Kate Shaw of Retreat: “Prioritizing a Sense of Community”

Prioritizing a Sense of Community: Most people don’t go around being anti-community, or actively trying to take advantage of others, but they don’t look for ways to benefit those around them either. I always make sure I prioritize doing what is right for others. In addition to making sure everyone on my team is compensated […]

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Prioritizing a Sense of Community: Most people don’t go around being anti-community, or actively trying to take advantage of others, but they don’t look for ways to benefit those around them either. I always make sure I prioritize doing what is right for others. In addition to making sure everyone on my team is compensated fairly, I try to look for other ways to make their work-life better, like ensuring there are always water bottles and popsicles stocked for everyone. And in return, the people I work with always prioritize my renovations and look for ways they can help me too. It creates a new dynamic and everyone benefits.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kate Shaw.

Kate Shaw built an incredible career in digital marketing, but in 2018, after losing her best friend to cancer, she decided to leave the corporate world behind and become an Airbnb host full-time. She now owns seven Airbnb properties and operates Riley, an Airbnb management company. In partnership with an interior designer, Kate launched Retreat Design and Consulting, a one-stop-shop service for current and prospective short-term rental property hosts in the Joshua Tree area that provides a range of services from real estate consultation to contracting for renovations to final design and furniture shopping. Kate was previously a founder of Clutch Digital Marketing and holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology/ Communications from the University of California Davis.

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 childhood “backstory”?

My parents were in the military so I was often traveling as a kid and I think that really instilled in me a need to travel and a sense of wanderlust that has lasted for the rest of my life. Being a traveler myself is a key reason why I became an Airbnb host. I loved getting to meet new people and I wanted a chance to be that local that was waiting to give you a warm welcome and make you feel at home. I wanted people to experience travel from the perspective I often got to, with good friends who could not wait to show you the best way to experience their city. Long before Airbnb came around, I opened my first travel business in Buenos Aires where I focused on breaking the mold of the typical cookie-cutter travel experience.

Fast forward ten years, when I opened my first Airbnb, I carried the same passion and mindset. When I teamed up with Betsy to open Retreat, that is when I really saw how all my experiences clicked together. Betsy is an interior designer while I had experience managing Airbnbs and rental properties as well as 11 years of experience working in branding and marketing and had learned more than the basics about construction from helping my dad on job sites as a kid.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

Pure fate! In 2016 I moved to a new city that had cheaper rent than I was used to. So, I decided to get a two-bedroom apartment two blocks off the beach. A colleague at my new job suggested I put my spare bedroom on Airbnb and host occasional travelers. Little did I know, my ratty Ikea pull-out couch bed would spark such interest in the Airbnb community! I was fully booked within hours of launching. About two years later, I decided to go full-time with this crazy concept and haven’t looked back. After working as an Airbnb host and property manager for several years, my close friend Betsy, who is an interior designer, was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. We spent time together often as I helped her out throughout her treatment, often working on my latest Airbnb design because it was something we both genuinely enjoyed. As Betsy recovered, we knew we did not want to give up working together, and so our new business offering Airbnb consulting and design services, Retreat, was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I started my Airbnb management business a few years before Covid-19, so the pandemic was certainly a scenario I never saw coming. All travel was shut down. I actually closed on a duplex the day before the Joshua Tree area was closed for travel. Now I had two three-bedroom houses that I could not host out to guests and a mortgage to pay. For a moment, all I wanted to do was cry, but I went back to my roots. I went back to being a construction worker, laying flooring and sanding closets. I helped renovate a girlfriend’s house who actually ended up becoming a long-term client too.

