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Zoe Fragou is an Organisational Psychologist with an MSc in Human Resources Management, a clinical psychologist license, a diploma in Business Coaching & Mentorship and a Certificate in Agile Leadership.
At the moment, she is a PhD Candidate at Panteion University and her research is mainly focused on the psychometrics of the corporate culture. Alongside her academic interests, she is operating professionally in the full spectrum of her science, taking over projects of culture transformation, employee training and development, business coaching, personal branding, public speaking, and writing, for both private and corporate clients globally.
She is a mentor for Women on Top, a feministic organization trying to bring equality in the workspace, a senior member of the Hellenic Institute of Coaching, and was voted best career coach in the Global Coaching Conference of 2021.
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[00:00:00] Zoe: And usually the line is so thin that you can't really address it because if you address it, he will say you're exaggerating. Or of course you're hysterical this isn't happening, but it's also making you uncomfortable
[00:00:51] Zoe: And somewhere along those lines, we have also our own expectations, but sometimes not everyone is strong minded enough or dynamic enough or confident enough to say, "you know what? I think you're all wrong and I am right."
[00:01:04] Zoe: We shouldn't be viewing our career as a ladder. It's more of a playground where you go, you do a little bit of the swing and then you change it and you go do something else. And you collect experiences from all of these things.
[00:01:15] Scott: Zoe is an organizational psychologist. She helps with culture transformation, employee training, and development and business coaching for both private and corporate clients globally. She is a mentor for Women On Top an organization, trying to bring equality into the workplace.
[00:01:31] Scott: Hi, Zoe. Welcome to the Rebel Diaries podcast.
[00:01:33] Zoe: Hello, Scott. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:36] Scott: What got you into this area of work? What did you do beforehand?
[00:01:39] Zoe: Endless studying for starts it's not something you end up doing randomly life made me an organizational psychologist. So I started studying psychology first. And what I realized there was that I'm actually very business oriented. So it made more sense for me to pursue this kind of career path instead of the clinical path, which was also, more mainstream and more people liked it.
[00:02:05] Zoe: Everybody, when they start studying psychologists, they dream, they're gonna be something like Sigmund Freud, but I wasn't really like that. And because I was also working in corporations at the same time while studying, I really developed a more business mindset. So it was a very natural, I would say, journey.
[00:02:23] Zoe: That's what led me to, want to make corporate cultures healthier. If I didn't see it with my own eyes I don't think I would be relevant enough to shelter my clients to understand exactly what they're going through to understand the terminology they use, to be able to visualize what they're telling me.
[00:02:41] Scott: What are the biggest challenges that you see? What are the main things that you help people with, the real pain points that you're passionate about solving for people.
[00:02:48] Zoe: I think that most of my clients, because they're very success oriented people and usually they're actually very successful. They don't know where to stop. They don't know where to put an active limit to what they're doing into their efforts. It seems to me like very often they tend to lose focus both on the journey, but also on why they're doing all these things.
[00:03:08] Zoe: They stop enjoying their job. They stop enjoying the outcome of their job. So they tend to run from success to success, to the next goal, without ever taking a mental step back to, just express gratitude for what they've experienced. And these things tend to become more and more. And in the end they create the feelings of a person towards their job.
[00:03:34] Zoe: So what I see very often is that I might have, let's say a very successful CTO client, and then one day without doing anything, they might receive an amazing offer. Two times money, a better role in a much bigger company. And they just mention it to me like nothing happened. "So what do you think Zoe? Do you think I should do this?
[00:03:55] Zoe: Or should I keep doing what I'm doing?" And usually the first thing I have to tell them is "Congratulations this is the 1% not everyone gets amazing job offers without doing anything. Not everyone has choices". But the more choices we have, it seems like the more we neglect the fact that other people don't have choices.
[00:04:14] Scott: Yeah. Do you think they see that as a, almost a burden? "Oh, now I've got a difficult decision to make", even though it's a positive one?
