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#LetsTalkCulture Panel Recap

David Zhou

Last month Vox Product hosted a panel series in DC and New York on the topic of culture. "Let’s Talk Culture" included panelists from companies like BuzzFeed and Viget with backgrounds in design, management, journalism, and HR. The discussion focused on creating and maintaining a healthy, diverse, and productive company culture.


Panelists: Mariah Minigan, Bonnie Bogle, David Dao, and Khanh Stenberg

Moderator: Alisha Ramos

Vox Product Culture Panel

Photo: David Zhou


Panelists: Millie Tran, Jackie Balzer, Kyle MacDonald, and Heather Fleming

Moderator: Elite Truong

Held at: Paperless Post

nyc culture panel

Photo: Scott Kellum

Things We Learned

Culture as a broad topic is hard to define and it’s even more difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes it successful. Do you measure a company's culture based on how many healthy snacks are in the kitchen, or do you look at more intangible aspects such as happiness and productivity? To discuss what this all means, we structured the panel by touching upon a range of topics from how culture is formed to how it's portrayed in acts such as hiring. Both cities presented a number of great points and here are some of those takeaways.

"Culture is the actions and shared understandings that make a workplace cohesive." — Mariah Minigan

On Trust

A common theme was being supportive of your co-workers. A team with trust that allows each person to feel comfortable expressing their own ideas and opinions is a team with better ideas. This was thoughtfully highlighted by Millie Tran, Writer on the BuzzFeed News App team, when she explained BuzzFeed has a "No Haters" policy. She later expanded, "You can hate, but hate thoughtfully, generously, and usefully. Don’t hate fruitlessly. Hate critically."

On Checking Slack at 3am

In an industry where it's easy to get overworked, panelists were asked how their companies make sure employees don’t burn out. "You can’t make people 'do life'," Khanh Stenberg of Viget mentioned, but you can lead by example and encourage it. For instance, management going home at a normal hour is a reminder to employees that they should take time off, and helps bring forward the values a company has in their team.

On work life balance Bonnie Bogle of Mapbox also stressed how it important it is to not set the expectation of long hours and strenuous work. Stenberg chimed in that while "everyone [at Viget] is willing to put in extra hours on a project, that is not the norm."

On Diversity

When discussing diversity, an important takeaway from Heather Fleming was that everyone (especially in tech) can do a better job. When hiring, she explained, do not go the easy route and simply hire from your own personal networks. Reaching out to different organizations and doing the work to find other communities that are not like you is crucial to ensuring your job postings will have a diverse set of candidates to choose from.

"No one is doing a good job of hiring diverse candidates. We need to do better." — Heather Fleming

DC echoed similar thoughts. With a background in HR, Mariah Minigan talked about job descriptions and how words like "ninja" and "rockstar" and even specific degree requirements can turn people away and provide a less diverse applicant pool. Training employees on the importance of diversity and how to interview is also crucial.


We recorded the entire DC panel. You can watch it on YouTube here.

In The Future

Thanks again to the panelists, moderators, and everyone who came to listen to these discussions.

We learned a lot from hosting these events, and have already gotten some really great feedback. We’re dedicated to making all future events even better, and if you have any feedback or are interested in partnering for an event we’d love to hear from you. If you prefer anonymous feedback, we have a form for that.

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