I was so focused on just getting through, I didn’t realize until months later how much my business had picked back up. I was working three jobs at once and so focused on just getting through the day-to-day that it took me months to realize that not only was my business not ending, it was actually thriving better than the year before. In taking on two additional jobs, I’d also furthered my connections and created more growth in the long run. By the end of 2020, I was able to purchase and start renovations on a new property, a luxury Barnhouse with a pool that I could not be more proud of, and I owe it all to my blue-collar roots and refusing to give up.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • A Nose to the Grindstone Attitude: I’ve never gotten anything in life by luck. In my experience, results always come from rolling up your sleeves. This attitude helped me become successful in digital marketing and its helped me find success and earn respect as an Airbnb entrepreneur.
  • Prioritizing a Sense of Community: Most people don’t go around being anti-community, or actively trying to take advantage of others, but they don’t look for ways to benefit those around them either. I always make sure I prioritize doing what is right for others. In addition to making sure everyone on my team is compensated fairly, I try to look for other ways to make their work-life better, like ensuring there are always water bottles and popsicles stocked for everyone. And in return, the people I work with always prioritize my renovations and look for ways they can help me too. It creates a new dynamic and everyone benefits.
  • A Lack of Ego: Remembering that my guests are nice people that mean well, that sometimes I can be wrong, or that other people could have a better idea really helps me conduct business in a softer, friendlier way that leads to less stress and greater success. Letting go of your ego and giving others the benefit of the doubt goes a long way.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

Years of sexism can’t be erased in one woke year, decade, or generation. It’s instilled in every fiber of our system. Strong women challenge sexist views against women and that makes people uncomfortable. We all have to work on changing and addressing how sexism is in every fiber of us.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

One recurring experience that exemplifies the sexism I face happens at Home Depot when I’m shopping for something specific I need for an advanced-level project. Many times a male employee has asked me something along the lines of ‘oh, are you sure you need that?’ There have been times when I’ve had to walk away from someone “helping me” because they would not acknowledge my knowledge and skills and were wasting my time.

Another example is when I was working with a man who kept misnaming things in a house I was helping renovate. So I asked for clarification using the correct name, just to ensure we were talking about the same thing. It’s important for me to execute and do my job properly to be very specific and not make assumptions, but he got extremely flustered by me asking. It was very clear he did not like to feel like a woman knew more than he did and it negatively impacted the way he worked with me in a way I’m confident would not have happened if a man had asked the same questions.

There have also been quite a few times when I’ve doubted myself though, too, and that’s important to acknowledge as well. There have been times I’ve thought ‘ I need someone who is better at this’ and I just couldn’t get someone to do the work within the time frame I needed, so I just pulled myself up by my high heels and found a way to get it done. I always realized in the end that I could do it if I just stopped letting self-doubt and internal sexism get me down.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

Take a moment to center yourself. When we’re sure of ourselves and secure in our abilities and strengths, it shines through in everything that we do. You don’t need to tell people what you know, you just need to show them. That’s what really puts people at ease. When I first walk onto a job site, I’m the blonde female in everyone’s eyes, but within a few hours, they know that I know what I’m doing because I start working and executing and doing what I know needs to be done. It’s all about doing and knowing not asserting and ascertaining.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

We need to support women and uplift their success. I’m part of a great group of powerful women who are always looking for opportunities to give others a leg up. When we meet wonderful people we proactively look for ways to boost them up. Especially for women who are building a business,, external validation means a lot. If I say to someone else, I know her, she’s badass, she’s cool, she’s awesome, and she’s amazing at what she does, that means something. When we go around talking other women up, telling other people that they should consider giving her opportunities, that goes a really long way.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

When I was working in digital marketing, it was very male-dominated and I was really young when I started managing my first apartment. I have a baby face and I’m not a hideous-looking woman, so for years into my management position, I was having people assume I was the intern or an assistant. Constantly having to own my success and my title as a baby-faced young female in charge of a marketing department is maddening. Constantly having to say “I’m not the intern, I’m the manager” in front of new groups of people is embarrassing too.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think all the stereotypes that surround being a female leader are some of the biggest challenges we face that men don’t. Stereotypes such as women being emotional or unstable make it harder to do business. Men can express anger or excitement about a project. These emotions are natural and natural to communicate in business, but women are doxed negatively for expressing themselves and that problem becomes internal as well as external. I know lots of female leaders that suffer from imposter syndrome worse than any man. That doesn’t even cross their minds.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

Absolutely, for many, many years I prioritized work over any sort of personal life. At my last marketing job, my mom worked a mile from my office and I remember one day getting really, really angry with her because she asked to take me out to lunch. I thought, what type of lazy job do you think I have that I can just take an hour for lunch?

