Pixvana plants its flag on the front lines. First off, we are building a next-generation XR platform to help companies develop cutting-edge approaches to solve business challenges in innovative ways.
On International Women’s Day, we’re taking some time to celebrate a different way Pixvana challenges the norm: our leadership team, which is made up almost entirely of women. Beverly Vassella (Head of Product), Rachel Lanham (COO / General Manager), Jessica Turner (Head of Engineering), Tamara Turner (Head of Marketing and Strategy), and Lisa Tripathi (Head of People), sit down to share their thoughts on Pixvana’s unique culture, it’s not-so-unique beginnings, and what its like working on a majority-female leadership team. They also discuss the building blocks and conditions necessary for a diverse leadership team, and speak about the way VR represents a radical change in our power to promote empathy and workplace D&I (diversity and inclusion).
“The funny thing about our origin story is that we started off looking like a lot of other tech startups: very white and male, despite knowing the optics of such a homogeneous team,” explained Jessica Turner, head of engineering.
“Forest, our CEO, is very attuned to issues of D&I,” said Lanham. “One of his primary goals was to establish a culture that reflects those concerns and values.”
“As the team continued to grow, Forest made some pretty deliberate decisions to reorganize the team and realign the company’s values,” continued Vassella. “This included asking some people to step down. It was partially about diversity and inclusion, but it really boiled down to an effort to fill leadership positions with the best people for the job.”
“At the end of the day, the makeup of the leadership team boils down to one thing: competency,” said Tamara Turner. “When I look at the leaders of Pixvana I know we’ve hired a team of the best and most talented to lead their divisions—and it just so happens that talent consists primarily of women.”
“It’s hard to say how much stems from our individual personalities, our gender, or the culture of the company itself, but we’re a very collaborative team,” said Tripathi. “Our team meetings are about sharing thoughts and problem solving as a group as opposed to an attitude of ‘I have ideas, let me tell you all about how good my ideas are.’ We’re far less ego-driven and internally competitive than other companies. Our MO is definitely finding ways to be successful as a united team.”
“We have a very flat culture,” said Vassella. “We’re about 23-strong, and I hear from nearly every single person every single day. This leads to a great mix of thought-provoking, interesting, and fun ideas stemming from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This helps us vet our decisions more carefully, and even though that might take a little more time, seems to lead us to more thoughtful and considered actions.”
“Forest gives his leadership team the freedom to do our best work,” agreed Tamara Turner. “I think the 5 of us do our best to channel that empowerment and trust to our teams. It’s my hope that they’re felt by each individual at the company. Trust plays a big role in all of this. I would encourage CEOs to take risks and invest in potential rather than defaulting the well-worn path. For instance, most companies, and even the industry for that matter, do not have a solid bench of women for C-level positions. So, the CEO often needs to be more willing to promote up and develop talent vs hiring skills-ready.”
“Absolutely. I was talking with the head of another Seattle startup recently, and they were stressed about filling a vacancy in their leadership role,” continued Jessica Turner. “They had this long list of qualifications—from managerial experience to product knowledge—that no single person could ever completely fulfill. What’s frustrating, though, is that there’s almost definitely someone from within the team that, despite a lack of leadership experience, has drive, enthusiasm, loyalty, intimate product knowledge, a bond with the team, and a capacity to step up to the plate and grow into a phenomenal leader. That was my story, and I’m so much more invested to help Pixvana succeed than some newcomer who happens to have management experience. Take a chance on your people!”
“I see so many young people, especially women or any other group breaking into an industry that doesn’t represent them very well, suffering from imposter syndrome,” said Vallessa. “For example, many women decide that they’re not smart enough and that certain places are off limits for them. The fact of the matter is that with many jobs, most of the learning takes place once you get going. The most important thing is just going for it and taking a chance on yourself. Nothing is off limits—it’s about daring to give it a try!”
“I read a stat that says women will typically only apply to a job if they fit 70% of the qualifications whereas men will apply as long as they meet 40%,” said Jessica Turner. “Even once they have the job, people are so quick to convince themselves that they don’t belong or they’re not capable of doing the work. They get in their own way! I actually have a folder on my computer with lists of personal and professional accomplishments that I read when I find myself thinking this way.”
“At the end of the day I think everyone, especially hiring managers, need to remember that diversity creates more successful organizations,” said Tamara Turner. “And, by dedicating oneself to creating an organization that embraces diversity, the lives of everyone who work there become much more enriched.”
“I completely agree, and I think most people in the industry would as well,” said Tripathi. “I’ve spent many years in HR, and I can definitely say that when it comes to diversity and inclusion, there are so many more questions than answers. It’s easy to claim noble intentions, but things aren’t always black and white.”
“That’s where I think VR is really shaking things up—it really sheds light on those gray areas,” said Jessica Turner. “It’s easy to talk about the importance of things like D&I and workplace harassment in clear terms, but that’s rarely how they are actually experienced. Walking in another persons shoes through VR is such a powerful tool to help people understand how smaller, mushier sources of pain and discomfort might be experienced, and the ability to communicate those experiences in a medium like VR is a powerful catalyst for change.”
“Part of the problem is that because of the ineffective tools we’ve had, things like D&I and workplace harassment are seen as red tape or compliance training,” said Lanham. “VR has been called the empathy machine because of its power to make you feel completely immersed and present in a situation you might never encounter. I’m thrilled about VR’s potential to make D&I training genuinely effective. It’s a game-changer to have the ability to authentically promote cultures of empathy and inclusivity rather than making feel like work.”
“D&I starts with listening and understanding other people, which is hard to learn from a textbook or in a classroom,” says Tripathi. “VR helps us move from sympathy, feeling bad for others, to empathy, understanding what the other person is experiencing. VR has really shaken things up in a radical way when it comes to genuine empathy and, by extension, sustainable and authentic efforts for workplace D&I.”
“We have to remember that unconscious bias isn’t exactly controversial: very few people are consciously employing these biases, they just don’t know what they don’t know,” said Lanham. “Fortunately, VR is radicalizing our ability to walk in the shoes of others, see diverse experiences, and fill in some of those blanks that lead to unconscious biases.”