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Q&A: Why DoubleVerify's CHRO is a strong believer of employee listening, recognition, and wellness

Q&A: Why DoubleVerify's CHRO is a strong believer of employee listening, recognition, and wellness

With HR experience dating back decades, CHRO Rose Velez-Smith has seen the talent landscape evolve; but one thing has remained — the war for talent. Here's how she's addressing this in her global workforce, through a focus on the key pillars of the employee experience.

How often have you come across a chief human resources officer whose humble beginnings in the function date back to their teenage days?

For us at HRO, it's not very often. So when DoubleVerify's EVP & Chief Human Resources Officer Rose Velez-Smith (pictured above) told HRO in an interview that she started in HR at age 15, we knew we had to find out more.

"I had a high school internship – usually this only happens in college – with a major company in Connecticut, which is a major hub for a lot of companies. It was this paper company called Champion International in Stamford, Connecticut, and they had a high school internship programme that would start at the end of your second year and run through to graduation. I first got exposed to HR in that programme, and I loved it. I gained experience in it, I started working in it, and the rest is history because I've been in HR since then."

The leader continued to work at the same company up till she had to take up a college internship, at a time when she thought she might want to be a lawyer and so, decided to intern in the legal space for a few years before eventually returning to HR with her previous company — what would be for eight years as she completed her college education.

Reflecting on how the experience helped her on the personal front, she tells us: "I had a six-month-old son when I started this internship in my sophomore year of high school, and it was a real blessing for me to get exposed, at such a young age, to what has now become my career. My son's 37 now, and I'm so grateful because they had a daycare on-site that I was able to use.

"And this is where I saw how companies can really impact somebody's life by having good programmes and initiatives to help employees lessen the burden of some of the things that come with life's challenges.

"This is something I would love to start with DoubleVerify – having a high school internship where you give young talent exposure to the business world by providing them some insights and knowledge in different areas, and maybe they will have an appetite to want to work for you one day. It’s a good way to attract talent."

Based in the US, Velez-Smith now leads the HR function for DoubleVerify, a software platform for digital media measurement and analytics, having taken on the role just over two years ago. The organisation currently employs close to 90 employees in the Asia Pacific region.

With such an extensive experience in HR, the leader has seen both the function and the talent landscape evolve, but one thing has remained — the war for talent.

While on a visit to Singapore, she speaks to Priya Sunil on why, while this war for talent has persisted, it is becoming even more prominent now; her and her team's focus on diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging in the workforce and on the leadership front; and more, as well as why, both professionally and personally, she believes in the value of giving back.

Q Given your decades of experience in the people & talent field, how have you seen the talent landscape evolve through your career?

It’s interesting, because when you asked how it evolved, I instinctively thought about what aspects remain unchanged, rather than the ways in which it has transformed. One of the things I believe has stayed the same is the continued war for talent – companies are competing for the best talent. This is something that has been happening from the time I was a high school intern. No matter how small of a company you are, or no matter how large of a company you are, there will always be a race to get the best talent.

What I think has changed is that, while flexibility has always been important to people, it is even more important now, in that when someone is looking for a job, they prioritise how much flexibility they have in their role, due to the whole notion of hybrid work, and so on. Not a lot of companies were offering hybrid work before the pandemic, so flexibility, as well as finding a company that is more purpose-driven, is something that is talked about more now, than 20 years ago.

In addition, technology is far more advanced and the need to stay on top of those skills is even more important today than many years ago.

Q The war for talent has been around for so long. Why would you say it's becoming more prominent now?

I hate to use the pandemic as an example, but it has shifted how companies are viewing talent. Initially, you possess a broad spectrum to attract potential candidates; but this spectrum gradually contracts based on the specific preferences of the job seeker. The competitiveness of a company is compromised when its practices, including its employer value proposition, are aligned with the expectations and needs of the workforce.

In addition to the pandemic, social justice and socio-economic issues increasingly coming to the front have pushed people to pause, take a step back and think about what they really want in a career and a company.

Technology is also much more accessible and readily available; it’s more constant. Whether it be true or not, just the access to information is greater than it was many years ago.

