In this third portion of the Women to Watch series we are glad to introduce Vanessa Shaw, Founder of Human Side of Tech. She works with organizations to improve team culture through design thinking workshops partnering with HR and talent leaders. The goal of these workshops is to unlock people’s creativity and give them the tools to implement changes in their organizations.
Before starting the company, unlocking creativity was a challenge for Vanessa herself: “Somebody told me I was too creative for my previous roles in companies, that it was like being stuck in a box”, she says, “for some reason that message really hit me and made me commit full time to go all in on my business”.
Even though Vanessa was determined to follow the entrepreneurial path, that didn’t happen overnight. She faced a lot of “false starts” before finding the sweet spot where she could really make an impact. “It took many trial & errors to find a client that really understood me and how I was adding value”, she shares, “once I found that one client that got it, I knew I was onto something and it was just finding more of those people”.
With the support from a client and being “a little bit of a rebel”, Vanessa was able to write her own rules. Her “secret sauce” in this path is to always speak the truth, not being afraid to ask difficult questions or be pretty blunt about her opinions:
“Have you ever felt like there’s a lot of bullshit at work? What I love to do is to just slay the bullshit out of business by speaking honestly and truthfully, speaking about my history personally and vulnerably, creating space for an honest conversation. I just want everyone to bring their badass self to work.”
In this portion of our Women to Watch series, we are happy to feature Bilen Mesfin Packwood. She’s the Principal and Founder of Change Consulting, a communication consulting firm serving changemakers in non-profit companies and foundations in California and around the country. By changemakers they mean the people who are really committed with changing communities for the better: “We often say communication is the secret sauce that people can use to create the vision and the change they wanna see”, Bilen explains.
Bilen is a changemaker herself. She and her team focuses on justice for communities of color and low income communities and on dismantling the barriers these people may be facing. “I really want to see woman of color, black women, getting equitable access to opportunities that they need to create their dreams and make their dreams a reality”, she shares.
Bilen also makes an impact everyday leading by the example. But her path through entrepreneurship was not easy: “As an immigrant and a woman of color being able to see myself as a business woman and entrepreneur was a challenge, I haven’t had too many examples of that out in the world”. This shift in Bilen’s mentality from being a solo consultant to business owner was motivated by her desire to start a family, which would have been more difficult without an established company and a committed team.
Now, Bilen is a proud mom of her one year old daughter, who she’s already learned so much from: “Elyana just brought a lot of clarity into my life, a lot of clarity about purpose, about how I need to spend my time and set the boundaries between work and life”, she told us. But even with setting boundaries, balancing motherhood and career is not an easy task.
“So many of the challenges that we think are personal, are really systemic, and that applies to motherhood as well. We often think that the challenges that we are facing are because of our own shortcomings, but really we have to understand how the system was set up to not really support mothers, specially working mothers. Once we understand that, we can gain power to think about the things we can change, about how to treat other women about to become mothers”.