Melanie Hodgman

Mel was made for the mountains. With a lifetime of outdoor education under her belt, she’s keen on scaling operational challenges and bringing the whole team along with her. Her commitment to inclusivity means we’ll all reach the top.

People & Culture Manager | LinkedIn
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The (practical) magic behind memorable company retreats 

By Melanie Hodgman

decorative image of rainbow colored hills with a few buildings sprinkled in

Image by Emily Zheng

In 2020, we traded commuting to the office for working in house slippers—and never looked back. But the new setup led us to ask: what will employee engagement and collaborative learning look like? One way we’ve answered that question is with in-person gatherings twice a year, including an all-team summer retreat.  

Company retreats can be logistically challenging and labor intensive to plan. However, the rewards can include improved interpersonal relationships and collective learning, making it worth the effort. And for marketing teams in particular, retreats provide a great opportunity to sharpen collaborative creativity. 

Here’s what we’ve learned so far about how to make a retreat worthwhile: 

Be intentional about cross-team collaboration 

Try retreat programming that includes small group projects. Intentionally select team members who will collaborate on a creative project outside of their typical work. Maybe your team has only done technology marketing and would enjoy the challenge of applying those skills to a nonprofit project for a day. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a scenario that is different from the industries you serve, but something to which employees can still transfer their skills. 

Ensure that these teams are a mix of departments, tenure, personalities, and seniority. Bringing employees together in this way will help them think critically and creatively while having fun. Sharing this experience supports familiarity with team members and can help them feel more comfortable working together once you return to virtual meetings. It also gives team members perspective on the challenges and excitement that come with roles different from their own. 

Provide opportunities for unstructured connections and downtime 

Don’t jam pack a retreat schedule with lectures and professional development only. There is value in scheduling downtime into programming and providing that essential balance of work and play. Equally important are the spaces in between sessions when folks catch up over meals, have a casual conversation on breaks, and spend time with co-workers they don’t interact with regularly.

The trick is finding the balance between the two. Set expectations ahead of time regarding how the days will flow to help your team members plan for the best use of their free time. For example, cap a day of team projects and presentations with an evening around a campfire, or break up the day’s agenda with a game. Weave in short ten-minute breaks for breathers so that employees don’t feel like they’re experiencing information overload.  

Start planning now!  

The best venues, especially if you’re planning a summertime retreat, are going to be booked well in advance. To find a venue with availability that matches your desired timing, amenities, accommodations, and budget, start looking at least 12 to 15 months ahead of time. Between wedding season and various festivities enticing people to travel, the best summer spots are likely to be taken if you wait too long. 

When considering a venue, think about the type of experience company leadership wants to create. Do you want a more remote setting for planned activities and the absence of distractions? Or would you prefer that employees engage in activities on their own, outside of structured sessions? Additionally, the time of the week is important. For example, we allot 48 hours for our retreat and have found that works best toward the end of the work week—it gives teams time to collaborate with clients and move projects forward before signing off for two days.  

You can find photos of our latest retreat on our Instagram, or get tips from our 2023 retreat session on constructive feedback

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Conversations about race are long overdue

By Melanie Hodgman, Michaela Ayers

Image of a street with the words

Image credit to the members of the Vivid Matter Collective

When our lives were disrupted by COVID-19, out went the well-worn grooves of daily routines and life as we knew it. That disruption, combined with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and George Floyd were a catalyst for expanding how 2A incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the fabric of the organization. Recognizing we needed outside expertise, we turned to Michaela Ayers, founder of the social impact organization Nourish.

From my first phone call with Michaela, I knew Nourish’s approach of incorporating human-centered design, action learning, and anti-racism principles into her DEI solutions was a good fit for 2A. Her background as a facilitator and artist brings a depth and beauty to her bespoke workshops. Her trainings met us where we were–individually and as a company—and brought us along what can be an uncomfortable journey of learning and practicing anti-racism and inclusion.

We have taken the resources, tools, and language from our first Nourish workshop series to center DEI more consistently across the company. It’s in our recruiting strategies, hiring process, onboarding, internal mentorship opportunities, and spaces to talk about racism and exclusion with colleagues. As one employee commented in their workshop feedback, “The biggest thing I have learned in all these trainings is that working against racism and building a company that is inclusive will be something I do forever. It’s not one initiative, it’s part of every initiative.”

