Inspiring Business Women: Kristen Weber

Read our latest interview with Kristen Weber to learn her thoughts on how to make your employees feel valued, how to quantify inclusion, and get access to some incredible resources to take your D&I efforts to the next level.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Kristen Weber, the Principal Program Developer for D&I at Expedia Group.

A pioneer in both her organization and the larger D&I community, Kristen founded and led the first ever brand-specific diversity and inclusion function for her engineering organization’s global employees. An avid traveler, she loves experiencing new places, new people and new cultures, so she’s grateful to work at a travel company. She loves sailing (she’s currently working on her certifications) and brewing beer with her husband.

Read on to learn Kristen’s thoughts on how to make your employees feel valued, how to quantify inclusion, and get access to some incredible resources to take your D&I efforts to the next level.

Tell us about your career progression into Diversity & Inclusion at Expedia Group

I think my career progression into D&I work started long before I realized it did! In 1999, I got my first tech job which was basically a coding bootcamp followed by a multi-year development program. During my summer of bootcamp, my instructor pulled me aside and told me that I didn’t belong there and that I should be at a bar picking up a nice man to take care of me. It didn’t occur to me that he was sexist; I just figured he was a bit of a jerk! I stayed in the program despite that conversation and ended up spending the next 17 years as a technical program manager.

In 2014, I started getting more involved in the ‘women in tech’ movement and began to understand that what happened to me in 1999 wasn’t an isolated incident. Up until that time, I resisted the idea that the gender gap in tech needed special attention and focus. I thought “I had to fight hard to get where I am and don’t need special treatment.” I never stopped to think about how many women would have agreed with my instructor and withdrawn from the program. As I started paying more attention to research and voices around me, I realized the movement wasn’t about me but that I needed to offer my support to others.

In 2015, I met two diversity and inclusion practitioners who literally changed my life and my career path. Through them, my understanding of D&I completely changed. I learned about different identities, about intersectionality, or the layers of identities we all hold at once. I learned about the importance of inclusion – or the sense of belonging – versus just diversity or demographics. I was able to work part-time on inclusion initiatives at Expedia Group and found it to be some of the most challenging and rewarding work I’d ever done. It started to fill this void I had around personal satisfaction with my work. I didn’t want my legacy to be well-written technical specifications. Instead, I wanted to leave my work environment and my world a better place. Working in inclusion filled that void for me.

Over the next two years my passion for D&I grew, and I was eager to continue implementing these initiatives at Expedia Group. Our organizational leaders were vocal about this being a priority, however we didn’t have any full-time business resources dedicated to it. In 2017 I successfully negotiated for the new role and, to be honest, was initially advocating for someone else to be in it. But when that person took another position, I thought “If it’s not them, it’s me.” So I applied for it. I’ve been focused on leading diversity and inclusion initiatives for one of Expedia Group’s brands since then! My role is unique because I’m embedded in one of our large technology organizations, but I’m not in HR. I love this structure because I’m able to support our corporate vision for inclusion at Expedia Group while also focusing on what could be most valuable in moving inclusion forward for my own organization.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in your role?

During my first year on the job, I was essentially a one-person team supporting a large global technology organization. I identified so many things that I could or should be working on, and it was overwhelming. I focused on things like events and conferences because doing something – doing anything – felt like progress to me. But I knew that while these events were inspiring people, they weren’t really contributing to a culture change throughout our organization. I was also personally struggling as a one-person show because I learn from and get motivated by team collaboration.

During my second year, my team grew from just me to 2.5 people. For me, this was the ultimate proof of the power of diverse teams. My primary skills and expertise are in running programs. My new teammates have completely different but complementary skills in education, content creation, facilitation, research, and coaching. I often joke that my teammates complete me, but it’s so true. We’re all very different puzzle pieces that come together to complete a full picture. Now my challenges are totally different. Instead of wondering how to get started or which program I should launch, I worry about how we scale our offerings (because we have some now!) to our entire company while also ensuring everything is as culturally relevant as possible in each of our global locations.

Diversity is a hot topic in the business world right now, but you seem to focus more on inclusion and engagement, which are jsut as important for company success. How do inclusion and engagement play into diversity?

Diversity, to me, is really about representation. Diversity is a group of individuals who differ along race, gender, sexuality, age, disability, religion, class, caregiver status, etc. Inclusion, then, is everyone in that diverse group being valued and respected and believing that they have a successful development path in your company. In terms of them coming together, there’s a quote I love (that I don’t know who to attribute to) that “Diversity is counting heads and inclusion is making those heads count.”

