7 Women on Building a Culture of Recognition

Companies need to do more to make women feel valued. Seven local leaders share their strategies.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Feb. 17, 2022
7 Women on Building a Culture of Recognition
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Women are doing more to make employees feel valued.

Compared with men at the same career level, women are going the extra mile to support their teams and advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, according to a recent report from McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org. 

What is troubling is that while companies see the value in these contributions from women — with nearly 70 percent reporting that well-being and DEI initiatives are extremely critical — less than a quarter of companies “are recognizing this work to a substantial extent.”

So how does one create a culture of recognition for women?

Recruiting Coordinator Chanel Ray arrived at a hard-earned conclusion over the course of her career: Creating a better workplace for women comes down to how you make people feel. Before she landed at Supernatural, a virtual reality fitness app, her professional journey was full of challenges. 

“As a mixed-race, Black queer woman, I have been in work environments throughout my career which have truly tested my entire being,” she said. Those experiences provided the contrast and clarity to forge her own personal mission: the creation of a safe space where other women and minorities are supported — and recognized. 

Who would know what women need in the workplace better than women themselves? Built In talked to Ray and six other Los Angeles-based leaders about their own journeys to empowerment, and the behaviors they model along the way. Everyone has their own approach, but these seven leaders agree: Creating a culture of recognition is a critical part of building a better workplace for women. 

 

Chanel Ray
Recruiting Coordinator • Supernatural

Supernatural is a virtual reality fitness app. 
 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

In my career I have been challenged, pushed to new levels of excellence and encouraged to be all that I can by folks I’ll never forget. 

What redefined my path were the environments that looked to belittle me, pigeonhole me, and use racism and homophobia in an attempt to make me feel small and ultimately silence me — all while counting me as a nice percentage for their diversity, equity and inclusion stats.

To say I am incredibly grateful to be where I am today is an understatement. Getting hired at Supernatural was one of the better days of my professional journey because I went from having jobs to truly starting my career. I am now surrounded by wonderful, like-minded, passionate folks of all backgrounds. I work for an amazingly supportive force of women who are dedicated to my growth and advancement not only professionally, but also personally.
 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you? 

I believe that a resume is simply a piece of paper that barely scratches the surface of what someone truly brings to the table. Regardless of where you went to school, who you know or where you’ve worked, empowerment is about how you’ve made folks feel. It is about what moves you made to create real and meaningful change, and how you were able to push the status quo for not only yourself but those around you. 

Regardless of where you went to school, who you know, or where you’ve worked, empowerment is about how you’ve made folks feel.”

 

As women, we have a tendency to not apply for jobs or push for new opportunities unless we meet all the criteria. Since I started in the workforce, I have made it my mission — regardless of my position in leadership or not — to lead by example and ensure all those around me, specifically women and other minorities know they are seen, heard, supported and given equal opportunities. I want them to not only succeed, but to thrive and feel safe and empowered. I do this by creating new DEI initiatives, leading training, being a go-to coach and using my voice in conversations where change happens, as well as passing the mic to others.
 

What subtle behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

It’s important for all leaders to be on the same page about empowering, encouraging and uplifting women, POC and LGBTQ+ folks. It should always be top of mind and consistently a top priority. Speaking about initiatives is one thing, but follow-through and leading by example is another. That is something I feel our women in leadership here do very well. 

I also think it is important for our leaders to remember they too are human and aren’t perfect. Being vulnerable, working through issues or mistakes, and coming up with creative solutions only adds to a healthy work environment.

 

 

Priya A
Senior Engineering Manager • Zwift

Zwift is is an indoor training app for cyclists and runners.

 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

My tech career started in India working for telecom companies. I moved to the U.S. and experienced my first — but not the last — layoff in the 2001 dot com bubble crash. This was the first defining moment in my career.

I found my footing in the world of software application development and realized that I liked it more. The thrill of building something and releasing it to production within a matter of months was something I never got to experience in telecom.

There were many more lessons in store for me and I have to thank a dozen or so companies for providing them. Those experiences have heavily shaped what I do every day at work, and I’m able to question whether I would pay myself as much as I make for what I do — or am doing — for others. As an engineering leader, I have the opportunity to make my coworkers' workday a little easier.
 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you?

