Intro Kat_FBLIEmail

Flipping the Script: Changing Cultures and Feeding Hope with Kat Ortiz 

In conversation with Kat Ortiz, Program Manager, Learning and Development, NextUp

Kat Ortiz, M.S., is a boundless resource for those of us here at NextUp. Her expertise as an Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychologist pierces through the layers of corporate culture to the core – to what must change, and how to change it. I/O makes transforming workplace environments into hard science, using data to fuel powerful outcomes to better our workplaces for women. 

In this interview, we dive into the power of psychology to change perspectives from the individual level right up to changing whole organizations. We also discuss the difficult early experiences that inspired Kat to fight for change for women – and to fight for hope. 

TW: This article briefly mentions abuse and self-harm. 

Angie: Tell me a little bit about your background Kat – something a person couldn’t simply learn about you and why you got into Industrial-Organizational Psychology (I/O) from reading your bio. 

Kat: Well as you know, lot of what I have been through personally developed me professionally, and put me into the career path I’m in. I did go through a lot of trauma when I was young, and from a young age I had to deal with a lot of the societal brokenness that hurts women after suffering abuse from a young age. 

At a point when I was 13, I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to live through the situation I was in. And I decided that I was going to change the narrative – that I was going to be someone who was going to make a difference, and that my story didn’t end there. 

And from that point on, I said, “I’m going to be a psychologist and I’m going to change things.” And my first thought, even at that young age, was that I was going to be a therapist and I was going to help people who had been through some of the traumas that I’d been through.  

But then I realized that I wanted to be a system changer. I wanted to change the rules – I wanted to get to the root of the problem. And that’s what put me on the path to being an I/O psychologist.  

Angie: That’s incredible. So what was your experience going into the field? 

Kat: When I decided to not be a therapist and go into I/O, I thought I was losing something by not becoming a therapist. As I went into it even more, I realized how much I was gaining. The science of discovery; unearthing how to uproot systemic issues through science and accuracy, and then putting those changes into practice? It kind of blew my mind. 

It was like a whole new world of opportunity and way – way more than I could do sitting in a chair one-on-one with a person. This was something where I could not only help people individually, but I could also start changing the future for the next generation of women. 

We’re talking about real change, and you will have to do work to make that happen.  

Angie: That’s fantastic. So what brought you to NextUp?  

Kat: I was doing consulting on a contractual basis, for other organizations to try to reduce their turnover, by helping them understand empathetic leadership and the human needs of workers. It was rewarding, but again, it was one at a time at small organizations, and really what made NextUp such an amazing opportunity for me was the ability to tackle issues on a much larger scale. 

Angie: When folks come out of some of our longer leadership development programs, so things like Rising Stars, Soar, Beyond Allies, what’s the kind of feedback that you hear from people as they come out of those programs?  

Kat: I’ve received personal emails from people saying, “I just wanted to let you know that I got this promotion and that I stood up for myself.” I’m covered in goosebumps just saying that because I can’t believe the work that the people are willing to do. The things that we tell them, they take it to heart and they run with it, to make real change for themselves and for the people around them. They better their workplaces with the leadership skills they build, and they create safer, more equitable workplaces as a result. That change is not only impactful for them, but for every single person that their leadership touches.  

Angie: That’s wonderful to hear. So thinking about the development we offer members – what do you look for when you’re looking at a leadership development program? What’s a green flag for individuals to look for that shows a program is actually going to create change, either for the individual or for the organization.  

Kat: In the world of leadership development, there are people we can call influencers who feel they have something worth teaching, some wisdom that they feel like they need to share. I think that’s fair. But because it comes from the gut rather than from a scientific background, there are things that are not sound and sometimes not particularly not safe. When you root something in science and make sure that it is actually going to cause the outcomes that you’ve measured for, it becomes so much more than a high-level, easy-to-digest platitude. We’re talking about real change, and you will have to do work to make that happen.  

For example, I’ve seen prominent self-help books, New York Times bestsellers, that advocate just pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and getting over the hard stuff.That’s not psychologically safe. Not for individuals, and not for organizations. 

When you can help someone understand what it’s like to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, and see themselves for who and what they really are, there are learnings to take away. It keeps that person from putting things into a denial box, shutting them away, and making them too scary to deal with. And it also keeps you from ruminating on it.  

Acknowledge where you’ve come from, rather than denying it. Look at the good and bad of yourself and use that knowledge to propel you forward. History can repeat itself if you don’t acknowledge it. 

The research is showing over and over and over again that diversity is positive, that equity is key, and that the more an organization can grip that reality, the more successful they will be.  

Angie: You mentioned putting things in a ‘denial box.’ We know many organizations want to change for the better – be more equitable, lift up their marginalized employees, but it’s one thing to want it and another to act on it.  

Kat: Absolutely. Let’s look at an organization that wants to be more diverse and more equitable as a therapy patient, right? Someone who seeks out the psychologist, who willingly goes to them, their outcomes are more likely to happen. When they are forced into therapy by outside factors, you won’t see the same change. The same goes for organizations. They need to seek the change, and be clear-eyed about the work. If they are, they’ll see the tremendous benefits that supporting DEI&B and leadership development can bring. 

When leaders fully get behind these initiatives, the impact on the company has been incredibly positive from a fiscal standpoint as well as the human standpoint. The outcomes are scientifically sound, and we build our programs to get them, plain and simple. When leadership is on board and supportive, they can make real good happen.  

Angie: What do you feel is in the air right now in DEI&B and leadership development? If you were in a room full of people who do what you do, what would everybody be talking about? 

Kat: We’d be talking about the fact that I/Os like myself are finally being recognized as scientists, which is incredible – I can now officially say I’m a woman in STEM.  

My peers in I/O realm are all talking about the amazing amounts of data that are coming in, supporting everything that we’ve been saying all along. Leadership isn’t about buildings, or just maintaining the bottom line. It’s about maintaining the people who will maintain the bottom line.  

The research is showing over and over and over again that diversity is positive, that equity is key, and that the more an organization can grip that reality, the more successful they will be.  

Angie: When we talk about individual leadership development supporting the retention of women and other marginalized groups at work – even in the midst of historic events like ‘The Great Resignation’ – why do you think it works?  

Kat:It’s the feeding of hope. When you give any single individual hope, they’re more likely to live creatively and live healthy. So when a training is given to somebody – when it inspires that person to grow and to see hope in themselves, they end up being more creative. They stop feeling like they need to be in fight or flight when stress comes their way. You’ve put them into a growth mindset that starts creativity and stops fear. It increases that person’s resilience and ability to stand up against stressors. So perhaps similar to what I was saying about my own early life – repositioning your perspective into a positive mindset of “I’m going to grow. Good is going to come from this, and I have hope.” 


If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to 


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