#AbstractaStory In Depth with Vera Babat: “Companies can be agents of social change”

A psychologist and English teacher by profession, Vera is now Abstracta’s Chief Culture Officer. Her entry into the IT industry has turned not only her life around but also the lives of hundreds of others. And even reshaped the outlook of the company. Her ideas are revolutionizing the way we think about the very meaning of the word “work” building healthier work environments and organizational cultures.

By Natalie Rodgers

There is a lot to Vera’s story. It is profound and powerful in the deepest sense. The idea of “everything communicates” by Roland Barthes, the French philosopher, and semiologist has a strong resonance with her.

With her words and actions, she goes out to help people get closer to their own vulnerability. The one that also makes them strong and powerful. And the key expression here is “go out” because she does not sit down and wait for them. She literally goes out to bring them closer. The workplace that she has chosen for this is the IT Industry, even to her own surprise. 

Why IT Industry? “This workplace is seeking to redefine the future of work. It is a space open to experimentation. For sure, that is very useful to discover new ways to improve. So, here we are! Experimenting and learning a lot. Looking for new success visions which allow us to feel better and that are more similar to what the world needs.”, emphasized Vera. 

On this journey, she opens her private world to the universe. As a mirror that reflects what she wants. Just as a modest example that our strength lies in our openness to real connections with all that we can generate from that place

Vera Babat and her daughter enjoying their time at an Abstracta camp.

¿Who is Vera Babat? 

From a young age, Vera wished to take part in building a better world. “When I was a child, I enjoyed dancing, and I marveled at life itself. I always ran to defend anything I felt was unfair. I was observant and analytical, a bit solitary and timid. I loved languages in general, especially English. I was also eager to learn about other places and times.”

She was a whizzkid. The traits that lived in her then have grown, and they are still part of her. Her story, labor career, sensitivity, disruptive personality, and even her challenges and aspirations, are all evidence of this. 

She is an Uruguayan by choice. Different economic crises and family labor issues forced her to live between Uruguay and Argentina for a long period of time. At the age of 17, she chose Uruguay as her place in the world as her true home. 

She currently lives in Montevideo. For 11 years, she has been married to whom she had been dating since she was 19. They raise their children side by side: Guillermo is 6 years old and Sofi is 4. Vera graduated from the “Universidad de la República” as a psychologist, and she has been treating patients for 13 years.

“I love psychoanalysis but not its orthodox image. I love it because I like to analyze to truly understand. It is a deep space, with a lot of privacy and intimacy. But orthodox visions are not my style. That is why I add some condiments to its theoretical framework: humanistic psychology, speech therapy, existential analysis, and philosophy.”

Also, she remains a lover of the English language. She taught it for more than 20 years at schools, companies, and so on. ”I met a lot of people through my English classes. In fact, teaching was the way I got introduced to Abstracta.” Currently, she no longer teaches English classes but gives workshops in English on specific topics, with a focus on mental health.

What changes have Abstracta had since Vera started working there? Matias Reina, Abstracta’s CEO, resumed it in the following words: “We began to connect with people and with ourselves more deeply. We became aware of topics that we weren’t before. We learned to hear and trust each person, and to look for the sense and purpose of what we do.”

In the same vein, the COO, Federico Toledo outlined, “We currently are more aware and sensitive about social and environmental impact at the C-suite. We are managing a lot of projects in this direction. We have achieved the goal of being more reflexive and improving our workplace and culture. Also, in the meaning of work and family life.”

We improved our job offers and the support of our team with a more holistic approach, with empathy for human aspects and health. We started to support our team in complex health situations. We achieved improvements in leadership with a more human vision. I mean, considering motivational factors and important issues such as transparency, salary justice, and benefits for the whole team. Vera helped us take better care of people, without over-protecting them. She helped to value and act in consequence, and not treat our teams like kids. That is something that is done a lot in this industry. However, this is only what I can remember from the top of my mind! Should I continue?”

Being part of the C-suite in a B2B company is something that Vera had never imagined. But, not being a traditionalist and always open to new challenges, she decided to open a door. A door that would change not only her own life but also the lives of hundreds of others. And consequently, Abstracta’s perspective as a company.

How was your first approach to Abstracta?
“In those days, I used to attend patients in my private practice. In addition, I was co-founder of an English institute. It was there where I met a young Sofía Palamarchuck (now a partner of Abstracta) and a young Lucía Lavagna (current Abstracta Chief Growth Officer), as Proficiency level students. We built a really special relationship. After 10 years, Sofi invited me to teach English at Abstracta. At that time, she was working there involved in the internationalization of the company. When I started working at Abstracta, I was about 4 months pregnant”

¿What happened since then?
One time, I came to the Abstracta office to give classes but I was upset. It was obvious that I was not having a good time. I explained that my partner and I had decided to close our English institute. Our institute students were all adults, so the classes were always in the evening or at night. And that was not compatible with the new routine that I was needing for my life. I needed a more family-friendly way to work. But I loved my institute. It was very hard for me to make that decision.

Motherhood and Work

Vera was living a period of her life in which her focus was on enjoying her pregnancy. It was not for less, she had been undergoing fertility treatment for 4 years to make this possible. “We finished the course at Abstracta just as scheduled. I remember that one day Fede (Federico Toledo) called me to invite me to the Abstracta New Year’s Party. I was really excited because of the invitation, but I couldn’t go. That week, Guille was born prematurely and all that mattered to me at that moment was taking care of him.”

