An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

Set a baseline for where you are: That is critical, because companies often think they’re in one place when it comes to DE&I, but they may actually be somewhere different. You have to get real and understand where you truly are in order to know where you need to go.

– Kristen Harris, VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Hallmark

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Kristen Harris.

Kristen Harris is the Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion for Hallmark. She was previously on a career track in operations at Hallmark when the events summer of 2020 caused her to re-examine her career path. This journey led to her merging her purpose and passion through a new role as Hallmark’s first-ever Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Ispent the majority of my childhood living between the West Coast, Midwest, and Southern regions. I remember my mom was working hard to advance her career, so we moved when a new opportunity was presented and the rest of our family pitched in to help. Both of my parents are very committed to education and self-betterment, and what I saw during those formative years taught me that you can prioritize your career and still have a family at the same time.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson helped me really understand how and why racism is so systemic. It really drove home the point that racism is not just a U.S. problem — it is a problem that exists around the globe. It’s also a learned behavior, and that’s why it’s going to take us generations to unlearn all of it.

When I started my role as Vice President of D&I in 2020, it was my job to elevate our D&I framework across the Hallmark enterprise, which includes Hallmark Cards, Inc., Crayola and Crown Media. It’s a huge undertaking, and reflecting on this book helped me understand that undertaking DEI work is a journey, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Caste expanded my understanding and changed my viewpoint — I am more comfortable in my ability to lead this work where others look to me for guidance, because I have to be. Educating others on how we got here is critical to understanding how we can change for a better future.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Life is like a camera, focus on what is important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” — Anonymous

This is a mantra of mine, because I really do try to be positive in all my intent. The work we do in DE&I is hard, but it’s impactful and necessary.

This quote also reminds me that when you’re in a sticky place in your career or your life, that’s okay. Pivot, figure out how to turn it into an opportunity. You never know, there might be something wonderful just around the corner that you aren’t aware of because you haven’t explored it.

Although I try to always capture the good times, I’m thankful that the Hallmark brand helps people connect in meaningful ways in both the good and the tough times. It enables you to celebrate and know that every single stage and milestone is important. That’s what I really love about brands like ours.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is inspiring others and creating a space for them to thrive.

That’s a huge difference from how some people lead by giving direction and giving directives. I lead more in the space of talking about the purpose and vision behind the work. I want my teams to be part of the process. I want for their individual life experiences, identities and minds to create what that path looks like. That’s how we’ll get the best outcome and end result — by designing inclusivity into the leadership process.

At Hallmark, my leadership team knows that I drive results and thrive in unknown, uncharted territories. Because of this, I have been asked to lead teams through transformation multiple times. From the outset, I’m honest with every team about the realities of what we were facing. We have to build trust around transparency and be open to hearing feedback, listening to the team and wanting them to be part of the process. I’ve seen the most success in transformation and change management when everybody understands and is involved in the outcome.

This approach isn’t going to work in every situation, but when you need everyone to share in and take risks, regardless of their job title or level in the organization, you may consider using this approach to get everyone engaged and ready to contribute.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

How I deal with stress is very situation-dependent.

Yoga helps me focus and get centered. I started doing yoga when the pandemic started — a group of us would do it outdoors. I carry stress in a way that affects me physically, so I’ll do yoga and meditate, recite mantras or even pray and revive my spirituality.

If I’m feeling anxious, I’ll listen to 90’s rap and R&B music. I grew up I the 90’s, so there’s a lot of Tupac, Nas, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, and Brandy in my playlist. I’ll start dancing and reciting lyrics and before long, my head is back in the game. No fear, no limitations, I’ve got this.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. In the summer of 2020, the United States faced a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. Can you share your view on what made the events of 2020 different from racial reckonings in the past?

When I think back to the summer of 2020, the face of activism and who was in the streets protesting, it wasn’t just Black people. There was a lot of allyship and there’s an emerging generation that’s speaking out with a new set of expectations — I was really inspired. We’ve even seen how influential people have used their platforms to say, enough is enough.

When we look back on the past year and a half, what’s really important is how we continue the momentum and leverage the energy we had to keep people focused on those objectives and goals. Let’s use the commitments that have been made to keep our foot on the gas.

Because the reality is that we’ve got a lot more work to do.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

I was able to help create my current role for an organization that I know and care about deeply. Hallmark has a historic commitment to DE&I, and I wanted to build on that work in a way that creates a better future for our employees, our customers and our organization.

