Cara Brennan Allamano felt something was missing.
Though she had built an impressive resume in the human resources arena, serving as senior vice president of people at educational tech enterprise Udemy for four years before being appointed chief people officer at software management company Lattice earlier this year, Cara knew she could be–and needed to be–a more responsive, empathetic leader, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic ignited a massive shift to traditional work environments.
“In the HR world, we talked about the future of work for a long time and then–Bang!–the pandemic happens and you have to transition to a virtual-first workforce at scale,” Cara says. “I felt I had to re-educate myself about what’s happening and push my thinking in new directions.”
Committed to optimizing the work experience for others, Cara enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program at the Graham School. An English Language and Literature graduate from the University of Kentucky, Cara felt a structured, humanities-based education would boost her critical thinking skills and spur a richer understanding of the human condition, which is central to her role as an HR leader at Lattice.
During her first MLA course, Foundations of Humanistic Inquiry, Cara escaped the distractions of everyday life and sat in a classroom alongside other inquisitive souls – creators, business leaders, and academics among them – on their own learning journeys. Reading and discussing works from ancient Greek philosopher Plato to filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, Cara explored how people throughout history have confronted challenges, made decisions, and navigated disruptive times.
“The humanities compel us to look at the past and consider how it applies to us today,” Cara says. “I feel like I’m growing and expanding my perspectives every minute I’m in the classroom.”
Calling her MLA studies “new and inspiring,” Cara has discovered a “renewed excitement” for tackling problems, which feeds her work at Lattice, a remote-first enterprise with some 750 team members spread around the globe. Holding responsibility for the entire employee experience at Lattice, Cara has embraced a more resolute focus on listening and understanding employee pain points to inform her next steps in a dynamic, fast-moving organization.
“I feel I am continuing to develop deeper empathy for the human experience, which is improving my ability to make tough decisions and lead people,” she says. “My goal is to help build an awesome place to work for our employees in the same way our engineers create innovative, game-changing products for our customers.”
Given the tech world’s expedited pace and its pressure to perform, executives like Cara often struggle to find opportunities for reflection and growth, especially in formal settings like a classroom. Through her MLA studies at Graham, however, Cara is taking pause to contemplate the bigger picture and study divergent perspectives from a humanistic lens. She believes these efforts will help propel her work at Lattice, a firm that recently topped Fortune’s list of the Best Small and Medium Workplaces in the Bay Area.
“Reading and having conversations about how people responded to things centuries ago has helped me put fresh eyes on my work today,” Cara says. “I’ve been able to think more deeply about how to support employees in a high-growth company and how we define objectives as well as the moral imperatives about what we do for the business and for our employees.”