Don’t be afraid or ashamed to advocate for yourself. We often shy away from talking about our successes or asking for a raise. If you aren’t advocating for yourself no one will know about your accomplishments. I learned this the hard way and missed out on a significant bonus as a result
Asa part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Moret.
Marisa has over 25 years of experience as a lawyer, advocate and strategic advisor to businesses, entrepreneurs and government officials. She is a proven executive manager who expertly manages multiple activities, programs and areas of focus — creating clarity and structure out of chaos and disorganization. She is recognized for her extensive network and her ability to connect people and build profitable relationships with diverse constituencies, including community groups, government officials and business leaders. Marisa currently is a Director at Airbnb where she serves as Chief of Staff to Airbnb’s Vice President of Global Policy and Communications. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the 200+ person team that manages multidisciplinary media and advocacy campaigns to engage all relevant stakeholders, including national and local governments, advocacy groups, the media, communities and hosts around the world. These initiatives and campaigns seek to create the best operating environment for Airbnb’s innovative and evolving business models to grow and thrive in jurisdictions around the world. Marisa has also served as the Airbnb’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and as a Senior Policy Manager, where she was responsible for government, political and community affairs in the United States.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Igrew up in southern California and spent many years working on political campaigns. My father was a political activist and on weekends he would often have my sisters and me join him at political campaign events. I learned from an early age the importance of political participation and political power. When I was in high school I had the opportunity to be part of the CHCI internship program in Washington, DC and work in the office of Congressman Esteban Torres who represented my hometown. It was a life-changing experience and as a result, I decided I wanted to go to college in DC.
I was fortunate to attend Georgetown University where there is a strong focus on public service and community involvement, and later, UCLA Law School. Although I was drawn to policy work, I made a calculated decision that a law degree could provide a lot more opportunities. For the early part of my career, I was a litigator and the skills I developed ultimately strengthened my policy work. Although I was very “successful” by most standards and had made partner at my law firm as a young woman, I wasn’t fulfilled or excited about a long-term career in a big law firm. While I began to think about “what’s next” there was an election for the San Francisco City Attorney and a friend asked me to help on the Dennis Herrera campaign. I ended up volunteering, which ultimately led to a job offer. It was in this position that I experienced the power of law and the ability to impact long term policy. I was at the forefront of cases of national importance such as marriage equality, affordable healthcare, consumer rights and environmental protection. I never would have thought that volunteering on another campaign could lead to finding the intersection of law and policy I was looking for. This is why I believe it’s important to take risks, put in the hours, and see where unconventional paths can lead you.
I was as surprised as anyone to wind up at a Silicon Valley startup. I didn’t think that being at a senior level in my career, with a background in law and policy, that Airbnb would be a fit for me. But, once I started doing research about the commitment the company has to work with local governments and learned more about their mission and values, I knew it was a place I could call home. I wasn’t shy or intimidated to reach out to anyone and everyone I knew and bounce ideas off of them to help me break into the tech industry. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be fearless and just ask for help!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredible challenge for the hospitality industry. At one point in the spring, an estimated one-third of the world’s population was under lockdown and these global shutdowns had a devastating effect on our hosts, many of whom depend on hosting to make ends meet. The entire year of 2020 has been the most interesting time, ever. And while Airbnb’s business hasn’t recovered to where it was pre-pandemic, it is recovering. Despite the lockdowns, the desire to travel never went away. People still want to explore — they’re just staying closer to home. This summer, most trips on Airbnb were within 300 miles of the guests’ home. I saw this first-hand. I am an Airbnb host and my family home is listed on the platform. This summer, we hosted a multi-generational family for three weeks because they wanted to get out of the city, and they decided our Airbnb, located just a few hundred miles away, was the perfect spot.