[00:04:20] Zoe: Many times actually. Yeah, they treat it as a burden. They actually come very stressed, very frustrated. Like "I had decided I, I picked my boxes and I knew I'm gonna stay in this role for two years. And then after two years, then I was planning to move. And now, this company coming to me, offer me a million per year.
[00:04:38] Zoe: They destroyed my plan. What am I supposed to do?" Yeah, it's very fun.
[00:04:42] Scott: And you put that down to people just too busy and not, you mentioned gratitude earlier. That's important, we always forget what we've got and focus on what we haven't got.
[00:04:51] Zoe: It's not necessarily because they're too busy. I think it's because success, isn't something that happens without consistency and without always looking at the next step and working towards the next step. so it's very easy to, for that to become a vicious cycle where you don't know, but now you've worked enough and you've succeeded enough.
[00:05:11] Zoe: You can start enjoying them also. And you can start focusing more on what you're doing right now and be more mindful about your situation instead of just planning the next move again. I think it becomes a habit and because many of my clients are actually self starters and they don't necessarily come for money. They had to create their own success. So this survival mode that was always leading them to want more things and to do more things and to achieve more things never seems to come down.
[00:05:44] Scott: It's almost never enough.
[00:05:45] Zoe: Yeah. And it's interesting because although usually they come to me because they're stressed about a promotion or something. What we actually end up working more is how to be more multidimensional I would say.
[00:05:58] Zoe: How to not just be dependent on this one aspect of their lives, which might be their jobs, but also develop different aspects, different identities, if you want.
[00:06:07] Zoe: The more the identities you have, the more, the things you put effort for, the easier it is for each of these things, to have less burden and to enjoy more. If the only thing I'm doing in my life is my work. And then for some reason, tomorrow, they tell me, " Zoe, you can't be a psychologist anymore because it's a forbidden".
[00:06:25] Zoe: Then what am I? I will have a, an identity crisis, but if, as a person I self-identify from my being a psychologist and from my being a woman and from my being a friend of my five friends and also an athlete and also very artistic. Okay. All the other, all these other parts will be still there intact. So even if one of these parts starts being damaged, I will still have the others to hold on and build a new identity that I am missing.
[00:06:52] Scott: Yeah, that's interesting cuz you hear yeah people literally their identity is their job and if suddenly that's taken away outside of their control, it's the first question, isn't it. " What do you do?" And usually the answer is. "Oh I do this job" not, "oh I'm a parent" or "I'm a friend of, these people."
[00:07:09] Scott: It's always generally "here's my job, here's my career".
[00:07:12] Zoe: I would say it's also very gender biased though. This is something you would hear more from men than from women. Women tend to self-identify more as mothers or as wives while men usually tend to self-identify more from what they're doing, what their job is. But this is very much how society nurtures us.
[00:07:29] Zoe: Society nurture a lot men to work and to become successful and to be dependent while it does nurture women with the subtext and sub messages that you need to be a wife at some point, and you need to have children otherwise, will your life even have a meaning?
[00:07:45] Scott: Yeah, I know this is a important topic for you. So shall we get into that now? The workplace and the equality, that's something you help people with and you advise corporations on? Is that right?
[00:07:54] Zoe: Yes. I try to, funny sometimes, we have a, I might have a workshop on sexism in the workspace and they start by introducing me and saying, "Miss Fragou you can see she's so young, but still she can help us, she's very good does."
[00:08:09] Scott: oh dear. Why don't you just walk out there and then?
[00:08:13] Zoe: Yeah, because if I was doing that, if I was doing that every time,
[00:08:18] Zoe: I wouldn't, I would be out of clients.
[00:08:22] Scott: Hi, just a quick timeout for a second to remind you that you can leave me a voicemail. And I will feature it on one of the future episodes. There's a link and the top of the show notes. You just click it. You can do it from your phone or your computer and just leave me a voice message.