Q In that vein, what do leaders today have to keep in mind to ensure they continue to present a meaningful employer brand and stay on top of their game?

Everyone has to embrace technology. Technology is just the way of life now, whereas it may or may not have been as readily available for everyone 15 or 20 years ago. Certain people in certain countries still don't have enough access to technology.

You hear everything about AI and how you have to embrace it. A lot of people are afraid of it, but it is true that you have to embrace it. For that, companies need to think about the best ways to use technology to their advantage, to attract talent to the company.

Another thing that we think about is, what are the things that we're going to provide to our people, in order for them to have an excellent employee experience? You can attract people to a company, but what are you going to do once you get them to join? How are you going to provide them with an awesome employee experience? And that comes with excellent benefits and total rewards; that comes with workplace flexibility and development of your people, so there are a lot of different things a company needs to keep in mind as they try to get their employer brand out.

In the context of DoubleVerify, one big focus that I'm a strong believer about is wellness. I believe that an employee that has good physical, mental, and financial wellness, is a very productive employee. Think about your personal life: If any one of those aspects are not in a good state, you're probably not going to be your best at work. Hence, we have been focusing a lot on what we can do as a company to equip our people in these areas.

Therefore, the number one thing we offer is competitive rewards - competitive total rewards, competitive compensation, competitive benefits; that, to me, is table stakes. The other things that we provide are wellness days. We take wellness so seriously, that we give eight wellness days a year, on top of vacation and other leave reasons; four of which you take as you want one, and four of which our company shuts down.

The reason why we did that is we listened to our people. Here's another piece of advice for companies: pay attention to your employees. When we asked about their preferences, our employees expressed a strong focus on wellness, and we introduced wellness days where we initially provided to them to use at their discretion.

Surprisingly, only few were utilising them, even though the option was available. What they conveyed was that, despite having the freedom to take time off, they felt compelled to work because their peers were still working. In response, we decided to ensure each employee receives four wellness days at their discretion, and four days where the company closed Our intention is to make it more likely for employees to embrace the opportunity for a wellness day and recharge.

It's important to note our hybrid approach—coming into the office two days a week, known as anchor days. Globally, Wednesday serves as the anchor day, with the second day chosen locally. This decision stemmed from our employees' feedback, expressing a desire to work in the office when others are present, as remote work often involves back-to-back calls.

To further foster a sense of purpose, we introduced an anchor week every quarter, encouraging everyone, even 100% remote employees, to come into the office. During this week, we focus on training, leadership interactions, collaborative events, and culminate with a mental wellness day, marking the week's end and a company-wide shutdown.

This structured approach ensures that employees perceive a clear purpose. In November 2022, we implemented our first anchor week along with an impact week, dedicating time to give back to our communities through volunteering and events.

How do you overcome any resistance faced by leadership, and get their buy-in?

It’s all about prioritising your workload. I am a little bit of a data collector, as data is important. And there's a lot of data out there. What I like to do is present information to leaders with data because data helps to inform decisions. There will be sometimes that the data doesn't sway in our favour; but that is when instincts and values come into play.

We have our values of pact, passion, accountability, collaboration, and trailblazing, and we always try to go back to what type of company we want to be, and so we go back to our values and make sure that whatever decisions we make, they are aligned into our values.

Now, usually there's a financial element to that, and I'm very transparent about their implications. What I try to do with the data is not just achieve direct savings but also cost avoidance. And there is other information that comes into play on productivity: how does productivity increase by providing people with things like wellness days, as an example. I also bring in competitive data: What's the competition doing? What's the market doing? When you come in with information, then layer in values, you can make an informed decision.

How does this play out with your leadership teams in different markets, especially the more conservative markets?

We are a global company operating in 21 different locations, and I always use the quote, ‘As common as possible, and as different as necessary’. You have to be ‘glocal’. We're global, but we also have to localise. There are certain things that are important in Europe that may not be important in Asia.

But there are some things that are standard across the board. I don't think anyone would argue about that, and I don't think anyone would argue that we have another great benefit where we give paid time-off or paid parental leave. It's not only for the mother, but it's also for the father.

