

Lauren Schiller:                  That is.

Katrina Lake:                       Of 365 days, like, the vast, vast, vast majority of them were spent. I basically had every Sunday off. That's right.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's a lot of school.

Katrina Lake:                       I had 52 days off of school in a year.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did you resent that?

Katrina Lake:                       Well, yes. The reality is there wasn't like anything better that I should have been doing. It was so funny, too, because it was in the nineties and so everybody thought Japanese was going to be so useful. It's still useful when I'm in Japan or occasionally in a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, but it wasn't quite the business onlot people thought it would be.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's not over yet.

Katrina Lake:                       It's more just like I do feel like they instilled the importance of education in us, so we definitely worked hard in school and definitely liked succeeding in school, and on the family side, I don't think I've realized this until being an adult and actually really in the last few years, I had a lot of exposure to women in my family who had done amazing things. Part of it was my mom immigrating here and not knowing English and she didn't learn to drive until she had had two kids in San Francisco and she was like, "Well, the bus isn't going to work anymore," and had to figure out how to drive. I mean, all of that is kind of amazing. The longer story is my mother's mom, so my grandmother, was actually the one who really desperately wanted to be an American. She had grown up in Japan at a time. She grew up during the war when Japan was in a very difficult place and she just always dreamed. She would see American movies or posters or God knows what the influences were, but she just desperately wanted to be an American. She was growing up in a time when women weren't driving. They had very little opportunity. She was in an arranged marriage. She actually ultimately did follow my mom. After my mom moved here she followed my mom here and she did actually ultimately become an American.

Katrina Lake:                       It's like an amazing thing to think that of all the things that you think are hard in life, imagine growing up in Japan in that moment and being able to think to yourself, some day I'm going to be an American and make that happen is like amazing. The other one is on my American side, actually, or on my Caucasian side. My greater grandmother, so it was my grandfather, my grandfather was raised in this very unusual household where my grandfather, basically his mom and her sister both lost their husbands. This was before welfare. It was before there were social services that were available. So, what these two sisters did was they were like, "Well, we're just going to create a household." I think they had, I need to fact check. I think they had four or five kids between them and they were like, we're just going to combine our households and one of us is going to go to work and one of us is going to stay home with the kids and two sisters are going to raise these kids together. So, my grandfather was the youngest of those. He had been raised by these two strong women. He had never even known his dad. To be able to have these examples in your life of like people doing ...

Katrina Lake:                       Anything that I achieve is never going to be as amazing as the things that they did. It's just a great example to be able to have in your life because I think it opens up kind of what's possible in a way that I really appreciate.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Do you think that changed his world view?

Katrina Lake:                       It totally did. My grandfather was the one. He like taught me to use a computer. He taught me to drive. I look back now and I can recognize those things as being really cool things that he did, but like, I think he came from a place where, oh, yeah, of course women are going to do these amazing things and of course my three granddaughters are going to do whatever they want to do and learn how to do the stuff on a computer. He definitely had a different perspective than I think a lot of people in his generation did.

Lauren Schiller:                  What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a new business? What's the one thing you wish you had known that nobody bothered to tell you, or the ten things?

Katrina Lake:                       Oh, God. There's so many. There's a bunch of things. I think one, this is a very permanent decision and so as much as you can do of like learning and validating along the way I think is really valuable. I do think there are times when you can delude yourself into like well, it's just one more product change and then everybody's going to love it or it's just one other thing. I think the more you can really get like concrete points of validation and I think it's called lean startup now, which is basically like how to build a shell of what you're going to create and then see if people like it. What do they like about it and then iterate from there rather than trying to have like a build-it-and-they-will-come approach. You know, I think that's definitely a big one. This is my personal philosophy, but I don't believe in entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship. You devote a lot of time and energy and a lot of your life to this and you really have to love it. So, not to sound like I'm discouraging entrepreneurship, but I think really making sure you have that like one thing that you really want to devote a lot of your life to. I think, I don't know, people can rush to imperfect ideas and, I don't know. I think that's one thing.

