Combatting Feelings of Shame in the Workspace

Combatting Feelings of Shame in the Workspace
Photo Courtesy: Vanessa Ferlaino

By: Maria Williams

Vanessa Ferlaino’s ventures into technology and social issues have been long-standing. Having previously worked in the technology industry for ten years, she transitioned into social finance and impact investing not long after and holds a Master’s of Business from the University of Waterloo. Her accolades include being the COO of a gene therapy company, managing a biotech portfolio, and launching an enterprise-level investment platform that raised 775K CAD in thirty-six hours. She now channels her artistry to reconnect communities with humanity and aims to break down barriers often present in the workplace. The biggest one she often sees? Shame.

Shame in the Workplace

One of the most challenging things Ferlaino has had to overcome is the feeling of intergenerational and societal shame. Being a Latina woman in the technology industry, she felt the pressure to be at least two steps ahead of everyone else, especially her white male counterparts, for fear that her contributions would be misrepresented or taken completely. Oftentimes, she felt the pressure to “overperform” as her white male colleagues expected her to prove herself. This led to burnout, a complete hiatus from the industry, and then an eventual departure with an intention to support other sectors with what she had to offer. Having been conditioned to not feel “good enough,” she was forced to combat the feelings associated with it, especially as she learned to heal from them. 

“There is no ‘formal’ way of doing this,” she says. “Healing means to trust yourself, to trust the process. Sometimes it feels like blind trust, but you have to sit with it, allow for it to be there, hold space with shame, and eventually, see shame for what it is.”

Lessons Learned

Ferlaino’s unique combination of real-world experience and training allows her to navigate her surroundings, which she shares in her podcast, “The Human Challenge.” As a host and producer, she combines topical issues, interviews, and human-interest stories to break down the barriers we often see in humanity. She has interviewed Olympians, professional athletes, astronauts, singers, and even Grammy-nominated artists. In addition, she is also a meditation instructor on Insight Timer and has earned her 200-hour mindfulness certification from the Lab of Meditation, accredited by the International Mindfulness Teacher’s Association. She hopes that professionals, especially women, will be inspired to apply mindfulness to their leadership styles and create boundaries to avoid burnout.

This vast array of experience allows Ferlaino to help others find their inner humanity and create better lives for not only themselves but also each other and the world.

“I want to inspire and challenge people to heal and use that journey to inspire collective healing,” she says.

Wisdom Shared

Of everything Ferlaino has learned, staying embodied in one’s softness can help one develop better resilience.

“Resilience can be about softness,” she shares.

She then adds that she does not believe “shame does not exist.” Vanessa believes it absolutely exists, and to believe it doesn’t mean denying the human experience. Permissing ourselves to feel our feelings, including shame, is an act of honor and the practice of “detachment”, as taught by Buddha. It means we can acknowledge that these feelings and/or thoughts are present, but they are not who we are. She has created space within herself to allow these feelings to rise and fall, much like waves, as is necessary. In this space, we can accept that the human experience is something that we all go through in one way or another.

In the end, Ferlaino says that she wants to encourage people to find their humanity, challenge them, and inspire them to heal. She wants to invite people to extend that journey outward and, in the end, teach them to move past the shame they experience so they can feel better about themselves personally and professionally.

Published by: Nelly Chavez


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