So, what’s next for 2A and for Nourish? At 2A we are collectively working towards meeting the DEI goals we set last summer and looking forward to our next engagement with Nourish in the fall with a focus on power & privilege, and inclusive allyship during two all-team workshops.

I reached out to Michaela to find out what’s on the horizon for Nourish, and they are busy!

They have just successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign that will allow them to take their service offerings to the next level while continuing to serve corporations and communities through facilitation and consulting. 

They are working towards the development of an online learning platform that would support both individuals and organizations who want to deepen their understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Nourish is committed to making these courses artful, accessible, and doable so more people can be a part of building equitable and inclusive communities. 

Outside of the e-learning platform, Nourish is also laying the groundwork to become the first DEI employee-owned cooperative. An employee-owned cooperative is a values-driven business that puts worker and community benefit at the core of its purpose. This democratic business model would allow Nourish to expand its consulting services, take on larger projects, and most importantly build wealth through cooperation.  

While the future remains uncertain, we can’t deny that this is a potent moment where we get to redefine what normal looks like. We’re looking forward to the evolution of Nourish and can’t wait to see what happens next!

Not knowing where to start the work of anti-racism isn’t an excuse not to begin. Thankfully, organizations like Nourish are there to guide us on our journey.

Elevating Stories #5: Justin Richmond


Elevating Stories #5: Justin Richmond

By Melanie Hodgman

Elevating Stories #5: Justin Richmond

I grew up in a house where C-3PO and Optimus Prime were often staged for battle behind a Lego fortress, waiting to take on the villains controlled by my older brother, Justin Richmond. Worlds were created and destroyed on the daily—his toys acting out the stories swirling in his head. These days, Justin’s stories come to life in his Emmy Award-winning show The Dragon Prince.

Recently, Justin joined us from Topanga, California for our latest installment of Elevating Stories—a series where 2A hosts professional storytellers of all sorts. He shared insights about the creative process in his roles as a video game animator and co-founder and executive producer at media studio Wonderstorm. After spending some remote time with him, here are three techniques we learned to bring a little Wonderstorm magic to our team:

1. Embrace failure

At the retreat to kick off each eight-show season, every writer shows up ready to pitch 40 ideas for the season’s storyline. Thirty-nine (or more!) may be thrown out, but the sheer volume of concepts leads to new character and plot ideas that never would have surfaced if writers came tethered to just a handful of gems.

2. Terrific writing takes revs

Each season of The Dragon Prince goes through six revisions—from premise to record draft—before ever getting into the hands of the animators, actors, and sound team. Parts of the script may make it through four drafts before being cut. Would the plotline hold up after two or three drafts? Probably. But the extra time and care spent on each scene is what gives the story its depth and transforms viewers into fans.

3. Diversity is fabric, not decoration

Wonderstorm intentionally brings a diverse team of creatives to the table to build a diverse world of characters on screen. From the deaf female army general who communicates using American Sign Language, to the non-binary Sunfire Elf, to the multi-racial royal children, the team makes diversity prevalent—and not the focus. By normalizing so many ways of being, they invite viewers to both see themselves and accept what they may not be familiar with.   

I am proud of the work Justin and the team at Wonderstorm do to bring fun and adventure into so many people’s lives. And I don’t know about you, but I could use a little Dragon Prince family time tonight.

Elevating stories #3: Heather Hansman


Elevating Stories #3: Heather Hansman

By Melanie Hodgman

Elevating stories #3: Heather Hansman

When the central character in your story is a 730-mile river, that means swimming at sea level, flying at 10,000 feet, and zooming out across states to capture all perspectives. In our third installment of Elevating Stories, we followed Heather Hansman down a natural storytelling path where she explained the secret to weaving together many points of view.

As part of the research for her book, Down River: Into the Future of Water in the West, Heather paddled 700 miles of the Green River in a solo pack raft from source to confluence, getting a firsthand look at the ongoing fight over water rights on the largest tributary of the Colorado River. Along the way she interviewed stakeholders such as ranchers, farmers, conservationists, and city officials while learning about the river itself at water level. Her book expertly bridges science, adventure, and conservationism, bringing together information from different camps to enlighten the reader.