Katrina Lake:                       The last thing is just surround yourself with people who are smart that you learn from. That's true if you're an entrepreneur or just a regular person in your career like I was. You know, I think to be able to surround yourself with people who challenge you, to be able to feel like ... There's nothing worse than stasis and staying the same. It's a hard thing, actually, these days in how little I think we get exposed to other perspectives these days, but if you try to think about when was the last time I really changed my mind about something important? Like, it's a hard question to answer, and I love being proven wrong, and at work I get proven wrong probably more than anywhere else, and I learn from it. The only way that you grow is through learning and so I think that's just the best advice of like as you're building a team, as you're building a board, as you're thinking about your advisors of just really holding the bar high for people who are going to challenge you, people that you're going to learn from and people who are going to help you stay on this really steep learning curve.

Lauren Schiller:                  As the CEO of a public company it's kind of this high wire act. Like, almost anything you say could affect the share price, and you don't necessarily know what that thing is going to be. So, everyone is listening all the time. I'm wondering, as you think about the values that you want to instill in the company and what's important to you and where your priorities are, how do you balance that sort of like, "we've got to pay attention to what the shareholders want," versus, "We've got to pay attention to what's right for the company?" Maybe sometimes they don't always match up.

Katrina Lake:                       Yeah. I mean, I might have like a Pollyanna view on it and maybe we're early at this. We've been public for three quarters, but I really believe that what the right thing is going to be for the shareholders is also going to be what's right for the company, and you know, I don't look at the stock price on a daily basis. For better or for worse, I don't know what the fluctuations are or what causes them. Where we go in the longterm is definitely important and I think a lot of the things that we do are really looking at how can we make sure that we can create the most value for ourselves, for our shareholders, for our clients and the other brilliant thing about our model that I love is that there's this amazing alignment. Like, in our business model the more I can send you clothes that you love, the happier you are and the better our business is. There's like really, really great alignment that you don't always have. Like, if you think about Google's business model, for example, the more ads they can show the more ads they can get people to click on, the better their business is.

Katrina Lake:                       As a consumer you don't really want to see all the ads. You just want to use Gmail. There's this interesting, I think, kind of dance that a lot of executives have to walk of just like what's good for the business versus what's good for the customer? I have this amazing advantage where it's very aligned in a lot of the cases and so it helps us in prioritizing because if we can just focus on how can we help people to find what they love and how can we help people to find more of what they love? It just makes it really clear of what we need to do to create value. So, I'm hopeful that they are the same thing and that we won't have to feel like a lot of conflict of short-term versus longterm, but I think so far we've been, when we talk to investors we spend time with investors and it is actually in a lot of ways just like being a private company. There are investors that we can talk to at certain times and hear their perspectives. I think it's my job to make sure that everybody knows what that longterm vision is and to make sure that people all see it and believe it.

Lauren Schiller:                  We have so many entrenched ideas about how a company should be run because they've mostly been run by men of a certain age and hair color or hoodie, but Katrina Lake has been finding lots of ways to disrupt business as usual whether she intends to or not, and her vision for StitchFix has paid off so far. But it also comes with a spotlight on her every move.

Katrina Lake:                       Like, there are just these weird conversations around like well, what do you do with earnings when you're on maternity leave?

Lauren Schiller:                  That's coming up after the break.

Lauren Schiller:                  Before we get back to the conversation, I want to turn you on to a podcast that I just love. It's called Reckonings and it explores how people change their hearts and minds. Episodes have ranged from a deeply-conservative congressman who made a dramatic shift on climate change to a white supremacist who transcended a life of hate and became a force for nonviolence to two teenagers who managed to overcome bullying. In a time that feels so polarized, it's refreshing and hopeful to see people capable of such monumental shall we say reckonings. You can find in Reckonings on your preferred podcast app and at

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller. This is Inflection Point. This conversation with Katrina Lake, the founder and CEO of StitchFix, was recorded live at Inforum at the Common Wealth Club.

Lauren Schiller:                  I mentioned at the very beginning of this the iconic photo at the Nasdaq with you and your son on your hip, and it was a head turner. Are you tired of headlines that focus on taking your company public and being a new mom or just recently there was a headline, StitchFix CEO Katrina Lake talks about leading a public company and her upcoming maternity leave?