[00:08:39] Scott: And I will play on a future episode. Okay. Back to the show.
[00:08:44] Scott: But it's all those biases and assumptions that people make that's just completely UN or wrong. frankly. So how do you tackle that? How does that conversation go after they set you up like that? When you walk in the room?
[00:08:55] Zoe: I can't really blame them in a sense that especially older generations, we are old people of our society. So a person that has grew up in a society this today, 55, 60 years old until very recently, women couldn't even vote. So all these changes happened while this person was alive and he had to go through the one state, the next state through seeing, probably having a mother that had never left home to now having a wife who has left home to actually having a daughter that might even be openly queer.
[00:09:32] Zoe: So it makes some sense that people are confused for starts. So it doesn't necessarily mean that every person who is sexist is also a misogonist or is also having bad intentions or bad motive. Sometimes it's just lack of training and lack of education towards that specific subject. And frankly, I would say also force of habit, you, we wouldn't, we shouldn't assume that everyone knows what is sexist for this client who is 55, 60 years old, introducing me and telling to people that she's so young and that, she's a beautiful for him, it's a compliment that I should be happy about. They don't even think that way that I might get insulted or that's something they shouldn't say, or that might even be inappropriate.
[00:10:21] Scott: So how do you get around that then? Because you're dealing with ingrained behaviors and thinking, you just said from people that's all, they all they've known. Is it possible to transform that or to change? It's about education, isn't it. But do they, the minute you've ended the session and the training, you walk out the door, are they likely to just revert back to those ingrained behaviors?
[00:10:42] Zoe: What you do is you can just give them an alternative perspective, an alternative approach, some food for thought. And you can just challenge a bigger empathy.
[00:10:52] Zoe: All the rest is up to them. Basically, when I started, starting psychology, the first thing they told us was a joke a professor, he said "okay guys how many psychologists do we need to change a lamp?"
[00:11:05] Zoe: I said, "how many?" And he said "one, but the lamp needs to want to change". basically, yeah, you can't change.
[00:11:15] Scott: yeah.
[00:11:16] Zoe: They have to change themselves. But what you can do is give them knowledge that, they might never had access to before.
[00:11:23] Zoe: Let's take a very simple subject, like a sexual harassment in the workspace. People assume that sexual harassment in the workspace is basically an attempt of rape, but, we all know that this is illegal. Most probably we're not talking about that. Most probably what we talk about is a hostile work environment, where there are a lot of sexual inuendos, or you might have a director who's creating a sexual tension or who puts you in a difficult position by sharing too much personal information.
[00:11:52] Zoe: And usually the line is so thin that you can't really address it because if you address it, he will say you're exaggerating. Or of course you're hysterical this isn't happening, but it's also making you uncomfortable. So these are the things that you have to explain that you might think this is funny, but it's only funny because you have been raised with sexual freedom, but then all the women around you haven't been raised with the same sexual freedom.
[00:12:20] Zoe: So you talking openly about sex in work might be making them uncomfortable. And that's why workspace is not the place to discuss our sexual lives. And then usually they will say something like. "Yeah, but if she has an issue with that, she should have mentioned" it's not that easy because another stereotype and another problem of the society is that women get raised by not knowing how to say no by, being educated and indoctrinated and to always be pleasant and kind, and not ruining anyone's mood and anyone's emotion so no it's not so easy for women to set boundaries. When they were kids no one say to a girl," yeah, go play football. And if this other girl, tells you something bad you can punch her because that's how we treat people". No, what they say is that, "you know what I know you have, you might have a aggressive emotions.
[00:13:09] Zoe: I know aggression might be a natural part of life, but why don't you play with your doll and let it go. Just push it under the car'. It'll pass, sleep it off".
[00:13:18] Scott: Is it getting better? Because there certainly seems to be a lot more awareness about it in more recent years , but, are you seeing more people coming to you for advice and support with it or is it starting to improve in your view?