As challenging as this year has been, it’s also been inspiring to see the creative solutions our team has come up with to support hosts. For example, Airbnb employees started a fund in March to provide direct assistance to hosts, donating $1 million out of their own pockets. After donations from our founders and investors, the fund grew to $17 million and provided grants to thousands of hosts to help them pay their bills, rent or mortgage. Our host community has also stepped up in the midst of the pandemic to support frontline responders. In April we launched Frontline stays, a program to allow hosts to share their homes with those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, frontline workers have booked more than 210,000 nights in free or subsidized accommodations as part of the program. It’s inspiring to see communities around the world come together to help those who need our support during these unprecedented times.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I learned early on how important it is to really focus and pay close and careful attention when you are completing important tasks. Many years ago, I was the Treasurer for an elected official’s political campaign which meant I was responsible for managing all of the money he raised for his election. A big milestone is year-end fundraising and we spent weeks asking donors to support the candidate’s campaign which resulted in a significant amount of money being raised in a very short period of time. Since this was in December, it was also the height of holiday planning, shopping and celebrations. I had a very long “to-do list” and was definitely juggling too many things. As a result, I accidentally misplaced $50,000. I had placed the envelope with the checks safely in a shopping bag but accidentally left that bag in a parking lot while I was loading my car. When I got to the bank to deposit the checks, I realized my mistake and needless to say, I panicked. It took me 30 mins to drive back to the parking lot and thankfully, the bag with the checks was still there where I had parked. This mistake, fortunately, had a good ending, which is the only reason I can laugh about it now, but it did teach me the importance of focusing, paying attention and staying present, because small mistakes can literally be very expensive! We often try to do too much at once instead of focusing on a specific task to complete it well, and that is certainly a lesson I learned that day many years ago!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Many years ago, someone shared some advice to build my own personal Board of Advisors, which is just a group of trusted friends and mentors who I could consult with and expect honest feedback from. Since then, I have always relied on a small circle of very close friends and confidants who I can turn to when I need help working through problems or challenges. They give me unfiltered advice, coach me through difficult situations, and keep me grounded and honest regarding my values.
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?
I always make sure I am over-prepared for any stressful, high stakes situation. As a young lawyer, I regularly had to appear in court and as a result, I developed good preparation habits that I still use today. I always make an outline of my talking points and often write out specifically what I want to say. I try to memorize key messaging and talking points so that if nerves do get the best of me, I don’t forget critical information that needs to be conveyed. And depending on the occasion, I may actually do a mock presentation to get direct feedback. Of equal importance, some form of physical workout is always an essential part of my preparation — jogging, cycling or yoga. Exercise helps me to clear and focus my mind and reduce any extra anxiety or stress.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. 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?
I always keep in mind the many people who have dedicated their lives to the relentless pursuit of true equality for all and not just in words, but in actions. As the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, that means that both our workforce and consumers are more diverse as well. If companies want to thrive and have their products and services effectively reach a broad consumer audience, then their executive teams must reflect this diversity. At Airbnb, we recently announced new internal diversity commitments, including that 20% of our Board of Directors and Executive Team, collectively, will be people of color by the end of 2021.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Corporations and their leaders need to embrace diversity as part of their mission. One of the reasons I was drawn to Airbnb is because at the heart of its mission is the idea that people are fundamentally good and every community is a place where you can belong. At Airbnb, we believe that diversity is essential to building a world that is inclusive. But you can’t just have good intentions, you have to take action. Airbnb is both a company and a community, and we are working to increase the diversity of both. One of the ways we’re approaching this is through partnering with LULAC and NAACP to bring the economic benefits of hosting to communities of color. And in addition to the diversity goals Airbnb has set for our board and executive team, we are also in the process of setting specific recruitment and retention goals for teams to be met by the end of 2025.
Airbnb is also deeply committed to fighting discrimination and bias. Some of the steps we’ve taken include creating and enforcing a Community Commitment and Nondiscrimination Policy. Since 2016, we have removed 1.3 million users from the Airbnb platform after they declined to agree to the Nondiscrimination Policy. We have also introduced new policies, upgraded enforcement and support for incidents, worked to increase our internal diversity, have active engagement with civil rights partners and communities of color, and continue to develop new approaches to fight bias and discrimination. We recently announced Project Lighthouse, a new initiative to measure and fight bias and discrimination on the Airbnb platform. We know we have more work to do to build a more equitable platform, and we’re working toward making more progress on this front.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a Chief of Staff does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As Chief of Staff on the Global Policy and Communications team, I work closely with our Senior Vice President Chris Lehane and our leadership team to ensure time, resources, information and decision processes are aligned and driving our team’s strategic goals and priorities forward. It is both an operational and strategic role and can vary from being an air traffic controller to a confidant. How it translates into day to day is liberating our leaders from daily, more routine tasks and delegating these to others, anticipating problems and removing hurdles, following up and following through on projects assigned, and being a sounding board for my boss…a leader behind the leader.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Chief of Staff. Can you explain what you mean?