Katrina Lake:                       My perspective on it has changed over time. I had some pride about me, I think, that prevented me from embracing that early. This is more on reflection of looking back and thinking, why did I not think I could be an entrepreneur and now I just think it's so important. And so, even if it's just like I'm just an example, like I think it's good and I'm happy to be that example and like I said, I hope there's going to be many more people after me that can be ... Like, it's totally normal. There are just these weird conversations around like well, what do you do with earnings when you're on maternity leave and you're a public company CEO? There are all these things that like, I don't really know what the right answers are and I'm going to try to figure it out. There just needed to be more, I think, just having more examples of what different types of stories look like and different possibilities look like is super important.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I mean, it's one of those sort of can't-win situations in some ways, right, because like Marissa Meyer got dinged for only taking a couple of weeks of maternity leave, and you're probably going to get dinged for taking the entire maternity leave. I mean, it's like ...

Katrina Lake:                       Well, and these situations are all really different because I think when Marissa Meyer was in her place, I think she had like active shareholder issues. She had a company on fire situation, and so was that the right thing to do when your company is on fire? This is the problem is that there's so few examples. Actually, I was with a public company CEO literally last week who he has a six-week old at home and he is taking his paternity leave. He was happy to meet me at brunch wearing golf clothes and shorts and he was on his paternity leave. I think all of these situations are unique. You can't fault, I think, one person for having a different choice, but the challenge is that there's really only two situations now that you're going to be able to look back on and I think for many other men there's hundreds. Hopefully, this can add to what people think of as what are my options when I'm in this situation?

Lauren Schiller:                  Where is your husband in all of this? Does he like ... It used to be, like I remember, I don't know 10, 15 years ago, like Carly Fiorina, when she was running HP that whole story was on her husband was at home taking care of the baby and that's how they made it possible because they invested the typical relationship. So, do you and your hubby ever talk about divvying up the responsibilities so you can both do your thing?

Katrina Lake:                       Yeah, we definitely do, and he's not at home taking care of the kids as his job full time. It's not. We have a nanny and she's wonderful. But, that being said, I think to myself like am I being sexist in thinking this because it's less about this year. I travel quite a bit, but I think about next year and I think about we're going to have two kids and one's going to be a toddler and one will be an infant, and I have this enormous guilt around that seems really hard for me to be traveling and leaving him to deal with two kids at night, even though he's not taking care of them during the day. It's a lot of work in the nights and the mornings. I would think to myself, am I sexist in thinking that because there's many, many men before me that had wives that traveled and left their two kids with their wife and probably didn't think twice about it. I still haven't figured out like how are we going to do that next year?

Katrina Lake:                       I think I'm very, very lucky and grateful that I have a husband that's very supportive and a husband that probably takes more of the mornings and nights than I do, and I do think in this world it does take somebody who is willing to kind of put in a little bit more, I think. I don't think it's necessarily that you need somebody who's going to be like a complete kind of stay-at-home parent or anything, but I do think the reality is that it's hard. You know, the reality is there's sacrifices that one or the other is going to be making every single day and then just trying to figure out how you can do that and have a healthy relationship with your kids and a healthy relationship with your spouse and it's all puzzle pieces that aren't super easy.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Wow. Well, it sounds like you've surrounded yourself with a great team that come from a variety of big-brand backgrounds and Netflix and Google and Lulu Lemon was in there somewhere. Do you have a mentor? Do you have that one person you can turn to and be like, I can't ask anyone else this question?

Katrina Lake:                       I do, and I've had many throughout my journey and I would say I have different people that I turn to for different topics, and so actually one of the things that I think has been really fun and unexpected about being a public company is that it's not like I had lots of public company CEO's that I knew. I had met a couple. I really didn't know any. It was really amazing how people kind of came out of the woodwork and helped. You know, now it's all water under the bridge, but our [inaudible 00:38:10] show process, the process to getting public was difficult. It's like in the bucket of when I say fundraising has either been really hard or really easy. The IPO process was really hard, and we weren't kind of seeing the traction we wanted to see. We weren't getting people bought into the story in the way that we needed to. And I had a public company CEO who, through an investment banker, was like, "Hey, if she needs to talk, tell her to call me. It was somebody I'd never met before who had been through the process and kind of knew exactly how I was feeling in that moment. There's been others also who have kind of reached out since.

