Kiva R. Wilson, formerly SVP of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, is now Chief Culture Officer at Material. She steps into the role with more than 16 years of DE&I strategy and implementation experience, including senior roles at Facebook and the Peace Corps.
Here, she tells us about the challenges of creating a company culture in 2022, the importance of DE&I, and how her background as a drummer helps her track the pulse of a large organization.
1. First of all, what exactly is culture, and how do you define it in the post-pandemic workplace?
Culture is sometimes defined as the set of predominant attitudes and behaviors that characterize a group or organization. In other words, culture is about how we show up as a collective. From the employee perspective, it’s about how you feel when you work. How do you experience the people you work with? Do you feel that you’re valued and have space to do your best work? Our workplace culture is shared and pervasive, and each one of us shapes it and carries it as we go forward.
We’re in the knowledge economy, and people and their unique thinking are our most valuable asset, as well as the foundation upon which we operate. Information and knowledge sharing need to take different forms, because if knowledge is our commodity, we’ve got to be more intentional about sharing our resources. A culture of open communication and consistent information sharing becomes non-negotiable.
2. How does your background in equity, diversity, and inclusion influence your ideas about the role of a Chief Culture Officer?
Working in diversity and inclusion has helped me develop my listening abilities, be humble, and be comfortable with the need to constantly iterate. There’s no silver bullet. I say this all the time, but I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. My instinct is to go to where the microphone is not normally passed, which means that where I start my listening and learning journey is probably a bit different than where somebody else might start.
From a diversity and inclusion standpoint, remote work is a game changer, because it allows us to equip more of the company to engage and be thought partners. On Zoom, for example, every tile is the same size. You create a space for folks who are not verbal processors to throw things into the chat. I think the shift to virtual meetings has disrupted individual and group habits enough to recalibrate some of the power dynamics that went completely unchecked in the past. There are so many complex variables, but virtual interactions create an opportunity for us to equalize a bit more intentionally.
3. What are the challenges of creating a workplace culture when there’s no centralized physical office space?
I don’t believe that culture dies with physical office spaces, but in 2022 we’re still learning how to shape company culture in an era of remote and hybrid work. Not being in the same physical spaces forces us to think about whether there is more to culture than what posters are up on the wall and what snacks we offer. It’s how we experience each other, how we share our thoughts, and how we collaborate.
Storytelling is even more important in the remote workplace because it helps us connect to what our colleagues have experienced and are experiencing. Storytelling is going to be a critical part of our culture going forward, because it communicates the importance of sharing feelings, not just information. That’s a non-negotiable for making a 1,400-person entity feel connected and thrive.
4. What are your goals and benchmarks for success as Chief Culture Officer?
Our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals include assessing the percentage of employees who feel a sense of belonging here, both on their teams and throughout the company at large. What percentage of folks feel like they are growing in this organization, for example? What percentage feel like their voices are heard, that their team values different perspectives, and that they have a chance to make meaningful contributions?
Another goal is to study our general representation. We have a very data-oriented approach to answering these questions, and I’m juggling a lot of data points right now. We’re looking into cool, new ways to approach data-visualization. It’s really important that Material represents the diversity of our clients and their consumers.
5. You’re a percussionist—how does that impact your new role?
I trained on timpani and played in a band in grad school and in large ensembles in church. I still play the drums, much to my wife’s chagrin. It’s an electric set and I have headphones, but it just takes up a lot of space. When listening to music, some people always hear the words, but I hear the pulse first. As culture officer, it’s my job to measure the pulse of the organization.
A culture officer should be supporting people, and that in turn will support the organization. I want to see what’s working—and what’s not working—and then go back, listen again, test it out, and try again. And I want to find the balance between fun and focus, because I feel strongly that they can co-exist. The role of a Chief Culture Officer is to care about the whole person, and at Material we are focused on wellbeing. That’s the foundation of a workplace culture where radical collaboration, the joy of building, and hustle and heart is at the core of everything we do.