Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Not every leader makes it their mission to go where the fire is. But Trier Bryant is not your typical leader. While serving as an Air Force cybersecurity officer for almost eight years, she embraced the motto, “Mission first, people always,” and used it as a leadership North Star to guide her through endeavors on Wall Street, the tech sector and now as president of 82VS, a biotech venture studio run by Alloy Therapeutics.
“It’s probably the proudest thing I’ve done in my career to not only serve in the military and wear that uniform, but for me personally as a Black woman to have served under the first Black president, to be in uniform and to say he was my Commander in Chief,” she said. “That was a very proud moment for me.”
After more than seven years of active duty, where she also championed diversity, equity and inclusion at her alma mater the Air Force Academy and in the Department of Defense, Bryant turned her talents to Wall Street where she took on a whole different set of challenges. And while working at Goldman Sachs leading the global talent acquisition, diversity strategy across all of the firm’s different divisions, the tech sector drew her attention.
“In working with a lot of the bankers at Goldman and being at dinners and sitting across from a lot of these tech companies, I scratched my head and said, ‘What’s going on in tech?’” Bryant recalled. “We’re not getting it right. We’re not practicing the fundamentals when it comes to DE&I. That’s when I pivoted to tech and my first tech company was Twitter followed by a FinTech company, and then launching rockets at a space company to starting my own consulting practice, and now at Alloy as the president of 82VS.”
A tried-and-true problem solver, a skill she learned early on, Bryant loves to be challenged, develop new skills and make an impact.
“That really is the story of my career,” Bryant said. “I know what I’m passionate about. I’m a very people-centric leader. I’m passionate about inclusion and equity, but also going to where the fire is and solving big problems. When I think about leadership and understanding what it means to be a leader and a manager — they’re viewed as synonyms, but they’re not. There are times when you need to manage and times that you need to lead and sometimes it’s a combination of both.”
In this episode of the Woman of the Week podcast, Bryant talks about what makes 82VS a different type of VC, her approach to turning “niches into riches,” why having a mission-driven and people-first approach to leadership are her keys to success and why language matters when advancing diversity and inclusion.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive. In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-and-chief emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Trier Bryant, president, 82VS, a venture studio run by Alloy Therapeutics.
Taren: Welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Trier: Thanks, Taren. So excited to be here.
Taren: First of all, I love your name and we’re going to dig into that in a little bit.
Trier: I love yours.
Taren: It’s so funny. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into my name which sounds funny but it took me a while; and we’ll talk about yours in a minute. I’m so anxious to hear about your new role as President of 82VS. Can you share a bit of your journey which includes your military career in the Air Force and technology and Wall Street? Talk about like an amalgamation of experiences.
Trier: Yeah. I’m so appreciative of the mentors that I’ve just had across my life, really, even in middle school, high school, playing sports – follow your passion. And I got the advice at a very young age that’s like “Trier, if you just go and solve problems, you will learn a lot. You will be challenged, you will learn a lot, and you’ll make an impact and people will give you more things to do and you’ll be able to learn.” And that really is the story of my career. I know what I’m passionate about. I’m very people-centric leader. I’m passionate about inclusion and equity, but also my career going to where the fire is and solving big problems. And so doing that, starting in the military, I spent seven years in active duty as a cybersecurity officer but also did diversity, equity and inclusion at my alma mater, Air Force Academy, Air Force, and the Department of Defense. And then after seven and a half years of that, also being a combat vet playing in the sandbox, as we like to say.
I then pivoted to Wall Street where I was at Goldman for three years and had the opportunity to be in a lot of different roles and capacity but really thinking and leading the global talent acquisition, diversity strategy across all of the firm’s different divisions. And it was through actually working with a lot of the bankers at Goldman and being at dinners and sitting across from a lot of these tech companies, I just scratched my head and say, “What’s going on in tech” that we’re getting inclusion, we’re not getting it right. We’re not practicing on just some fundamentals of when it comes to DE&I. And that’s when I pivoted to tech and my first tech company was Twitter followed by a FinTech company, and then launching rockets at a space company to starting my own consulting practice, and now at Alloy as the president of 82VS.
Taren: Trier, first of all, thank you so much for your service.
Trier: Thank you, Taren. I appreciate that.
Taren: We can’t express our appreciation to the men and women in our Armed Forces enough, so thank you for that. And I love how you said you go to where the fire is and you played in the sandpit there. Well, you went from one sandpit to another sandpit at Goldman; I can’t even imagine like…
Trier: I know. Particularly the timing following…
Taren: And I love the fact that you are focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion within that tech space as a specialty. Because when you do look at these tech companies and you look at, even at a tech conference, it’s really 95% male, 99% white, and it’s just not where it needs to be.
Trier: That’s right, yeah. And people will say, “Well, Trier, how did you stumble upon this? Like how have you kind of built your career around this?” and I think it’s really about people, right? Taren, I think that we all can kind of point back to a person, a leader, that actually cared and demonstrated that through not only words like speaking life into you but also through their actions of supporting you and empowering you and lifting you into different opportunities. And I’ve seen firsthand how that impacted my career and it’s like how do we scale that into actual processes so that every employee regardless of how they identify or the identities that they set up that they have that experience. Because when we can do that for our people, we’re going to get the best from our people. And that is the anger of everything that I do.
