Everyone makes mistakes… when it happens to you, relax, take a deep breath and realize that things are rarely as bad as they may seem at first. Then, start to think about what to do to mitigate the mistake.
As Vice President, Data Science, Kristin Foster leads a Merchandising Data Science team of more than 60 people focused on developing customer-first science in Price, Promotion, Assortment and Category Strategy to create exceptional customer experiences for Kroger. Through partnering with Sales, Product and Engineering teams, her efforts create products and custom solutions that drive informed business decisions for Kroger and their CPG partners.
Foster also leads the 84.51° Chicago office, including development and implementation of office strategy to grow to more than 250 associates over the next five years.
Prior to joining the company in 2011, Foster had a four-year stint at Mintel International, where she oversaw the relationship with an India-based data capture vendor, including on-site visits, contract negotiations, staffing and day-to-day operations. Additionally, Foster collaborated with clients to outline objectives and create customized solutions regarding direct/digital marketing and competitive intelligence in the financial services, travel, telecommunications and insurance domains.
She began her career at Marsh at a Marketing Analyst, reporting direct marketing campaign results and providing insights on current and potential customers.
Foster holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Iowa.
Thank you so much for joining us Kristin! What brought you to this career path?
Iinitially did not plan to enter a STEM field when I started school. It wasn’t until I took a database marketing course that I realized how much I enjoyed data analysis. I loved the idea of leveraging data to make more informed business decisions. During that course, we had the opportunity to work with a local Iowa City business and analyzed its customer database to develop a personalized direct marketing plan. I immediately realized that this industry was my career passion, and I was so excited to get my first job out of college as a marketing analyst. There I worked closely with a statistical programmer and was first introduced to programming and statistical models.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
It’s not necessarily a specific story, but the most interesting experience I’ve had at 84.51° so far was being involved in our new Chicago office selection and build-out.
A few years ago, 84.51° made the decision for Chicago to be a technical hub focused on data science, engineering, and product talent. Since then, we have grown from around ten people to over 100 team members in the downtown Chicago location. Witnessing this massive growth has been amazing, and to make room for our growing team 84.51° decided to relocate.
As we designed the new office space, we held numerous focus groups to understand the unique needs of technical talent; it was so interesting to be a part of that process! Our new home at the Old Post Office in downtown Chicago is specifically designed with our technical teams in mind — including more flexibility, agile furniture design, and collaboration nooks for heads-down coding.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson you learned from that?
Idon’t know if it’s necessarily funny, but looking back, it does make me laugh! I was working late one night after only being at the company for a few weeks and inadvertently deleted an entire client folder with deliverables dating back years. I panicked, couldn’t sleep all night, and walked into the office with my head hanging low. It was an easy fix — the files are backed up daily — but it was still an embarrassing mistake to make after just joining the company.
Everyone makes mistakes… when it happens to you, relax, take a deep breath and realize that things are rarely as bad as they may seem at first. Then, start to think about what to do to mitigate the mistake. Luckily, in my case, the mistake had an easy fix. I’ve made plenty of other mistakes larger in scale, but my process remains the same: take a deep breath and determine what needs to be done to fix it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
For me, 84.51° stands out because of the culture and the people. I’ve loved every company I have worked at over the years, however, when I started at dunnhumby/84.51°, it immediately felt like the place where I would establish my career. There are two things that I think make 84.51° really special:
INVESTMENT IN DEVELOPMENT:
84.51° invests in their people in a way I’ve never experienced before. Being in a tech industry, the only constant is change; it is vitally important to stay on top of new technology and sciences. Within the data science function at 84.51°, there is a huge emphasis on training and personal development in addition to our business priorities. We know that we if don’t stay ahead of the technology curve, we will quickly fall behind.
One of the biggest changes for me, when I moved to 84.51° from my previous company, was the size of the analytical team. I went from a small team where I was often the go-to person, to being one of many data scientists. I was surrounded by so many smart, analytical peers that it was almost overwhelming at first. However, the culture at 84.51° is so welcoming and collaborative, and there is a shared desire for us all to be better. I realized that it is ok if I don’t know everything — I have peers that I can lean on and continue to learn from. We build each other up and always push one another to grow, and I admire that.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think it will help people?