One of my first steps was to take our five-point DE&I framework and elevate it across the Hallmark enterprise. Many people aren’t aware that Hallmark also includes Crayola and Crown Media Family Networks, which is home to the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama and the Hallmark Movies Now streaming service. We have 20,000 employees in total across the brands.

My job has been to unify the brands around our DE&I framework and there has been a shift from being the primary voice and lead champion for DE&I to now sitting in a state of the enterprise meeting and other leaders are articulating the goals and objectives. It is being embedded into the organization and everyone owns this as a part of how they do their work. It’s more sustainable and lasting as a part of our business strategy.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Representation on an executive team helps organizations think about their consumers and employee base in ways that are good for the business. You can’t have only one group or type of people in any business that is there to support a consumer base or workforce that’s as diverse as ours. We need to and want to be reflective of our consumers and employees.

It helps drive more innovative design, better critical thinking and builds a culture where all employees, customers, viewers and families can see themselves reflected.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your insights on how businesses can contribute with “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Set a baseline for where you are: That is critical, because companies often think they’re in one place when it comes to DE&I, but they may actually be somewhere different. You have to get real and understand where you truly are in order to know where you need to go.
  2. Engage leadership in the process: Executive leaders, the C-suite and the board of directors need to be aligned that DE&I is critical for every aspect of the business, including revenue/earnings, expanding into new markets and business transformation. Once leadership is aligned to that, their support will move mountains. That’s one of the benefits of the work we’ve done at Hallmark — Diversity and inclusion is now part of everyone’s responsibility and we are all accountable.
  3. Listen: Listening with the intent to learn more about the culture and environment is crucial for individuals and businesses. Understand the importance of allyship and how to show up as an ally for others. Recognize that one person’s experience is different from the next. Most people want to do good and have good intentions, but without this step, you may end up doing things that aren’t helpful, needed or wanted.
  4. Have a clear vision and purpose: At Hallmark, our vision and purpose centers around helping people live caring and connected lives, so DE&I really makes sense and works together with the vision of our business. For example, our media company, Crown Media, is all about authentic storytelling that is reflective of what our country and world looks like. Hallmark also owns Crayola, which helps kids to be artistic and creative, and see themselves reflected in that creativity. Crayola’s Colors of the World product makes perfect sense in the DE&I lens because it has colors that represent skin tones for people from around the world. There are always ways to build DE&I into the vision and purpose of your business — for example, retailers should think about how to authentically speak to consumers. If you’re a tech company, it’s about ensuring that all have connection and access. Even in the transportation industry, you can look at your business through the inclusion lens to make travel accessible for everyone and make destinations all around the world available to all people.
  5. Accountability: Being intentional about setting goals and objectives can help you prioritize DE&I, and also enable you to measure and see where you’ve met those goals and objectives. This process of measurement also helps you understand what behaviors to reinforce that align to the outcomes important to your organization. This refection point where you are accessing progress also provides a natural opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments, which is also important.

How do you feel about the progress made over the past few years — are we heading in the right direction?

We’ve certainly made progress, and it’s exciting to see and hear so many corporations and organizations elevating this work. The fact that we’re still talking about inclusion, representation and equity two years later is a testament to the true commitments that were made at the height of this modern social and racial justice movement. It’s encouraging that we’re still on this journey.

We’ll never be at a stage of completion, but we’ve seen positive movement in this space, not only from a consumer perspective, in terms of representation and marketing, but also from the standpoint of the employee experience within organizations. Right now, we’re in a labor market that favor employees, and they have an expectation that employers are being held accountable. More importantly, they are more likely to stay if companies continue to advance inclusion and belonging.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have coffee, lunch or even take an elevator ride with Sheryl Sandberg. I read her books Lean In and Option B, and both were pivotal to my career and my life. To me, she has been the epitome of representation matters. As she was breaking this glass ceiling, she left a path for other women to follow in her footsteps.

Sheryl Sandberg also sets a great example of what do to when your life plans are disrupted. Adversity is an unfortunate reality but we are stronger and more resilient than we realize. Once you are able to pick up the pieces and move forward, be ready to surrender to an Option B that can also be amazing and fulfilling. It’s quite inspiring to see how she has broken through the grip of loss and grief to a beautiful life that could have never been imagined.

I have a deep desire to help people see the good in their lives, even during difficult times. When I’m mentoring others, I often try to remind them that even if you can’t see the good yet, it may be just around the corner.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!