Taren: So who was that person for you, Trier?
Trier: So many people. I mean, on my family’s side, it’s my grandfather who we affectionately call “Sampa” – I’m the oldest of six grandkids and I couldn’t say grandpa but Sampa came out and it stuck, to my mother; to my high school English teacher, Miss Strobridge; my AP government teacher, Mr. Terrazas to General Curry; Major Ru at the time, Colonel Ru. These are people just saw more in me than I saw in myself. And I truly believe that people want to help people who want to help themselves. And I’m that person, Taren, when I meet someone and they say, “Oh, get on my calendar” – don’t tell me to get on your calendar because I’m going to get on your calendar. You don’t have to have an agenda because I’m going to come with questions. That’s also something that a mentor taught me... you heard of the concept of like managing up – managing your manager. I had a mentor tell me “Sometimes you have to manage your mentor.” You have to position yourself to get the most out of them.
Taren: That is so true, right? Because you get out of it what you put into it.
Trier: That’s right.
Taren: Perfect. So let’s talk about how your Air Force training prepared you for a career in the life sciences. And you keep talking about this “people first” philosophy and how did that shape your leadership philosophy?
Trier: Yeah. In the military, well in the Air Force, I don’t know if the rest of the branches lead by this but shout out to Air Force, they say “Mission first, people always” and that has just been a north star for me when I think about leadership and also understanding that being a leader and being a manager outside of the military, they’re kind of viewed as synonyms interchangeably but they’re very much not. And strengthening the muscle and understanding like what you need to do to show up as a manager, but what you also need to do to show up as a leader and when there’s times where you need to manage in times that you need to lead and sometimes it’s a combination of both.
I also learned in the Air Force…it’s really interesting. I remember my first couple of weeks at Goldman I had a previous airman who got in trouble. They were drinking downtown and they got handcuffed by the police and they got thrown into the drunk tank. So for those of you who are not familiar, if you’re intoxicated some cities have like a drunk tank where they put you in there so that you can sober up and then they send you on your way. And they got thrown to the drunk tank; and when that happens in the military, the first person that they’re going to call is your commander and your commander’s going to come get you. And so this is a previous troop of mine and they called me and they were like, “Ma’am, I got in so much trouble but if you were still here, I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten in so much trouble like you would’ve found a way to take care of me.” And I’m on the phone going off on them saying, “No, I wouldn’t have, that was irresponsible. You shouldn’t have done that and the repercussions of your actions are what you deserve.” And the first person that I reported to at Goldman overheard my conversation and she was asking like, “You would’ve had to go and pick them up like when they were intoxicated” and I said, “Yeah” and she goes, “Trier, if anything ever happens outside of work, don’t call me. I’m not coming to get you.”
But it was a needed conversation for me, Taren, because that was where I really started to understand the lines that are not necessarily there in the military; I mean, I had troops, right? And if you can’t pay your bills, call the commander, we’ll take it from their paycheck. Like you’re going to get your money for your car note that they have to pay, or whatever type of credit card bills they have, when you have things going on with your family. I had someone on my team where their daughter was struggling with anorexia. We’re sitting in a room figuring that out. Because people bring their whole selves to work and when they’ve got other issues going on at home, they can’t do their best work in the workplace. And I think that’s one of the biggest lessons learned. And so I start off most of my one-on-one conversations just, “Hey, how are you today? Checking in on you. Put the work aside real quick, how are you?.” And it’s shocking, Taren, how many people are like, “Thanks for asking. Someone hasn’t asked me that today, thanks for asking.” And I think right now, particularly like with all of the things happening in the world, like now more than ever we need to lead with empathy and compassion as a starting place before we jump into the work.
Taren: Just basic civility – “How are you?”, right?
Trier: You would think it’s the basics.
Taren: I know and I too feel in this current climate that it’s so missing from our national conversation.
Trier: Yeah. It really is.
Taren: …personal conversations but just on a national level.
Trier: Yeah. And I think that’s why when Errik reached out to me about this role and…listen, I had a lot of criticisms; I had no desire to go into VC. I’ve had clients that are in VC and working with their portfolios. I know a lot of people in this space. It wasn’t from what my experience had been an inclusive space, it wasn’t a compassionate space, it wasn’t a space with a lot of humanity. Most people would say I work for Errik but I make it clear every day that Errik works for me and then I work for my team. And I’m like the quicker you understand that, the better off you’ll be and he definitely gets it. Now he actually says on the call like “I work for Trier.” But he was like, “No, I agree” and he was like, “Let’s do it differently. Let’s do things differently when it comes to VC particularly in biotech” and that is one of the reasons why I was super excited to come into this role and take a look at what’s going on, what doesn’t work, how do we challenge the status quo particularly of getting drug makers, researchers, and scientists to come in that are not company builders and say, “What do you need to set you up for success so that we can just make better medicine.”
