Sullivan emphasizes bringing 'whole self' to work

May 8th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Brooke Sullivan, Mariners vice president of people and culture, is a trained professional at helping individuals reach their full potential, access their unique gifts and thrive. Her skillset is honed both in and out of the office -- the mother of four leans into empathy and patience with her household of six and with the Seattle staff of 1,629.

Sullivan's office is studded with pictures of her four children, Collin (12 years old), Ryan (9), Patrick (6) and Claire (5). Sullivan’s bustling home is busiest in the spring and summer months, with schedules packed with days spent at a ballpark, from T-ball to coach pitch and, of course, Mariners home games at T-Mobile Park.

Like many women in the Mariners front office, being a mother comprises just one aspect of Sullivan’s identity. In her ninth season with the Mariners, Sullivan's role as VP of people and culture entails leading the strategy and execution of the life cycle of an employee, which includes recruitment, employee experience and performance management, for both front office and event staff.

“We have about 400 front office staff and over 1,200 event staff,” Sullivan said. “One of our focusses is making sure the event staff experience is great, because we think happy employees mean a better fan experience.”

Sullivan and her sons (left to right): Collin, Ryan and Patrick

Sullivan joined Seattle in 2014 as assistant controller, working in the finance department.

“I saw an opportunity at the Mariners to make a positive impact on the culture and employee experience. I have always been drawn to the people side of the business,” Sullivan said. “Even when I was an auditor, I was always really drawn to training [and] developing people and recruitment.”

After spending three seasons with the finance team, Sullivan shifted to the people and culture department to better leverage her empathy and her ability to authentically connect with colleagues.

“It is a balance of showing my competence in the technical world with my ability to relate to people and lead," Sullivan said. "Those are sometimes seen as mutually exclusive skills. I’ve always had the desire to show you can be technical and have a high EQ."

Instead of fighting the traditional workplace bias against empathetic women, Sullivan has leaned into her innate ability to connect, nurture and build relationships with staff members across the Mariners organization.

“I’ve always had the instincts of a mother," Sullivan said. "Wanting people to be included, wanting people to belong to a group. I have four kids. Even in Little League, one of my big aims is really to just get more kids to play, even if they don’t feel like there’s a place for them. I want them to feel included.”

When Sullivan was growing up, she did not always feel like there was a seat at the table in leadership positions for women who possessed her same qualities. “There were times where I started to count myself out of the workforce,” recalled Sullivan.

After her first child was born, Sullivan engaged in a period of reflection on motherhood and identity, and concluded that in order to show up as her authentic self, she needed to continue to find avenues of fulfillment and community outside of her family life.

“Being a mother and a wife are really important parts of me," Sullivan said. "And I still like to have something that is my own thing. I really found that this is the right balance. I can have a family and have a career that is for me. What fills me up is helping an organization get better."

A core value to Sullivan and the rest of the people and culture team is ensuring that all Mariners employees feel safe to show up to work as their authentic selves, rather than diluting themselves in order to fit into a box of what has traditionally been considered “professional.”

Sullivan’s rise in leadership was a product of her doing just that: Showing up as herself.

“I think bringing your whole self to all the things you do, without having to code-switch, takes out a lot of the exhaustion out of trying to do multiple things at once. I talk about my kids at work because I think it helps set expectations. If I don’t answer the phone, maybe I’m at my kid’s baseball game, but I’ll call them back.”

Sullivan sets an example that is evident throughout the entire Mariners organization: That employees' lives outside of T-Mobile Park are important. The top-down flexibility helps employees stay connected to all aspects of their identity, creating a more inclusive work environment and setting boundaries both personally and professionally.

Sullivan and Patrick

While serving in a leadership role is demanding, Sullivan does not just push her personal life into the margins. Outside of the office, Sullivan is busy shuttling her four kids around various ballfields in the region, coaching T-ball and cheering on Gonzaga Basketball with her husband Matt.

“Through being true to myself, I’ve realized my values haven’t changed," Sullivan said. "Those have stayed consistent. Whether you have kids at home, or not, every individual person has their own values which are all valid. When I come to a decision point I stick to my values."

Goals can shift. Values don’t.

Sullivan has had many accomplishments with the Mariners. She helped guide the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic and she shift to remote work, all while still supporting employees, recruiting new talent and retaining future leaders. Her values have continued to set the bar for her colleagues and for her kids, who aspire to have careers like their mom.

On the ride home from a T-ball practice, Sullivan’s daughter, Claire, uttered the sentence every parent wants to hear: “Mommy, you work at the Mariners, right? I want to be just like you.”

Sullivan and daughter Claire

Claire’s validation is a product of coming to the ballpark, seeing her mother work, meeting members of the front office and toddling around the ballpark during games.

“Whether it’s the front office after a game, and they come say, 'Hi' and grab candy from a jar, or it’s seeing a member of the event staff at the game, they can appreciate what I do," Sullivan said. "To simplify it for kids: it’s helping people have a better work experience.”

The VP and mother of four certainly has found a formula for a work-life balance that is respected by staff members and her own family.

“Life is too short,” said Sullivan. “At the end of your life, you’ll never say, 'I didn't work enough.' But being able to have my kids here and having them see what I do is a good reminder that we are all someone outside of these four walls.”