I think the biggest myth is people assume I oversee a large staff, because of the title. People are often surprised when they hear how small my team is and that people management is not a very big part of the role. Another myth is the idea that I just oversee my boss’s schedule; because I often act as his surrogate in meetings, I actually have to learn his job and how to effectively convey and execute his vision.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I was fortunate to be raised to be strong and confident but I still often doubt myself when I am in a professional setting as do many of my women colleagues. The highest ranks of business are still very much of an insiders club and we still have to fight societal expectations that remain in the business setting. Not to mention, the pressure we put on ourselves to make sure we don’t inadvertently close the door for women coming up the ranks. It’s a balancing act to be fully integrated into an executive suite while keeping true to your authentic feminine self.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I joined Airbnb, I was particularly interested in the creative challenge of finding policy solutions that would encourage innovation. I was also drawn to the fast-paced environment and the excitement of the startup world. I think what I am most surprised about is that the job is more fast-paced than I ever expected and just how wide the range of issues I deal with on a daily basis. Working for a global company where teammates are working around the world and across time zones, it’s hard to know where the workday begins and ends. I also did not expect that I would interact with our host community as much as I do. My work (at least pre-pandemic) requires quite a bit of travel and I always stay in an Airbnb. In doing so, I have met so many of our hosts, people who rent out their homes on our platform and have been able to experience their communities in an authentic and local way. As a result, I was inspired to list my family home on Airbnb and picked up some really great tips from the Airbnb community on how to be a great host.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
In my opinion, to be an executive you have to be comfortable leading and inspiring people. It isn’t about just having a title or making more money. It is an enormous responsibility. You have to be able to articulate and execute a vision, be decisive, build and motivate a team, and also hold yourself and your team accountable. Not everyone is comfortable with this type of responsibility — and that’s okay too. There are many successful leaders that are not executives but still have amazing and impactful contributions to the overall success of an organization. Not everyone can be the boss.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
First and foremost, it is important to know your team and build trusted relationships. I have found that the more I get to know my team on a personal level, the more comfortable people are in their environment. I also think it is important to show your own vulnerability and humility, whether it is admitting to my mistakes or acknowledging when things don’t go well as I had planned or hoped. By doing this, my team has shared that they feel more empowered to take calculated risks. I also recommend hosting brainstorming sessions to create a forum to encourage those who may not be comfortable sharing their ideas. Currently, in this new environment of working from home, I am being as flexible, accessible and supportive as possible to enable team members to adjust and flourish in spite of the challenges of this new reality.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Having benefited from so many mentors, I prioritize my time with students and colleagues who often ask for help in navigating their careers. Recently, I have also been actively helping colleagues who were impacted by layoffs at our company and opening up my network to help them find new opportunities. I also volunteer by serving on community boards. Currently, I serve on the advisory boards of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Latinas in Tech and the US Spain Council.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- First, invest in yourself. Never forget that you are your biggest asset, financially and otherwise, so never stop investing in yourself. The average career is 40 years long so make it a priority to continue to learn and grow. Take classes within your field or learn a new skill. Attend conferences and networking events. Ask for constructive feedback. Get a mentor, hire a coach and consult with a financial planner. All three of these have been essential to my success.
- Be kind and caring with yourself. We are taught to be kind to others, but we often forget to be kind to ourselves. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Drink plenty of water and get your annual physical checkups and give yourself permission to slow down. I once had a minor health issue that was brought on by stress and could have easily been prevented had I taken better care of myself.
- Don’t be afraid or ashamed to advocate for yourself. We often shy away from talking about our successes or asking for a raise. If you aren’t advocating for yourself no one will know about your accomplishments. I learned this the hard way and missed out on a significant bonus as a result.
- Be willing to take on projects that may not seem “glamorous.” Sometimes the most unglamorous project turns out to be very impactful or important. They also help build foundational skills and knowledge that will set you up for greater responsibilities.
- Live abroad for an extended period of time, if you’re fortunate to have the opportunity. In 2014 I took a sabbatical and lived in Spain for 6 months. I had always wanted to live abroad but the timing was never right. I was at a crossroads in both my personal and professional life and decided the time was finally right for me to live abroad. This time away taught me so many things about myself and gave me a fresh perspective.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Living in California, I am reminded every day of the impact of climate change. The recent fires in the past few years in my home state have really amplified the need to take action. If we all make small changes, like using less energy, eating less meat, walking instead of driving or stopping our use of plastic bottles, we can have a multiplier effect that will protect the future of our planet for generations to come.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are two pieces of advice that have stuck with me. They are somewhat related. One, the universe has a plan — but you do need to leave your house. And two, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I regularly share this advice because it never gets stale and continues to resonate with me. It’s a good reminder of how important it is to be proactive with your life (personal and professional!) to be an active participant, and seriously consider every opportunity that is presented.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I had the opportunity to hear Chef José Andrés speak about his restaurants and business philosophy which was fascinating. I am even more inspired by his compassion and dedication to World Central Kitchen. I would love to meet José and talk to him about his journey, what motivates him, and what drives him to be so passionate about life and helping others. I may even ask him for a few tips to improve my cooking (well, actually my husband’s!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.