Taren: Fantastic. So let’s get into the mission of 82VS a little bit and talk about what are some of your shorter term goals, some of your longer term goals, what is the mission as a VC company. If you’re going to do it differently, how are you doing it differently?
Trier: Yeah, so we are company builders. The foundation of what we do at 82VS is that we are the venture creation company builder muscle within Alloy Therapeutic. And what’s really exciting to build, what we’re doing within the Alloy ecosystem is that we benefit from everything within the Alloy ecosystem. So another way to think about it is that Alloy Therapeutics has these platforms and discovery services and they we have all these incredible partners, external partners. And then within 82VS we get to create companies that are the best partners for Alloy and for the founders, whether they’re executives in residence or entrepreneurs in residence, like they want to build their next company, their idea or their first idea and concept within the 82VS and Alloy ecosystem because of all of the enablement support, scientific support that comes with being within Alloy.
And so we get to look over the fence, right? Like right there, we’re in the same space, we share space, it’s one team. And so it’s just we’re taking a different approach of at the end of the day how do we put not only “people first” and thinking about who is going to be receiving the medicine, like how do we make better medicine and get it to the patients faster but also how do we enable and really catalyze the entrepreneurs and the scientists with this like deep scientific experience and ideas of like putting that into an actual company right and moving that forward.
Taren: So, Trier, how do you evaluate those entrepreneurs who want to start up a medicines company? What are those qualities you look for? Who makes the cut?
Trier: Yeah, it’s a great question and I think that’s where a lot of my people background, previous chief people officers, chief HR officer comes into play building talent teams and recruiting teams. I think that we’re starting to see a lot more structure of assessing entrepreneurs and executives and residents through a model of like, “Hey, what are we really looking for and how do we think about building a collective cohort with various different strengths that really just have the diversity of what those folks bring and their experience and value add. Because not only are you value add to the company that you’re going to build, but it’s also to 82VS.” So one of the things that’s interesting in our model is for an entrepreneur or an executive and residents, they’re spending 80% of their time on their company but they’re spending 20% of their time on Alloy 82VS. So it is like everyone’s got skin in the game and we can all win and we can all move this forward.
When we’re talking about what are the characteristics that we look for, how we differentiate an executive in residence and an entrepreneur in residence is basically your background and what you’re bringing. Our executive in residence have built companies; those are actually real company builders. They may not have been the CEO but they’ve been in C-level roles and they have built multiple companies and they have a lot of lessons learned and they’re ready to come and build their next company at 82VS; versus an entrepreneur in residence. They’re someone that has probably never built a company. They don’t know the first thing about building a company, but they know everything about the scientific concept or idea that they have to create a company.
So when you have those two types of folks that are coming in and we have the right enablement support for them. We have executive in residence that have PhDs, MDs. They definitely come from life sciences. But the entrepreneur in residence are the ones that are like coming either straight from the bench. They’re very, very deep into, again, their scientific concept and then we really wrap our arms around them on the actual company creation side so that they can actually focus on the innovation of their science.
Taren: So you’re almost pairing entrepreneurs with executives?
Trier: Yeah. But the pairing is through the services that we offer. Yeah, exactly. So those executive in residence wouldn’t be paired with an entrepreneur in residence. It’s just how we think about what we need to provide to round it out to really make it a strong team for that company.
Taren: Understood. And when it comes to the science, are you seeing any trends or themes that are emerging in terms of what’s going to be next?
Trier: Yeah. So as I’m still getting up in all the life sciences and the biology and the chemistry, I won’t go too deep on this but what I will say is “antibodies.” There’s a lot and it’s a very broad area, but I will say that like “Look, antibodies is Alloy’s kind of like…we are known for antibodies and we can go very deep and broad with antibodies.” My people are going to listen to this from the team, but I just want to give a shout-out to our ASOs team, our ASOs genetic medicine team. We just hired a new leader that came in, super exciting, and fantastic background. And we’ve just got some real leaders in this space that have just done some amazing work and capitalizing on their science. I’m really excited about what Alloy is doing in the ASOs genetics medicine space.
And I would say the other thing, not necessarily less on the science but I think that we just have so many incredible lessons learned from biotech that Alloy has learned from our partners and pharma and how we’re kind of tying that into like innovation subscription for us, right? Like how we are being able to take the lessons learned and the feedback from industries and package that all together to go to biotech pharma companies and say, “Hey, let’s partner together to where you get access to everything that not only we’re building but what you’ve learned, and also we can have conversations of what you want to see and build that and really have this partnership with these organizations.” So I think that my team definitely holds me accountable in our weekly 82VS science meetings every Friday as I continue to get up to speed on the science. But it’s just been really eye-opening and fascinating to see the business side of what is happening in biotech and in pharma.
Taren: And let’s face it, we’re looking at some brutal times ahead in terms of the financing and investment arena given the economy right now. It’s going to be a little rocky for a little while I would think. Are you hearing anything different from the street?
