“Remove obstacles to access.” with Vina Leite

Convey that mental health is as much a part of wellness as exercise, or nutrition. We offer different activities each month that employees can use to expand their knowledge or put skills to practice with meditation, diet, movement — everything from salsa dancing to virtual power yoga.Remove obstacles to access. In a recent partnership we […]

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Convey that mental health is as much a part of wellness as exercise, or nutrition. We offer different activities each month that employees can use to expand their knowledge or put skills to practice with meditation, diet, movement — everything from salsa dancing to virtual power yoga.

Remove obstacles to access. In a recent partnership we have expanded digital offerings that support mental health and offered increased opportunities for virtual and video coaching and therapy.

As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Vina Leite.

As Chief People Officer of The Trade Desk, Vina oversees all aspects of the company’s human resource strategy and operations as well as leading the global talent acquisition organization to further the company’s significant growth goals. Her team is responsible for developing and managing recruiting and employee programs to help nurture and grow the special culture at The Trade Desk around the world. Vina brings an impressive background in HR leadership at fast-growth technology companies and a passion for employee development and engagement.

Before joining The Trade Desk, Vina served as Chief People Officer at AI-driven cybersecurity firm Cylance Inc., which was recently acquired by BlackBerry. At Cylance she led the company through rapid growth to be recognized as one of the Great Places to Work in Orange County in 2018. Vina has previously held several other HR leadership roles in the technology sector, including as CHRO at QLogic, VP of HR at EMC, and CHRO at Unicom.

Vina is a member of the National Human Resources Association (NHRA) and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

Committed to giving back to the community, Vina is a board member of iSanctuary, an internationally-recognized organization that addresses the needs, job training and dignity of sex trafficking survivors through creating ‘purpose’ jewelry. She also serves as a board member for Human Options, an organization that supports domestic violence survivors.

Vina graduated with an M.S. in Organizational Management, with a specialization in HR & Organizational Behavior from Capella University in Minneapolis. Additionally, Vina received her Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Rhode Island College, and Professional HR Certification and HR Management from Roger Williams University.

A mother of two, Vina lives in Southern California with her husband.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Professionally I have been able to enjoy the best of the East and West Coasts, and California is now home. I grew up in Rhode Island and began my career in New England, working in the Boston area for many years. I gained extensive experience in Human Resources for technology companies and made a pivotal move when I took a chance on a start-up venture in 2016. The ability to build and scale the HR function was both exhausting and exhilarating — one of the best experiences in my career. The organization had one of the most people-centric cultures I have ever experienced. I was committed to only work in a similar environment and this led me to my current role at The Trade Desk (TTD).

Personally, I spend a lot of wonderful time with four generations of close family. I have a son, a daughter and two granddaughters whom I love watching as they shape their own life journeys. I am very blessed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It is one of those happy accident stories at the beginning of my career. I decided to interview for an operations manager job at a small staffing agency. I was very introverted, and I wanted a role that was behind the scenes. The CEO met with me and said “No, instead of the operations role, I’m going to put you in recruiting. Try it for six months, and if you don’t like it you can go into the other job.”

I ended up loving the recruiting role and I’ve been in HR ever since. There are times when it takes someone else to see the potential in each of us. Thanks to the CEO’s decision, I found that I did well in one-on-one conversations with external candidates and my internal customers. It was a matchmaking job that allowed me to take the time to fully understand people and their needs, identify their strengths and connect them with the right opportunities. The best part was that I was able to hire the right person to become operations manager.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Two things: raise the flag and have a plan. Especially during the pandemic, all of us need to speak up when our plates are full or work and home demands collide. I believe that we all need to share accountability for the ways we thrive and avoid burnout. Managers in particular have a responsibility for frequent check-ins with their team members to make sure all is well.

I view the role of HR during this time as working closely with our senior leaders to make sure we are supporting our colleagues with benefits that are accessible and responsive. We just gave our global team expanded mental health benefits, including the ability to have virtual 1:1 mental health coaching sessions and a digital library with guided meditations. It think it’s great that we are referring to “guided meditations” in the business world — it speaks to the need and the times. It seems intuitive that a clearer mind helps drive better performance. Now we are reinforcing that message frequently and giving employees the tools to achieve it.

Burnout is always a threat, even in non-pandemic times. I am a “fan of the plan,” creating development plans that list an individual’s interests, passions and aspirations. Having meaningful and regular conversations about individual development is another way to prevent burnout by charting a course and changing the scenery. At The Trade Desk, one of our priorities for 2021 is to have more of these plans for everyone.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Be intentional. Be inclusive. Be informed. And be okay with never being done. It is important to be intentional about culture, to talk about it as you would discuss other key business indicators like financial performance, customer satisfaction, or quality. Culture is not an after-thought, it’s a now-thought.

Being inclusive is one of the most important parts of a successful culture. We all know what it’s like to feel left out, and how corrosive that can be in the workplace. I feel fortunate every day to be part of the culture we have at The Trade Desk, because our leaders are aware of its significance and their role in shaping it. I am also proud that we are building our capability with owning and telling our individual stories, as we are doing at the moment to celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage.

