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Courageous leadership is powerful: Kim Crowder

Michael Hunter


Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.

I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.

Today I’m talking with Kim Crowder.

Kim is the founder and CEO of Kim Crowder Consulting. She is also one of the country’s most sought-after and transformative leadership, marketing, and communications facilitators, speakers, and advisors. She has been named by Forbes as a “Top Anti-Racism Educators Companies Need Now.”

Kim has been featured by the New York Times, Business Insider, Cheddar News, CBS, NBC, Fox, Katie Couric Media, she’s on Forbes on the regular, on Hubspot’s podcast, The Growth Show, Workology, and As Told By Nomads.

Kim is also a member of the MIT Technology Review Panel and For(bes) For The Culture.

Welcome, Kim!

Kim Crowder 1:01

Thanks, Michael. I’m always like, what face do I make while somebody is reading my bio?

Michael 1:08

Why hasn’t ABC had you on? What do they have against you?

Kim 1:11

I know, right? They need to get on it.

Michael 1:15

In your journey to seeing people as people and learning to leverage their unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, when did you first recognize this might be a valuable approach?

Kim 1:27

You know, Michael, what I think is so interesting is that, and this is certainly not a commentary on the question. It’s the fact that the question has to be asked.

As a conversation about business, really? Are we having that question? Or the fact that we have to have that question.

I don’t know that that’s ever been for me a conscious decision.

It was just part of who I am as a human being.

Particularly, and I don’t know if it comes from being a part of a community myself, when I think about what it means to be black, and a black woman, everywhere I go in the world, I have connections because I’m a black woman, with other black people, even if they aren’t United States, Americans.

In my mind, because I’ve lived in Korea, I’ve lived in Italy, I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve lived in the US, I’ve travelled a lot, I’m always interested in people’s stories.

I’m always curious about who people are.

I’m curious about what makes people tick.

If we can’t bring that into the workplace and see people as individuals, the question is, is what we are even doing?

Is that leadership?

Unfortunately, we have attached the language of leadership with power instead of respect for humanity.

Michael 2:55


And in software, especially, we’ve had this idea that an engineer is an engineer is an engineer, and so I have a project that needs five engineers, I can just pick five random people out of whoever’s available, and they’re good to go. But of course, that’s not the case.

Kim 3:22

Right? Understanding power dynamics is important.

Let’s talk about this one thing that would just really draw focus on this.

When you start to think about gender, particularly in STEM, in science, technology (and engineering and mathematics).

In those engineering, mathematics, that industry, or that group of practices, women are often highly underrepresented.

And then you add to that women of historically ignored backgrounds.

To add to that, if I’m not mistaken, I think I looked this up the other day. I wish I had the stat about how many engineers were black and how many were black women. I mean, it is quite small.

And when we start to look at what that means for the Asian population, and the Latino population, Latina population, if that is not a part of understanding group dynamics, what happens is you can have people in those groups who are, one, not being heard, who are having miserable experiences, but also people who are unable to be included in important conversations and also included in having their intellectual property, having their brilliance on display when it’s time to present that project or when it’s time to lay out who was a part of that project and how they were integral to it.

Sometimes it’s not even because of people trying to do it.

It’s by nature of connecting with folks who look like you, who you have a stronger connection to just visually at the base point.

Who have the same types of experiences.

And so that gets mixed up into the conversation unless there’s a clear understanding, especially as a leader, to be able to interpret that and think through that.

That doesn’t mean leave people out of groups.

That means put in boundaries and parameters around behavior in order to protect and support those folks who may experience some level of discrimination or not being included as part of whatever that is.

Michael 5:40

And understanding where their backgrounds may lead them to a certain behavior that might cause them to be ignored, or left out, just because other people are more vocal, are more willing to speak up, are more willing to say, “Hey, boss, does that make sense?” When their cultures, their upbringing, their background has taught them that’s not the way you behave.

Kim 6:17


In STEM, it’s extremely important to have this conversation because so many organizations are using talent that is outside of the country in which that company has headquarters or sites are started.