Trier: Yeah. I mean, look, I think that we just came out…well sometimes I corrected myself of using that language of coming out of COVID, but I think that biotech is an interesting space. On a macro level, we’ve already seen different things going on and we have to take that into consideration. But I think that COVID and how we saw this space thrive because of COVID and how people really got to capitalize on a lot of different opportunities…we just had a board meeting and I gave an update to the board – antibodies, it’s a niche, but the market is still very much excited about these companies that are still creating drugs, thinking about antibodies in an innovative way. And we like to say there’s riches and niches, right? So, yeah, there’s things happening at a macro level but I do think that there are just investors, there is some areas where they feel they’re duress and that they’re just pretty consistent as far as what they’re putting their investment towards as far as like seeing their returns.
Taren: Very good. I like that “riches and niches.” There are pockets of opportunity, obviously, and it’s all based on a great scientific principle or a great platform technology. You have to have the right story to tell at the right time, I would think.
Trier: You do. And the thing that’s so great is when I was first taking this role, I’ll be honest, Taren, like one of my biggest kind of fears was, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to start all these companies every year; where are we going to find these ideas? Where are we going to find these scientific concepts?” – that is not the problem. There are so many good ideas but for us is how are we evaluating them because we want to build companies around the great ideas because those great ideas are the ones that we’re going to be able to tell that story and investors are going to understand and want to be able to put the capital behind that. And we’re just taking a different approach, right?
So when we’re going to go out and help our companies go out and secure their Series A which for us is their graduation from the Venture Studio at 82VS, we have been right alongside of these XIRs and these EIRs building the company. So our perspective is very different as we are investing right alongside a lead investor for Series A. It’s a different methodology than the traditional VC that has to do diligence, right? Our diligence is we’ve been here from the beginning from seed and we know this company very intimately because we have been lockstep helping a company builder or a scientist build it.
Taren: Love that. I have to ask, what does 82VS stand for? Is it something specific?
Trier: Yeah, it is. I actually really love this and I don’t know if we’ll get you an image, but we actually have a logo as well. So 82VS’s logo, if you take the Alloy logo which is an antibody but if you turn it upside down and it makes a V and so it’s 82VS, it’s the V in the logo. The team loves that, I love that. The atomic number for lead is 82 and I did not know this, but lead is actually one of the most boring of metals that forms different alloys and it’s frequently used to bring other metals together. So 82VS is lead; it’s a boring metal, it’s used to create other alloys and so we really see it as like 82 Venture Studios is that we just want to be behind the scenes. Like we want to be the boring thing behind the seeds fading into the background and we really want to lead with our entrepreneurs. We want it to be about our EIRs, our XIRs, and for them to really take credit for the amazing work that they do because it is about them. And that’s something that Errik and I are very aligned on with our values is that particularly in the venture space we believe that the people who actually do the work should see the upside and should see the return on the work that they do.
Taren: That’s very clever. What a clever name. No, it is, and it’s a clever branding and how it all fits together. Well done there.
Taren: So speaking of names and since that’s how we started our conversation, tell me how you got your name.
Trier: So Trier is actually a city in Germany where I was born. My mum, they were in a work trip in Acapulco and Mexico and she thought she went into labor so that could have been an interesting situation for myself and my name. But Trier’s a city in Germany off the Moselle river – amazing city, wonderful sites of the Moselle River, great Riesling and wine; and that’s where I was born. My parents don’t come from a military family. I’m the first person in my family to serve. They were just civilians there. And we lived in Bitburg, which is a little way down the road, and in Germany at the time women don’t give birth in the hospital, they give birth in the mutter homes, the mother homes, and Trier had the best mutter home and so that’s where she went for me to be born. An interesting small fact is that, and I don’t know if this is still true, but at the time it wasn’t allowed for…so I had German birth certificate, I wasn’t born on base, and they wouldn’t allow my parents to name me after the city. It wasn’t like legal or something. And so legally my name is actually Trier-Lynn. So they were like “Can you just put something after it so we can say ‘Hey, it’s different’.” So my legal name is Trier-Lynn but I go by Trier.
Taren: That is an interesting factoid. What a fascinating story and what a fascinating way to start your life, right? That’s a really cool story. And how brave of your mom to be giving birth like in a mutter home.
Trier: I know.
Taren: Crazy. So before we get on to the next part of our program here, I’d like just to talk about…you said you’re still getting up to speed. You’ve only been in the role just a little bit more than four months.
Trier: It hasn’t even been four months, Taren. Not that anyone is counting, but we are at like day 97.
Taren: Okay, day 97, here we are. So tell me what has been some of the most standup moments for you so far. And then let’s talk about some of your near term and strategic objectives and some of the what you think the future holds.
Trier: Yeah. So clearly, again, I’m very people-centric so I’m going to have that lens, but I am just so inspired to work with people who are clearly not driven by money but driven by the passion and the work that they do. And it really makes a difference, Taren, right? It’s interesting that I have kind of gone back and forth between industries that have been at very opposite ends of this starting in the military where it is very mission driven, like no one’s in the military for money. That’s not the type of reward that you’re getting; it’s about service and wearing that uniform and the pride and being a part of something that is way bigger than you. It’s probably the proudest thing that I’ve done in my career is to not only serve in the military and wear that uniform but for me personally as a black woman to have served under the first black president, to be in uniform and to say that that was my commander in chief; that was a very proud moment for me.
