Building a place for women in tech

Episode 6:  How do you be sure your customers (all of them) are truly represented? How do you bring diverse experience to the workplace? How do you tackle the gender gap in hiring? Kat Bransom, (Senior Manager of Digital Recruiting), Karla Gross (Digital Quality Assurance & Engineering Manager), and Marsha Faichtinger (Senior HR Advisor) discuss how they addressed recruiting and retention with the 2017 launch of our Women in Tech group.

Transcript below:

Chandra Kay Bricker: Hello and welcome to Staple and Fancy by H-E-B Digital. I'm your host Chandra Kay Bricker. Today we've got Kat Bransom, Karla Gross, and Marsha Faichtinger. (I won’t attempt to spell that.) Before we get started can we tell our audience what all of you do for a H-E-B?

Marsha Faichtinger: Sure. I am a part of the corporate HR team and focused on our Digital teams across the board. So that work includes a lot of talent development work, coaching, change management and whatever else anybody comes up with. We're looking ahead to what's next in the field and what kind of innovative things we should be looking at. So each day is a little bit different.

Chandra Kay Bricker: That's fun. Miss Gross?

Karla Gross: I manage the Quality Engineering team for the enterprise and we ensure the quality of the solutions we deliver to our customers, both internal and external.

Chandra Kay Bricker: And you are an engineer, is that correct?

Karla Gross: I am a female engineer.

Chandra Kay Bricker: Miss Kat?

Kat Bransom: I lead our digital recruiting team. We have a fantastic team of recruiters who are responsible for finding the best talent out there for H-E-B Digital.

Chandra Kay Bricker: That’s awesome. Well, today in honor of International Women's Day we want to talk about women in tech, which each of you have a passion around. You created this Women in Tech group for H-E-B, and I wanted to talk a little bit more about that. What was the impetus for starting a Women in Tech group at H-E-B Digital?

Marsha Faichtinger: Kat and I worked really closely back then. We were kind of the sole folks in our field. At that time I was the single HRM for our technology team. She was the single recruiter for Digital, and both of our areas have exploded with the growth. This all started with our CIO wanting to focus on how we could increase our number of females in our field. At that time we were just launching our e-commerce group and I wanted to blend together the technology team and the commerce team. I knew that was going to mean more talent we were going to need to find. Recruiting was already a difficult challenge at that time, so how do you get more women and be intentional about our efforts? Part of that included looking at where do we recruit. How do we focus on finding women? And that led us to: how do we make sure that we retain the women that we have? How do we create a sense of community for them? How do we help them focus on their own careers and their growth and what they needed? Then, in turn, if we built that internal community it could become very attractive to folks looking to join our company. That's where it got its start.

Kat Bransom: We co-founded the group in 2017, so we're coming into our third year of the Women in Technology group. To reiterate what Marsha said we were just in this period of incredible growth and wanted to help bridge the gap between some of the hiring that we were doing for the new areas at H-E-B and some of the current Partners that were already working for us. So we sat down and we brainstormed what we wanted our...I guess we could call it a mission statement, what our purpose was for the Women in Technology group. We came up with three things, three big buckets. The first was really to help build a community within existing H-E-B women in technology by organizing meetings and different events that they could go to. The second thing we wanted to help with was professional development, not necessarily technical skills because they were getting a lot of that in their current roles or learning that on their own, but going outside of that and talking about leadership and other personal development areas. Then finally we wanted to have outreach with the community. So much of what H-E-B does is not just about H-E-B. It's about the community as a whole. So we've done a couple of different volunteer events or community outreach events. We wanted to target a lot of younger girls as well. We felt like that was a great place to start. So at H-E-B, we have high school interns. We worked a lot with CAST Tech, a school here in San Antonio that's focused around STEM. Once we had those three points it kind of took off from there.

Marsha Faichtinger: Yeah, we were looking to plant those seeds early on so a young girl at high school level could see that this is as a viable option. A lot of what girls saw on television or in an ad at that time was, you know, guys, and so how we started to change that narrative was important.

Chandra Kay Bricker: And Karla what did that mean for you as a member of Women in Tech?

Karla Gross: I was one of those new teams that had no people on it (laughs). I was with Kat recruiting a lot and trying to make sure that we continued to build a diverse team. Being a woman and being in technology for over 20 years now, it was really important to me that I have female applications coming in, that we had people that we could talk to. But also, for me, it was about finding ways to connect with other partners in the organization where we could share stories, share information, and then learn from each other. So it was cool that they came and said: “hey do you want to help us do this?” We just kind of sat down and they gave me their ideas and we said who should we invite and we started that way 

Chandra Kay Bricker: So Karla, I imagine the STEM classrooms of today look a little different than when you were in school getting your degree in engineering?

Karla Gross: Well, when I was in school getting my degree I was the only woman. Everything I did was always with this group of guys or multiple groups of guys and in every class, I was usually the only one. Now I've gone back to the school a few times to connect with some of the new deans and the new engineers coming out, and there's a lot more women—not as many as there could be or that there should be—but there's a lot more. I think more women are finding an interest in it than they did when I was growing up. If it wouldn’t have been for my parents pushing I don't know if that's where I would have ended up. But my father was the one that was like, “You got this go do it.”