[00:13:31] Zoe: Funny enough my private clients, I would say that nine out of 10 are men. I don't really have enough women. And the reason is that I believe for such, like we said, in the beginning, men tend to put more effort into their business life because that's again how they're raised.
[00:13:49] Zoe: So it's more common for a man to seek a business coach. And don't only ask for business advice. And I'd say the second reason is that women usually follow moralistic approach women if they have an issue, they wouldn't necessarily think that "it's just about job, there's nothing wrong with me. I just need some help to, for example, become more communicative in my workspace.
[00:14:12] Zoe: So I will see someone specialize in that" if a woman gets stressed with job, she will usually starts feeling like it's her fault. She's guilty about something. So it's more often for women to seek actual psychotherapies clinical psychotherapies, this kind of consulting.
[00:14:26] Zoe: Yeah, but then corporations have started also in the, of course, in the spectrum of their CSR activities, but they have starting put, putting more effort into sensitivity trainings and equality in the workspace.
[00:14:41] Scott: Are you seeing then more demand from corporations for this kind of support and training then?
[00:14:46] Zoe: I would say, yeah, more demand for trainings for, it depends also the country, but for example, Greece recently passed also a law about harassment in the workspace and wellbeing in the workspace. So it has also become mandatory for corporations to run these kind of trainings because there's a need, so I'm actually thankful it's a step forward.
[00:15:06] Scott: Yeah. And you help clients around the world don't you different countries will be at different stage in progression with this.
[00:15:14] Zoe: Of course of course it is, depending on where you are in the world, it can be something that's completely solved, like a Swedish client. I mentioned the other day "how is it going? The L G B Q I movement, or the, women rights movement?" He said, "which, which movements?" I said, " about, gay people or about, women and equality, how is it going in Sweden?"
[00:15:35] Zoe: And he said, "oh, okay, sorry we call it human rights movement". Oh, okay. Touche.
[00:15:43] Scott: So obviously this is linked into things like mental health. If people are feeling, they're suffering or they're not being treated fairly or equally that's gonna spill into their mental health in some cases, do you help people in that area as well?
[00:15:58] Zoe: Yeah, burnout. Burnout is a, I would say classic reason for why people come to me, but also why corporations come to me in order to develop prevention mechanisms. It's interesting. But if you think about it, school has actually a lot of burnout prevention measures. For example, we always have breaks during its class and then we finish around two and then there are two breaks in the year and the very big one the summer.
[00:16:24] Zoe: But then we jump from that to our work life. When we actually have 20 days per year in Europe I was least in Europe and this can be shocking. Not everyone is able to sustain this difference also we have less energy and we get more tired and at the same time, it becomes much easier for us to just hide our needs or ignore our needs.
[00:16:52] Zoe: Because it's very easy to see a child drop a tantrum and start crying because they're just tired and screaming that they need to sleep now, but an adult will suffocate completely this need of theirs, and they will push themselves to the edges until they do what they have to do.
[00:17:07] Scott: Do you see a difference between mental health in women and men? You mentioned earlier that women tend to go straight to get that support. Do men bottle up a bit more or do women bottle up more or do both?
[00:17:20] Zoe: I used to joke a lot about the fact that women go more often to psychologists because men go directly to psychiatrists. Actually women are more used to deal with their mental health issues. Like I said before, usually women assume it's their fault that they're guilty of something. They did something wrong so it's more common for them to try to find a solution inwards while men usually, think it might be the environment or someone else's fault, but in generally they don't take things so personally, and this has a lot to do with raising and society.
[00:17:56] Zoe: Again, they get less accused of things we can see, for example, that I don't know, a married guy cheats on his wife. And what will everyone say is that this spider took him as if he had zero mind or brain to decide on his own, but someone else had to influence them.
[00:18:16] Scott: So he was the victim.
[00:18:17] Zoe: Of course, always.
