This Company Is Advancing Equity for Adult Learners While Creating an Equitable Internal Culture

Sponsored by Guild Education

Rachel Carlson

Photo courtesy of Guild Education.

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July 19, 2024 at 1:25PM UTC

Rachel Carlson co-founded Guild Education with an eye toward gender parity. And, as CEO of the company, she and her team are working to fulfill that mission.  Fairygodboss is proud to name Rachel a Top Rated CEO that supports Gender Diversity.

Currently, the leadership team at Guild is 80% female, and the majority of their people managers are also women. And, “As leaders, we work to support and mentor other women throughout the organization,” says Carlson. “I also spend time with other female founders and mentors to share my learnings and discuss how we can be better and motivate one another. I see so much value in learning from other female leaders that I admire.”

And that’s not the only way that Carlson and Guild are improving and strengthening Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts. “I lead a company on a mission to unlock economic mobility for America’s workforce through education and upskilling,” Carlson said. “Our commitment to our mission is key to everything we do. People who like the status quo or fear change need not apply!”

In this interview, Carlson shares important leadership tips, highlights DE&I initiatives, career pathways, and much more.

Describe your role.

I co-founded Guild in 2015 and have served as CEO since our founding, though the job changes every quarter! Prior to Guild, I was the founder and CEO of Student Blueprint, a product that helped community college students find work. I also spent time working for the 2008 Obama campaign before serving in the Obama White House. 

What’s the first/last thing you do at work every day? 

Drop off my daughters, Lily Grace and Magnolia, at The Beehive, Guild’s onsite early childhood education center, which is next door to our office in downtown Denver. And I try to clean out my inbox at the end of the day, but I’m in an internal battle with it! 

How do you prioritize your to-do list each day?

That’s the eternal question. I use my inbox as my to-do list, but I’m trying to get better at prioritizing my own time versus what others ask of me. Setting boundaries is a focus area for me, and I’m working on it! My best hack is scheduling open strategy time, and the other is ignoring emails for longer than is socially responsible.

How would you describe your leadership style?  

There are three pillars that serve as the foundation for my leadership style, all of which have become more important throughout the pandemic.  

The first is remaining focused on Guild’s mission to unlock opportunity for America's workforce through education and upskilling. We are addressing an issue that sits at the core of America’s economy, and, to do that, we need to hold a reverent responsibility for our work and motivation while remaining flexible to integrate the dynamic and rapidly changing landscape of higher education and the needs of a shifting labor market.

The second is leading with empathy. The pandemic highlighted the benefit and need for introspection and self-awareness, while applying principles of generosity. This has helped me grow as a leader in the past year and a half.

Lastly is the idea of equity. Not only is Guild’s solution tailored to deliver greater equity to working adult learners, but we also aim to create an equitable environment internally that incorporates the diverse perspectives of our employees. We’ve taken steps to build a more inclusive and diverse company and remained particularly conscious of these efforts in a remote environment. We’ve provided flexible working hours and onsite childcare to working parents, and we launched Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to offer employees the opportunity to have support and communities internally, share their ideas and solutions and have access to mentoring and career development. 

In addition, we’ve increased efforts to source diverse talent and expanded our DE&I training around hiring practices and unconscious bias, which allows us to hire more skilled workers that reflect the population of working adults we support. We’ve also developed job architectures and increased pay transparency practices, fully visible and accessible internally, to ensure equity is met across gender and race.

What’s one thing you think people should know about Guild Education?

Our commitment to our mission is key to everything we do. We operate with a business model that does well by doing good. As a certified B-Corp, our commitment to unlocking economic mobility for America’s workforce is the core focus of what we do every day and drives the values of our company. 

We also aim to uphold the same mission for our own employee base internally by unlocking opportunity and mobility for Guilders. To do that, we have benefits that support our employees careers and growth, including opportunities for learning and upskilling through our Guild for Guilders benefit, access to an onsite childcare facility that allows employees to pursue ambitious family goals and ambitious career goals at the same time, ownership in the company through equity grants for every single employee, mental health resources and more.  

It’s also important for job seekers to know that we’re still growing and evolving as a company. As a result, there is a lot of opportunity for them to dive into a variety of projects, get their hands dirty and learn along the way. But people who like the status quo or fear change need not apply! 

What’s something you’re especially good at at work?

I’d say I’ve excelled at connecting dots among stakeholders and charting new paths. For too long, employers have offered traditional tuition reimbursement programs, where employees front the money and wait until the end of a semester or course to be reimbursed by their employer. This isn’t feasible for so many of America’s workers, many of whom only have a couple hundred dollars in their savings accounts. 

At Guild, we’re pioneering a new form of modern tuition assistance as well as an opportunity platform to connect learning and career pathways for every employee. This innovative model integrates a payments integration platform with employers on one side and learning providers on the other so employees no longer need to pay tuition upfront and wait for reimbursement from their employer. Employees can avoid the growing issue of student debt and engage in upskilling opportunities that connect to their career and personal goals. 

What about outside of work? 

Reading! I enjoy being outside, working out with my sisters and anything with my kids, but books are the starting point for nearly all learning for me. As a leader, it’s inspiring to dive into the idea that there is no singular truth, just lived experiences viewed from different directions with different authors. 

What are you trying to improve on? 

I’m a nonlinear thinker, and I love ideating and brainstorming with the team. The downside of that skill set is that when we’re doing more operational or tactical work, I don’t always do a great job directing the next steps and the follow-up work in the simplest way possible. We use a competency model that calls that skill “directing work,” and it’s my key development area right now. 

Why do you think Guild Education is a particularly supportive work environment for women?

Each part of Guild’s business is stronger when we bring diverse voices to the table. We are female-founded, and the majority of the students we serve (about 57%) are women. When our internal environment includes, empowers and promotes women to positions of higher responsibility, we are better at supporting the students we serve. 

This gender parity in leadership has been critical to fostering a culture of support and mentorship, helping employees feel a greater sense of belonging. However, we also recognize that while we have made great strides in gender parity, we have more work to do as it pertains to racial and ethnic diversity at Guild, and, across the board, there’s no destination for any of this work — only an ongoing journey toward improvement. 


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