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How the Humanities Can Guide Human Resources

An MLA student at UChicago’s Graham School, Cara Brennan Allamano embraces the humanities to drive her work as the chief people officer at Lattice.

Cara Brennan Allamano

Cara Brennan Allamano felt something was missing.

Though Allamano 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, Allamano 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,” Allamano says. “I felt I had to re-educate myself about what’s happening and push my thinking in new directions.”

Turning to the humanities

Committed to optimizing the work experience for others, Allamano enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program at the Graham School earlier this year. An English Language and Literature graduate from the University of Kentucky, Allamano 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, Allamano 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, Allamano 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,” Allamano says. “I feel like I’m growing and expanding my perspectives every minute I’m in the classroom.”

Finding enhanced purpose and perspective

Calling her MLA studies “new and inspiring,” Allamano 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, Allamano 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 Allamano often struggle to find opportunities for reflection and growth, especially in formal settings like a classroom. Through her MLA studies at Graham, however, Allamano 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,” Allamano 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.”

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Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

Daniel P. Smith is a freelance writer at the Graham School.

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