Chandra Kay Bricker: So to build a welcoming network of other women who are seeking a career in technology is absolutely critical to our strategy and to our success going forward. So talk to me about these events. What’s a typical Women in Tech event look like? Or what happens?

Kat Bransom: I think probably the number one event that we had wasn't anything super fancy or hard. A lot of what we did was getting H-E-B leaders or Partners to come to speak to our group. And what we try to do was a mixture of both females in tech Partners, and also outside of the tech world. We got some other female leaders at H-E-B to speak to our group. So I think what was really powerful about that is that all of the Partners in our Women In Technology group got to hear from other really powerful talented women, whether it was inside or outside of technology, and just kind of hear their story and their path. I think sometimes as women we think we're the only ones struggling or we’re the only ones that have this problem. “It must be just me.” So, even me not being in technology, you get to see wow this person who's this top leader at H-E-B has this incredible story or this path that got them to where they are today. So just hearing those stories and knowing you're not alone. You're not the only one who is maybe the only woman in their group or you're not the only one that's run across this career problem. Just hearing from other leaders at H-E-B for me was one of the most powerful things that we did and that was a lot of what the meetings were about—just hearing from other leaders and allowing them to kind of share their stories.

Marsha Faichtinger: I think if I'm remembering because we run queries to figure out who's that audience to get the invites out since we were hiring or people were coming and going. I think we were probably around 70ish in the early days as we looked at kind of how we defined who was considered “digital women.” And that included folks in our digital marketing team and our e-commerce team and our technology team—so we were pretty liberal in how we defined that because we wanted to be much more inclusive. And we did ask Partners what they wanted to see and solicited their ideas for topics or leaders. I remember us having Tammy Hermann, one of our directors in technology, come and tell her story. Most people only know of her time at H-E-B and to go back into her entire career history and find out where she's been and what she's done, I think people found that pretty fascinating, to hear things that she had learned or struggled with. I remember planning with her, we had lots of debate and discussion over should we target women in technology. Should you separate that out or not? And I thought that was a great discussion. She tends to say “Oh I don't look for things that are just for women, because I'm just a leader. Why make that distinction?” We had some good debate over that early on. But what we found is there are differences, right? And it was important for the community that we were creating to have a place where they could talk openly and freely with other folks who may have shared some of their similar struggles. Most of them were, just like Karla going to school, on teams where they were the only female or one of two females on the team. It's not like you'd have full teams of other women. And you get in your workgroup and you're just working and a lot of people had never connected with the other teams, so you don't know how many people are out there and how to connect with them and that they're sharing some of the same struggles. We did a great session on mental health. The discussion was fantastic. We watched a couple of TED Talks and then it was amazing how brave these women were about sharing their stories of things that they've struggled with in their lives or their families. And the connection that that created among people who were willing to speak and share freely was pretty amazing

Kat Bransom: The other thing that to tack onto what Marsha was saying is that we got all these women in a room. Some so many people work for H-E-B, it's just impossible to know everybody, but by having this group it allowed us to bring everybody that was in a similar role together to be in one room. And the meetings were always optional so we had a different crowd every time it was never the exact same group of women. It allowed the Partners to form relationships and meet people that they ordinarily would not have been able to meet in their role, which was also a pretty powerful part of the group. Especially now, at the time when we started the group in 2017, all of our technical roles were based in San Antonio. Now over the last two years, we've opened the Eastside Tech Hub in Austin and so now we have two different locations even in San Antonio we have several different locations for different buildings. I think our hope moving forward is that we'll continue to build those relationships even with people that don't work in the same city or that don't work in the same area.

Karla Gross: I think it gives us a chance to network with each other. We're so busy being heads down all the time trying to get the work done. But there are so many people in the same department even that don't even know who each other are. I think it's less about dividing women out and making them a separate group, and more about celebrating their differences, so that's been great.

Chandra Kay Bricker: That’s an absolutely great point. The last question I'm going to ask you, and I'm gonna ask all of you to answer it, is what advice would you give to a female interested in technology who wants to work for a company like H-E-B?

Karla Gross: Be fearless. Go in full-on. Don't hold back. It doesn't matter that you're a woman. Go in.

Kat Bransom: I would say you know if you're looking for an opportunity, try to find a company like H-E-B where they have these types of groups and they have the resources available to you. Being fearless is great, but you want to have people alongside you, so really make sure that as you're looking for a company and you're doing your research that you're finding a company that's going to support your goals and have groups like this that are there to support you as well.

Marsha Faichtinger: I would say I think whenever you're looking for: where do I fit, where do I belong, where do I want to work, trying to figure out you know how do you find an organization that matches your values. That is interesting work for you that you can create a sense of connectedness and community and that there's opportunity. And I think H-E-B brings all of that. We work on really tough problems. We work for a great company that has a focus on the community and doing the right thing of being bold and innovative in many ways and being gritty to solve those problems. So again we've got great work. There are great people here. And we're always looking to figure out how do we do it better.

Chandra Kay Bricker: I couldn't agree more and I think that having a Women in Tech group creates a sense of belonging that so many people are looking for, so thank you all for the work you do. Thanks for being on the mic today. This is your host Chandra Kay Bricker and we're out.

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