[00:18:19] Scott: So it's the end of the summer season. It's already starting to get a bit chilly here in the UK. And people will be coming back to work and maybe setting some new objectives and saying "I'm refreshed and energized, setting some new goals". How do you help people with that?
[00:18:32] Scott: What kind of advice do you give people?
[00:18:34] Zoe: It's actually one of the, I would say first priorities decision. Prepare the goals for the new season and what we want to achieve and create our planning. I always push my clients to set multidimensional goals, not just professional, I might be an expert in professional issues, but I don't believe in carachatures, but they only do this one thing in their lives.
[00:18:56] Zoe: So I always push them to develop at least five different goals in five different categories, like social life, health, personal life, education, and then professional life. And I also push them to try to understand better their instincts, because we all have strong instincts about what we need and what we should focus on.
[00:19:20] Zoe: It's just that from very soon in life, they teach us to ignore those instincts and to just hide them under the carpet. So basically that's what we're trying to discover.
[00:19:32] Scott: Why do you think they teach us to hide our instincts? Where does that come?
[00:19:35] Zoe: Where society has expectations and when parents have expectations and then school has different expectations. And somewhere along those lines, we have also our own expectations, but sometimes not everyone is strong minded enough or dynamic enough or confident enough to say, "you know what? I think you're all wrong and I am right. So I'm gonna follow my own plan. I don't want to listen to any one of you. I will do things my way".
[00:19:59] Zoe: And during that process, it becomes easy to lose touch with what makes us happy, what we're good at. And what's a combination of those two things. Personally also don't believe that if you keep doing something that you're not good at, you're gonna be happy eventually we do need external validation as well. And we do need to put our time and energy into things that also give us something back. Not necessarily only emotionally and not necessarily only financially, but in the context of progress and evolution. But it's very easy to lose this line and just focus on things that either. They just make you happy and you're not good at them at all. So in the end they don't make you happy anymore or the other way around, which is also the most common focus, only on the things that you're good at and eventually progressively losing touch with anything else that you used to enjoy, because nobody seems to care about these things.
[00:20:54] Zoe: Everybody seems to care only about what you're good at
[00:20:56] Scott: Yeah. I like what you said around the focusing on the different areas, not just your career, it's cuz as you said earlier, then you're not just defined by your job. It's your family, your friends, everything else, your hobbies.
[00:21:08] Zoe: It's interesting, but sometimes I have a new client and they come to me and they say," I don't understand why I can't be a CTO. I've done everything right. And I've been stuck in VP of engineering forever and they always switch the CTOs. They're much less than me in every aspect. They always go with those people."
[00:21:26] Zoe: And it's very hard to tell them that sometimes what you miss might be just personality and nothing else If you've been stuck in numbers forever, and then no one wants to talk to you and people can't relate to you and people can't connect with you. Then maybe the leadership or the board of directors and, various stakeholders they want also someone who's more approachable and someone who's more interesting and someone that, they enjoy playing golf with, even that can be in business, even that can be an angle, a business angle. If you don't have a personality, that's not boring because you do stuff you have opinions, you read whatever it is.
[00:22:03] Zoe: Okay. Not everybody has the same interests, but you have to have some interests. Then even success gets harder.
[00:22:09] Zoe: This is a me that we can only focus on our work and then success will come if anything you need to focus on a lot of things for success to come. We shouldn't be viewing our career as a ladder.
[00:22:19] Zoe: It's more of a playground where you go, you do a little bit of the swing and then you change it and you go do something else. And you collect experiences from all of these things.
[00:22:29] Scott: You mentioned about people just following that path and those expectations of their parents and teachers, just get the corporate job, the nine to five. Do you coach people who are stuck in those jobs, but actually really want to be entrepreneurs for example, and have a passion about something, but lack of confidence or, " I couldn't possibly do it. I'm not gonna be a success", et cetera.
[00:22:49] Zoe: Yeah, this is the hardest thing for a coach I think when they come to me and they are, I don't know, 40 years old, let's say they have already invested endless years in a specific career with a specific education. They have three, three masters sometimes in this very specific specialized thing. And they come to me and they tell me that, "you know what, I hate this thing.