I was at a D&I conference in San Francisco last December, where a leader from a tech company shared that their biggest lesson learned was “Diversity without inclusion is futile.” I loved this quote and it has stayed with me. It means that if you’re only focused on diversity – or counting heads – you’re probably over-indexing on diverse recruiting practices. But what happens after someone is hired? If you don’t have an environment in which underrepresented voices can be respected and supported with equal access to opportunity, then you risk losing those voices. And you’re not really making progress if you can’t retain the people you’ve hired. This is why we focus more on inclusion and retention – the true goodness of putting diversity and inclusion together is what engages employees and drives better innovation and business results.

What is the Ally Skills Training that you rolled out, and how has it helped shape employee engagement at Expedia?

In 2018, I attended an Ally Skills Workshop at the Women in Tech Regatta conference in Seattle. In that session, the facilitator explained common terminology (such as oppression, privilege, target, ally) and then we broke into small groups to co-create actions allies could take in various scenarios that happen in real life. I felt like this was part of the missing puzzle for equipping people with the skills to contribute to an inclusive environment. It was the bridge spanning the gap between action and awareness.

From there, we contacted Valerie Aurora at Frameshift Consulting. Frameshift Consulting publishes all the Ally Skills Workshop materials publicly under the creative commons attribute license. This gave us the ability to totally customize the content to be as relevant as possible to Expedia employees. Valerie facilitated one workshop and one ‘train the trainer’ session for us, and we took it from there!

One key decision we made was that we didn’t want to only offer the Ally Skills Workshop. We instead created an optional three-part inclusion learning series that takes employees through a natural progression of understanding their own identities and privileges, a workshop on the impact of inclusive language (currently with an LGBTQIA deep dive), and finally the Ally Skills Workshop. We believe it’s important for folks to develop a better self-awareness before they understand how to best support others.

The biggest challenge that I see leaders face regarding D&I programs is metrics and reporting. How do you measure success in your employee engagement initiatives?

We believe in both qualitative and quantitative data. My role sits outside of our HR department, so my access to some data is very limited. In the absence of the official HR data, I’ve learned to get creative about looking for data in new ways.

Using the Ally Skills Workshop as an example, we’ve used surveys to help determine relevance and impact of the skills that we’re teaching. We survey attendees immediately to determine what resonated with them, how actionable the content was, what their most important learning was, how effective the facilitator was, etc.

And we’re just now conducting our three-month impact survey of workshop attendees where we’re measuring changed behaviors and perceptions. The numbers so far are incredibly exciting – my two favorite findings are:

  • A significant percentage of attendees have acted as an ally since the workshop.

  • And a large proportion have invited someone else into a work conversation even when they believe that person will have a different perspective or opinion.

We can’t say for certain that our workshops are the only thing at Expedia that’re causing people to engage in these types of behaviors, but they contribute in a positive way.

On the more qualitative side, we have demand increasing for these workshops in different global locations. We see the numbers of people we’re training to facilitate these workshops in their own locations growing. We hear stories about how people have been called to action; for example, starting new chapters of business resource groups in their office locations.

These examples are super specific to my own work. To speak more generally, you do need to be prepared to measure overall diversity and inclusion in your organization. If you need a baseline understanding of inclusion in your organization, check out Survey Monkey. They partnered with Paradigm to design a belonging and inclusion survey and offer an end-to-end guide for measuring inclusion. They recommend surveying diversity and inclusion separately through two distinct surveys and then suggest actions you can take to create change based on the data you receive. Their entire guide is free online!

For companies that don't have a formal D&I agenda, what are some small steps that organizational leaders can take to start creating a more diverse and inclusive culture?

It’s critical for leaders to understand that they’re accountable for helping create a more diverse and inclusive culture. This is a responsibility shared by every person and at every level in the organization.

One of the most important things an organizational leader can do is to listen. Ask hard questions about what is working and what is not – and then act upon it. And when listening, the most important thing a leader can do is to believe people’s experiences. There’s a tendency to not believe things if we don’t personally see or experience them ourselves. But we forget that we’ll often not see or experience things because of where we sit in the organization or what identities or privileges we might hold.

Another thing an organizational leader can do is to model inclusive leadership. Recognize the composition of your leadership team. Use inclusive language. Give people budget, resources, time and recognition for D&I initiatives. As an example – take the listening tour I just mentioned. People want to be heard AND they want you to do something about it. By asking people to get involved in fixing what isn’t working well, you’re demonstrating your commitment and support for making real change.

And finally, go after resources that are free and available to you. Getting started on diversity and inclusion work doesn’t have to be expensive. If your organization could benefit from unconscious bias training, check out the free materials that Google, Facebook or Microsoft offer online. If you need a more comprehensive approach, check out Project Include. One of the things I love most about this field is the spirit of “there is no competition in inclusion.” People in this field truly believe that, by sharing what has or hasn’t worked, we all win.

Posted about 4 years ago

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