Women in Business Q&A: Kristin Kelley, Chief Marketing Officer, Randstad North America

"Women need to stop holding themselves back from applying for that next big job. New opportunities won't just fall in your lap, you have to take the driver's seat in your own career and be vocal about what you want."

Kristin Kelley leads the strategic marketing and communications initiatives to shape Randstad's brand in the states for both the Professionals and Staffing portfolios of business. Under her leadership and direction, Randstad launched its Inspiring Experts campaign, aimed to help bridge the skills gap and educate and inspire students and professionals towards careers in industries with low unemployment rates. In addition, under her direction, Randstad launched an industry leading thought leadership platform called Workforce360 that highlights industry trends and research shaping the world of work. A firm believer in CSR, Kristin volunteers with the International Rett Syndrome Foundation and is a member of the March of Dimes Humanitarian Gala Committee. Additionally, Kristin is a member of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce's Workforce Development Committee and Women's Chamber, as well as an advisor on CareerBuilder's Empowering Employment Steering Committee.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I grew up in a family of professionals and business was always a hot topic at the dinner table. I always knew I would work in a business setting -- my father was an entrepreneur and I remember spending a lot of time at his companies as a child, looking at business from an inside perspective. He was a humble man who showed great empathy to his employees and I've strived to make that practice a part of my own management style. Empathy is sometimes misunderstood, but at its core it's being in tune and showing an appreciation for what drives people. It's understanding the perspectives and needs of those around you, and I believe is a direct driver of performance.

I am also an optimistic person, and I think that plays a big role in how I lead. I believe in positive reinforcement and know that people are capable of great things if cultivated and mentored properly, regardless of where they start. Getting to show an employee how perseverance and hard work can trump all else is very rewarding to me.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Randstad?

I worked in a number of industries before staffing, including video production, financial services and higher education. Those experiences afforded me the opportunity to work in some of the oldest, established industries and ones that are relatively new. I worked for brands that owned the awareness scales in their peer groups and ones that were completely unknown. Each presented its own set of opportunities and challenges and each required a unique marketing perspective. Despite their differences, the marketing fundamentals were always the same.

Throughout my career, I've been able to refine and further develop those skills as the landscape changes. Things like big data, content development and inbound, mobile and word-of-mouth marketing have resulted in customers who expect a hyper-customized conversation. That dialogue changes all the time. How we craft that conversation is the real fine art and science of marketing.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Randstad?

I have been with Randstad over a decade and there have been countless highlights over that time. Randstad is a brand that appreciates marketing, with principles built on integrity and performance. Our company leads with marketing and fundamentally understands the power of a brand. It makes my job much more fulfilling knowing that marketing has become a leading strategic voice that shapes our services instead of a group brought in at the end for packaging.

I've been inspired by Randstad's impact on the evolution of the staffing industry. When I joined years ago, the customer experience was centered on education. Most people didn't know what a staffing company could offer. We were still called head hunters and the approach was very transactional. Today people are far more aware and the experience has become more about flexible solutions. Being part of that transition has been incredibly exciting to me.

Marketing is a great place to be right now because of the dawn of data and digital strategies. Randstad allows us to build, experiment with and pilot amazing, cutting-edge ideas. Every venture certainly also has challenges and I would say for Randstad, we grew fast in the U.S. due both to organic growth and acquisition. Building a solid marketing model to support the size, scope and offerings of the business is a constant work in progress.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in your industry?

Women in the workplace face a new set of opportunities and challenges that differ slightly from our male counterparts. They also differ, in some senses, from the women trailblazers who have been paving the way for us to get here for the last 40 years. The recruitment industry specifically is a great industry for women and one where they can climb to the top of the corporate ladder. There are also great opportunities to align with female sponsors and mentors. Despite these benefits, I feel women limit themselves by not going for the hard ask. They tend to feel they are under-qualified to move up the corporate ladder even if they possess the skills needed for the position.

Women need to stop holding themselves back from applying for that next big job. New opportunities won't just fall in your lap, you have to take the driver's seat in your own career and be vocal about what you want. In Randstad's recent Women Powering Business panel series we heard a lot about the power of networking. It's a chance to build allies and share experiences with others and can help women uncover new opportunities. It also forces them to step out of their comfort zones and interact with people they don't know. That, in turn, can really build confidence and give them the boost they need to tackle new challenges.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

This is one of those questions that means many things to many people. Work/life balance is any model you put in place that allows you to be engaged both at home and in the workplace. What balance is to one is imbalance to another. For me, work/life balance means being able to make it to my child's important event at 4 p.m., knowing I will be online in the late evening to finish the day's work. In today's hyper-connected world, people can work from anywhere. We log in at home, on the road, at the airport and even filter through email at that big Saturday soccer game. In the end, if it works for you, that is balance.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I honestly believe women have never been in a better position to reach their career goals. There are so many things propelling women forward. There are great role models, more female CEOs in traditionally male-dominated industries and more women in highly visible political positions. That said, I do feel there is a big void of women in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). On average, the entry level salary for a STEM career is $78,000 versus the $46,000 national average, yet only 26 percent of STEM jobs are filled by women. Why is there such a disconnect? I feel we need to all take an active role in the solution. We need to have conversations with the young girls in our lives about the possibilities of a career in STEM. Let's create a vision for the professional women of tomorrow and encourage them to take an active interest in STEM-related fields.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentors and sponsors are critical, and I encourage everyone to seek out both. A mentor tends to be more of a sounding board, offering advice and support when it's needed. Sponsors often play a bit more active a role, as they have vested interests in ensuring their protégés succeed. Mentors and sponsors are incredible sources of inspiration, whether to help overcome adversity or provide the encouragement needed to take a calculated risk.

Early in my career I had a mentor and I attribute a lot of where I am today to that individual. I was very lucky to find someone who believed in me, took an active interest in my career goals and positioned me to reach them. My mentor encouraged me to have a voice, stressed that no question was a stupid question and encouraged me to do things I didn't think possible.

What do you want Randstad to accomplish in the next year?

I would like Randstad to continue to use its size and influence to make a difference. As the second largest HR services company in the world, have the ability to heighten awareness around key industry issues and get people to take notice, like the skills shortage in STEM. We are incredibly excited to be a part of the TechHire initiative that President Obama launched this year, and we are serving on a Philadelphia-based task force charged with developing a strategy to close the talent pipeline gap. I want to see us continue to build and nurture relationships with companies and people and continue to make an impact in the world.


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