We’re seeing a lot of tech and STEM and engineering work even hit the continent of Africa right now. India, Asia.

When we start to think about that, those cultures are very different.

Without having understanding in place of what it means to have a global team, a truly global team, and how that impacts folks in those countries, then that is exactly it. We come in and we find that, one, it’s so leaning towards Westernized viewpoints, Westernized society, typically the United States is the lead in that conversation.

Even thinking about language.

How can language be a barrier?

You use colloquialisms. You’re cracking jokes that people don’t understand.

Then, what does that mean for an extended group of people?

Rarely do we ask United States Americans, even Canadians, to bend to other people’s cultures.

Usually we’re saying, “We’re the dominant culture here.”

I’ll give you an example.

When I travel, one of the things that I notice is that when I’m speaking to someone, whatever other language, I am not fluent in any other language, Spanish I understand a bit more, I can understand some Italian, but the number of people that apologize to me because their English isn’t good?

It is this expectation that they should be able to speak English.

Not that I am in their country, and I should be the one who’s the one being inconvenienced.

That is a really strong anecdote for the ways that that can show up in workplaces.

It’s not always just about culture.

It’s also about what it means if I show up to a group like this as a black woman, what does that mean in the ways that my culture, even though it’s US American culture, I’m a black American, even with that, there are subcultures as part of that.

If we aren’t thinking about that as part of what it means to have access and support others in the workplace, we’re behind.

Michael 8:41

How do I bring this up to my team? Start these conversations.

Kim 8:46

I want to clarify this question to make sure I fully understand before I answer, when you say bring this up to my team, are you saying bring this up to my team as a leader, or bring this up to my team as another team member?

Michael 9:04

As both.

Kim 9:06

Okay, great.

For one, what I would say, I’m going to start with a team member.

There’s this thing called manage up.

Especially if you have more privilege.

So I’m going to help, not muddle, “more privilege.”

Typically in workplaces, who has more privilege or folks, especially white men, right, let’s just hands down there. White men tend to land in leadership for all various reasons.

I’m not going to get into that, but we do know some of that is inequitable as far as why white men are moved into leadership.

So, if you are a white man, and then next week, fine, white women, who tend to have power in the workplace. Then that conversation is, “What are you going to do about it?”

I don’t want to make any assumptions. You can have power even as a person of color just being a leader of a team, or of a department or whatever that looks like.

The question is, “What can I implement now?” so that I understand what it means to support folks on my team from different backgrounds.

One of those things just at a baseline level, is how often are you connecting with team members from backgrounds that are not like yours to really understand who they are, what kind of work that they’re doing.

Do you understand what it looks like to have bias in a job performance review?

Are you taking a look at, are you seeing people in your teams that seem to buoy up on a regular basis? Have you questioned why they may be always rising at that level of promotion?

Is it because of their background?

Is it because they have more access to XYZ?

Are they not a parent?

It’s okay to not be a parent.

But are people who are mothers being penalized for not being able to spend every hour in the workplace?

It really is, as a leader, making sure that you understand those dynamics.

Get a partner who can support your understanding that.

As much as you can, move that up as a leader.

We all have a version of managing up.

No matter what level of leadership we are, we can always bring those conversations higher.

I’ll give you one example.

We work with an organization where the HR (human resources) person is really firm about making sure that inclusion in the workplace happens and really understanding that.

She’s the one, as a white woman, who has stood and said, “Hey, we need this,” and really pushed that team to do it.

She’s really unapologetic about it.

Which is great, right?

So, then we can live in that space.

On the flip side, if you think about it as a team member, it depends on how much power we have as a team member.

That could be different depending on the workplace.

Again, also based on identity.

Whether or not you are heard more.

There are things that show up in workplaces where you can certainly, if you have some level of privilege, you can yourself talk to your leadership about how important this is to the organization.

If you need to do your research, find out why, based on what you know, is important to the organization.

