Celebrating Our Differences Makes Us Stronger // Thoughts on Diversity in the Workplace with Kristina Hambrick

Kristina Hambrick, VP of YHL Business Operations, gets personal and shares her career journey with Yulista, the importance of diversity in the workforce and the significance of Black History month. She gives valuable advice for future minority leaders in a candid Q&A interview.  She provides an honest and incredibly inspiring viewpoint that many can find relatable.

Q: Can you tell us about your career journey at Yulista?  

A: I’ve been with Yulista for 14 years. I started in 2008 as a Receptionist/Admin Assistant working on the PIF I contract. I came in as a temporary employee and, a few months later, was hired full-time as a Project Assistant. At that time, I worked for management, who was instrumental in giving me opportunities to excel within the company. They mentored me and recognized my potential early in my career. In 2009, I was promoted to Project Coordinator for one of the largest missile system contracts we had. It was my exposure to that program that allowed me to learn so much about large Army acquisition contracts. I developed a passion for supporting developmental programs and was intrigued by witnessing a design mature from drawings into physical hardware integrated into a weapon system. In 2011, I was promoted to Project Lead, where I was able to provide oversight to a portfolio of projects supporting both missile and air traffic control platforms. I served as a Project Manager for two years until I was promoted to Deputy Program Manager in 2014. As Deputy Program Manager, I assisted with providing oversight to Yulista’s Aviation and Ground Support Equipment organization, which later merged with the Missile Diagnostics Ground Support Equipment department. Working as part of this organization gave me a wide range of experience supporting Foreign Military Sales, aviation ground support equipment, and continued support of missile systems. In 2019, I moved from Yulista Aviation to Y-Tech Services as the Senior Program Manager over the Logistics Support Facility contract. After supporting that contract for three years, I was promoted to VP of Business Operations for Yulista Holding.      

Q: Can you tell us about your current role? 

A: As the VP of Business Operations, I am responsible for business operations at the Yulista Holding level which includes Human Resources, Finance & Pricing, Contracts, Information Technology, and Security. Each day is exciting as I never know what the day may entail. Some days are more challenging than others, but overall, it is very rewarding to be able to work with the team to provide solutions to complex problems. A typical day for me may be meeting with potential or existing customers, supporting proposal and pricing reviews for new contracts, weighing in on contract and compliance activities, or working with HR and IT to solve issues needed to keep operations running smoothly. It may also entail establishing new business policies or meeting with our parent company, Calista, on other company matters.

Q: How do diverse teams improve how we work? 

A: Diverse teams are essential for having a cohesive team that brings fresh and new ideas. Representation from different ethnicities, genders, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds spark creativity and innovation, ultimately increasing productivity. Representation is important when it comes to having a seat at the table, but inclusion provides a voice at that table, as well as a sense of belonging. When we promote diversity, we begin to break down the walls of bias and stereotypes and encourage collaboration. I’m grateful to work for a company that supports diversity and inclusion. When I started working for Yulista 14 years ago, there were no women or minorities in executive leadership positions. Now when you look at the Yulista website, you see leadership represented by men and women, from different ethnicities and backgrounds.  

Q: Why do you believe it’s important for Yulista to commemorate Black History Month? 

A: Yulista needs to commemorate Black History Month because it helps to celebrate diversity and unity. While diversity and unity should be celebrated all year long, black history month is a time where we can consciously demonstrate compassion, learn about our history, and celebrate how our differences can make us stronger as an organization.

Q: Tell us about a moment in black history that influenced or shaped your career

A: One of the most influential moments in black history that shaped my career was when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. This was the first time in my lifetime that I was inspired by the progress our country was making toward breaking down barriers. It sparked a motivation within me that I really could accomplish anything I was inspired to do. It also helped me reinforce to my three sons that despite the racial inequalities that exist, they can truly be whatever they want to be, even if that is the President of the United States.

Q: What do you wish people (not in the black community) understood about being black in America? 

A: I wish that people not in the black community understood that stereotypes and racial bias are real for many minorities, whether intentional or not. As a minority, many of us worry about how we dress, talk, and are perceived because we want to be accepted, especially in the workforce. Our feelings are often discounted as not being material because people perceive racial discrimination that occurs today, as not being as bad as it was 50 years ago. The truth is racial bias and prejudice are often unintentional, but it doesn’t take away the fact that it still exists and impacts the black community. When I think about racial discrimination, it was only one generation ago that my parents went to segregated schools. As a community, we would be remiss to think that racial discrimination has been eradicated with this not being long ago.

One thing I appreciate about Yulista is that we are actively making strides to tear down racial bias within our leadership and teams. We are committed to improving company culture and putting processes in place to provide racial equity for our employees. We are working to eliminate racial disparities through the continuous improvement of policies, procedures, and structures that facilitate how we conduct business. Yulista is not only committed to making our company culture better but also focuses on community service. Yulista is a founding donor of the Racial Equity Fund sponsored by the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. This fund provides grants for addressing equity gaps in education, economic opportunities, and health and wellness in our neighborhoods and communities. I challenge all our employees to be active participants in the change our society needs. Talking about our experiences will only make us better. Learn what makes us different and celebrate those differences.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for future minority leaders?

A: My recommendation to future minority leaders (or any upcoming leader) would be to advocate for yourself and others. Never be afraid to speak up and voice your ideas, as they are just as good or important as the next person’s. If you need help or don’t understand something, ask for guidance or clarity. Failure can be a teacher but avoiding mishaps up front can avoid hard lessons learned. Seeking guidance helps build relationships that provide mentors from whom you can learn and grow. Be a collaborative team player that listens to everyone’s ideas. Show compassion and help bolster the team. Be sure to invest in yourself. Work hard to get that degree or certification, even if it takes you longer than the average person. That degree or certification could be the thing that sets you apart. I would also say volunteer for things people typically shy away from. Those experiences broaden your knowledge and help with perfecting your skill set. Lastly, be self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses. The only way to get better is to know where you can improve. The only way to add value is to know when and where you shine.

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