[00:23:10] Zoe: I don't know how I ended up doing it in the first place. I absolutely hate it. It's not me. I would like to do something more people oriented or something more, like what you do. Or something with children", but it does happen. Yeah.
[00:23:22] Scott: Is that a lack of confidence? How do you coach them through that? Why have they not taken that step before? Why have they put up with that job for 40 years? Cuz it's just all they know?
[00:23:32] Zoe: Sometimes it's also survival and when you're good at something and you don't have the financial background supporting you. Sometimes people, we tend to forget this aspect everywhere. Even like when recruiters ask you this question, like, "why do you work?" It's okay to say, because I have this general urge not to starve to death. There's nothing wrong with it.
[00:23:53] Zoe: So many people, actually work because they need the money and it's better and easier to get money by something I'm already good at. And by something that I have set the path there. And I know that there are a lot of job opportunities. And not care about anything else, because I have to solve survival.
[00:24:11] Zoe: "I need to put a roof up my head. I need to have food on my table. Okay. And then when I've settled", all these things many people actually that's when the first time they get the luxury of diving more into. "Okay. But I don't like this thing. Maybe I could do something else. So that's another reason why it might come later in life."
[00:24:29] Zoe: This existential crisis of, "I don't like my job, I should do something different". And the first thing we need to do is go really back to what did you used to enjoy before you started doing these things that you don't enjoy? Let's start there. If you went back, what would you do if tomorrow you had, I don't know, magic and you could have a completely different career.
[00:24:55] Zoe: How do you see it? And from there we start developing a different action plan.
[00:25:01] Scott: One of the questions I ask all my guests is if you had one book you could take to a desert island and for the rest of your life, you're trapped there.
[00:25:08] Scott: What would that book be?
[00:25:10] Zoe: Oh, My god. That's very difficult. I read a really good book this summer. And because it's very fresh, I think that's the one I'm gonna recommend. I read the book called CERSI and it's about, Greek witch CERSI and it's so interesting because it has a lot to do with Greek mythology, but it's written in a very modern and common way where on the one hand you follow Greek mythology, but also it's about how the one woman in the entire Greek mythology that actually had power.
[00:25:42] Zoe: In her hands became demonized and was called the witch. And she got even exiled in an island to live on her own. She got actually punished by everyone because she had power and I found it very interesting. So I think that people should have a look at that.
[00:25:58] Scott: Great, so if anyone wants to work with you, how do they get hold of you?
[00:26:02] Zoe: I'm very active on my LinkedIn. So feel free to reach out it's. FRAGO Zoe you'll find me with my name. Of course, I'm active in all the social media platform because I'm a millennial, but if you don't want to see, pictures of Greek islands, LinkedIn is better.
[00:26:19] Scott: Great. Do you have a website or just is LinkedIn? Just the best.
[00:26:23] Zoe: Currently in the making I'll be having my new website done by end of September, actually.
[00:26:29] Scott: Brilliant. Great. I'll put the links in the show notes for the listeners. Zoe's been great chatting to you. Thanks for being on the show.
[00:26:34] Zoe: Same here, Scott. This was great meeting you. Thank you so much for having me over. And I really hope that your listeners are gonna enjoy our talk,
[00:26:41] Scott: I'm sure they will. Thank you.
[00:26:43] Zoe: Take care.
[00:26:44] Scott: A big thank you for listening to the Rebel Diaries show, your time is precious. So thank you. It is appreciated.
[00:26:51] Scott: The show has a new Facebook group for you to engage with others, discuss topics, and let me know what you think of the show.
[00:26:57] Scott: There's a link to the group in the show notes or search Facebook for Rebel Diaries community.
[00:27:01] Scott: It'd be great to see you there .
[00:27:03] Scott: Until next week take care, be a rebel and deliver work with impact.