And so then to go from that to Wall Street where, Taren, I will never forget the day that the price of gold dropped in 200 West HQ for Goldman in New York City. It was like it was on fire. Everyone was just running around. It was just like everyone was just losing their mind. And there was a couple of vets and we were just like, “Wait a minute, what’s going on? Did someone die? Like no one died? It’s going to be okay, it’s just the price of gold.” And a more senior veteran who had been at the firm for several years said, “Trier, everything in the military is about saving a life or taking a life and everything on Wall Street is about making a dollar or losing a dollar. And the quicker that you can have that paradigm shift like that mindset, you’ll understand the urgency of when these things happen.” And I really needed to hear that because it was a shift. And then to leave that and then go to Twitter where it was like, “Give everyone a voice in the world.” It was mission driven but it was about giving people a voice and the impact of the power of like having this device in this platform for people to get information. To then going to a FinTech company where again driven by the bottom line of the dollar. But then going to a space company where people just loved space and just everything to get a rocket into space. People grew up wanting to be astronauts and it wasn’t about the money, it was genuinely about space exploration. And now to be like in medicine where I have someone on my team that has a tattoo on their wrist; they have a tattoo on their wrist of the molecular makeup of a drug, an Alzheimer’s drug, that didn’t work and the impact that that had on a very close family member. And that is their motivation every day, to do the work that they do as a venture partner at 82VS. That’s powerful, Taren.
And so I have just been so impressed by the people, how they show up and I didn’t realize how so many people in biotech and in this space have a very personal story as to why creating better medicine is important to them and their families. And that’s really powerful and that inspires me to get up and work that much harder for everyone at that company.
Taren: Trier, first of all, you’re absolutely right. There are so many people who work in this industry and I say it all the time, they could be working anywhere but they use their time, talents, and treasures to make medicines or drugs or improve the process for the betterment of humanity.
Trier: I love that. I’m writing that down – time, talent and treasures, and that’s exactly what it is of changing this space, creating better medicine. It’s important work and I’ve learned so much.
Taren: Agree with this part. It’s very important work. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you a question based on the…because it’s extremely topical. You talked about Twitter and having a voice for everyone. What is your view on the Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and the current state of it four days into his reign?
Trier: Yep. Number one, it’s heartbreaking. Twitter has a really unique culture. One, I still have people who’ve previously worked for me that are still there who I have checked in on, who have been in tears on the phone. Twitter’s a place where the lines between it’s just work and the work that you do and the impact and you caring about it get blurred very quickly. And what I would encourage everyone to remember is that these are real people. They’re not just numbers, they’re not just employees, like these are real people. I think this is a really great example of lost humanity. It’s unfortunate because the people who are being impacted the most and I feel like being forgotten about a little bit are their actual people and that’s really unfortunate.
I have various opinions on the platform like what Anthony Noto recently chimed in on making folks pay for verification, what that price point is. Look, those are all conversations to be had when the time is right, but I really just hope that leaders step in and really start thinking about how this is impacting their people and what that means.
Taren: Well said. And thank you very much for that off-the-cuff response. As a woman of color, you obviously are often, I would imagine, the only person who looks like you in a room. How did you find your voice and how did you define who you wanted to be as a leader?
Trier: Taren, may I give a little feedback? Are you open to feedback on some of the language that you just used?
Taren: Yes, please.
Trier: Okay. So one of the things that I work with my clients and the work that I do outside of Alloy when it comes to the inclusion and the equity part is language matters and it’s so important and the way that you ask the question, it’s a really great example. We really encourage folks not to use the terms “people of color”, “women of color”, and for goodness sake not BIPOC. I’m happy to just tell you why, but because it really mass a lot of things. I’m not a white woman but I am a black woman. There’s a difference. I’ve been in rooms where there are several Asian women, there might be Latinas but there’s several Asian women, Indian women, but I’m the only black woman. And so while there might be representation of non-white women, there’s not representation of black women. But have I also been in rooms where I’m the only woman and I’m also the only non-white person and I’m the only non-white woman? Yes. But the layers to that make a difference on the experience and what we’re looking at.
There’s a company, I won’t name them by name, but they are very public about “almost 50% of our employees are diverse and are people of color.” But when you drill down and you ask them how are you defining people of color and you actually dig into the numbers, they do not have a single black employee in that company and they’re at less of 2% for the Hispanic-Latina population. And so yes, they have overrepresented based off of U.S. census, U.S. numbers; overrepresentation of Asian employees. And while that is a great story to tell on its own, we have to be thoughtful about our language so that we’re not actually masking problems or trying to hide things that people don’t want to talk about.
So let’s talk about what it’s like when I am sometimes the only person that looks like me in a room at the various identities that I live my life every day. I am a black woman, I am a disabled veteran, I am an academy grad, I am so many different things; and those things show up in different ways when I’m in different spaces. I would say at this point in my career, do I still experience bias, prejudice, and bullying in all different forms? Absolutely. Unfortunately, though, Taren, is that I’m callous by it which I have to call myself out on and I have to hold myself accountable to. There are often times where I will leave a meeting where someone will say, “Are you okay, Trier?” and I’ll be like, “What happened?” and they’re like, “That comment that that person made, like that was inappropriate” and sometimes I don’t even catch it. I am such an operator and executor that I am focused on the work. I am not always focused on the delivery or the tone. I am focused on the content because I am a person that wants to get things done and deliver. And when I was more younger in my career, when I was more junior, I saw that if I allowed it to be a distraction, it would be a distraction and I wasn’t going to let it. But I also used that to say, “What can we do, do to change it?” which is why I have spent so much of my career anchoring that in all of the work that I do.
