Chief Human Resources Officer, Anderson Holdings
As Chief Human Resource Officer, AWE Leader Kristina Guillen leads all aspects of HR at Anderson Holdings, a private, family-owned, diversified holding company with more than 25 subsidiaries and primary locations in Southern California, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We sat down with Kristina to talk about bias towards women in the workplace, growing up in a military family, and her passion for building global teams.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Kristina. Did you always plan on having a career in Human Resources? Or what led you down that path?
When I was in my undergraduate program at Rice University I had a phenomenal professor who was a coach and mentor to me. Her focus was in industrial and organizational psychology, essentially the psychology of work and organizations. She asked me to partner with her so a lot of my undergraduate research was on how people are treated in the workplace and how they may be treated differently if they were women or part of the LGBTQ+ community. I did my undergraduate thesis on the effects of hiring decisions based on childbearing status for men and women. It was really interesting and really started my interest in this type of work.
The importance of sponsors and mentors cannot be overstated! What did this research reveal to you about the kind of work you wanted to do?
In my first job out of undergrad, during a leadership development program, I kept thinking back to some of the things that I learned and wondered “Are we leveraging talent the best way we can? Are we getting the best candidates for the organization? How are we broaching human resource topics?” It really made me realize that I enjoyed doing this in real life versus in an academic setting so that’s when I decided to go back to school and enroll in Cornell University’s Strategic Human Resource Management graduate program at the School of Industrial Labor Relations.
It saddens me, though it doesn’t surprise me, that women face a lot of the same challenges today that you wrote about in your undergraduate thesis. Childbearing status shouldn’t continue to disproportionately affect women in the workplace.
No, it shouldn’t. In our research, we found that women who were in a childbearing state whether they had children or were pregnant were hired at a lower rate than men, even if their credentials were exactly the same. There was a bias towards women in general and an assumption that childbearing or child-rearing activities would fall on women and, therefore, made them less attractive candidates. Men should say, “I have to leave for a soccer game or I have to go to a ballet recital.” Men and women should make it known that they play a role outside of the company and normalize saying, “I’m a caregiver. I have parents I care for. I have children I care for.” We all have these responsibilities and we’re honored to have them be part of our lives.
As reported by Hispanic Magazine, by the time you were in the fifth grade, you had lived in Kansas, Arizona, Mississippi, Texas, and Panama due to being a self-proclaimed “military brat”. Do you think spending your childhood split between so many cities and countries had an affect on how you show up to work every day?
I would say so. I moved around quite a bit so I was always changing friends and environments. For me, it made me very open to different people, different places, and different cultures and that’s something I’ve always carried with me. When I worked for The Coca-Cola Company, for example, I was on a plane traveling half of the month all over the world. To me it was always very exciting going from India to Myanmar to Vietnam and then back home again. I learned a lot personally as well as professionally so, yes, I think the way I grew up served me by exposing me to people and culture early on.
Being exposed to different cultures is essential for human resource personnel to experience, especially for global HR executives. As a global HR executive yourself, how do you create inclusive cultures so that everyone feels a sense of belonging with the team when you have obvious barriers such as geography and language to contend with?
When I worked at Coca-Cola, everywhere around the world, regardless of where I had the pleasure of waking up that morning, all our employees woke up ready to make sure that Coca-Cola was a respected global brand. But how that happened was a very local decision. The way Coca Cola comes to life during Chinese New Year is very different from how it comes to life in Dubai or Ho Chi Minh City. We always wanted to make sure employees had that global connection but then, ultimately, it’s still very local.
I love that you have a global mindset but respect the local culture without trying to push a Western agenda.
To be an effective leader you have to be understanding and realize that you can’t tackle the challenges all the same way. For example, the concept of D.E.I. is very different across the world than it is in the U.S. You have to be thinking, “What is the experience that we want for the people within a particular country or company that is specific to them?”
That’s a great point. Can you give me an example of one of those experiences?
The progress that we could make in Singapore, for example, is very different from the progress we could make in rural India. Sometimes it was a matter of creating the infrastructure so women could have accessible bathrooms so they wouldn’t have to spend their entire break walking across an entire plant. Ultimately, you still want to have conversations around what the leadership team looks like at the top, how many women are employed, etc. These are conversations you should be having everywhere so we make progress.
Is there a particular area of human resources that you enjoy or focus on more than others?
I lead all aspects of HR at Anderson Holdings. I have a great team that helps me but I would say the areas I gravitate to, because they are passion points for me, are talent development, engagement and D.E.I. I am always strategizing. How do we develop the right people into leadership positions? How do we identify high potential talent and strategically bring them into the organization? How do we create the right environment where people feel connected to the business, into the purpose that we’re trying to achieve? I spend a lot of my time doing that type of work.
Can you tell me about your membership as an AWE Leader?
This is my fourth year as an AWE Leader. AWE has given me amazing opportunities to meet and network with amazing women across industries. AWE has been an extremely supportive and collaborative environment. I was new to L.A. when I joined so it was a great opportunity to build a personal network. In addition, I really appreciated the coaching opportunities with AWE as well. To have access to coaching at a time when I was going through transitions in my career was a tremendous help. I was ecstatic to get back to the dinners we had regularly, pre-pandemic. Some of my favorite informal ways to connect is breaking bread and hearing about all these amazing women who are doing amazing things in fantastic roles.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.