The percentage of women in software development is still very low. Comparatively, there are more women in product, program and quality assurance. Many of my cross-functional, women peers struggle with gaps in their knowledge of technology since they come from a non-engineering background. Since this is an area I have expertise in, I offer to help make tech jargon easier to understand.

I constantly push women to tackle their self-doubt, which creeps up a lot. It goes a long way to highlight their achievements with them in-person, within the team and outside the teams. I don't just do this with my female colleagues, but everyone. Elevating others has many benefits.

 

What behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

Women need to hear about their contributions and be told consistently how they add value to their teams and the organization.

Women need to hear about their contributions and be told consistently how they add value to their teams and the organization.”

 

We also need to accept the reality of home jobs. When this pandemic started, our VP of Engineering at Zwift had to help with daycare duties for his child as daycare was closed. During a Zoom call, he even kept his camera on during the whole meeting with his little one by his side. For the first time in two decades of my career, I felt truly comfortable working from home.

 

 

ChowNow team at an outing.
CHOWNOW

 

Morgyn Stryker
Lead Backend Engineer • ChowNow

ChowNow supports local restaurants through its ordering, marketing and loyalty program software.

 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

I was sure I would be a police officer growing up, but I found that the ego people had in criminal justice didn’t work for me. I eventually landed in chemistry, which led me to grad school at the University of Hawai`i-Manoa. My graduate work was in computational chemistry. I graduated with my Master of Science in Chemistry and came to Los Angeles to work in tech. 

I have worked at various startups in L.A. until I landed at ChowNow. This is the first company that made me want to stick around due to the mission to help local restaurants, and the value we place on diversity. I worked in coffee shops and at a restaurant as a food runner for several years, and I feel that this helps me build a better product for restaurants.

 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you? 

I always try to do coffee walks, now through Zoom and in-person when safe, with other female developers to share experiences and build a community of support. During Covid-19, I have had several female developer lunches with our frontend, mobile, backend and QA teams. The pandemic has presented us all with challenges, and I think it is good to ensure we all have awareness of those around us who can support us. 

From this, I also started the Slack channel #women-who-code to support each other, share conferences, get together and share interests. When we acknowledge and recognize each other, that uplifts us all. It is good to celebrate each other's success. Many times in my career I have had others take credit for my work and many other female developers have had the same happen to them. One of the things I really value at ChowNow is how we celebrate each other's achievements.

When we acknowledge and recognize each other, that uplifts us all. It is good to celebrate each other’s success.” 

 

What behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

First, it is very important to make sure everyone has a voice that isn’t stifled. Too many times, at other positions, I have seen women get spoken over in meetings. When they try to speak up, it’s considered a behavior issue. Second, it is important to be authentic and ensure everyone around you feels comfortable being authentic. When you cannot bring your full self to work, you will not be happy and won’t do the best possible work you can do. 

I value when I get criticism, as this helps me iterate and become a better leader for others. I try to practice empowerment leadership and help support women in junior roles to speak up, build relationships and find solutions because if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate.

 

 

Meredith Lamont
Chief Merchandising Officer • Parachute

Parachute Home is a retail homegoods brand.

 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

Like many, my retail career started as a store associate when I was a student. Early in my career, I worked for a technology startup in Los Angeles. It was high-energy, creative and so fun — until I came to work and there was an eviction notice on the door and we were let go without warning. That experience led me to seek opportunities with long-standing companies where I was fortunate to satiate my entrepreneurial appetite under the umbrella of well-established businesses. 

After more than 15 years in corporate retail I craved a change and launched my own consulting business. That allowed me to leverage my experience while working with a range of predominantly woman-founded companies across apparel, home furnishings, interior design and manufacturing. One of my clients was Parachute Home, for whom I consulted for 3 years before joining the team full time. Today, I am honored to work with an immensely talented team for a rapidly-growing brand that I love.
 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you? 