Now, let’s talk about my experience at 82VS and at Alloy and biotech so far because this is really interesting, Taren, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. They didn’t realize this, I brought this up actually to Errik’s knowledge. I asked Errik, I said, “Do you know that if I take this role I would be inheriting a team that is every single person on the team comes from some type of underrepresented group?” and he was like, “No, I never thought about that” and I was like, “That’s incredible.” Alloy I think is a really great use case where they don’t have this written out, “This is our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy” and we do these things and then writing this DE&I report every year where you just continue to tell the world where you missed the mark, you missed the mark, you missed the mark. No, they just believe in doing the right thing, doing right by people, going out and finding great people and also saying like, “Hey, we want representation in our company” and what that means and they’re getting it done. That’s huge.
And as we’re hiring because we’re building our team – if anyone’s interested we’re hiring a lot of people, all the open roles are on our website; I just pulled two of our venture partners aside that are really leading the hiring effort and I was just like, “Look, I don’t know if you all are doing something consciously, but if someone were to ask me right now if biotech is diverse, I would say biotech is incredibly diverse.” Because the candidates by the time they get to me and I’m having conversations with them, they’ve been brought out of the application pool sourcing through our various channels, I have seen the most incredible diversity. And not just diversity…yes, diversity of thought and scientific research and background, but I’m talking about where people sit and live in their intersections every day, and it is powerful. But I’m also looking over at other pharma companies, biotech companies, and it does not look like our team. And so I just think it’s really powerful and something that we will continue to build on. It’s incredible, it really is.
Taren: Well congratulations to you because there’s study after study that shows that kind of diversity yields better results. Companies who are more [inaudible 38:29]
Trier: Study after study, yes.
Taren: …they’re just more successful. It’s just the way it is. You have been on another podcast where you spoke about that invisible tax of workplace bias. Can you share a little bit about that with our audience because I know that so many women who listen to our podcast and the men too, I shouldn’t say just women, are very much interested in this because they do want to do better but they don’t always know how to do better.
Trier: Yeah. So for those of you who are not familiar, and I think it could be for anyone who identifies, right? Not he, she, her, they, regardless of how we identify from our gender identity, we all experience harm even those from the majority group. I got feedback once I did a DE&I session for a client and I had a cis-straight white man come up to me afterwards and say, “Trier, I really appreciate how I felt included in what you were talking about” because harm happens in the workplace to everyone. The intensity at which it happens and the frequency at which it happens varies sometimes at where we sit with our intersections. And so the invisible tax is that harm that is done but yet there’s an expectation that we’re still supposed to continue and actually do our best work and be able to perform with that.
And it could be something as small as…one of my small pet peeves is when people address a group as guys, “Hey guys, let’s get started. Welcome, guys, to the show. Welcome to the meeting, guys. Great to meet you, guys” when someone does an intro and I cringe because I’m not a guy and not everyone on the call or in the meeting or at the all hands identifies as that and it’s something so small. And, Taren, what I do is I’ll say, “Okay, great. Well then I’ll say, ‘Hey gals, let’s go ahead and get ready’.” And the people in the room that do identify as a man, they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m not a gal” – exactly. See how that feels? So when people say, “Well, I mean it to be an inclusive term”, “Okay, well I’m going to start using gals as an inclusive term” but it’s the reaction that we get and then that feedback, right? So if it’s not equitable, then let’s think about that.
But it can be something so simple as that. I had a CEO once and I was coaching and it was the end of the quarter and someone on their sales team was giving updates of revenue from the past quarter and they had exceeded everything and it was great. And after the presentation, the CEO walked up to the person who is doing the presentation and was like, “Hey, you killed that presentation. That was awesome. You are killing it.” And the person said, “Hey, I’m from a part of the world where there’s a genocide going on right now and I don’t want to be killing anything. I appreciate the feedback but if you could just use different language.” And that CEO is telling me the story and the CEO got frustrated and was like, “I feel like I just can’t say anything anymore. Everything is offensive.” I was like, “You’re the CEO and you just had someone on your revenue team tell you that you exceeded expectations and all they wanted you to do was just not say, ‘Hey, you’re killing it’. I think you need to rethink your priorities on like what’s really important.” Because for me there is almost 200,000 words in the English language, pick another one, you’re fine, if that is not going to distract them because that person walked away and all they’re going remember from that entire thing was how they felt when someone said “Hey, you’re killing that” and they immediately thought about the genocide that’s happening in their country.
Trier: And so it can be small things, it can be big things through behaviors, through language, but how do we cultivate that culture that we want to call people in. We say calling people in, not calling them out, but calling people in and creating the feedback, the culture where we can provide that feedback. Like, Taren, I bet you will think twice the next time you’ll say, “Hey, you’re killing that presentation.”
