In her first 12 years at Zillow Group, Rebekah Bastian juggled career and a variety of volunteering and mentoring roles. She also incorporated do-gooding endeavors into her job as VP of Product at the online real estate company, including starting Zillow’s Community Pillar program, which pairs people with less-than-stellar housing applications with more empathetic landlords.
Then last month, Zillow gave Bastian the opportunity to more fully combine her social-minded interests with her profession, creating and assigning to her the role of VP of Community and Culture.
Bastian said her goal is “creating the space and opportunities for all our employees to bring their full selves to the table, and ensure that we are fully leveraging the diverse backgrounds, passions and skills of our employees to achieve great results and to enrich our internal and external communities.”
That includes encouraging people to propose projects like Community Pillar that serve a social need as well as expand Zillow’s offerings.
The initiatives are likely to boost morale, but also benefit the bottom line, Bastian said.
“There are certainly some clear business drivers and data that show better business outcomes from having diverse employees and bringing those voices to the table. From a business standpoint that is fairly easy to argue for,” she said. And Bastian wants to measure the outcomes herself. “I’m excited about the data we can get from our own experience at Zillow Group. I want to take a metrics-heavy approach in addressing these issues.”
Outside of Zillow, Bastian is on the board of Bellwether Housing, an organization focused on creating housing affordability, and on the advisory board for the University of Washington Mechanical Engineering school, her undergrad alma mater. She’s also a startup advisor, and does public speaking, mentoring and writes about her experiences.
She cites numerous sources for her inspiration to engage on so many issues.
“I’m inherently a problem solver and there are a lot of social issues that need solving — that in itself is attractive to me,” she said. “And when I became a mom, that definitely changed my perspective in a big way. I suddenly started looking at everyone as being somebody’s baby.”
We caught up with Bastian for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Seattle (I work downtown and live in the Ballard neighborhood)
Computer types: MacBook Pro
Mobile devices: iPhone X
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “My most used apps are Audible, Slack, Evernote, Lyft, Sonos, Facebook, Words with Friends and, of course, the Zillow apps. I also use a combination of Google Suite and iCloud for most of my file storage and sharing.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “Having worked at Zillow for more than 12 years, I have a lot of desk décor accumulated. I prefer to describe it as ‘sentimental’ rather than ‘hoarding.’ One of my favorite decorations is a timeline of my business cards over the years (including an aerial acrobatics business card a friend made me). It’s fun to look back on my career journey so far.
Our office is an open space concept with amazing views of the Puget Sound and downtown, and lots of light. It’s great for collaboration and inspiration, and I keep my noise-canceling headphones handy for the times I need to really focus.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “I try to fill my life with endeavors that I am passionate about and people that I care about — it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by the volume of things I’m doing. And then I make lots of lists — as long as a task is on my list I can keep it from cycling through my head, allowing me to be more in the moment.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I use LinkedIn and Twitter for work, and Facebook for keeping up with friends.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “I try to keep it from scrolling, so usually under 10 by the end of the day. When I worked at Microsoft on the Outlook team, we referred to two types of people: Filers and Pilers. I’m 100 percent a filer.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “I just counted this week, and it’s 44. Wow. The meeting volume has been insane since moving into my new role, as I’m meeting with employees throughout the company to understand their experiences and ideas. It’s super fun and interesting, and I’m expecting it will simmer down a bit at some point.”
How do you run meetings? “I’m increasingly trying to find ways to get all the voices in the room heard, and keeping the louder/more frequent voices from dominating the conversation (full disclosure: I can be one of the loud ones). I don’t think we can fully realize the benefit of hiring employees with diverse backgrounds and perspectives until we can successfully get all their voices at the table.”
Everyday work uniform? “Usually some combination of jeans/boots/scarves/sweaters this time of year. And fancy braids — those are my signature style. I like to think the same spatial reasoning skills from my mechanical engineering background are what make me an advanced hair braider!”
How do you make time for family? “I’m pretty good about making time for our full family: my husband and our two boys (ages four and six). I get my kids ready and take them to school in the morning, I leave work in time to pick them up, and I hold evenings and weekends pretty sacred for family time. To be honest, I don’t get as much alone time with my husband as I would like, but we do try to prioritize date nights. And I am sadly aware that this young kid phase moves fast, so I just try to appreciate the current intensity as being sweet and fleeting.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I do aerial acrobatics. I’ve been training for the past 10 years at Versatile Arts, and try to perform at least a few times a year (used to be much more before kids). It’s my physical outlet, creative outlet and social outlet all rolled into one, so it’s a very efficient way of decompressing. I usually leave a practice feeling both less stressed and more badass than when I got there.”
What are you listening to? “My 4-year-old is going through a long Paul Simon phase (third-generation fan) so we listen to him a lot. And I’m always listening to whatever song I am working on an aerial acrobatics routine to at the time — visualizing it when I can’t be practicing (most recently that was a Jack White and Alicia Keys duo for a Spy vs. Spy act). Other than that I’m a big fan of our local independent radio station KEXP, and love discovering new music that way.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I subscribe to the Fortune raceAhead newsletter to keep up on culture and diversity topics, The Evergrey newsletter for Seattle news, and of course the GeekWire newsletter to stay on top of the local tech scene!”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “I just started ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a nice little exploration of the inevitable future of humanity that my dad recommended to me. We like to share light reads with each other!”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I’m naturally a night owl, but since having kids I’ve been forced into an early riser lifestyle. And since I really need my eight hours of sleep, that means I’m usually in bed by 10.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “I’m a brainstormer. I just keep churning through crazy ideas — both in my head and outloud — and occasionally good ones emerge. Then I shout, ‘I have an idea!’ and everyone knows to run and hide.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Peggy Olson from ‘Mad Men.’ She broke through glass ceilings, kept her cool in contentious situations, acted with integrity and carried herself with stylish professionalism.”