I have been incredibly fortunate to have woman-identifying managers and mentors who have invested in my development and empowered me throughout my career. This helped establish my own leadership style: one of transparency, advocacy, encouragement and constant learning. Open conversations about women's health, motherhood and emotional well-being is important to me and something I model in the workplace. Building teams of people with a mix of skills and diverse life experiences is a priority and there is nothing I love more than shining a light on a team member's accomplishment. I do it constantly. I love to learn and grow alongside others as we tackle new challenges both at work and as we navigate life in a global pandemic. There is a meme that says, "If you hang out with me for too long I'll brainwash you into believing in yourself and knowing you can achieve anything.” That pretty much sums up what it's like to work with me.

There is nothing I love more than shining a light on a team member's accomplishment.”

 

What behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

Business challenges are often presented in the moment when a decision is needed urgently. It is important for people in junior roles to witness what a leader does when a high-stakes decision is not immediately clear. This is a key differentiator in leadership style and a good way to identify and develop your own approach. I am not afraid to work the challenge through as a team, listen to the experts on the subject and ask questions. I think it is important to see leaders confidently communicating when more information, more time or more resources are needed to come to a resolution and model how to deliver that message in a way that is clear, action-oriented and motivating. Taking cues from a range of leadership styles, seeing what resonates and what does not, helps to define your own, authentic approach to leadership.

 

 

Heather Craig
VP of Buying and Ecommerce • FabFitFun

FabFitFun is a lifestyle membership subscription service.

 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

I spent many years focused on the art and science of buying, merchandise planning, merchandise strategy and e-commerce at established retail brands. I remember retail before e-commerce. It has been incredible to watch how retail and consumer behavior has changed so much over the past twenty years, and yet much remains the same.

The first most defining moment of my career was when I was at The North Face and I led buying and merchandising for retail stores. We had just gotten e-commerce up and running as a company, but our stores were the crown jewel. I was asked if I would ever be open to shifting over to e-commerce and away from the stores. 

I remember struggling with the decision. I was not sure if it was the right pivot, and I was also really nervous about taking on a whole new area of focus I knew nothing about. It was then that I learned that feeling fear is the exact moment I need to stop overthinking and just say yes. I am so grateful that I did otherwise — who knows where I would be in my career today?

Another defining moment came about four years later, when I met the CEO of Thredup and we started talking about what a digital thrift store might look like in real life. After many conversations and brainstorming, I was asked to join the team and be the first retail employee reporting directly to the CEO. This was scary; there was so much I didn’t know. It was a pivot away from e-commerce which made me very nervous, but I knew that there was so much I could learn working for a fast-paced start up. The lessons I learned there will last me a lifetime. I feel like I got an MBA just from working there. I made a lot of mistakes which I learned to celebrate and I had a ton of exciting wins which also were equally important.
 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you? 

I have managed a team of incredible people over the past twenty years and the majority of them have been women. Knowing the challenges I faced as a woman in the corporate environment I was committed to creating a new experience for women that I worked with. I have worked with counterparts to create compelling presentations, and I have advocated for many of my peers and direct reports in order to ensure that they are competitively compensated and evaluated. I recall my first hire in 1999, who I mentored and who I have maintained a relationship with ever since. 

I have advocated for many of my peers and direct reports in order to ensure that they are competitively compensated and evaluated.”

 

What behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

I find that passion and honesty are the two most important behaviors for leaders to model.  Often when a leader begins to move up the corporate ladder they become less transparent and authentic to their teams. A good leader knows how to maintain the confidentiality of information within their organization and while advocating for and educating their teams in an honest and encouraging way. 

It is important to lead with honesty and passion for the business but also be willing to be wrong and admit that there was a mistake or error. The greatest breakthroughs I have had is when I have been vulnerable and openly admitted being wrong, with the intent to learn and do things differently in the future. That is where honesty and passion become an important part of the corporate culture.

 

 

Renee Goldoff
Director of Client Services

PaymentCloud is a payment processing and merchant services solution.

 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

From my first interview, the passion of PaymentCloud CEO Shawn Silver was clear and solidified my belief that this company is where I was to build my career. The fast-paced environment here allows me to go beyond my customer success role and explore other departments, deepening my insight into the complete workflow throughout the company, while expanding my understanding of the industry. 

