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  • Romy Kraus

"I had to allow myself to not be so type-A all the time" - Jessica Alba

Out of a year of crisis, Jessica Alba and Arianna Huffington said at Websummit they are hopeful about the rise in more flexible workplace practices and representation in leadership, and about the fact that caring for employees' mental health is no longer a taboo topic. Alba, who founded The Honest Company, and Huffington, who founded and is CEO of Thrive Global, talked about what they've learned about leading during a crisis, from their personal self-care habits to the necessity of creating an environment where employees feel free to share their struggles and emotions.

Alba said companies like hers are now forced to think differently about productivity, and to stop wasting time on meaningless travel.

"There's no one who loves travel more than me. But I do think that there's so much that can be done virtually. That is just an amazing tool that we now really have," she said.

The Honest Company founder and popular actress also spoke about her unique status as a Latinx female entrepreneur, and the importance of representation and creating practices that lift up women and diverse communities – "that is 90 percent of it."

Alba said: "When little girls see Kamala Harris, they're like, 'OK, I can now see myself in one of the highest offices in government'. When they see someone like me, they're like, 'OK, I can start a company one day and it can stand for something and have purpose'."

Jessica Alba: "I really had to allow myself to take time to centre myself. A mom needs a time out, a wife needs a time out. I had to allow myself to not be so type-A all the time, and wanting to execute with excellence all the time, for everyone, because it's just been really draining."

Huffington, who, via Thrive Global, works with companies on microsteps that can lead to healthy living, said she finds it promising that the post COVID-19 world being built can be a better one.

"The world we're leaving behind was built by men and, frankly, lots of things weren't working. A lot of great women are standing up and saying, 'the frenetic way we were living, without time to reflect and to connect with ourselves and know what is best [wasn't working]'." - Ariana Huffington

In talking about the personal habits they've found effective in this challenging time, Alba said it's been important to allow herself to not be as type-A as before, or to feel forced to constantly execute with excellence. She also employs small rituals, such as shutting down her phone before bed "more than I ever have before".

"When I wake up, I immediately put a face mask on, and I know I have to rinse it off, which becomes self care," Alba said. "It gives me that little bit of alone time that's just for me so I can centre myself."

For Huffington, how she bookends her day is key. That means starting with box breathing, a technique employed by Navy Seals – inhale for four seconds, pause for four seconds, and then exhale for four more. Then, she said, when she goes to her phone, "I'm more equipped to deal with it."

Huffington also said: "At night, I have a news cut-off moment, where I say, 'That's it. I'm going to stop consuming coronavirus news, I'm going to stop doomscrolling on social media, and this is my transition time'. I have a hot bath with epsom salt, and the more stressed I am the more I prolong it, which helps slow down my brain, not just my body. "

When asked about how they're leading their companies to better take care of staff, Alba discussed the need for candid conversations and sharing.

"We make a space for our employees to be able to communicate and articulate how they're feeling, and then we try to channel that into something productive...And when I show up I'm trying to articulate how I feel, and being open and vulnerable with the employee base. 'I'm struggling here and here are some of the things I've tried today'." - Jessica Alba

Another upshot of this moment is that mental health has been brought to the forefront in conversations about business and productivity, Huffington said, with companies finally realising they are most effective and creative when employees' mental health is cared for.

"Right now, there's no CEO of any company who doesn't recognise that well-being and the mental resilience of their employees is central. They cannot be the productive business without them," she said. "These aren't just nice-to-have benefits, but they're essential.


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