How is this going to impact what that looks like?

Also, you can stop in those moments that you see it happening.

One of the things that’s always a big one is who gets credit for what.

So let’s say we’re in a team meeting, and I raise my hand and say something, and it kind of just gets swept under the rug, but the guy across from me says the exact same thing. And now he’s championed for it.

That is a great opportunity for a team member to go, “Oh, actually, this is what Kim said. So why don’t we let Kim expound on what she meant when she said that a few minutes ago?”

It is turning that light away and putting it somewhere else.

That takes practice.

It takes practice for people to even understand when that’s happening, because a lot of being able to detect that is based on your own background, your own experiences, your exposure, and your self-awareness around this.

Those are quick ways that I can think about, ways that can be impacted.

When we start getting at the CHR (chief of human resources) level, that C-suite level, this is all about policies.

What policies are put in place?

What are the leadership values?

How courageous are we going to be as leaders in order to move that forward on a regular basis?

What’s our north star as a leadership team to make sure that we are honoring everyone as humans in the workplace?

Michael 14:15

I really like the suggestion you have of redirecting that conversation in a moment, or later on, when you realize, I said a thing, I don’t get recognized, someone else says the same thing, they get recognized.

Redirecting it back. “Well, hey, Michael just said that as well. You’ve heard your perspective, person who got recognized. Now let’s hear what Michael had to say.”

Because the person who’s not getting recognized, almost certainly has a different perspective than everyone else in the room.

Just because everyone in the room has a different perspective from everyone else.

The more we can make visible that this disparity in recognition is happening, and then encourage the people who are not being recognized to continue to speak up and to highlight them specifically, the more likely they will be to continue to speak up, and the more likely everyone else will be recognized both in the context of what just happened and also to start recognizing everyone.

Kim 15:32

That’s the hope! It certainly is the hope.

Michael 15:38

When I try to do this, and it doesn’t work, repeatedly, how do you troubleshoot what’s going on and help the leaders help the teams change those dynamics?

Kim 15:55

When you try to redirect the conversation from a team member perspective?

Michael 16:00

Yeah. Let’s take that specific example. I see this happening. I tried to do the redirect, it doesn’t happen. In five or six times, across that meeting or multiple other meetings over time. I see this happen, I try to redirect, it keeps not working. When you are brought in and see situations like that, how do you help teams change those dynamics and make that shift?

Kim 16:32

Usually, when we are working with organizations, we’re working on the leadership level.

A lot of that is helping leaders see that and understand the impacts of that so that they themselves can be the ones who are pausing and saying, “Actually this person needs to,” or when that person says something, leaning into that. “Can you tell me more about what you’re thinking around that?”

Also, leaders providing opportunities for people to speak outside of meetings.

What I mean by that is, everyone is just not good on the fly.

Some people plan scripts in order to get into a meeting.

When you were talking about language barriers, culturally, that can be a part of it.

Who had more time to research.

All of this plays a role.

Great leaders understand that.

For instance, something happens in a meeting, even if that leader pauses and says, “Can you explain more?” maybe in that moment, that person can’t quite articulate.

Say, “You know what, let’s do this. Can we have you write up a summary of what you’re thinking and share that back out with the team. This is deeply important and we want to make sure we understand. If we need to, we can call another quick team meeting to discuss it, if it is part of the way to move this project forward.”

It is finding ways to engage people in ways that are not actively extraverted.

Because we sort of have an environment that expects everyone to be extraverted.

And that’s not necessarily the case.

And then also, as you mentioned, Michael, culturally, it may not be that that is how someone communicates on a regular basis.

When we start talking about being neurodiverse.

What that means, in a moment, I just can’t think that quickly. It’s just not who I am. This is information I need to go back and sit with it and come back with a response.

What I believe strongly is that from the leadership piece, leadership is active in this, that is where it can become part of a departmental culture, a part of a workplace culture.

As part of this, that there’s accountability in place to support the movement of this forward on a regular basis.