Today, I am entrusted with the role of director of client services. I continually work to grow professionally, expand my knowledge base and have a positive impact to my team, department and company. 
 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you? 

My team is made entirely of amazing, talented and intelligent women who I am fortunate to work with. I want to help new team members set goals and achieve them, giving them short-term and long-term milestones to strive for. Rather than injecting unhealthy competition, encouraging teamwork emboldens my team’s communication, confidence and mentorship abilities, all of which groom them for management positions.

I want to help new team members set goals and achieve them, giving them short-term and long-term milestones to strive for.”

 

To support their growth, it was important to me to create as many accelerant opportunities within my department as possible. Specifically, I created team lead, assistant manager and manager roles in my department. The speed of PaymentCloud’s growth allows me to not only recognize effective leaders and positive thinkers, but elevate them into leadership positions. 

As an active listener, I strive to create a positive and open environment, encouraging my team and others around me to share their thoughts and suggest ways to streamline workflows and improve processes. I’m thrilled when someone comes to me with a suggestion. After which, we discuss the implementation strategy and put it into action. 
 

What behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

It is important to me to model confidence, effective communication and approachability. As a leader, I want my team to trust me. I believe my confidence and decisive leadership earn my team’s trust. Through these behaviors, I show them I have their backs, and that I can lead them through any situation our team faces. 

My effective communication and approachability encourages my team to be honest with me. By always being ready to listen to their ideas, questions and concerns, I create an open channel of communication that ensures my team they can come to me without fear of judgment, and that their transparency and honesty will always be reciprocated.

 

 

Venice Gell
Executive Director of Global Account Management • Advertise Purple

Advertise Purple is an affiliate marketing agency. 
 

What were some of the defining moments of your career that brought you to where you are today?

I started my career journey as a graduate assistant running the social media platforms for the Chapman University MBA program. From there, I was connected to several professional opportunities, including a position to work as a marketing specialist at Entrepreneur Media right after graduation. 

After this role, I became the digital and entertainment marketing manager at Lansion Media. As a woman leader in a Chinese company with an autocratic leadership model, I wore many hats as I learned how to navigate new cultural dynamics and develop my own inclusive leadership style by managing a cross-functional team. 

I started as an account manager at Advertise Purple in 2019. I became an inaugural member of the international team, which now manages clients from around the world. In 2021, I was tapped to lead the account management department as a whole. I now oversee both domestic and international account management teams as executive director of global account management. 

 

As a leader, what have you done to empower and uplift the women around you? 

My priority is to be fully accessible to my team. Not just my direct reports, but my department as a whole. Each week, I have dedicated 1-on-1 meetings with each of the account directors, a team of eight that includes five superb women in management. In these mentor sessions, we discuss action plans for personal and professional goal achievement, areas for improvement and strategies for breaking through the glass ceiling.

In these mentor sessions, we discuss action plans for personal and professional goal achievement.”

 

What behaviors do you think are important for leaders to model to their team members, particularly to women in more junior roles? 

There were not many women in leadership roles in higher education or in my professional career. That is something I strive to change by becoming a leader who models open, accessible, trustworthy, confident and honest behavior. I want to build a safe space where team members can speak up, challenge ideas and propose new solutions without fear of criticism. 

I believe that the best leaders are accessible. I’m hands-on and happy to dive into questions with account managers of all levels; my team knows they can count on me to be there for them. Having an accessible role model, especially for women in junior roles, is a vital element for fostering growth and empowering women to step up into leadership roles. 

As a woman business leader, confidence is imperative. It is important internally and externally with clients across all mediums: in-person, over the phone, in Zoom meetings and in written communications. Women leaders who exude confidence and create supportive team environments that encourage confidence-building are able to foster up-and-coming leaders. 

Building mutual trust with my team is essential. I have an open line of communication with my strong team of directors — I give them honest feedback and expect honest feedback in return. I hold my department to a high standard of achievement, knowing that they will deliver top-tier results and let me know right away if they need assistance. In return, my team trusts that I will be there for them and help them through any issues they face to make sure every member of my team is set up for success.

 

 

 

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