Notable Women in Human Resources: Diane Ekstrand

Chief human resources officer, Bethesda Lutheran Communities

  • Category: Notable Women in Human Resources
  • Number of years working in your current industry: 20
  • Undergrad degree/university: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
  • Graduate degree/university: Master’s degree in human resources/labor relations from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Diane Ekstrand, chief human resources officer for Bethesda Lutheran Communities, has directed the organization’s overall HR approach while empowering local teams to nimbly react for the safety of those it serves, as well as its employees.

Bethesda, a nonprofit supporter of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is based in Watertown and Brookfield, with 2,500 employees across the country.

Ekstrand joined Bethesda when the board of directors approved a 2030 strategy to transform the organization and its culture. According to colleagues, she has profoundly impacted both.

Ekstrand listens to the needs of colleagues and rapidly finds solutions. Examples include expanding pay for COVID-related health and child care concerns and shifting onboarding to a virtual format to prioritize safety.

Bethesda began virtual career fairs and a social media hiring campaign, bringing open positions to historic all-time lows. Ekstrand has helped increase the flow of communication through live town hall meetings, small group listening sessions and a dedicated COVID-19 resource site. Virtual learning and wellness programs were created to support personal and professional needs.

Ekstrand also promotes innovation by empowering small, diverse teams to quickly tackle issues. For example, specific “behaviors” were identified to drive transformation and they are used in hiring and in rewarding employees through a new recognition program, “Shine.”

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