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Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations.
For our Better Than Most series of great workplaces, we not only go to nonprofit organizations but also to businesses that has social good embedded into their core operations. And one such place is Ellevest whose mission is to close the gender investing gap and whose offices are up at West 25th street in Manhattan. We’ll begin with their CEO, Sallie Krawcheck, and then hear from a few members of the team…
Sallie: All about the mission, all about the mission, and all about open, frank discussion and respectful debate. I knew that we had this right when our lead designers such as Melissa Collins…(What an enormously talented woman! And so important in the usability and the aesthetics of Ellevest!)… when we were interviewing her, she said she got chills. I said, “Done! This is exactly what we want to do! ” It enabled us not only to bring in someone like her, but our head product manager is from Weight Watchers, so that’s a great perspective. We’re working on being an enormously diverse group of individuals and diverse in every way.
Alex: Part of our culture is that we hire world-class people to come in and to disrupt the industry. And so everybody that we hire, they tend to just sort of have this eagerness about them and they want to solve our problem at hand. Like we’re trying to close the gender investing gap here and it’s fun to sort of see these people who are the best at what they do in their industry come in and want to help us solve that problem.
Melissa: The mission gives us so much energy around here and especially when you’re stuck in a tough problem or you are having a difficult conversation. I think we all come back to the same place and we all know that we’re here to accomplish the same goal. And there’s a real sense of team that is unique to Ellevest. I haven’t experienced that anywhere else because I think that we really do stand together in our drive to build the best financial service to close the gender investing gap.
Sallie: Dug in for hundreds of hours of research with Elle, spending time with her, going through her financial statements, watching her interact with our emerging product online. And I would say that she co-created Ellevest with us, that archetypal client built it with us. So it’s not she’s at the center because we say it is. She’s at the center because we really built the product around her, and that really informs almost everything we do here.
Phoebe: Our most junior members are free to weigh in on bigger initiatives and ideas. And then it’s sort of up to each person who owns whatever part of the business they own to sort of evaluate all of that, reconcile any sort of conflicting feedback. Ultimately, there are some last words at the upper management level, but really sort of do what they think is best for the clients and the business.
Alex: One thing that we do that I guess you consider as a ritual is every couple of months, we get together as an organization and we review our core values. We go through them one by one and we ask ourselves, “Did we live up to this since the last time we met or did we not?”
Melissa: And so, we have an entire channel in our Slack where we’re constantly posting feedback emails from Elle and everybody has access to those. So everybody has really good visibility into what’s working for her and what’s not working for her so that when we are in a position to deliver feedback, I think we all have a better sense of what the user needs. Because the tendency is for all of us to imagine that we are her, but none of us really are because all of us in this room have more information about our product than she does and we have a perspective and an opinion that she doesn’t have. And so to be able to kind of constantly have that reinforcement of where she is and what she thinks and how she feels, I think it helps us navigate difficult conversations in ways that can be problematic in other circumstances.
We tend to use Slack more than we use e-mail. I think it is helpful because stuff doesn’t get lost in inboxes, but…we slack all the time.
Phoebe: So there’ll be sitting on the floor and it’s sort of a time for us to sort of just go [on a] high level overview of our success metrics for the previous week, that sort of helps with the culture of transparency. And I think with this small, highly communicative team, transparency is sort of an inevitable by-product of that. So it’s not even like really worked explicitly into our values, it’s just sort of how we operate. It’s almost like an implicit sort of rule, I guess.
Sallie: It’s not an easy place, I would say. We so believe in what we are doing and that we won’t hire somebody unless they believe in what we’re doing and truly believe that we can affect real good in this world. That’s a high bar, and then they have to be excellent at what they do. And I have to tell you, when someone starts here, they have to prove themselves, and I don’t want to sugarcoat that at all. That there is a view of “OK, let’s get in the game and care about this and work hard for this.”
And so what’s really fun to have evolved are these stories of the team over time and what are those shared stories that we laugh about and talk about, what’s the fabric of them, what is the first really dumb prototype we put out there–so many that did not work that we were so proud of.
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