Building Bridges with 8th Light’s Employee Engagement Manager Kim Carten

One of two bus tours of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood stopped for a photo at the historic Light of Truth Ida B. Wells National Monument. Photo courtesy Brian Gerstle.

Kyle Sparks

March 09, 2023

Nearly seven years into her career at 8th Light, Kim Carten has seen it all.

When she describes her work, she doesn’t list her accomplishments as the backbone of 8th Light’s sales team for five years, or the year and a half she spent helping the finance team before landing her current role as employee engagement manager. Kim’s covered so much ground, she just talks about the bridges she’s built along the way. “It’s just building a bridge to make sure everybody is okay,” she says.

Kim is a natural connector, someone who genuinely connects with everyone she meets. Before joining 8th Light, she was a Jill-of-all-trades for a small real estate management company. “I was not just a property manager,” Kim explains. “I was the bookkeeper, I was the person who went down to City Hall to talk to people about permits, and I would handle whatever other challenge would come up that day.”

After switching careers and joining 8th Light, she’s followed this same tendency to leave an impact on every corner of the company. “I’ve always worked with people. I was always good with people,” she says.

Name: Kim Carten
Location: Chicago
Time at 8th Light: 8 years
Time in the industry: 8 years

Joining 8th Light

Kim joined 8th Light as an executive assistant to then-VP of Sales & Marketing Margaret Pagel. “Margaret’s a great teacher,” Kim says smiling. “She’d talk about the sales part, and she would explain to me things that were frustrating her, which led me to connect with the finance department, operations folks, account leads, and everyone else who just needed to figure out what’s that bridge, what is it that could get that bridge that has our teams working in harmony.”

More than six years into working at 8th Light, Kim admits there were growing pains at first. “I’m like, okay: this is not my age group, and I don’t know anything about computers,” she recalls.

Over time, Kim’s imposter syndrome began to melt away as software developers would come to her with questions about how to use certain applications, and she learned to trust her instincts. “I learned to Google a lot,” she admits with a laugh.

Kim says she’s grown in ways outside of her job’s tasks too. “I have come from a generation where you keep your head down and keep your comments to yourself,” she explains. “But listening to people here at this company, and how they share — and how the leadership team has responded — has taught me that you can use your voice.”

Kim used her voice in January’s internal miniConf event. In a presentation that interwove her personal family history in Louisiana and Chicago with an education of the local cuisine, Kim showed off her bridge-building skills yet again with the final reveal: cajun and creole, she explained, are just two words for the same thing.

Building Digital Bridges

Kim’s favorite piece of advice is, “Work is what you do, it’s not who you are.” When 8th Light’s Chicago office was a beehive of activity, Kim was notorious for decorating the office, dressing up in festive costumes, and bringing delicious treats to celebrate various events and holidays. As the company transitioned to the remote-first reality in 2020, Kim scheduled a themed virtual game event in an attempt to bring back some of the spontaneity and spark from being together in a physical space.

The Superheroes and Villains virtual event was a rousing and inspiring success. “Everybody showed up and showed out with their costumes, and I was so excited about that,” Kim says. “Because I thought it would be maybe 10 people. It was almost the whole company.”

The response also helped 8th Light see the value in having someone dedicated to employee engagement full time. Gallup says that as low as 21 percent of employees are actively engaged globally, which has ripple effects across organizations. Disengaged employees often feel increased stress, creating negative feedback loops and lower productivity. According to HubSpot, 69 percent of employees say they’d work harder if they were better appreciated.

When 8th Light posted an Employee Engagement Manager position to help foster a more engaged team, Kim was a natural candidate and a perfect fit.

With more time to focus on engagement, Kim's brought new perspectives to the company calendar.

"Kim adds so much value in presentations on mental health, gender and racial equity, as well as the history of these topics," says senior crafter Marie Robinson. "Not to mention the fun games she plans to keep us engaged, and allowing some social interaction — which is so important in a fully remote work place."

In addition to monthly and quarterly virtual events, Kim helps people connect where they spend the majority of their time — Slack. She creates weekly threads around a theme, such as Wacky Wednesday and Throwback Thursday. She also facilitates weekly chats with random team members, and she has held multiple contests that double as asynchronous events — such as Gingerbread House Wars and a pancake contest.

All of these efforts have left an impression on 8th Light's team. "I value the fruits of her labor more than she knows, and consider her a role model for just plain good human interaction," Marie says. "I thank 8th light leadership for valuing its employees enough to give her to us."

Connecting In Chicago

After jumping into her new role, Kim planned the company’s first in-person retreat in more than a decade. In just three months, she pulled together a memorable event that left colleagues buzzing. “Chicago was the best place to do it because most of our people are here,” and Kim planned a celebration of her hometown that brought something new for everybody.

The agenda included a bus tour of historic Bronzeville, dinner in Pilsen, and a boat tour of downtown at night. The team also saw presentations that explored the value and necessity of interdisciplinary problem solving among teams, and the value of sharing our spark as brand ambassadors. The marketing team also revealed the new redesign.

“Everybody hugged each other,” Kim says with a smile. “There were a couple of times I got really emotional, just to see people happy, hanging out, hugging, and being with each other without a screen between us.”

What’s Next?

Given the legacy she’s already built across multiple careers, Kim would be forgiven for settling into a groove and finally feeling comfortable in one place. “I love what I do,” Kim says, but she can’t help that there’s always more to learn, and more people to meet. She’s pursuing classes on public speaking, business communication skills, event planning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She’s also started building bridges to people with similar roles at other companies, to learn how others are staying engaged these days.

Outside of work, Kim enjoys spending time with her family, three dogs, and one cat. She especially enjoys dancing, cooking, and supporting her kid’s career as a writer and drag artist.