Profile: Vanessa Slavich of Square

Slavich Headshot-2

    Diversity & Inclusion Manager

    California Polytechnic State University-SLO

    University of Cambridge

    Copenhagen Business School

Vanessa Slavich is Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Square, a financial services and mobile payments company based in San Francisco. Vanessa is passionate about changing the trajectory of young people’s lives and driven to empower them to do things that they didn’t think were possible. Vanessa sat down with Culture Lab x to discuss the importance of learning and community as a means of making a difference in people’s lives.

What do you do as Head of Diversity at Square?

Outreach is a big part of the job. We have college, high school, and now middle school programs that expose women and minorities to the world of engineering and careers in technology. For example, we recently had 19 high schools students here learning how to code. I also address the question of where is Square now, and where we want to be when it comes to diversity. Half of the sellers who use Square are women. Overall, small business owners represent all sorts of diverse folks around the world. The ideal situation is that Square represents the people that use it. We want to be as diverse as our customers. The more that we represent our customers, the better products we can build. That’s the vision.

What’s your background? What led you to this role?

When I first came to Square and started working on our College Outreach program we talked a lot about “unconscious bias” and “imposter syndrome” and a variety of different kinds of gender perceptions that can happen in the workplace. It made me remember that I liked math in high school. I always had teachers pushing me in that direction. But I had always thought of myself as creative and wanted to focus on communication and marketing. Now that I work in the industry, I realize the huge potential of technology. I had a light bulb moment where I said, “I’m going to learn.” And so, I have been learning to code over the past two years. I’m starting to be able to apply my new skills to simple tasks, like updating our careers website, where I can use technology to make my job easier.

What’s your definition of company culture?

Square’s company culture is all about being transparent and collaborative. How does this show up? Just about everyone feels like they are owners of the company. We are all striving toward the same thing, which is helping small businesses grow and thrive. We share notes from every single meeting, which go through email so everyone can see what’s going on throughout the entire company. We also have a weekly all-hands company meeting called “Town Square.” Our conference rooms have glass walls to signal transparency. Everyone is open to getting involved with what is going on and embedding themselves in the process.

How do you see Diversity as reflecting Square’s culture?

Particularly around our outreach programs, we involve employees heavily in the process. For any program that we run we need 20-60 volunteers. It’s a very company-driven effort. At the end of the week we invite them to our Town Square meeting. Guests usually aren’t invited to this, but the students come and share a little bit about their experience, what they’ve learned and what this experience means to them. That has profound impact. It’s really refreshing to hear from someone who has been in your office for a week, to get their perspective about what it is like here, what they have learned, how this might change their future. It’s a great reminder to all the employees how much we give back to the community.

How do you know your work is making an impact?

After every program we conduct a series of surveys to see how much the students kept in touch, how it changed their careers, and if they found a community. Keep in mind that a lot of these young women are minorities in their CS classes. A lot of them tell us that this is the first time they have been surrounded by so many women programmers. Before this they have typically felt very alone. So developing a community of support is really essential to their success. Now that the program has been running for a few years, we have different generations of graduates that stay in touch. Some of them have now founded, or work, in tech companies, and they invite current students to shadow them or apply for internships. There is this multi-generational connection where they can support one another to accelerate their careers.

Why is community so important to you?

I’m a strong believer in community, and the support from gathering around a shared interest or a goal. For example, there is actually a group of us at Square who are taking Harvard’s intro to CS course, which is how I’ve been learning to code. We are all taking it together, doing the homework together. We have lunch Tuesdays and Thursdays, watch the lectures and work through some material together. We support this kind of community learning environment at Square.