Heather makes it look easy to build multiple perspectives and storylines into one narrative. Here are three tips we learned for making sure the big picture captures it all and keeps your audience engaged:

  • Take a journalistic approach. Do extensive background research to understand the subject matter and build a comprehensive story. Once you speak the language of a topic you can write accurately and authentically.
  • Don’t act like an expert if you’re not one. You need a solid foundation to ask the right questions, but then let the experts do the talking. This allows you to listen and discern the most salient points.
  • Make your narrative action oriented. Weaving in some adventure keeps the audience hooked. The tricky part is to stay true to your thesis and main points.

Heather reminded us that solid storytelling starts with asking the right questions and a having willingness to go on a journey to learn more.

How kayaking is better than a pumpkin-spice latte


How kayaking is better than a pumpkin-spice latte

By Melanie Hodgman

How kayaking is better than a pumpkin-spice latte

Every fall, I long to slow down from the summer pace of doing-all-the-things-because-it’s-light-until 10pm. I’m comforted by familiar habits like hibernating in a favorite sweater rediscovered in the back of my closet. And while the well-defined patterns of my work week can be reassuring, they can also lead to a lack of creativity as I get too comfortable. Fortunately, last week I was able to shake things up. After joining teammates and Puget Soundkeeper staff on their weekly Lake Union kayak patrol, I walked away refreshed with renewed creative energy to bring to my role at 2A.

Every Wednesday morning, Puget Soundkeeper wrangles volunteers to paddle the edge of the lake collecting trash before it flows into the Puget Sound. Last week our team removed 85 lbs of mostly plastic in under two hours. By getting this trash out of the water before it breaks down into smaller particles called microplastics, we are protecting our waterways and the wildlife who depend on them to survive (including humans)!

Paddling around Lake Union may not sound like storytelling for business, but it certainly sounds like 2A. Our Giving program encourages the team to be part of the community both through activities like the kayak cleanup and by matching donations. It’s also a great way to shake up the routine which was just what I needed last week—even more effective than a pumpkin spice latte.

Parental leave


Getting a jump on Washington’s progressive family leave policy

By Melanie Hodgman

Parental leave

When my daughter was born four years ago my husband was working part time, in school full time and hustling to line up a job in his new career post graduation. His parental leave consisted of four days, which came at the expense of skipping classes. After that he continued his rigorous schedule while also embracing the new role of being a father. This left me home alone with a newborn for my entire maternity leave. I struggled to adapt to motherhood and the lack of support, even though I knew my husband would rather be home bonding with his first child.

By contrast, when I gave birth to twin boys a little over a year ago, we had squirreled away savings for a year so my husband could take three months of job-protected but unpaid leave to focus 100% on our family. As crazy and overwhelming as those early months with three children under the age of 3 were, we both look back on that time as an amazing experience we were in together. We learned how to parent our expanded family together and were on equal footing regarding domestic chores, parenting, exhaustion, and bonding with our babies.

Sharing parental leave with my husband after the twins’ birth, compared to my solo maternity leave was night and day (literally and figuratively!). But many new parents in the U.S. don’t have the opportunity to take paid parental leave at all. Unlike 173 other developed nations, the U.S does not have a nationwide paid maternity or parental leave policy. Without paid maternity leave or affordable childcare many women leave the workforce after having kids, which contributes to a growing gender pay gap.

As the federal government continues to lag behind the rest of the world, states have begun to take matters into their own hands. In January 2020, Washington state will become sixth in the nation to require employers to provide paid family and medical leave to virtually all employees in the state. This broad sweeping policy provides parents—not just mothers—with 12 weeks of partially paid leave after the birth of a child or when welcoming a new child into the home.

Applauding the state of Washington, we revisited our own parental leave policy to see where 2A stood in comparison. When we turned the lens inward, we realized we could do better. Our old policy aligned with companies of similar size but it still took a traditional approach by offering primary parents more paid time off than secondary parents.

Recognizing the importance of paid time off for all parents, 2A’s updated parental leave policy offers 12 weeks of paid time off for all parents welcoming a new child into their family. This policy reflects 2A’s value of workplace inclusion by offering more financial support to fathers and secondary parents. Equal leave means birth mothers have greater choice to return to the workforce while their spouse or partner stays home.

We know that gender equality in the workplace will take a series of small steps. So here’s one more to get us all moving in that direction.