Being informed is about measuring your culture on a regular basis. One way we do this is partnering with The Great Place to Work Institute to measure the five dimensions that contribute to a culture of trust: respect, credibility, fairness, pride, and camaraderie. By measuring these consistently over time, we have solid data about the employee experience, our progress, and opportunities to become even stronger. We’re proud to be on the FORTUNE/Great Place to Work list of best employers for the fourth consecutive year. It’s an honor to be named one of the best, but even more important is the work we have done to get there.

In addition, we built a dedicated team that is primarily focused on projects and programs to support our culture with engagement and inclusion throughout the year.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Start your day with gratitude. Live and work with integrity and purpose. Make time for family and friends. End your day with reflection and acknowledgment of all you have accomplished.

These words are part of who I am. It took me until my late 40s to fully realize it — after a lot of self-reflection — but we should all be aware of the need to stop, breathe, and reassess. It is not easy to do with everything happening in the world.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employee’s mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

Five steps:

  • Make it okay to talk about mental wellness within your organization. Have your CEO and all leaders be visible spokespeople for mental health. Our CEO recently thanked everyone for just getting through the year and continuing to serve our clients exceptionally well. Admit that it is difficult for everyone, regardless of role and location.
  • Convey that mental health is as much a part of wellness as exercise, or nutrition. We offer different activities each month that employees can use to expand their knowledge or put skills to practice with meditation, diet, movement — everything from salsa dancing to virtual power yoga.
  • Remove obstacles to access. In a recent partnership we have expanded digital offerings that support mental health and offered increased opportunities for virtual and video coaching and therapy.
  • Help managers understand that supporting mental health is part of our expectations, both for them and of them. This means that we want to support our managers’ own mental health, while also making sure they are taking actions to support the mental health of their team members.
  • Commit to ongoing education about inclusion, empathy, and emotional intelligence. At The Trade Desk, we have invested time in aligning our organizational values to specific competencies, which are observable behaviors in our everyday interactions and work. We do this to support development, assess performance, and provide an opportunity for competency modeling.

An example would be our value of Generosity. We define this as having a genuine desire to share, teach and care for those around us. By starting with empathy and humility, we aim to quickly build trust with our customers, our partners, and each other. We then outline the competencies of collaboration, feedback, and teaching, in order to guide specific development around those specific observable behaviors. It’s a way of connecting the dots for people, elevating our overall capability as an organization, and helping us to be mindful of other’s needs.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

Build mental wellness into the core infrastructure of your company. We strive to do this in our values, our core competencies, our training, and even the operating model of how we engage with our customers and partners.

For example,we just completed our annual all-employee meeting, where our leaders gave strategic updates. I was very proud when our Chief Revenue Officer and Global Operations Leader listed “Be Mindful” in their list of Top 10 ways that we will increase our market share in a work from home environment. They noted that being mindful included showing empathy and taking care of ourselves. This is a message that we have been emphasizing in different ways throughout the year. Having our business leaders amplify it is even more powerful — it lands right where it’s needed.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?

Follow an organizational and personal set of values that promote empathy and awareness. The Trade Desk is very intentional about defining our values as Vision, Grit, Agility, Generosity, Openness, and Full Hearted. There are ways that all of them can relate to supporting others who are feeling anxious, depressed or other aspects of mental stress. Working at The Trade Desk has shown me that these values are not in conflict with high achievement and strong performance. They are also easy to carry over into our personal lives, although your loved ones may turn out to be an even tougher crowd than your co-workers.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

The best way to get rid of poor habits is to create a cadence of good ones. Take a programmatic approach to optimal mental wellness. Our Engagement team sets up specific employee-led programs around wellness that complement the offerings from our benefits team. These programs are broadcast live during work hours and recorded. Our employees have a strong spirit of camaraderie, even when working from home, leading to great participation, to learn about the topic and also to support the presenters.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

Yes, I have a commitment to yoga, daily walking, and reading that supports my personal development. For so many of us, being based at home extends work time as much as you let it. I try to walk early in the morning to clear my mind before taking on what the day brings. I also enjoy yoga. At The Trade Desk we are fortunate to have a service anniversary program that offers experiences and activities to employees. I chose yoga instruction as my first year anniversary award over a range of other choices — to me it was the best gift of all. I was also one of the first members of our team to sign up with a personal mental health coach.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I get daily inspiration from looking at my wall where I have a framed copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book is almost 25 years old, and the concepts drawn from the Toltec people are ancient. Yet having these simple agreements with myself and others has served me amazingly well. I think it is essential for all of us to have a belief system and to use it in the way The Four Agreements are intended — to counter self-limiting behavior and to understand all of the possibilities that are out there and our potential to realize them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m fortunate in many ways and I am always grateful for the gifts in my life. I am a big believer in lifting as you climb. I find the most satisfaction comes from using my voice to help others who may not be fully heard or recognized.

I direct my volunteer time to organizations that support and advance the empowerment of women, including those who are survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking. This year I am proud to have joined the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, which focuses on issues of health, education, and economic empowerment in a mission of overall advocacy for black women and girls.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

I’m an introvert at heart, but being a leader at The Trade Desk has encouraged me to extend my voice. If my sharing can help just one person, I will be successful. I have recently written a blog post on culture for the Insights section of our website, This is a great source to follow not only my views but those of my colleagues who have thought-provoking ideas about technology, media, brand-building and creating a great working environment.

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