December 30th, 2021

Global companies need to think about culture more complexly, beyond the scope of any single country, ecosystem, state, or industry. Carmel Galvin recently joined Athena for our monthly CHRO Perspectives forum to share insights on how #2 global unicorn Stripe has integrated a strong culture across a global team.

Stripe, dual-headquartered in Ireland and the US as a financial services SaaS company, is in a period of hypergowth — with their workforce more than doubling since Carmel joined the company as CHRO in January 2021. Carmel is a global human resources leader, board member, and chief people officer who came to Stripe with 20+ years of strategic HR leadership consulting and executive experience at leading companies like Autodesk, Deloitte, and Glassdoor.

Below, read Carmel’s insights on how to bring your company’s operating principles to life and how to navigate the friction between culture and diversity. Along the way, she’ll share her insights on integrating a strong corporate culture across the globe.

Bringing your operating principles to life

Stripe’s mission statement says:

“We put our users first…We’re building a company with folks from all sorts of backgrounds, who make great coworkers, and who share and exemplify a few core values: people who are humble, respectful, inclusive, and ready to roll up their sleeves and get important work done for our users.”

These strongly-stated values of putting users first; being humble, respectful, and inclusive; and being a good coworker have provided stability as the company scaled rapidly.

“Stripe has a very well-established set of operating principles or values, and those have more or less been core to the company from the very beginning,” Carmel said. “There are a few that have evolved over time as the company has scaled because they don’t necessarily serve you as well as you grow.”

As they recruit top talent from other companies with strong, established cultures, new employees come into their roles with expectations around how the organization will function and how they should behave. It can be a challenge to integrate these new perspectives into the existing culture.

Establishing your values is just the beginning; the bulk of the work happens in dialogue, as leaders and teams talk about how those values arise day-to-day.

“To avoid having it be a poster on the wall, you have to bring your culture to life,” Carmel said. “Engage your employees and leaders in a long set of work that helps people internalize what it means for them.”

Stripe has built their values into every part of the employee experience, from interviewing and onboarding to leadership development. Their mission statement leads by saying “we put our users first,” and that conversation is woven into every interview, meeting, and employee experience.

“When you hire people, leverage the behaviors that are behind your values… Use them as a starting point for assessing candidates, and also for the candidates to assess you and understand what the company is about,” Carmel said. “And the same as true for how we reward people—we actually leverage our values quite heavily in thinking about how we allocate rewards.”

Your managers and leaders are your most critical functions for creating a strong culture. So Stripe ensures they orient their leaders “very early on… to understand what’s expected, how they role model, and how they are able to drive behaviors across the organization through the way they behave,” Carmel said.

Putting your corporate values into action

Below are a few specific ways Stripe put their core values into action.

  • Host a fireside that is open to the entire company with the co-Founders every Friday, without exception.
  • Assign new hires a “spin-up guru” and connect them with a variety of people who they can leverage to get ramped up in their role.
  • Provide opportunities for quick formal feedback. “We are also very strongly oriented towards using data to inform a lot of our decisions,” Carmel said. Every month, they send a short culture-focused survey. They also have an employee app where they host a more robust survey twice a year. They then dive deeper into the results to add color to the data.

Navigating the friction between culture and diversity

Carmel says in a global company, embracing and integrating diversity is “where the magic happens”.

“It’s necessary and essential for any healthy ecosystem,” Carmel said. “You want new people with new perspectives and new opinions, combined with people who’ve been around a long time and have a strong understanding of what’s important to the company. The blend is where it really gets interesting. And without either one of those things, it’s hard for you to be successful.”

Greater diversity sometimes brings friction and difficult conversations to confront cultural biases and norms.

All these things come with their own set of tensions and they definitely make for some very interesting conversations.

Making sure to allow room for those conversations to happen is critical,” Carmel explained. “You need to be getting feedback the whole time, engaging the employees, and [educating them around] how important it is to have them take a role in shaping how the culture comes to life.”

Starting with a people-first mentality

Carmel left the group of CHROs with an important lesson to organize global teams around a single goal: start with a user-first mentality.

“That users-first mentality has actually served as a really good centering point to get people out of their siloed functions, forgetting about the org chart, and thinking about the experience we are actually delivering,” Carmel said.

Join us for the next CHRO Perspectives—part fireside chat, part Q&A discussion—focusing wholly on executive development trends, workforce management, and human capital thought leadership from top HR leaders. Athena members can watch the full recording here.



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