Vera went back to work 4 months later. She started teaching at Abstracta and then doing coaching that, in her own words, had a lot in common with psychological therapy. Little by little, she began to deploy resources that helped a growing team to excel.

It was a time of transition: while she was growing as a mother, she began a job conversion. From an English teacher to an executive at a leader in the IT industry. 

During her first time at Abstracta, through English, she was able to contribute the tools and skills she had acquired throughout her life. So much so that they were extended to Spanish. They were very enriching contributions to a company that was then in the process of growth and internationalization.

Her transition took time; it did not happen overnight. First of all, she initiated a series of conversations with the company’s founders, which proved to be more than mobilizing. “I never imagined that such profound interventions could be made in a company.”

Step by step, she built the area that today is called “People Care”, hand in hand with Lucía Pérez, who at the time was working as a secretary, was about to graduate as a psychologist, and was at the beginning of a great path of growth in Abstracta.

“We started participating in different parts of the journey within Abstracta, listening to our team’s ideas and making decisions with them in mind. We worked a lot on following up with people within Abstracta, recruitment process, onboarding, interviews, and coaching. We started being available to talk about personal situations with those who needed it. Always with the focus on hearing, observing, and reflecting together. So here we are, we have been in a loop for 6 years we have been in a process for 6 years, building a better place to work and even to be.” 

You began working at Abstracta just when you were becoming a mom. How did you manage this?
I remember that period with great affection. Guille used to come to the office with me many times. I used to carry my son or take him in a stroller. When he started school, everything became easier. At that time, I also underwent fertility treatment in order to get pregnant with Sofi. These are very demanding processes that affect your schedule a lot. At Abstracta, I felt a support that I had never known before. And when I got pregnant, we celebrated! I remember having calls while having Sofi on my chest and a thousand ways of working. 

Vera working with her son on her lap, one fine day among many.

How did it impact your life to start working at Abstracta?
My time here coincided with years of really intense experiences on a personal level. Moments where the Abstracta partners showed me that they are noble people. They have shared with me my joys, like when I told them I was pregnant. They have accompanied me in my anxieties before each of the interventions that I have been undergoing. Interventions as a result of a preventive double mastectomy, because I have many genetic risk factors for developing breast cancer. I am eternally grateful. To be able to combine work with so many personal challenges, and to be able to grow so much professionally even in this context, it was very important. In another aspect, as much as I am fascinated by clinical psychology, it is also very lonely. The asymmetry of the role makes what happens to you absolutely secondary, not to say invisible. At Abstracta I achieved a balance. On one hand, I am at the service of other people, as in clinical psychology. But I am also part of teams formed by wonderful people who are now friends and very dear to me. 

And on a professional level, did it redirect your path in any way?
It totally changed me. I never imagined being in a business context and even less in an industry like this. My husband is an engineer and I always thought these things were not for me. At the same time, I always knew I wanted to get out of the office as an exclusive work environment. To provide tools to those who don’t easily go there. 

Mental Health in Companies

Uruguayan and a bit modest, little by little Vera’s voice is getting louder and louder. She is positioning herself as a leader in everything related to corporate culture from the mental health perspective. 

How do you define a Humanistic Culture and Mutual Care?
A humanistic culture puts the human being at the center, with their vulnerability and complexities. Mutual care focuses on our interdependence, which means that self-care is not enough. We are members of a community and this transcends our individuality. This implies that for our success to occur, the success of others must occur. 

Why is it important for you to have a Humanistic and Mutual care Culture in companies?
I see it as a form of rebellion against the prevailing individualism. As a mental health professional, I understand that it is important to promote healthier lifestyles and ways of bonding in the workplace. We have access to a large number of people through companies. So we can be agents of change if our interventions resonate. We can bring tools that have an impact on people’s lives.

There has been a great upheaval in the labor market since the pandemic hit. What do you think is the real paradigm change in the workplace?
From my perspective, it has to do with the importance of care and people’s sense of belonging to the spaces in which they work. It is a whole issue in itself. In the IT industry, we are early adopters of many things. But make no mistake, there is a long way to go before the world of work is transformed. 

What is missing?
There is a lack of depth, a lack of compassion, a lack of time for reflection, and a lack of heart. I feel that in many cases the IT industry focuses on form but not on content. What do I mean by this? In the IT industry, many companies offer flexible working hours, fancy offices that make us feel at ease, the possibility of remote work, and great benefits. But, in general, the focus is on the tools, not on how or why we use them nor their impact. 

What would that look like? Could you give us an example?
Yes, of course. A clear example of this is when we moved to 100% remote working because of the pandemic in 2020, and companies were constantly publishing about the benefits of this modality without looking beyond the pragmatic. At that time, I was thinking about what would happen to isolation? What would happen to those who do not know how to work autonomously? And what would happen if everyone went into crisis? Based on these questions, at Abstracta, we began to generate strategies and instances of exchange so as not to lose contact, but on the contrary: to be able to accompany better, and feel closer to each other. There is still a lot of this missing in the industry. I am excited to be part of the construction of this transformation. That is where our greatest challenge lies, and perhaps my greatest contribution as a mental health professional. 

Give Vera Babat a follow on Linkedin and Twitter!

Vera’s podcast “The Everything Else” is a must-listen! Have a break and enjoy it! 

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