Accountability can look like, in a job performance review, what does that look like so that you’re pinpointing whether or not a leader has actively done their due diligence to understand what support other team members need?

That could be something around noticing who gets on certain projects.

What language is used in emails.

There is software that can parse language, if the language is, think about Textio for instance, if the language is inequitable or the language is in some way discriminatory or focuses more on male gender… a male is not a gender but men is a gender.

There are ways to implement this that connects with accountability, so that it’s not only a theory or a concept in a workplace, it is actually something that’s in the workplace culture’s bones for the long term, no matter who is in that role.

Michael 20:13

It all comes down to reflecting and then raising visibility.

Kim 20:25

It does and it also comes down to being willing to share power.

If you’re in a department, an organization, and you notice that the leadership all looks the same, there’s a reason that’s happening.

Are we willing to question it?

Why is this happening?

How have we not actively advanced women, women of color, people with disabilities, folks who are LGBTQI+, people who don’t sit on US soil?

Why is this actively not happening?

What are ways that we as an organization can shift so that that does become a part of it?

The truth of the matter is, Michael, you and I both know that, we know that the United States in and of itself is becoming more and more diverse around race.

It is.

We also know that Gen Z as a group and Millennials are pushing towards active diversity, equity, and inclusion. With just expectations of being treated like human beings in the workplace.

Some of the things that past generations put up with for a long time, or did not implement or really consider until later in their careers, what we find is that Gen Zs and Millennials show up with those expectations.

Even around salary.

Gen Zs won’t apply for jobs, a large amount won’t apply for jobs, that there is no pay transparency.

Good on them.

Good on them.

I wish that was something that I would have thought about years ago because we just accepted it as status quo.

The hope is that each generation gets more informed about things like this.

That’s what we know.

We also know that when we look at the global population, only 16% if I’m not mistaken, 16% are white.

And so the truth of the matter is that this is a continuum.

For those organizations that want to be relevant well into the future, we really do have to look at, what does this mean in the landscape of business?

A lot of times as businesses we try to operate as if we’re in our own little bubbles, as if the things that are happening in society don’t impact us.

In fact, it does.

And what we are finding more is that team members have the expectation that organizations recognize how societal issues impact their workplace experiences.

Michael 23:04

Do you find when you’re working with companies in other parts of the world, where the white male isn’t the dominant culture, it’s different colors, maybe even a matriarchal culture, rather than patriarchal, are all the same problems and issues in place, just shifted in that direction? So that it’s the brown male or the black male that gets promoted rather than the female or whatever white males happen to be around?

Kim 23:48

That’s an interesting question.

I’m gonna be honest with you, Michael, I don’t know that we’ve worked with an organization that has—even when we talk about the UK—I’m just thinking off the top of my head, other countries that have been a part of the conversation….

We’ve worked with organizations particularly that have a bend towards Westernized society.

We have found that it’s the same generalized, where the CEO (chief executive officer) or that C-suite is typically predominantly homogenous around being white, whether male or men or women.

Then, at the mid-level managers, we may see more racialized diversity there.

So when you asked the question about what happens when we work with organizations who are not, when we think about this in that way, I cannot honestly think of an organization that we’ve worked in, that hasn’t been set up in that way.

Here’s what I will say, though.

We do know that oftentimes, in a lot of society, that patriarchy does play a role.

So the truth of the matter is that no matter people’s background, power can always get in the way of providing opportunities for other groups, no matter what.

I do want to talk about an organization, when we start to think about organizations that do, who have actively done a really strong job of this.

I’m hearing those stories more and more.

I’ll give you a really strong example.

I was talking to a trans woman who had transitioned in the workplace. A black woman who had transitioned in their current workplace.

Can you imagine how both brave and scary that is?

Because now I got to come to work and tell everybody, “This is what it’s going to be.”

You need people to shift, because people are like, “I don’t subscribe to pronouns.”

You don’t have to.

But you do need to respect a human being.

You don’t need to describe your pronouns.