Myrole at 84.51° is to help lead and develop data science within our Merchandising strategy — every project we work on is exciting! Our goal is to create the best grocery retail experience for our customers through the creation of sciences, products and services that leverage customer sciences. Within Merchandising, we develop sciences from the customer’s point of view to ensure we deliver an in-store and online experience when, where and how our customers want it.
A few examples include the development of assortment solutions (to ensure the right products are available to customers in-store and online) and promotional optimization (to ensure the right products are promoted at the right time for our customers). Another recent project is the development of a plant-based protein strategy to ensure we promote the optimal customer experience for this growing product segment.
Above all else, our goal is to make our customer’s lives easier.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes are needed to change the status quo?
While I think there has been meaningful progress since I first joined this industry, there is still significant work needed to change the status quo. There is still gender discrimination and gender bias, and the industry remains male-dominated.
In order to change the status quo, leaders need to recognize biases still exist and develop actionable strategies to combat them. We need to be courageous and comfortable calling out biases when we observe them. We need to change the conversations.
At 84.51°, we are dedicated to Diversity & Inclusion and combatting gender stereotypes. This work includes training the enterprise on unconscious bias. Part of addressing biases is to build awareness that they exist, be comfortable calling them out, develop strategies for prevention and monitor progress against goals. At 84.51°, we have several people-led teams focused on D&I, including Women in Tech, Women’s Edge and MARC (Men Advocating for Real Change) to empower our associates to drive the change we want to see in the industry. We strive to foster an environment of inclusion and support where our teams can thrive.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM and Tech that aren’t faced by their male counterparts? What recommendations would you make to change this?
There are several challenges that women in STEM face compared to their male counterparts, but one that I feel passionately about addressing is the lack of female mentors and role models in this space.
As I mentioned already, I have experienced Imposter Syndrome throughout my career: not feeling “good” or “technical” enough, being intimidated by louder voices in the room and fearing that I didn’t have the qualifications to share my perspective.
Through establishing relationships with strong female mentors, I have been able to combat my Imposter Syndrome. These role models point out evidence of my proven track record, qualifications and experiences on-going. They have experienced similar challenges and help me navigate through situations where my self-doubt starts to emerge. An environment of support can help dissipate self-doubt. That environment cannot exist without leaders — both male and female — taking the time to provide this supportive environment to their people.
What are the myths that you would like to expel about women in tech? Explain?
The biggest myth that I continue to hear is that men are more qualified or more interested in STEM/tech careers than women and that is why they disproportionally hold STEM jobs.
As a society, our deep-rooted stereotypes and unconscious biases can result in young girls losing interest in math and sciences at a young age and/or being encouraged to go into less technical industries. When girls are presented with these influences at a young age, it has a domino effect. There are fewer female role models for them to look up to within STEM-related industries and from an early age they may feel as if they don’t belong. This can cause women to leave tech-related courses and classes too soon, shrinking the available candidate pool in the workforce. The truth is, women are just as capable as men to succeed in this industry. If you can put in the work and dedicate yourself to this field, you will go far no matter your gender.
What are the 5 leadership lessons I learned from my experience as a woman in stem and tech? Why and share a story?
The importance of humility:
Asa leader, it is important to demonstrate humility. Technology is constantly changing and there will always be people on your team with exposure to something that you have never seen before. It is important to be open to feedback and different approaches and understand that you don’t — and shouldn’t — have all the answers. When I first started managing a team, I felt like I needed to have the answers on how to approach each and every analysis. I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. By being open to other techniques, models and approaches from my team members, we took our analysis to the next level. It is important to be open to feedback and new ideas because it will only improve the work your team delivers.
Build a strong, cohesive and diverse team:
Besupportive and empower your team to own and make decisions for themselves. Know the strengths and opportunity areas for yourself and your team members so you can identify what gaps exist that you need to develop in yourself/others or recruit as you grow your team. Create an environment of acceptance and support and be dedicated to the creation of a diverse team.
Be decisive and solution-focused:
Asa leader, it is important to be solution-oriented. Additionally, it is important to push your team to identify solutions when proposed with roadblocks instead of solving problems for them. Empower them to own decisions and have their back when they do so.