This was in my mid-30s, so for twenty years, I’d trained myself to think that way. It was not until my best friend Michelle died that I looked around and thought, this might be the norm, but I am not doing this anymore. Only with tragedy and intention did I build a new life for myself. I’m now proactive about incorporating family and love and friendships and all the fun and wonderful things into life too. It has been a constant struggle because as a successful woman, I really internalized the hustle mentality. I thought working long hours and being constantly exhausted was a badge of honor for a long time.

Even now that I’ve proactively built a life that is balanced, I still have to battle my years of training and make myself implement my schedule. For instance, before one of my latest Airbnb properties, the Barnhouse, opened I invited my family to stay for a reunion and found myself getting drawn into work. My family had flown in from around the country and still, I had to battle the thought that I should be doing something else besides just enjoying their company. I’m still working on unlearning all that training. Even when Betsy, my partner at Retreat, had her first round of cancer, and I would watch her baby when she was in treatment, I had to settle these pangs of guilt that I should be doing something ‘productive’, when in reality, there was absolutely nothing more important that I could be doing at that moment. Fighting and quieting that internal work-a-holic takes work and time.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

For me, it was the rock bottom tragedy of losing my best friend Michelle. Short of that, I’m not sure what would have shaken me out of my maladaptive state. In fact, if you’re reading this and you need it, let this be your moment. I always said, ‘after this week, it will get better.’ It never got better. It is up to you, right now, to set boundaries — with yourself, your employer, whoever you need to. It is only with proactive, uncomfortable boundaries that you will train yourself and those around you to accept your work-life balance. It won’t just come inherently. It won’t be easy. It’s going to suck and be uncomfortable for both you and those around you at first, but in time, it gets easier and it is absolutely worth it.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

I think being able to own your beauty is very empowering, but the difference between empowering and having your power taken away is the knowledge that it is a choice, and it is always our choice, in every situation, every single day. Some days I’m covered in paint, hair in a ponytail, and some days I feel like wearing lipstick and dressing up, but that’s my choice. At one point, I’d downplay my beauty and not wear makeup on the job site and I’d always make sure my chest was completely covered and not drawing attention in any way. But now, just like a guy who lets his plumber’s butt crack show, I feel like nobody should feel uncomfortable about their body. I don’t worry about looking beautiful if I don’t want to.

Beauty can be something fun to play around with or a powerful tool for self-expression, but at the end of the day, it’s an internal decision. We should never feel obligated to fit into any one mold of beauty, or feel there is only one route to being beautiful. We should dig inside ourselves and decide what makes us feel empowered and beautiful.

How is this similar or different for men?

Men are never asked to downplay their beauty, but as women, we are. Women are told don’t wear too short skirts, don’t accentuate your butt too much, or if you have a certain haircut it means x, y, or z. Men are never asked to stop having fun with their beauty. If a man cuts his hair differently or shapes his beard, it’s always just met with praise and compliments. It’s not examined and criticized and viewed in a negative light in a way some appearance choices by women are.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Self Assuredness- Be sure of what you know and own it. You have to know your own value first and foremost.
  2. Lack of Ego- You need to know what you know, but also don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. You’ll earn more respect and it only validates when you do confidently know something down the line.
  3. A Constant Desire to Learn and Grow- It’s fun to self-improve and it’s a major aspect of workplace happiness. Find a role where you’re inspired to learn and continue to grow your skillset and value.
  4. A Staunch Adherence to Work-Life Balance- You’ll never get anywhere if you’re feeling burnt out and you’ll also never feel successful if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor. Be stubborn about balancing your time.
  5. Genuine Drive to Positively Impact Your Mico-Community- You need to take care of not only your team but all those around you. Proactively look for ways to build up others, especially other women. Don’t just network, but truly get to know people. Find ways to help others learn new skills and find opportunities to grow. Living this way will only positively affect you and your business. When you’ve built up an army of people who have your back, a lot of negativity seems to find a way to avoid you.

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.

Kristen Bell because she is such a badass. She has a beautiful family and is proactive at working on her relationship. She’s protective of her kids and her husband’s sobriety and is an amazing example to me of good boundaries and balance. Also, her brands all have a positive impact. Overall, she just seems like she is hilarious and badass and just continues to find success in ways that are so uniquely her.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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