Taren: I agree. I try to avoid those words because I do feel it’s so aggressive that it’s not appropriate. There are many other words, as you said, 200,000 of them, the English language, that could describe somebody’s extraordinary performance besides saying killing it. And I am right on board with you with the “guys.” It makes me cringe every single time. And I have that same tactic that you use “Okay, gals” and the same thing “Well I’m not a gal” and I’m like “What [inaudible 43:23] you want it to be. This is another word for that. It’s similar.”
Trier: Yeah, exactly. And so it is that. I think another analogy that my team uses in sessions are like ‘mosquito bites’. Again, everyone gets mosquito bites but if you get one mosquito bite a month, you’re fine. You don’t think anything of it. But if you are getting bitten every day, multiple times a day, every meeting, and then you are expected to perform and do your best work, that’s not a visible tax that people don’t acknowledge and are understanding about a lot of underrepresented groups in your organization. And if you’re thinking like, “Well my company’s not like that. My team is not like that”, we are all humans and we bring our experiences, our biases, our preconceived notions to the workplace. And so if you feel like harm is not happening in your organization, what I would say to you is either, one, you don’t know what you’re looking for; or, two, you don’t know where to look.
Taren: I think those are very wise words and thank you very much for sharing (A) all of those examples; (B) what we could be doing better; and let’s not keep biting our employees, mosquitoes or otherwise; and nobody should be killing anything. I agree. So obviously you are a role model amongst role models. How does that mantle of responsibility feel to you?
Trier: No. A role model amongst…no.
Taren: Of course you are.
Trier: How do we define role model, Taren? I don’t know.
Taren: Well you are in a position now of influence where you can set an example for others who are coming up through the ranks and saying, “Hey, here’s somebody who looks like me or doesn’t look like me but I love the values that she is putting forward and I want to be like this person.”
Trier: Yeah. I receive that with conditions, Taren. Let me tell you my conditions.
Taren: Why am I not surprised there.
Trier: I receive that with the conditions of I think that I shy away from that type of language of like role model because I have seen how we put role models on this pedestal and don’t allow them to fail or failure is seen as bad – one of my favorite books, John C. Maxwell, “Failing Forward.” I talk about my failures more than my successes. It’s something that I’m working on with my executive coach and in therapy, but I focus on my failures and lean in to them and what do you learn from your failures but also you can learn from your successes. And so with conditions that like I will continue to fail, I will continue to get things wrong, I think that’s like one of the real interesting things. I remember I went to a meeting once at Goldman and I walked in and I was like, “Whoa, we absolutely F that up, right? That didn’t work.” But the next thing out of my mouth was how my team recovered from it. I’m not going to come and say, “Hey, we messed that up” but I’m also going to say like how we fixed it, we recovered, or to say, “I don’t know how to do this but we need help to overcome that.” And so I would encourage and empower folks. I tell Errik all the time “I do way too much stuff not to get it right.”
And it’s also interesting, I just did 360 reviews for 82VS and actually today and tomorrow everyone’s doing their 360 performance review conversations. And for some people on my team, it’s their first time. And also at this point in their career, it’s shocking the first time that they’re actually getting a 360 performance review. I’m overly transparent. I share my 360 reviews with my team. I’m not sharing it now because I want them to be focused on theirs, but once everyone has their conversations they will actually get a copy of mine and they’ll get all of my feedback that everyone said, not sanitizing anything, not pulling anything out.
But one of the things that I thought was like super interesting is there was 10 competencies, you rate the person on the 10 competencies from scale of 1-5 and then you can provide open comments of like, “Hey, you’re a 5 because of this” or a 1 or 2 just to give that context and nuance. And I gave myself lots of 1s and 2s. I also gave other people on my team 1s and 2s. I also gave out a bunch of 4s and 5s. But when I actually looked at mine, there were very few people that gave me 1s and 2s.
Taren, let me tell you what one of the areas was. One of the areas was scientific innovation. I’m going to give feedback to my team that anyone that gave me anything above a 2 for scientific innovation you’re not being honest with yourself or me. I know nothing, I do not have a PhD, I do not understand the science. And it’s leading by example to say we can hold each other accountable and be honest with each other, right? I would’ve preferred for someone to say “Trier, I’m giving you a 1 because you don’t understand the science but shout out to you for asking great questions and getting up to speed and like asking for articles and wanting to learn more. But also maybe we should remove this question in the feedback in the 360 feedback for next time because it’s not applicable to everyone on the team.”
Taren: I think that’s fair. It’s very hard for people to speak up, Trier, because they may have been burned in the past because they were too honest and then they got the compensation they thought they deserved or they might have been even fired for being honest. It’s hard.
