Valérie Vuillerat, co-founder Witty Works, Swisspreneur Podcast
EP #141 - Valérie Vuillerat: Diversity In The Startup World

Valérie Vuillerat (Witty Works)

March 18, 2021
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Timestamps:

2:11 – A solution-oriented family
17:21 – Investing in diversity from day one
22:43 – Becoming a mother and founding WeShapeTech
30:14 – Gendered language
48:25 – How to recruit

Valérie Vuillerat: How representative language can help your company grow

About Valérie Vuillerat

Valérie Vuillerat is CEO of Nine Internet Solutions, the leading provider of platform management solutions in Switzerland. With ample experience in board membership, business administration and entrepreneurial expertise, Valérie was also CEO for Ginetta and co-founder of Witty Works, helping tech companies boot out unconscious bias through inclusive language choices suited for all walks of life.

Resources:

  • Endurance sports, besides keeping you in tip-top shape, are great for reflecting and crafting cool ideas!

You graduated in Multimedia Studies from the SAE Institute of Zürich. As an undergrad, was the entrepreneurial possibility ever on your mind?

“No, not at all!”. After finishing her degree, Valérie struggled to find suitable job offers. She searched high and low for a project fitting her diverse skills of coding and multimedia design, but no opportunity fulfilled her wishes.

It seemed the scenario was black-and-white: web design or web programming. If you feel like a misfit, which way should you turn? “Designing your own job!”: in 2000, she founded Iweb4you, one of the first web design agencies in Berne.

What else besides lack of suitable job opportunities motivated your choice for self-employment?

“I grew up in a family where everyone was very solution-oriented,

so complaining was not a thing.”

College, jobs, social networking… young adults are experts on jumping through hoops. Valérie moved out at 18, which pushed her to be responsible at an early age. By then she already had a support network and web design experience from working with friends — why not try to earn a living out of it? To her, entrepreneurship’s best motivator is freedom: there is no better feeling than getting the chance to choose when and where you work!

Participating in so many projects and meeting valuable sponsors can really open unseen doors. What advice can you give?

Valérie confesses she used to be as shy and silent as they come. But what she also knew deep down is that she had an innate ability to connect with others. At only 20 years of age, she got the invaluable opportunity of entering the Business and Professional Women Club of Berne (BPW). If, like Valérie, you too are a natural social butterfly seeking entrepreneurial success, remember your communicative skills are what really keeps the stone rolling:

  • Having a can-do approach outweighs passive membership;
  • Don’t be afraid of speaking up about your awesome personal skills;
  • We can only learn by taking risks and making mistakes;
  • Change, however positive it may be, is always difficult, since it requires so much energy to shift your headspace and keep moving — but the learning curve you get will be a reward for life.

You’ve worked as a CEO for Ginetta for 6 years. What made you leave your solo journey and jump on the wagon?

“Momentum is more important than always being right.

If something feels good for my gut feeling, why shouldn’t I try it out?”

When Simon Rauess, founder of Ginetta and Valérie’s close acquaintance, saw his time for client inquiry running short, he needed to find a reliable partner to grab the wheel. Valérie could use a creative rush, so she took the role.

The first two years, she admits, were full of adversities: “we did a lot of projecting, but I can’t remember we ever did user research, so selling it was quite hard”. The business woman knows how momentum can make or break a company’s growth, but she never let hard circumstances bring despair: after all, you must keep in mind that being ready for when the tidings change is what makes a resilient project.

One of the things that really made Ginetta stand out was its female employee ratio compared to other peer companies. What lessons can we learn from there?

“If you have a good balance, the company culture will always address

female and male needs equally.”

Back in the early 2000s, workplace inclusion was not exactly the hottest topic. Being a female CEO herself, she knows getting a larger talent pool is all about setting the example and allowing organic change from day one:

  • Keep work/private life balance at the top of the priority list: remember that “customer first” is an awesome policy, but so is “employee first”.
  • Individualise interaction by really getting to know those who make your company thrive.
  • Leaders will take the lead: you are an influencing figure, so share and radiate those ideals that make your project unique.

In 2018, you took representative ideals to the next level and founded Witty Works. How can language fine-tuning make a difference?

“If you want more women to apply, you need to change the way you write.

Language is a very powerful tool.”

Co-founders Valérie Vuillerat, Nadia Fischer and Verena Oberholzer had experience in tech companies and understood firsthand how diverse teams develop powerful products. Our digital world is constantly evolving and reshaping the ancient art that is communicating, so it is vital to leave no sociodemographic group behind.

Preparing your company for long-term success begins with work culture, and a healthy ecosystem is all about how you talk to people. Why not create a software that brings the best of balanced linguistic choices to the business world? The Diversifier was developed to help your company deliver conscious ads through careful review of underlying bias in your text, highlighting all expressions that may come off as less comprehensive of difference. But its vision doesn’t end there: from press releases to social media posts, all writing is welcome!

What has Switzerland done in the last two decades in terms of job equality?

“Change will help us not only in the business world, but also as a society.

We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Not only company founding benefits from the right timing: so does social change, and there is no better time than the present moment. Being a female CEO in 2010 was very rare. Now, more and more women are achieving top positions. Social concerns are expanding their influence as pioneering activists point the way, but there is still a lot to be done. For Valérie, it seems that companies are aware of the elephant in the room, but are very hesitant on making a material move.

How can Swiss companies change the old record? Any broad advice on how we can work towards inclusivity?

“Innovation comes from friction. Homogeneity never brought the best solution.”

Valérie is confident that inclusivity will soon become a differentiating factor for companies. Some problems won’t solve themselves, so here’s how to set a solution in motion:

  • Get informed on unconscious bias and privilege and check your emotional decisions: is the way you were raised stopping you from looking at the full picture?
  • Prioritize skill over cultural fit: humans tend to click with people that share similar interests. However, culture is something you build together, so allow unconventional ideas to flow in, instead of constantly revalidating what is already taken for granted. Shared values, not echoed thoughts, should be your driving force.
  • Keep recruiting criteria transparent and rethink how you establish requirements: don’t let impossible standards stop you from finding wonderful new voices!
  • Build an attractive brand image and create conditions for identification: breed confidence by radiating creativity and free expression in your website and social media platforms.

If you would like to listen to more episodes on female entrepreneurship, check out our conversation with Estefanía Tapias.

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