This Alum Helps Companies Revamp Their Culture
Vanessa Shaw, CEO of Human Side of Tech, has always been obsessed with culture.
As an undergrad, she focused on community studies, anthropology, and intercultural communication and moved overseas after graduation to immerse herself in other cultures.
“I’ve always been curious about experiencing the world from other perspectives,” says Vanessa, a Gold Award Girl Scout, who launched Human Side of Tech four years ago to help individuals and companies rethink their corporate culture.
That curiosity extended to the early days of her career when she worked as a freelance writer and English teacher, visiting companies overseas and doing “cultural tours” of their offices—even on vacation.
“I spent a couple of years doing this regularly,” she says. “I would go visit a company’s talent team or recruiting team and learn about what it’s like to work at the company.”
These explorations ultimately led to her Oakland, California–based entrepreneurial venture, working with individuals and organizations to improve team culture.
Vanessa has been busy: over the last six months, she has worked with individuals from 45 different companies and has created online resources and coaching for larger groups.
She connects her time in Girl Scouts with the work she’s doing today. “A lot of my work is centered around bringing groups of people together and getting them to collaborate,” says Vanessa, who grew up in Walnut Creek, California, and joined Girl Scouts at age six. “I remember that same feeling of collaboration from the Girl Scout meetings I attended with my mom, who was our troop leader.”
Vanessa’s timing and the creation of her company also happen to reflect what many CEOs are focusing on right now.
“There has been a monumental shift recently in how we [society] think about work,” she says. “One of the key things is that it used to be that companies were built to serve customers. However, with the growing need for certain workers and talents in tech, a trend has been to look at your employees as a customer base to serve and keep happy. This way they will do good work and stay.”
Turns out, employees aren’t just looking at the free snacks when they consider joining a company.
“There are a lot of parallels to the way people experience culture in different countries and how they experience culture at work,” Vanessa says. “For example, when we go on a trip, we talk about what’s above the surface culture, like the food, the interesting music, or the architecture. With companies it’s a lot of the same, like the cool chairs or the perks.
“But in order to actually create an environment or meaningful experience in our travel … we have to go deeper to find out what the core values are, what makes people happy here and what creates community.”
The good news: helping companies with their corporate culture is never-ending, and Vanessa hopes that there is eventually a cultural shift where all of us start thinking deeply about the culture that’s in place wherever we happen to work.
“If we’re looking at a day where my job here is done, that won’t happen,” she says. “That is true of workplace culture and global culture: how we create a cultural environment on the planet, [or] in the office, is something we will always need to focus on.”