Trier: That’s right and I get that. And that’s why as a leader I’m very conscious on these things that I do to lean in and let people know like this is an environment that it’s okay. I’ll give you another example, Taren, because this is so funny, I love it. I sent an email once, it was a long email, I CC’d it to Errik, our CEO. He replied back, he was like, “Yep, this is great. Thanks for keeping me posted” and then he was like, “By the way, you have this typo in here.” The next weekly meeting I have with the team, I said, “So, guess what, that email that I sent, did you all read it?” and people were like, “Yeah, thanks for the info, providing clarity around this.” And I said, “Did anyone notice a typo that was in the email because Errik did” and I was like, “You all better not let Errik catch a typo in any of my communications before someone on this team does.” The amount of slacks, screenshots, text messages that I get from my team of like typos or this and that and I love it. I love it because that’s only making me better and I do the same thing for them and when it’s reciprocated, it’s received that much more. I love the fact that we’re building that culture at 82VS.
Taren: It’s a safe space and it’s a transparent space and I think, again, that’s what makes for a great team dynamic. One of the things that I’ve been reading about is the number one thing in building a great culture is about trust. You have to trust who your leaders are. And how do you build trust? By being authentic and being open and being transparent. So perfect. I have to ask you through your career, what is some of the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Trier: So two thoughts on that. The first thing that comes to mind, Taren, is I’ve gotten a lot of great advice but what sticks out to me more is how it was given. When I think of the moments that are most meaningful to me, I think of those moments where people provided their undivided attention, eye contact, and on either out of the spectrum either verbally put their foot in my behind a feedback in a tough-love way where it was like “You need to hear this and you may not like it but I’m giving it to you because you deserve to hear it.” Or the other side of, again, looking me in my eye, holding my hand and sharing whatever they did with such compassion. And I think it goes back to like having the people sometimes it’s not always the content. These are moments where I do feel, where I do receive the delivery of like someone speaking inspiration into me, someone’s speaking energy motivation into me in moments where I just didn’t have it myself, filling me up in that way.
As far as like the actual advice and the content, I think one of the things that sticks out is just I had to learn that sometimes someone else’s hundred percent of what they asked me to do was my 20% and that was okay. And I learned that at Goldman where I was trying to deliver everything at my hundred percent and I had a managing director sit down and they were like, “Trier, what did I ask for?” and I repeated it back to them and they said, “No, what did you give me?.” And then I repeated all that and they were like, “And so of the things that you just gave me, I’m going to basically use a third of it because that’s what I asked for. If I wanted all those other things, I would’ve asked for it.” And that was helpful because it also taught me to ask better questions and to not exert energy in places that were wasteful and I could have put that energy in other places.
Taren: Fascinating. That’s excellent. I love that anecdote. That is really very good because we often find ourselves trying to overachieve in order to make a mark but in fact we’re just sometimes spinning our wheels unnecessarily.
Trier: Yeah. Taren, may I share one more thing? And it’s not that one person told me, I think it’s what the military taught me. And it’s so applicable in the role that I’m in right now because I actually get this question often. In the military particularly going to the Air Force Academy, you are taught that you are a leader. You’re not a subject matter expert and that you’re going to go out and your enlisted troops are the subject matter experts. They’re the ones that do the work. You’re a leader, you take care of your people so that people can take care of the mission. And if you’re getting that ingrained in your mind for four years of “you need to be a leader, you need to be leader” and then whatever the Air Force tells you that you’re going to go do, you’re just going to go lead and your people will take care of the work. My confidence of going into a role where I don’t have the expertise, the background, or the experience is uncomfortably high; case in point, me taking on this role. Like it was one thing for Errik and the board to lean in and be like, “We’re going to go out and we actually don’t want someone to come from a biotech background to be in this president role. We don’t want someone with a VC background. We want someone that understands people that is an executor, an operator, and who’s going to get things done.” And people are like, “Trier, you’ve got these two huge gaps. How are you doing this?.” I tell people all the time I lead with it, like let me take the power, the ammunition out of whatever you’re about to say. I know that I don’t have that direct experience but I’m a leader and I know how to get things done and I know how to ask great questions and I know how to deliver, and at the end of the day I can do anything.
Taren: I love that. Trier, we could talk for another hour but unfortunately our time is going to slowly come to an end here. I need to ask you our final question which is how we end all of our WoW podcasts and what is that WoW moment that either changed the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you. And I’m going to challenge you to think about one, and I can imagine that you have such an arsenal to choose from but I am going to challenge you to think of one.
Trier: I showed up at basic training and they put us in the auditorium, basic training at the Air Force Academy. They put us in the auditorium and I’m sitting there at attention and I slightly looked left at the person sitting next to me and I slightly looked right at the person sitting on the other side and I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t be here.” It was probably the strongest moment of like imposter syndrome that I had and I said “I shouldn’t be here.” Eight weeks later at the end of basic training, we’re sitting in that same auditorium, I looked left, I looked right, and I said, “How did you all get here.” And so every time I have moments where I look around and I go “I shouldn’t be here” I go “Trier, just give it time to where you come back and you’re just going to be like ‘What are you all doing here’.” It happens every time.
Taren: That’s awesome. That is great. I can’t thank you enough for such an informative, lively, authentic, really thought-provoking conversation today. Truly indebted to you for being part of our WoW podcast program and I wish you tremendous success and hope the next 97 days are as great as the first 97 days.
Trier: Taren, thank you.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.