Employee Experience

Zillow’s VP of Community & Culture Rebekah Bastian on promoting equity and belonging in the workplace

In this installment of our Employee Experience Visionaries series, hear from Rebekah Bastian, Vice President of Community & Culture at Zillow Group, CEO of OwnTrail and author of Blaze Your Own Trail, about:

  • Why employees are their most innovative and productive when they bring their whole selves to work.
  • How she turned her passion projects into a full-time role—and the culture that supported her employee experience.
  • How she gets out of her own way—and how you can, too.

On her best employee experience

“Companies that create the best experiences focus on what employees need to be successful, to grow in their careers, and to be able to bring their best selves to work.”

Often, employee experience gets confused with things like foosball tables and kombucha on tap. Those might be fun, but real employee experience is how you feel about your job day in and day out.

My best experiences at Zillow have been when I’ve felt accepted for who I am or what I’m going through. I received a promotion when I was eight months pregnant with my first child. I know I’m not alone in having felt the pressure to get to a certain point in my career before I started having children, so when I was asked to lead this new team, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, this is who I am and where I am in my life right now—and I’m being valued and given opportunities.” To me, that’s the essence of a great employee experience.

On her transition to the people team

“Organizations should allow employees to explore their interests and develop a range of skills.”

Before I started the Community and Culture team at Zillow two years ago, I spent 12 years leading the product team. During this time, I worked on lots of side projects tackling questions such as: How do we build diversity? And, how can our product tackle social issues?

Zillow has always supported me exploring my interests, even if they fell outside the official responsibilities of my role. Eventually my side projects led to me exploring the strategy behind our culture, specifically the parts that made us innovative, collaborative and equitable. I enjoyed the space so much that I knew I wanted to do this full-time.

On the future of work

“People can’t be compartmentalized into their work selves and their personal selves.”

The future of work is acknowledging that people can’t be compartmentalized into their work
selves and their personal selves. It’s all integrated. The more that employers embrace and celebrate that integration, the more innovative and productive—and happy—their employees are going to be.

On acting on employee feedback

When we talk about equity and belonging at Zillow—which is at the core of my team’s mission—we ask ourselves if people can bring their best selves to work. To measure this as a core metric, we ask specific questions as part of our employee feedback program, which we run with Qualtrics. And while, overall, our scores are high, when you dig in deeper, there are varying senses of belonging across different demographic populations.

Like many companies, we are always striving to do better in terms of representation. So, by slicing the data by ethnicity or gender, we can set a goal for ourselves to minimize the disparity within those certain demographic groups. We’re now measuring ourselves against this goal, and thus far, we’ve seen positive results.

On her favorite books for promoting equity

First, I’d love to mention my new book, Blaze Your Own Trail. It explores the different choices and paths women take through their personal and professional lives—and the compassion and understanding that comes from that—which is relevant to any reader.

As leaders in the HR space, we need to understand the inequity inherent in society in order to dismantle some systems and rebuild them to be more equitable. I think Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race and Emily Chang’s Brotopia are both fantastic reads in that space.

On the biggest obstacle she faced in her role

“I’m one of my biggest obstacles.”

One of the first obstacles I faced in my career was the confidence to speak up for myself and to advocate what I wanted. Learning to trust my own voice was a major obstacle I had to overcome.

On what HR leaders get right

“HR leaders that get it right are thinking about employees as whole people.”

HR as a function has progressed from being about policies and dealing with issues when they arise to being more like preventative medicine. Leaders that proactively think about how to support employees and help them grow not only benefit the individual employee, but also the company.

On what she does when things go wrong at work

I put a reminder on my calendar for six months from now and tell myself: “I’m not going to freak out about this right now, but if I still feel this way six months from now, then I’ll make some kind of change.” This approach not only keeps me from being too reactionary, it also prevents me from staying in a bad situation for too long.

Spoiler alert: Most things change.

Hear from Employee Experience Visionaries like Rebekah at X4