Katrina Lake:                       I think that was network that I didn't necessarily knew existed and where I didn't feel like I was part of it before. That just kind of emerged to be helpful. That's been great. You know, I think I have, my board actually, I have a lot of great people on board who I turn to a lot and over the course of the last seven years I've bene lucky enough to kind of build a network of, in a lot of cases, other CEOs, the people who are in the space and not in the space who are going through similar things that I can talk to and get advice from and you know, I think I've been very fortunate that there are a lot of women that I've met also along the way who are very happy to make time for me whenever I ask. It's certainly something that I hope to be able to repay the favor for.

Lauren Schiller:                  What do you look for, because I know you're involved in a few things that are female-focused in terms of investments and the female investment fund, something called Moving Forward, which is about diversity. In terms of when you now look at other companies that are looking for investments, what do you look for?

Katrina Lake:                       What do I look for? I mean, I don't do a ton of investing, but I mean it is really important to me that founders that I meet and kind of companies I'm involved in are committed to building diverse teams. That has a women angle, but I think it's much broader than a women angle of like, I think one of the things that StitchFix that has made the company great is the diversity of team and perspectives that we have and so the fact that we have data scientists who are sitting next to stylists and being like, why are you picking that one? Wait, why did you not pick that one? I don't understand. What's going on in your mind? They're just fascinated and really have this great respect for the job that they do, and I think part of what's amazing about StitchFix is I don't know if there's every been like a data scientist who sat down with a stylist and gone into their brain about why they're choosing clothes. I think we've really benefited from the diversity of people and perspectives that we have. I think it's really important for founders to start like that.

Katrina Lake:                       I think one of the bigger challenges of why we see so little diversity at the top and the technology companies is because so often founding teams are built by repeat founders who go back to their network to build the team. So, they're just perpetuating this kind of lack of diversity that has existed in the industry for 20 years. No one's putting up a job posting for a cofoudner. Like, you're just drawing from people in your network. So, as I have the chance to meet with founding teams, I push on it a lot. I push in with their board. I push on it with, you know, I've noticed you don't have any women on your founding team. What is your commitment on that? I think that's an area that I think helps to make companies better and I think also kind of creates a better ecosystem for all of us.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's talk about your team and how the values that you're espousing are playing out inside your company around diversity. So, your executive team is 50/50, men and women. I actually went to your website and I counted. It's true. It really is true. Most of your on-the-ground employees are women, I think 86%. Is that right?

Katrina Lake:                       The number is a little hard because we have a 3,500 stylist organization and the vast majority of our stylists are omen. These are women who are working part time and mostly work from home. So, that skus the number to make it 80-something overall company wide, but then we also have 1,500 warehouses where it's about 50/50. Our headquarters I think is about 60/40 women to men. So, if you put in the 3,500 stylists into our 6,000 employee figure, then it becomes very skued sounding, but on average it's a little over parody where we have women a little more represented than men.

Lauren Schiller:                  One of the things I've been thinking about is we already know what the downsides are of a culture dominated by men and so I'm just thinking about what happens when you have a company that's kind of dominated by women? What's the outcome there?

Katrina Lake:                       I mean, first of all I would contest that culture dominated by women. Our management team is 50/50. Our board is 60/40 women. Like, I don't think that's dominated by women and I don't think that you would ask a male CEO who is progressive enough to have a 50% female management team. Like, you would never ask him about a culture that's dominated by men.

Lauren Schiller:                  I might now. I might now. I mean, maybe not five years ago, but now I definitely would. I'm just curious. I'm not saying that's what your situation is, but just sort of philosophically speaking, if there's any sort of up sides or down sides to having, even jut having at 50/50 is, in a sense, more dominated by women than it has been in the past.