Foster innovation & creativity:
Dedicate time to innovation. At 84.51°, we have various hack-days or innovation days throughout the year where we pull data scientists out of their day-to-day routines to focus on innovation. We have shark tank events where we encourage people to present their innovation ideas to a panel of business leaders. The top ideas get resource approval to move to a proof-of-concept stage. Some of our best solutions have come from these events!
Master your communication:
Asa leader, communication is key. You need to be able to clearly communicate your vision to your team. I have worked with leaders in the past who have a hard time articulating what exactly they need and it almost always requires additional time and resources to finish a task. It can feel like a constant guessing game. Equally as important is knowing how to actively listen and understand what your team members are saying to help push them to deliver their best work.
What advice do you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Myadvice would be largely driven by the five leadership qualities listed above. I believe it is important to create a positive, supportive environment where it is safe to fail. Solicit feedback, ideas of others and be open to criticism. Empower your team members to make their own decisions and provide them the accountability to do so. Celebrate their successes.
I’ve worked on teams previously where I felt like my voice did not hold weight and my ideas did not have value… this is incredibly de-motivating. I strive for everyone on my team to have appropriate accountability and a path for their voice to be heard and represented.
What advice would you give other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Tome, it is vital to build relationships with each of your team members individually, fully understanding what motivates them. Drivers will be unique to each individual person. I’ve found that when I have developed a strong relationship with my managers, I thrive. I trusted that they had my best interest at heart and wanted me to succeed just as much as I wanted to prove to them that I could. It is important for me to build the same trusting relationship with those on my team. In addition to trust and mutual respect, this will also foster an environment of inclusion and community. It will help you find the right growth opportunities for your team members and create a more efficient and productive team in the long run.
None of us can achieve some 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?
Iwould not be where I am today if it weren’t for the strong mentors that have helped me throughout my career. I’ve spoken through most of this interview on the importance of strong mentors and building relationships, so there are several people that have supported and pushed me along the way, and I am forever thankful.
One of these individuals is Sandy Steiger, my former boss at 84.51°. At times throughout my career, I felt uncomfortable speaking my mind or providing my perspective. She helped me recognize that it was holding me back in my career. She called me out when she noticed I was sitting back and waiting for others to speak. She put me in situations that were initially uncomfortable, but ultimately helped me grow. I always knew that she had my back and was my biggest advocate. She pushed me out of my comfort zone to help me become the leader I am today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Now that I am in a leadership role, I am making a conscious effort to break down barriers for others that I have experienced throughout my career. I am trying to do that within my role at 84.51°, but also with the women in my life that look up to me as a role model. I have four nieces that range in ages 4 to 10. All four of them already show extreme interest in STEM classes, toys and programs. My niece, Brynley, participated in a coding camp last summer where she built her own app! When she showed it to me, her eyes lit up. I was so proud of her! I hope that she continues to feel the support and acceptance she felt during that coding camp as she finds her passion in life — whether that is in a STEM field or not.
I want to provide girls like my nieces the opportunity to follow their passion. I want to help them find role models that look like them, and inspire them to follow their dreams. I will continue to challenge biases and stereotypes and remove roadblocks to help them accomplish their goals.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Iknow these organizations exist, but I would love to be able to dedicate more time and energy to building strong role models and coaching programs for teenage and college aged-girls to encourage and inspire them to stay in STEM related fields. Additionally, I want to make it easier for women starting out in STEM careers to find role models and mentors in their communities that match their specific needs.
Can you share us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how it was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve never heard a Maya Angelou quote that I didn’t love so it needs to be one of hers.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It is so important to have compassion and empathy for others in life — both professionally and personally. I truly believe that. While we all want to be known for the work that we do and the accomplishments that we have made, I hope that more than anything we all want to be remembered by the compassion, care and kindness we showed others. I know that I do.
We are blessed to have very prominent leaders within this column is there a person who you would love to have a private lunch with and why? He or she might see this.
Iwould love to have lunch with Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. I am so impressed with the organization that she has created, and I appreciate the focus she puts on teaching girls about bravery versus perfection. I would love to discuss how we can continue to build bravery and confidence in young girls to inspire them to enter — and stay — in STEM industries.