Interview with Renée Safrata

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By Zeynep Tuck

Renée Safrata is an award-winning CEO of a thriving business in the HR technology space. As one of our amazing nominees of the Voices of Women in Tech series, she was described as “a Force of Nature,” “innovative,” and an “exceptional entrepreneur” with “a firecracker personality and seemingly boundless energy.” Renée has led Vivo Team with a philosophy of connection, and according to one of her colleagues, “a vision to show what impact learning and development have on peoples’ behaviour and a company’s bottom-line.” We caught up with Renée, who has been deemed a “Swiss Army knife of a leader,” and “apt role model” to find out more about her community, the barriers she’s faced, and a typical day in her life.

[Zeynep Tuck] Can you tell us about what your average day looks like?
[Renée Safrata] First word that comes to mind – firehose!

My husband and I are big believers in living in alignment to our values. So, we start our day investing in top value #1, relationship – he makes me a matcha latté and a coffee for himself. We sit together for 20-30 minutes to connect. We then strap on our runners and go to a 7am workout with our trainer – top value #2, health.

We then divide to live out top value #3, financial growth and professional development. My day generally starts with business development calls then moves into a series of meetings with prospects, existing customers, my business development team (all from my computer using Zoom). Many days are interspersed with working on the business – strategy and tactical discussions for marketing, finance, and operations. I multitask with phone calls, online meetings, Slack channel discussions, CRM, and Google document updates.

The day ends focusing back on top value #1 – relationship – with a fabulous dinner and a big flop after a jam-packed day. Truthfully, there is currently not enough time.

[ZT] What attracted you to work in tech? Was it a life-long dream, or was there some other factor that pushed you to it?

[RS] Tech simply appeared out of my desire to help solve the workplace disengagement crisis. Gallup found that disengaged employees cost between $450 and $550 billion each year in America.

I realized that building people analytics and an online training solution would help us reach more people and solve the problem more quickly. And so, now I’m in tech!

[ZT] There’s a lot of buzz around “building your community” as key to being successful in tech. What does your “community” look like?

[RS] I would say that my community looks like a helluva lot of innovative, smart, energetic people; some are business owners, others executives – all valued influencers and champions. I am grateful to all of them for the ongoing learnings and value they consistently add to my life. Since HRTech is still such a new industry, I’m always looking to build connections and community with people in Tech (especially women) in the spirit of shared learning. I also create community within my internal team by higher smart, capable people who are aligned to the vision of the business (we are also 70% women).

[ZT] What kind of barriers have you faced as a woman in tech, and how did you overcome them?

[RS] Because I have been a woman all my life, it’s hard for me to know that things are barriers. It seems like it just is what it is. Men ‘test’ me when I am pitching my business in a way that I don’t see them test my male colleagues. Are these barriers? Not really… rather, the tests keep me alive, on-my-toes, sharper than others, perhaps.

For example, last week I was doing an online tour with a prospective client. I first explored his needs and then with his permission entered into a brief PowerPoint presentation on what we do at Vivo and how we do it. Moment after moment he brought forward philosophical questions about learning and development trends and impressions he had collected from conversations with his fellow CEOs. Which I assume he was doing because I was a woman not a fellow male CEO.

While yes, I was in the meeting to answer his questions they seemed to be questions more about big-picture thinking instead of the presentation we were reviewing. In these moments, I remain curious even though I may be internally questioning his intentions – is he doing this because I am a woman?

I handle these situations by tapping into my patience, repeating back the questions he is asking me before jumping to a solution and staying focused on my goal. Eventually, he softened his inquiry, we shared experiences – it was clear to me I had successfully run the ‘male…are-you-good-enough gauntlet.’

[ZT] What does the phrase “diversity in tech” mean to you?

[RS] I have noticed at networking events recently there are more women and particularly bright, intelligent newcomers to Canada. This is rapidly changing the culture of our tech companies and putting great women on our map.

[ZT] Is there anything else you’d like to add?

[RS] Thank you to all who nominated me and to this opportunity. If you are interested to be part of my community please connect with me on LinkedInor invite me for a vino and a chat.

We would like to thank Dr. Jim Sellner, Sandra Henderson, Jens Nilhausen, Mike Abel, Bard Schimnowsky, Patricia Bjerrisgaard, Monika Becker, Marie Schoen, Erin Berube, Graeme Moore, Judi Richardson, Petra Mayer, Barbara Dickson and Ania Lindenbergs for nominating Renée Safrata and helping us share her story with the Women in Tech World community through our Voices of Women in Tech series.