Katrina Lake:                       Unquestionably, it is more so. I don't know. I mean, I think the down side is I get questions like that not in an insulting way, but in a way that like it's not obvious to other people, like that it's not something people are experiencing all the time, so it becomes something that is unusual. I think that's unfortunate, because I think there's a lot of up side to it. I think there's a lot of upside to it just like having different perspectives in diversity. I think there's also, we were just talking about parenting, so it's top of mind for me, I think there's also a lot of upside from the perspective of people who are men and women who are trying to live a life and work. I think there are a lot more conversations and there's a lot more empathy that happens when you see both sides of the equation every day at work. I don't know. I think, it's also all I know. I can't speak to the downsides or the upsides, but I think we've been able to create a place that people love to work and that has been able to take kind of this what people academically talk about is being important, and diversity and actually show, this is what it looks like and this is how it works and this is an example of it in a way that I don't know that we've had a lot of examples before.

Lauren Schiller:                  All right. I have one last question for you, which is an Inforum tradition, which is your 60-second idea to change the world?

Katrina Lake:                       I don't know that I have a specific idea, but like, I think that one of the things that has been a real challenge, and you can see it in kind of the political landscape also and loss of community. So, I think even just like this group of people getting together to do something like this in an evening is a really great part of that. I think there's been just kind of a loss of humanization of a lot of things that we do. So, when w'ere buying things, the way that we engage with each other, like a lot of it has been kind of dehumanized in a way that I think has taken away from communities. So, I don't know what the exact ID is, but ways that you can bring more commerce into communities, ways that you can make things like buying clothes a more human experience and a more human-to-human experience I think brings back the humanness that connects us a country and as a community.

Katrina Lake:                       I think a lot of, especially in eCommerce, it's become very anonymous and very transactional and I think that the harms of that are greater than what we're seeing in terms of the impact that it's having on how we think about each other and how we think about the space that we occupy together. So, I'd love to see anything that kind of just brings back a sense of community and brings communities together in more human ways.

Lauren Schiller:                  Katrina Lake's company StitchFix is often described as being at the intersection of fashion and technology, but at the end of the day she's using technology to solve one of the oldest problems in the book, what am I going to wear, and she's doing it by putting people first. It's bigger than just how we shop for clothes. She sees a problem with the lack of diversity in tech and makes sure her company is an example of how diversity makes good business sense. She sees a problem with the lack of parental lave and has made it her dedication to family as much a part of her public identity as her extraordinary success. I look forward to the day when Katrina's success and her dedication to a diverse and family friendly workplace is no longer extraordinary. It's just how business is done.This is how women rise up. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller.

What Happens When Sexual Assault Goes Unpunished: Sarah Delia, Host of “She Says”

When radio journalist Sarah Delia heard a story about the sexual assault of one of her listeners, “Linda” (not her real name), she knew it was a story that needed to be told. It’s also a story about how one survivor took matters into her own hands when the police department she turned to for help seemed to be failing to help her. And it’s a story about how our criminal justice system handles sexual assault cases nationwide--and what needs to change to make violence against women the exception rather than the status quo.

Sarah turned Linda’s story into a new investigative podcast series called “She Says”. Listen to our conversation about the courage it takes to tell your story of sexual assault--and keep telling it---until you are heard by someone who can help you get justice. And also--what it takes to be the person who takes on the “second-degree trauma” of listening to and reporting on stories of sexual assault.

To learn more about what to expect from the criminal justice system in cases of sexual assault--and how you can help advocate for better policies, you can check out these resources on the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

She Says also has a list of resources on their website.

And if you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault and need to talk about it with someone, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE.


Sarah Delia  Photo by Logan Cyrus

Sarah Delia

Photo by Logan Cyrus

Do haters deserve our compassion? Sally Kohn, Author of "The Opposite of Hate"

Can you find compassion in your heart for the haters in your life? CNN political commentator and first-time author Sally Kohn says if we keep on hating the haters, the cycle of hate will never end.  She’s believes compassion to be one of the keys to breaking the cycle of hatred that pervades our culture in today’s divisive world. 

The question is, how can compassion defeat a system fueled by hate? 

Listen in on my conversation with Sally Kohn, author of “The Opposite of Hate” on what she’s learned from her own missteps as a former school bully and, paradoxically, as a well-meaning liberal, breaking the cycle of hate, and cultivating compassion for her perceived enemies.

Photo by Paul Takeuchi

Photo by Paul Takeuchi