So, it is important to be as common as possible, but as different as necessary to make sure that we are being competitive in the market. That's what we try to look at from a localisation perspective.

What has the employee sentiment been in APAC since implementing these programmes?

In Singapore in particular, 72% of our workplace population are women. We have a very high population of women in Asia in general, we have more women than we do men, which I'm very proud about, because you don't see that in every company. We offer various programs, including mental wellness days, parental leave, and a hybrid work model. While many companies are urging employees to return to the office more frequently, we maintain our hybrid approach. These are some of the offerings we provide.

We provide lunch for our employees when they are in the office. We provide little perks that way, we provide training & development for our teams. One of our women – and I am so proud of this - talked about how she got promoted while she was out on maternity leave. We didn't forget about her. We develop our people, we are very serious about development – whether you are on leave or not, it doesn't matter. If it's your time to be promoted and you have worked hard for it, we are going to make sure that that happens and do the right thing for our people.

Our company is about 16 years old, and we are on a growth trajectory. We are growing fast. And as I mentioned earlier, we have to prioritise – we can’t do everything at one time. Having good business sense, understanding the business, and understanding what priorities from a talent perspective will have the most impact in helping to drive your business is necessary.

I think I have a unique perspective, in that I had such a great opportunity to run, in my prior life, part of a business. That means I have a little bit of a different lens as an HR professional, on how important it is to understand the business, and how decisions you make in HR truly impact that business.

Make sure you're speaking the language of whoever you are trying to convince – whether it's the CFO, the CEO, or the legal person, you have to speak their language on what matters most to them.

What else is in store for your employees?

We have so many exciting things on an ongoing basis. We've been focused a lot on recognition as well, because what I find, especially in the tech world, is that people like the opportunity to recognise each other. And so, we have launched a peer-to-peer recognition programme, with a technology platform that helps us support that. It allows individuals to randomly recognise an employee for something and get points for it, and those points can convert to dollars. You can either convert those dollars into gift cards, or you can donate them to a charitable cause.

That, to me, is exciting as employees get to recognise one another and I believe it helps to drive engagement and also helps with the employer value proposition that we care about our teams.

The other thing that we launched in 2023 is our ‘DVFlex3 ’. As mentioned earlier, we have a two-day hybrid approach. We rolled out ‘DVFlex3 ’, and what that basically is, is that individuals can opt in to come into the office for a third day. And not every location has the same benefits and perks - for example, everyone here [in Singapore] has a desk, everyone here has a locker. But in the New York office, for example, you don't have an assigned desk and instead, you hot-desk every week.

There is also a big incentive that you can get your name in a drawing every quarter where you can go to any location globally for one week. It also gives the opportunity for employees to get exposed to different cultures, different environments, different locations, when they sign up for ‘DVFlex3 ’.

We are doing that because we believe that collaboration with team members drives trust, helps to develop relationships, drives productivity, and that there are, overall, a lot of benefits of being in the office.

We also have a special programme, wherein if you drive significant revenue, or cost savings or process improvements, you can be one of between 10 to 12 winners every six months, and you get a significant grant of long-term incentives. This falls under our umbrella of recognition & rewards, and goes back to our employer value proposition.

Apart from that, one thing we have – it’s not just coming up, but it continues to be a strong focus – is our approach to diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEIB). We hired our first ever DEIB leader back in 2021, and we have been doing some really great things implementing our diversity & inclusion council that is employee led; we launched a women's ERG (employee resource group and a Black ERG; launched a pride ERG this year (in 2023), and we will be looking to launch additional ERGs in 2024.

So we have been launching a lot of programmes that are employee-led, to help to support our focus on DEIB. And I think the one thing that has become more prominent in companies is this whole sense of inclusiveness and belonging: Do I belong here? Do I feel like I can bring my authentic self to work? This is one of the ways that we try to not only promote, but get our employees involved in helping us to bring those things to life.

I am so impressed by the fact that we're only 16 years into our journey, yet how focused our leadership has been on our people. You don't see that every day. And we have such a commitment from the CEO and the rest of the leadership team. They understand how important your employees are to drive success — it's not just talk, it's walking the talk of making sure we're helping to enable our people.

