Diva Tech Talk interviewed Rebekah Bastian, Vice President of Community and Culture at Zillow Group, leading efforts focused on equity and belonging, social impact and cultural engagement. Rebekah was one of Zillow Group's first employees, moving from Microsoft in 2005. She has spent over 13 years leading product development and evolving into her current role.
Rebekah originally started as a music major, but shifted, reassessed, and went back to school taking courses at her local community college. This led to math and physics. Her epiphany was that “[she] can do well at anything [she] works hard at.” Rebekah has been proving that lesson to herself ever since. She encourages others to “work hard at things you enjoy, are passionate about, and things you are good at.” She transferred to the University of Washington where she completed her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and continued on to UC Berkley, for a masters in that field. She applied to Microsoft and her work included development of the pervasive Outlook email platform.
Subsequently she found Zillow Group, which was in full start-up mode and working under the radar. She took a flyer because she had faith in the founders, Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, from their success with Expedia. Ultimately, Rebekah loved the mission of Zillow Group, the ability to start something from scratch, and the chance to get experience with many different roles.
She began working on the first version of the Zillow website, which has since become the largest real estate marketplace in the U.S. Rebekah worked on building product until about 8 years ago, when she was promoted into people management. As she progressed, leaders under her grew. She was able to launch a side project, paving the way for her current role.
Zillow Group’s diversity program began by reviewing how to build diverse points of view and people’s experiences into the organization, while shaping culture more intentionally. Rebekah also starting thinking about how she could use the Zillow platform to solve social issues like access for underserved populations to fair, affordable housing. This community work is her real passion. Rebekah believes in setting employees up for success by removing barriers while affording autonomy. She benefited from this philosophy personally with her own side projects at Zillow Group. Based on the introduction of the Apple iPhone, she assisted on a project that led to the mobile Zillow application. When it launched, it got attention from Apple and gained fast popularity. Zillow Group created the formal mobile team and she became its first mobile product manager. This opened more doors for her career.
In her Community and Culture Vice President role, Rebekah organizes and leads the Zillow Group team focused on equity and belonging, cultural engagement, housing stability, and social impact. She believes “power comes from combining these components together” into one unit. That team creates a space where everyone can bring their best selves to thrive at work. This includes hiring diverse employees, and ensuring that after onboarding, they possess a strong sense of community. There are also affinity equity networks, and a team of “Equity and Belonging” ambassadors. The ambassadors receive tools, resources, and through those, offer support for “every employee in the community to apply an equity lens to their line of work.” Zillow Group is also encouraging internal mobility within the company, bringing everyone to a level playing field for success despite any past inequities in backgrounds.
Rebekah believes no organization has proposed and implemented the perfect formula for leadership in diversity, community, inclusion, especially in corporate tech. Rebekah professes that she “love[s] problems that need to be solved that haven’t been totally figured out yet because that is what we do at Zillow Group, --- innovate! We need to be bringing everyone along.” More importantly, “everyone is on the equity and belonging team. It can’t be just one team of a few people doing this work for the company. We have to create systemic change.”
Active prioritizing is key when there are so many ideas and directions for a team like this. Rebekah’s product manager experience/role comes into play as she handles the sheer backlog of potential projects that fall under this mission. The team examines metrics on where they are and where they are trying to go to select the most impactful projects aligned with overall strategy. Reviewing employee engagement can help, so she gets that data through various surveys. “In term of deciding the exact priority, you want to have a big vision of where you are trying to go. Zillow Group wants to create a space where every employee can be heard” and positively impact everyone with whom Zillow interacts.
Zillow Group also created an internal pathways model called “get involved” so every Zillow team member can easily get immersed in equity and belonging, and give back, or just have fun. They use various technology and channels to share these opportunities. This work is exciting for Rebekah. For example, “Kids Day of Engineering” is an annual Zillow Group event where employees bring their children to participate in engineering activities. Another example is Zillow Group’s “Community Pillar” which takes the rental marketplace and allows individuals with credit or rental barriers find housing --- a great example of “incremental work that can be done on top of an existing product to create a new feature that can solve social issues.” Overall, the approach is to “creates pathways for everyone to get involved. We are really trying to channel all the passion and skills our employees have to do some great work.” Rebekah exclaimed.
Rebekah believes every woman should “speak up and advocate” for herself “asking for what she wants.” Her career breakthroughs began by simply asking. On the topic of balance, Rebekah finds times for things like aerial acrobatics as a “physical outlet, social outlet, and creative outlet.” Rebekah is a big fan of making a list to help her keep everything straight as a mother, leader, and philanthropist.
Rebekah ended the Diva Tech Talk interview with one of favorite quotes, from the Girl Scouts: “Leave it better than you found it.” She thinks that can be “applied to anything you are doing and is needed in our world today.”
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