‘Don’t Lose the Magic of What Makes You Successful’: Management Advice From a Fintech Leader

Sponsored by SoFi

Lauren Von Dehsen

Photo courtesy of SoFi.

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Fairygodboss
July 13, 2024 at 2:42PM UTC

SoFi has a strong set of values that are folded into our rituals at all levels, down to how we recognize each other for awesome achievements,” says Lauren Von Dehsen, Head of Design at SoFi, an online personal finance company.

“These values focus on behaviors like running after problems, getting to the truth, and helping people grow (just to name a few). It’s really important to base recognition on outcomes, but it’s equally important for those outcomes to be achieved in a way that is collaborative, supportive, and makes the team stronger in the process.”

At SoFi, Von Dehsen, like her colleagues, believes strongly in building a collaborative environment — as well as fostering a culture where women lift each other up. We had a chance to speak with her about why this culture of collaboration really works.

Tell us about your job.

I’m the Head of Design at digital personal finance company SoFi, where my focus is to manage the Design discipline as a whole. I joined SoFi in January 2020, and my role has changed a lot in the past year and a half. I started with a much smaller team of five designers and now with my recent promotion, I am leading an organization 6x the size. Prior to this, I spent more than five years at Google, building design teams and product ecosystems for Nest and Google Health.

What projects or programs are you currently working on?

My team supports the end-to-end product experience at SoFi, which includes a wide variety of products and initiatives (learn more about our products here). Right now, some of the larger initiatives include efforts to rethink how our product experience is architected; meaning, how all the parts are organized and how they work together for our members (the people that use SoFi products). At the same time, it’s really important that we continue to add rich functionality to deliver as much value and convenience as possible. 

But, looking beyond that, I’m most excited about fulfilling SoFi’s mission to provide financial independence to our members. And it’s going to take a highly collaborative, strategic and creative design team to unlock all that potential. That being said, my most important project is to continually iterate and improve the way we work as a team and how we collaborate across the company. One of the best learnings I’ve had as a manager is that the way the team works always shows up in the product — for better or for worse. This is critical for us because we have the opportunity to change a lot of lives for the better.

What’s one thing job seekers should know about SoFi?

The best advice that I always return to likely applies to everyone — come with an entrepreneurial mindset, especially if you want to work in an earlier stage company. Oftentimes, it’s easy to think someone else must have the right answer because they have more experience. But, in reality, we’re moving fast, and everyone’s plate is full. And the truth is, there is a real opportunity for everyone to create new ground and propose ideas and solutions that have the potential to enhance our environment. That’s what makes us so ambitious and exciting.

You’re going to find problems to run after, and that’s why you’re here! To point them out, propose solutions and be proactive. The sooner you see yourself as the one responsible, the faster you’ll have a tangible impact on the company and product. In most cases, that will fuel your personal and career growth.

How have you used your role to help bring up other women?

The Design Organization happens to consist predominantly of women (about 2:1 women to men), so I spend a lot of my time coaching and mentoring as a natural extension of my role. However, I’ve also found that it’s really important to build relationships with other female employees and amplify their voices as much as possible. 

In my experience, women thrive within strong communities and we often find that supporting one another pays off, as we're more likely to feel comfortable boasting about someone else. For example, repeating what another woman has said and giving them credit in the moment is a great, simple way to show support and build trust for that team member amongst the larger team. 

Another good tactic to promote inclusion is to intentionally ask to hear from someone who’s been quieter during the conversation. And, of course, sponsorship is really important. Amplifying and promoting women team members in rooms and discussions they aren’t in helps others understand their achievements and potential contributions.

Do you participate in any employee networks or leadership/development programs? 

In the past, I started and ran a women’s mentorship program at Nest. It was a fulfilling experience that led to a network of talented women supporting one other. This community began showing its connection in simple ways, like saying hello in the hallway, and then moved to much bigger ways, like having new relationships. Now that I’m at SoFi, I’m looking forward to participating in one of our newly established SoFi Grow mentorship programs later this fall. The objective of Grow is to develop the company’s underrepresented minorities through professional mentorship by giving future leaders real-time feedback, active coaching, key business knowledge and advocacy to support their professional journeys. 

Readers: hear two of our employees’ experience being a part of Grow in this program spotlight.

Why do you think SoFi is a particularly supportive work environment for women?

There are women in key decision-making roles, starting in our C-suite. That means there are natural role models for others to look to and learn from. I believe in the idea of “see it to believe it,” which establishes the importance of learning by observing others and dreaming bigger dreams when you see more is possible than you may have thought.

On a more practical level, we quickly realized that teams were working longer hours when we switched to remote work last year, and it was hard, especially for moms. At SoFi, we put out employees' safety and mental health first, so we implemented new measures to support our team members, like a reserved lunch block, bonus days off and, my personal favorite, SoFridays, where teams log off at 2:00 p.m. in their local time zone. Additionally, we have strong employee resource groups that connect individuals who identify similarly. While this cuts across a lot of different areas, it includes Women@SoFi, Women in Tech and Parents@SoFi.

What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?

I always tend to go back to advice around staying authentic. I’m a New Yorker and a Sagittarius, so when I say I can be blunt, you better believe it. It’s an area that I’m constantly trying to fine tune.

A few years ago, when I had just received a heavy round of feedback, I was asking for advice from a trusted VP. He shared a story about a time when he’d been given feedback to adjust his approach to be more similar to another manager. When he tried it, it fell completely flat and was far less effective. That approach wasn’t authentic to his personality. His conclusion? It’s good to make adjustments and respond to critical feedback, but don’t lose the magic of what makes you successful in your role.

What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for others who are looking to advance their career to the next level?

In order to move forward, you have to go beyond doing the job that you have been doing and start doing the next job ahead of you. Particularly in the tech industry, the philosophy is typically to promote someone once they’ve proven they can work at the next level in the hopes that the promotion sets them up for success.

Of course, some parts of the job will stay the same for a long time, but there are changes you should make in how you approach your work and what you prioritize to demonstrate your ability to do the next level role. Some people will say “work smarter, not harder.” In any case, the goal is not to exhaust yourself by doing more on top of what you’ve already been doing. Instead, it’s important to find ways to be more effective, efficient and influential. And the one that’s particularly important for women: delegate!

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The individual featured is a SoFi employee. Their personal experiences, obviously, do not take into account your own specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. Results will vary.

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