I do think there's been this sense of burnout especially during the pandemic and even with hybrid work, which meant we had to teach people how to create boundaries while working remotely. Someone once said on a call, ‘I used to work from home, and now I live from work.’ And the whole thing about that is, ‘I don't know how to turn it off’. People didn't know how to turn it off. And so there were things that we tried to teach them around symbolism — turn off the light where you're working, shut the laptop instead of leaving it open all day, get up and take a walk.

I don't think work-life balance is around equal parts. It’s work-life integration, and it's more meaningful to me that I can take three hours to go to my son's school event then come back and turn it back on later, rather than just to have a nine-to-five.

So, with DVFlex3, we are offering remote work and policies that bend to your needs, opening the doors to a diverse talent pool from every corner of the globe. We get it—work is changing, and we're here for it. But it's not just about the where; it's about the how. We're all about keeping the vibe collaborative, throwing in some learning and networking opportunities, all while supporting our employees with work-life integration. It's the best of both worlds, really.

I understand DoubleVerify is big on gender equality on its board of directors. Could you tell us more about this, and what it took to achieve this?

A focus on commitment — that is how I can simply put it. You have to commit to it as a company, and focus and commitment will be proven in results. Our results are this — 50% of our board are females, and 60% are females and or some diversity. Our CEO and our board have been very focused on making sure that our board is diverse; and that's how you get the results.

There is always more opportunity to improve. At the moment, 30% of our leadership team are females, in terms of who are direct reportees to the CEO. Between 35 and 40% of our VPs and above, are females as well.

I am also happy to report that our numbers are at, or better, than the industry dependent upon the levels. I'm very proud to say that we are making progress, we are doing well, and we will continue to focus on it and do better.

The other thing we didn't mention that I think is important to mention is, I talked about how people want purpose. And they don't only want to know how well you Are doing within the company and what you're doing to help your people; rather, they want to know what you are doing for your communities. With that, we started ‘DV for Good’ in 2021, which is an employee-led focused Initiative where we really focus on what our external social impact is. There are three pillars under DV for Good: Advancement of truth, sustainability, and equity.

To date, we have made over US$2.1mn of investments in these pillars, driving the focus through partnerships such as with See Her, Girls Who Code, and more, where we invest dollars and time to make sure we are getting equity, especially with our women.

How has the experience been, running these programmes in Asia?

We have seen great progress for our company in that area. I think we are a bit ahead of the curve as a company. I like to say that we punch above our weight a lot. We are a company that is big enough to matter, but we are small enough that employees see the difference that they are making — big enough to matter, but small enough to make a difference.

Q How are you advocating for equality – be it gender, or other aspects – as both a leader and an individual?

Personally, I am a big believer in giving back. I like to spend time on volunteering, and I also do a lot of mentoring towards females and minorities, individuals who are working on their own careers.

I am so proud that I still have people calling me from my past lives. I just spoke to a CEO whom I previously worked with who is now a CEO of a major company, and a CFO of a very big company, who called me while I was in Singapore to have conversations with me on my thoughts on industry trends and developments.

So, one of the biggest things that I'm proud of is just giving back. As an HR leader, my role is all about giving. I enjoy giving back to the communities that surround us, to help those who are in underserved communities, or even just giving back to an individual to help them in their career journey. That is one place where I can be a sponsor for other diverse talent and help to get them recognised and promoted. The way I spend my time, and the way I personally give back, is by actually spending time with people on their own development and giving them advice and helping them do their real job.

I look at myself and I realise I'm at the C-level, and that I have to rely on my people to tell me the truth. And the only way they tell you the truth, is when they trust you. By having ongoing conversations with people and developing that relationship, as a senior leader, you get more of the truth. So when you give of your time just because you're trying to fill a need of someone else, you build trust with them and that gets around people. People talk about that.

For me, it makes me feel good as a person that I'm spending time with other women, and minorities in particular, because I truly believe that giving back is what makes us who we are as humans. It's what we should be doing as leaders.

Photo: Provided

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