Senior Principal Kristen Bailey has spent her life in various East Coast cities, from Atlanta to NYC, and currently resides in DC. Since beginning her professional career, she has moved no fewer than seven times. Her favorite abode: a Manhattan apartment nestled between Washington and Union Squares. She fondly recalls being part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Leaving the house each morning with her beloved Yorkie, Finnegan, she would pick up coffee from the corner deli (where Finnegan was always permitted inside), exchange greetings with the owner of the local drycleaners, and socialize with fellow regulars at the dog park. But don’t be fooled. As much as Kristen values community, she isn’t afraid to venture into the unknown. Since catching the travel bug in her twenties on her first trip abroad to Italy, she has embarked on many a fantastic international adventure.
How did you get into this work?
I was first introduced to collaborative Design Sessions as a Senior Manager at Ernst & Young in 1999. At the time I was focused on the emerging field of ERP systems implementation. The scope and complexity of these projects posed an entirely new set of challenges for organizations; successful implementation required company-wide alignment and integration (no more silos) and serious change management know-how. Ernst & Young had developed a facility designed to address exactly these types of challenges by bringing together a large number of stakeholders and providing a framework within which they could share and understand each other’s perspectives in order to align on a path forward. After witnessing first-hand the power of these workshops, I knew I wanted to help bring the process to more people. I reached out and asked to become trained as a facilitator.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love connecting people with one another and giving them a truly human experience. In today’s world we rely heavily on technology to communicate. This can limit us to exchanging in bits and bytes and often has an isolating effect. I believe we learn and process information best through face-to-face dialogue. This type of discourse enables us to get to something much deeper and more profound. It is why people love book clubs. I can read a great novel, but nonetheless quickly forget it. However, if I have the opportunity to talk with others about it, I understand and remember it far more. Through this work, I regularly have the opportunity to bring people together to share ideas, to connect, and to create something new and meaningful together. People find joy in this type of experience and it’s not unusual for someone to say, “This is one of the best things I’ve been a part of in this job, or even in my career.” I believe this enjoyment stems from the human connection combined with a productive outcome—it’s what keeps me and this kind of work going.
What are a few creative interventions of which you are especially proud?
Some of my most meaningful work has focused on supporting companies in their efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion (D&I). Over the past few years I have partnered with one of the leading companies in this area to design and facilitate their annual Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) summit. The intent of this event is to share the valuable impact that these employee-led affinity groups have had on the enterprise. Rather than center the event on a lengthy readout of key accomplishments, we strive to encourage interaction among members of the ERGs and senior leadership (including the CEO) and to help them use visuals and storytelling to bring to life how their work delivers significant change for the company, their customers, and their communities. The effect is that people are able to truly learn from one another and to see the magnitude the ERGs efforts in the company and feel inspired.
Working with companies at the beginning stages of developing their D&I strategy is powerful as well. We’ve been working with a global news media company who recently hired their first Chief Diversity Officer, a woman who brings the vision, belief, and moxie to fully realize the opportunity to improve business performance by building an inclusive culture. We helped design a listening tour where she met in-person with 570+ employees around the globe in an informal and safe setting to uncover insights, hear what was on people’s minds, and mine priorities for change. It sent a message that the organization was serious about diversity and inclusion and cared about what people were experiencing. We documented and synthesized the insights and recommended actions to effectively engage leadership and the broader organization in the next steps and keep the momentum going.
At a time when there is divisiveness on a national and global level, these companies can lead by example and play an important role in making people feel safe and supported in being their authentic selves. It’s inspiring to be a part of this.
You do the majority of your work in the healthcare industry. How come?
I am a survivor of colon cancer—the same cancer my mother died of when she was 43—and I am really grateful to be alive and healthy 16 years after being diagnosed. In battling cancer, I experienced firsthand the wonders of modern medicine, but also its shortcomings—it took me years to regain my quality of life. Luckily, healthcare companies are working hard to shift focus from exclusively targeting illness to supporting people in living healthy, fulfilling lives. The industry is coming to see that treating a patient with diabetes isn’t just about reducing A1C levels in the blood; it is about understanding the goals, needs and values of that individual. This holistic approach requires understanding the patient as someone who cares about being able to take his morning walk or see her loved ones graduating from college and getting married. I believe that this commitment to go beyond pharmaceutical solutions to focus treatment on enabling people do the things that are most important to them is elevating healthcare. And I hope that in some small way we have been part of helping move companies in this direction.
In addition to work, what do you love doing?
Outside of work, my biggest passion is travel. I try to take one big trip a year with my good friend, Betsy, who shares my love for exploring new places. Last year we chose the Galapagos Islands, which turns out to be a pretty physically demanding place to go. You need to be hiking or out in the water to truly experience the magic of the islands and wildlife. From a quality of life perspective, this trip really made me appreciate both my health and the beauty the world has to offer if you’re willing to get out there and see it. I climbed up lava rocks and saw blue footed boobies with their bright aqua feet. I sailed and snorkeled catching sight of sharks, seahorses, stingrays, sea lions, and even a whale. I met incredible locals who were so generous in sharing their lives and environment.
Betsy and I are headed to Japan this month and I can’t wait to take in the history and beauty of Kyoto, sample lots of sushi in Tokyo, and dip in the hot springs in Hakone. While I certainly appreciate the diversity of the places I go, I also learn more and more that there is a common thread that unites all of us.