For Valerie Avila, making NYC-based Justworks a great place for women to work has been a priority from day one. As one of the original members of the team, Avila has evolved into one of the company’s strongest advocates for women in tech, and diversity and inclusion — not only in her office but in the NYC tech community at large.
In her day-to-day, Avila acts as the company’s California expansion manager. But she is also a sales leader, mentor and the founder of the company’s Justwomen initiative, an event series that brings together accomplished women professionals to promote growth and share knowledge within the tech community. This initiative, along with the company’s commitment to supporting women on its own team, has proven successful. For example, within Justworks’ President's Club — an honor provided to sales executives who consistently succeed at the highest level — 90 percent were women this past year.
Avila recently shared the story of her own journey at Justworks, an HR technology company that provides access to benefits, payroll, HR and compliance support to SMBs, with Built In NYC. Additionally, Avila shared details on how the team is working toward making Justworks an even better place for diversity, inclusivity and for women in tech to grow their careers.
We're building technology that actually helps people with real-life problems and a business that means something to those who work here."
What is your background? How did you come to join Justworks?
I never thought that I would end up in sales, but after working in my first sales job selling Cutco knives, I knew I had a knack for it. However, much like many other millennials, I was looking for more meaningful work. Law school was my goal, litigation specifically. But I needed a job after college and didn’t want to go straight to law school.
Around that same time, in the summer of 2014, I heard from a small company called Justworks. Isaac Oates, the founder and CEO, and Robert Lopez, the SVP of sales, reached out to me directly. They were starting to build a sales team and wanted to see if I was interested. While applying for law school, I figured I would try something new. I quickly learned that the work was much more intellectually challenging and the people running the business seemed smart and driven. A few months in, I was hooked, and I still am. We’re building technology that actually helps people with real-life problems and a business that means something to those who work here.
Tell us about your first role at Justworks.
I started as an account executive. As is the case with many startups, working as an account executive also meant onboarding new team members and customers, marketing, customer success, business development, account management — you name it. I had to learn to adapt quickly and hustle to help turn our business into a success.
As we grew, I gravitated toward helping others learn and succeed. I was also fascinated by the business strategy side of the company. This interest led me to realize that I wanted to work toward a management role. To get there, we needed to address a business need — training. I built out the first iteration of our sales training process, and one year later, I moved into management. It has been a fantastic journey and I have learned so much about myself. Whether in my first role, or now as our California expansion manager, I have always had the opportunity to tackle new challenges head-on at Justworks. Being able to do that daily with a team that I love has been an extremely rewarding experience.
As a result of starting Justwomen five years ago, I have heard countless stories [...] from female founders and leaders. It's about sharing knowledge and building community for women in tech."
Tell us about the Justwomen initiative.
I started Justwomen to cultivate a community and environment where female leaders in the NYC tech community could speak candidly about issues they were facing and help one another in their growth. As a result of starting Justwomen five years ago, I have heard countless stories from female founders and leaders sharing details about the skills they have learned, as well as how they have overcome various challenges. It’s about sharing knowledge and building a community for women in tech. Justwomen is an external initiative, but it has also motivated internal groups and events within Justworks to form.
Justworks is known for being a great place for women. How did this culture come about? Tell us about any initiatives, core values or programs that help to foster this.
What a company values ultimately comes down to what the leaders value. From the start, Isaac has been supportive of increasing diversity across the company. Justwomen would never have started had it not been for support from Isaac and Rob. When starting Justwomen, I never thought of the initiative as part of a recruitment strategy to increase the number of women on our team, however, it has proved helpful over the years. When I joined Justworks, there were only two women (including myself) in a company of roughly 10 people. Now we have an even fifty-fifty split between men and women in a company of over 450 employees.
When I joined Justworks, there were only two women (including myself) in a company of roughly 10 people. Now we have a nearly fifty-fifty split between men and women in a company of roughly 450 employees."
Many women have told me personally — either during the interview process and after they were hired — that our Justwomen initiative was a big draw for them and inspired them to apply. We chose to make the initiative visible externally in order to help increase diversity in the tech world. When companies do that, people take notice. As we brought on more women and people of color, more initiatives started and we invested in launching 10 affinity groups.
What specific qualities or elements of the Justworks team makes it an especially great company for women to be a part of?
There's a lot to be said for simply having more women on the Justworks team than the average tech startup or company. Ensuring that your team has more women helps to combat the stereotypical bro-y culture often found within tech. You also ensure that you have strong women who speak up and advocate for what they believe in — we can take proactive steps to increase diversity and inclusion.
For example, a few years ago, we were interviewing sales candidates. After reviewing about 100 inbound resumes, I realized I had only seen two resumes from women. That was unacceptable. I discussed this fact with Amber Banks, who leads sales enablement, and together we brought it up in our recruiting meetings.
From there, we began to outbound prospect primarily for women and diverse candidates to balance out the recruitment funnel. It took more work, but it was work that we were excited to take on.
Does Justworks have any other initiatives for women?
Outside of simply having women in the company and women in leadership positions that others can learn from and aspire to be like, we also have a bunch of events and gatherings for “womyn.” We use this terminology to explicitly include all women, both cisgender and trans. We even have a Justwomen of Sales group spearheaded by Account Executive Jackie Stevens. She’s constantly thinking of creative ways to enhance the professional development of women in their sales careers at Justworks. She assembled a committee of some of the sales ladies and aims to have a quarterly event geared toward the women in sales. Most recently, she ran a workshop on goal setting and asking for what you want in your career, which got rave reviews from those in attendance!
How have these events and initiatives impacted your recruitment efforts at Justworks?
Today, men and women alike — at all levels of the company — push one another to think up ways to have more women apply and balance out the diversity of the funnel of candidates we bring in. Our recruiting team goes above and beyond to stay involved in women in sales events and makes sure everyone of every gender, background, race, etc. feels excited about working at Justworks.