Lyft News

UpLyft Families Feature: Kharissa Fernando Smith

Apr 30, 2024
Photo of Kharissa Fernando Smith - UpLyft Families lead and her family.

Meet Kharissa Fernando Smith (she/her), a Software Engineer at Lyft and one of our UpLyft Families ERG Leads. She most recently worked with UpLyft Families (an ERG that advocates for all families, celebrates their unique forms, and fosters a culture where every family is respected and valued) to help launch a program called Family Villages, which was created to help employees build their own “village” at work.

What is Family Villages and how did you get involved? 

Family Villages is an initiative by UpLyft Families designed to build connections among peer family groups within Lyft. It aims to help employees build their own 'village' at work, as they tackle the unique challenges they face as caregivers, in all its various forms. This initiative helps support our employees in similar situations and helps them foster a sense of belonging and understanding across diverse family dynamics.

As a new parent returning from parental leave, I experienced what felt like a culture shock. The transition back to work was a little overwhelming, and navigating the workplace in this new phase of life was daunting. I had to learn how to establish healthy, sustainable boundaries for both work and home. This personal challenge highlighted the need for my own support system, which led me to UpLyft Families — a community that understood and shared these challenges.

Recognizing that families come in all shapes and sizes, my co-leads and I were motivated to enhance the support structure within UpLyft Families. We created Family Villages with the intent of forming smaller affinity groups that meet regularly (whether in-person or remote) tailored to specific needs and life phases. For some team members, including myself, this meant joining a "village" of fellow new parents in San Francisco. We meet regularly to share about the latest with our own families, to offer suggestions where we can, but mostly to listen to one another. The simple act of being heard is so powerful. It reminds us that we, as caregivers, need care and support too. 

Kharissa holding her baby in front of a Lyft sign

Why is it important to build community and belonging in the workplace? 

Building community and belonging in the workplace is fundamental because it directly affects how happy, engaged, and productive our employees are. At Lyft, we often say, 'We want this to be where you do the very best work of your career.' I truly believe that’s only possible in an environment where everyone feels connected, supported, and included. 

These elements are not just important for employee satisfaction but also for keeping our team members long-term. People want to stay where they feel valued and understood.

How does having employee-led programs such as Family Villages help you grow professionally? 

Employee-led programs such as Family Villages are a fantastic way for team members to grow professionally. By taking an active role in such initiatives, team members develop leadership skills and gain hands-on experience in project management and effective communication.

For myself, this and similar programs through UpLyft Families offered me an opportunity to become a decision maker and have a positive influence across Lyft. This type of involvement is instrumental in preparing team members for increased roles and responsibilities, ultimately enhancing their career trajectory within Lyft.

What does the term “it takes a village” mean to you?

To me, the term "it takes a village" reflects the idea that we all need support from a broader community to thrive, especially in significant life stages such as parenthood, caring for elders, or any personal growth journey. 

Within the context of Family Villages, it means that no one at Lyft has to navigate the complexities of balancing work and family life alone. We can lean on each other for advice, support, and encouragement, which not only makes our own personal journeys easier but also strengthens the Lyft community as a whole.