Cohort Sponsor Representative Sheri Soliman describing the work culture of Vena Solutions to Bridge students.

Vena Solutions: How to Build a Holistic Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Bridge School
Oct 1, 2018 · 6 min read

In the first of our three-part series highlighting our forward-thinking sponsors, we look at Vena Solutions, an innovative company providing planning, budgeting, and forecasting software at scale. They’ve brought their innovative mindset to tackling a lack of inclusion in tech, both as an early sponsor of Bridge, and by fostering a culture where Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives can succeed. We sat down with Sheri Soliman, a Software Developer at Vena and strong advocate for D&I in the industry, to learn more about how the company is doing the hard work to become a more inclusive and diverse workplace.

Emily:

“Let’s start by telling us a bit about Vena’s culture. What makes it unique, and why do you love working there?”

Sheri:

“I get a lot of freedom at work. I love the collaborative culture — our focus is acting with empathy and honesty. It builds a psychologically safe environment where we can focus on learning and self-improvement. Our leadership is very available to even the most junior members of the team.”

Emily:

“How is D&I a part of that culture, and why is it important to you personally?”

Sheri:

“I’m very loud about diversity and inclusion and I bring it to work everyday. I’m in an intersection of 3 marginalized identities, so it’s really, really important to me. I’ve been with Vena for two years, and during that time I’ve seen an immense improvement in our initiatives and an organization-wide focus on diversity.

We’re launching a network for women this month, to provide mentorship opportunities for women at Vena. We have a slack channel called DIBS that provides an easy way for employees to pitch ideas to HR. We also have a terrific parental top up plan.

We’re also focusing on how to correct unconscious bias and incentivize women to come work for us. Every candidate interacts with one woman or non-binary person at Vena. Everyone on the interview panel gets training on unconscious bias. We ask “how important is diversity and inclusion to you?” in the interview — it becomes a specific talking point.”

We ask “how important is diversity and inclusion to you?” in the interview — it becomes a specific talking point.”

Emily:

“So who’s behind all of these initiatives in the company? Often diversity initiatives are either purely top down or purely bottom up, is that the case at Vena?”

Sheri:

“The conversation started eight months ago with some of the employees at our company. We talked about what frustrated us about company culture, what could be better. Eventually we brought that conversation to HR. Camilla [Tabis] and I reached out to HR and said we have all these ideas and we’d like a meeting to talk through them. We sat down with Tracey Mikita, our Chief People Person, and went through a list of things we noticed that could be improved, and things we appreciated. They said let us think about this and come back to you, and they did. There was a very quick turn around to implement our suggestions. We also had a company wide townhall where our CEO, Shawn Cadeau, talked about why Vena has made a commitment to making that a key piece of our culture here.”

Emily:

“It sounds like you’ve found that successful D&I initiatives come from a combination of executive and employee collaboration and support. That’s great. Included among your initiatives is of course sponsoring Bridge — you were one of the first companies to support our mission. What made your team want to sponsor an initiative like Bridge?”

Sheri:

“We loved the idea of students coming from non-traditional backgrounds. It really resonates with us because our teams often come from diverse backgrounds, and non-traditional ways of entering into development.

We really wanted to sponsor a program that especially encouraged D&I but we also love that Bridge is about levelling up and honing your skills. There aren’t as many resources for people who are in the industry already, but still at the junior stage. Bridge was filling this really unique spot in that sense.”

Emily:

“On the flip side, what would you say to a company that’s not prioritizing D&I as part of their hiring strategy and in general? How should they get started changing things?”

Sheri:

“Employees in diverse teams are engaged and more excited about being at work and as a consequence produce better work — we know that. Beyond that, having a culture that is inclusive and diverse means that you attract talent that might otherwise skip you as a company. You attract developers and designers who have different approaches to the problem that otherwise wouldn’t work for you.

…having a culture that is inclusive and diverse means that you attract talent that might otherwise skip you as a company.

When you have teams that can work with different personalities, people know how to learn and adapt to working better with everyone, and you won’t have that shock moment when things go wrong. It means better performance, better drive. There’s a direct link between how diverse your teams are and how well they perform.

The best place to start is to think about your interview process, and how to screen for unconscious bias. It can start with having at least one woman on every interview panel. Also, think about culture add rather than culture fit. At Vena we think about not whether a candidate would fit with the current culture, but whether they would add to the culture. Be critical of the interview process. Select people you think are culture adds and not culture fits.

Emily:

“Are there any pitfalls you’ve encountered or you’d want to warn other companies away from doing, in the process of building more diverse teams and a more inclusive culture?”

Sheri:

“One of the prominent pitfalls is placing the responsibility on the marginalized community that they serve. For example, if there’s a women’s tech event, that all the organizers are women and there are no men involved, and nobody who has the privilege is doing the work.

The responsibility for diversity and inclusion is company wide.

The responsibility for diversity and inclusion is company wide.

I’d say a second pitfall is assuming that nothing is wrong. Just because you don’t see overt sexism and racism, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement.

Assuming everything is fine means you can miss out on conversations that can make it better. That can help you drive the conversations with people at the company.”

If you’re you’re an intermediate software engineer, developer, or Scrum Master, Vena Solutions is hiring, and they’re looking to continue expanding their team with people who value Diversity and Inclusion, and want to take initiative in the workplace. You can view a full list of their open positions here: https://careers.venasolutions.com/.

Creating company-wide change doesn’t happen overnight. We wanted Sheri to give us a piece of advice that other people can use when looking to start making changes in their company to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Thankfully, she has some great ideas for actionable first steps:

“Start a conversation with people who can enact the change you want to see. For me it was starting those conversations with my CTO, and being vocal about the changes I cared about. I also do things like frequently post articles I find interesting and important on the topic of D&I, from how to be inclusive with your language, to articles about Ramadan.

More importantly, don’t just talk about these issues — reach out to people who can make solutions actionable.”

If you’re a company demonstrating leadership in Diversity and Inclusion like Vena, we want to hear from you! Contact us today to learn more about how you can partner with Bridge: hello@bridgeschool.io.

Bridge School

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Free education for women, agender, and non-binary folks in technology. Interested in running Bridge at your company? Reach out to us at hello@bridgeschool.io

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