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  • Writer's pictureJoey Amato

Talkspace Celebrates LGBTQ Pride: A Conversation with Andrea Cooper, Chief People Officer

Talkspace is a leading virtual mental health company that was founded 12 years ago and remains one of the most trusted teletherapy companies around that helps you see your own dedicated, licensed therapist or prescriber from anywhere in the 50 states. Covered by insurance for more than 140 million people we are the largest digital mental health provider in-network. Therapy is even more accessible as visits are now the cost of a copay for so many. We sat down with Andrea Cooper, Chief People Officer of Talkspace to discuss her career and rise to her current position.


Talk about your road to management and any obstacles you faced being an out LGBTQ executive

Early on in my management journey I wasn’t out and avoided any discussion or acknowledgement that I am a lesbian. I referred to my former partner as my “roommate” and very intentionally compartmentalized my personal life from my work life. It was when I decided to pursue becoming a mom that I began to accept that separation wasn’t a healthy or sustainable way of operating for me, it wasn’t like I could hear my child refer to their other mother as my roommate… At this time in my career I was traveling internationally frequently and working with a global team, that added another layer of complexity and essentially meant coming out wasn’t going to be a one time experience. 


A few of the obstacles I faced: working in a very large company meant I interacted with colleagues who didn’t know I had come out so they unwittingly put me in uncomfortable positions by trying to set up dates for me with men or asking about my husband. Once I was pregnant it became even more common for colleagues to assume I was married to a man. When I did share my sexual orientation they often asked very personal questions about how I got pregnant and whether or not there was a “dad” in the process. For my partner, she was not eligible for any parental type benefits or time off. She was even more uncomfortable than me in discussing her sexual orientation, but had to push through that so she could explain the need to take some additional time off when I gave birth. Becoming a parent was the most wonderful experience of my life, but living in a conservative area in the US and working for a conservative company created worry and anxiety for me every step of the way. I interviewed pediatricians to be sure they would treat both of us as parents, I interviewed day care providers to be sure both me and my former partner could do things like drop off and pick up and be involved in all aspects of childcare like heterosexual parents, and once our children became school aged I had to come out with every teacher and navigate their response to that.


As I reflect on my experience as a leader and an out lesbian, one key insight that is crystal clear: as I became more open and more confident in not hiding pieces of myself at work, I grew into a more connected and influential leader. And over time I was able to support others earlier in their coming out experience and help remove barriers that I had faced. I remember an aha moment several years ago when I realized that being open and genuine had actually helped me on my way to becoming an executive and that the more I talked about my life with candor the more I became relatable and impactful as a leader. These days when I refer to my wife, even if it is to correct someone who asks about my “husband”, it is met with acceptance and either results in no break in the discussion or leads to a productive dialogue about my experience as an out lesbian leader.


How did you overcome those obstacles?

I wish I could say it was all very strategic but honestly it was through trial and error and choosing to believe it would work out without actually knowing what the outcome would be. If I could speak to the 25 year old Andrea I would tell her how proud I am of her courage and commitment to being true to herself.  Once I made the decision to come out at work, I also got clear on what I was willing to accept and how I needed to engage in a more active way. I joined and became a leader in the LGBTQ employee resource group - at a time when LGBTQ work was considered by the company to be “controversial”. By doing that I expanded my perspective and learned about organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Out & Equal, and I sought out ways to get involved and be a voice for others at work. When I decided to pursue a new opportunity outside of the org I had been a part of for more than 20 years, I did my research on LGBTQ policies and attitudes and have held firm on that in every career move I have made since then. I can’t imagine going back into the closet at work and won’t ever choose to prioritize my career over my family and my identity. 


Did you have any mentors along the way?

While I had other LGBTQ colleagues in my network that created safety and acceptance outside of work, I did not have any mentors as I was going through the experience of becoming a parent. In my circle I was the first to give birth and several years later I was the first to attempt a second parent adoption with my third child and my wife. This experience caused me to try and be there for others and to willingly share my experiences to hopefully help others. Having found a great community of doctors and caregivers I could share that with those who were just beginning their parenting journey.



If you could do one thing differently in your career thus far, what would it be?

Wow that is a tough question, only one?! I think for me it would be to stop worrying about being nice and polite and have the courage to speak more candidly when I have opportunities to speak my mind and share my perspective. I deeply believe in the concept of candor with kindness and in being direct and not avoiding hard conversations. However, practicing that can be difficult and for much of my career I was afraid of being too direct or being seen as overly pushy, so I would temper my thoughts and soften my message. As I have worked to make an impact as an executive I have acknowledged there is a difference between nice and kind and that I can be direct and make an impact while still being the kind of person I aspire to be.


How do you help make Talkspace a more inclusive environment for your staff?

As a mental health company we start from a place of empathy and giving everyone the space they need to be themselves. We have embraced this from the top of the organization as a leadership team and work to set this tone through the organization. Communication and authenticity are encouraged with one’s direct supervisor, and we have increased the frequency of our review process from annually to quarterly to help build that trust. Additionally through our formalized Culture Ambassador Program we have encouraged diverse voices to drive our employee experience (events, workshops) and invited them to help shape our corporate culture, while ensuring they have a seat at the table as we define our corporate values long term.


Does Talkspace have an LGBTQ employee resource group? If so, do you participate?

Talkspace is a small company so we don’t have formal employee resource groups, but we do utilize things like Slack to create a sense of community. I am part of the LGBTQIA and Allies channel and really enjoy the conversations that take place there. We recently had an opportunity to share our coming out stories and I loved learning more about my colleagues in that way. As the chief people officer I am able to speak frequently internally and externally and in those experiences I look for opportunities to share about myself in a way that is open and invites others to be open as well.


Does Talkspace participate in any LGBTQ events in the community?

Talkspace is a fully virtual company and we look for ways to connect and bring Talkspacers together to celebrate, build relationships and form a strong sense of community. 


Some examples of that include:

  • LBGTQIA+ Mini Games & happy hour events. 

  • Drag Bingo during Pride month

  • We hosted a webinar called: Creating An Affirmative Workplace and Therapeutic Environment for LGBTQIA+ Employees and Clients

  • We held a pride-themed dance class, virtually, last summer called Pride Move and Groove

  • And pride backgrounds are part of our company sponsored Zoom backgrounds 

  • Offerings from Talkspace:

Talkspace Self Guided - Exploring Gender & Sexuality, Supporting Diversity in Gender Identities 


What advice would you give young professionals trying to advance their careers while being an out professional?

Be yourself. There isn’t just one way to be successful, and people will relate to and connect with what they can tell is genuine. It is easy to fall into the pressure to “assimilate” as a professional, but doing that will stifle your contributions and deprive the organization of getting the best you have to offer (so much energy is taken by trying to fit in or be like others). 


Be kind to yourself. Build relationships at work that allow you to be vulnerable and seek support because being out isn’t always easy and you may have moments of doubt and disappointment. And you will also benefit from a community that celebrates with you and recognizes how being out was a part of that.


Do you have any hobbies outside or work

I am always reading a book (usually a murder mystery), I enjoy hot yoga and hiking, and I love spending time with my wife and children who are now 19, 15 and 11.


Do you support any non-profit organizations? If so, which ones? 

I am on the board for Badgerland Girl Scouts. I was a Girl Scout from 5th through 12th grade (I earned the GS Gold Award) and I credit Girl Scouts for helping to build my confidence and develop some early leadership skills that have helped me in my career. As a Girl Scout I felt accepted and empowered and formed lifelong friendships. When I came out to those friends, without exception they honored and celebrated my happiness. 


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