But they need to be comfortable with it being in the workplace.

What she specifically talked about was how her leader actively went to HR (human resources) and said, “What care is available? What is our policy around gender-affirming care?”

It ended up hitting the C-suite.

Company policy changed around this, what they were willing to cover, what they were willing to do.

Then, what we talked about, “Based on your experience, how does that”—because now they are in a leadership position—”how does that impact your leadership?”

To hear what that sounded like was really beautiful.

And it’s not just a one-to-one thing, where it’s this one person.

What you’re listening to is when one person, and their leader was a white woman, when one person makes a choice, it can have a ripple effect.

That is what is so powerful about us taking a stand as human beings.

Now the trajectory of this person in that workplace is much more powerful.

They don’t have to lose a strong, not only employee, but an advocate for the organization.

Those folks who really feel as part of a culture in a workplace.

Now they don’t lose that person.

And also, that person is telling that story without being prompted by the organization.

That is the power of what happens when an organization actually puts action behind this language, this cloaked language, about, “We believe in powerful leadership, we believe in strong and courageous leadership.”

Okay, then what does that look like?

That’s one of the ways that it can look.

Michael 27:51

That’s something that we all have the power and freedom and ability to do, is to show up and demonstrate that different way of being.

Kim 28:06

We do have that power.

I will say, some folks are, and can be, impacted more negatively.

I’ve worked in corporate America many years, moved into the C-suite at a particular organization.

I remember pausing on some things, in particular the pay that we were willing to pay a black woman who was coming into my department versus her white male counterpart, her white male predecessor, I should say, who just in action because we were able to work with her for three months on a temp basis, immediately shifted the ways that the work happened.

It was immediate.

There was more of a harmonious culture with the team.

Team members came and told me, “It’s much better now that she’s here.”

Literally unprompted, team members would say that to me.

In my desire to, and this person prior to her had behavioral issues like showing up to work late, being extremely disrespectful to not only myself, but team members. They were sort of a known challenge in that workplace.

He was able to stay at that workplace for many years.

Didn’t really come under any behavioral policies where you come in and you do a PIP (performance improvement plan), until I got there.

Because I was like, “I’m not—this is wild. I’m not putting up with this.”

When I started to ask for pay for the black woman, I asked for pay that was equal to what he was being paid to do the very same job.

What I found was that HR was unwilling to do so.

Totally unwilling.

HR was unwilling to do so based on things that didn’t make sense.

I’m like, “I’ve worked with this person for three months. I can tell you that this person is even more valuable to the team than that last person.”

They were like, “Oh, well, the resume doesn’t show enough experience.”

But I have experience and I had the budget. So why isn’t this happening?

These are ways that it shows up.

I believe frankly, one, it was because I was a black woman who was sort of pushing back and saying, “I really think that this is about gender and race, that there’s no other, give me another reason why we are unwilling to pay this person.”

Then, if I spoke up, she was being penalized because I was speaking up.

There’s a lot more to the story.

And what turned out, it did end up that this workplace had major issues with black women.

They’re still trying to recover on the PR (public relations) side, and also internally in the workplace.

It has been in the news.

This is not something where I made that up, and maybe it was that or this.

This is a lived experience.

Over the years I’ve watched the fallout of that.

So what I’m saying is, it’s not all cut and dry.

Everyone who speaks up doesn’t get heard, because I certainly did.

Years later that person finally got their money and more based on a comp study, because we pushed for a comp study around pay, and they were grossly underpaying that person.

But what it doesn’t do is go back all of those years that she worked and make up for that.

So yes, we all have the power to do it.

I do think it is powerful when it’s done.

Just take a look at what happened at Amazon and the union, employees unionized in New Jersey.

And also recognize that who speaks up can matter at times, especially if there’s not a large group of galvanizing around that.

So, at that one-to-one daily level, do it.

But we also know that the impact of that can be very different, depending on your background and your social capital in a particular work environment.

Michael 32:28

This has been a great conversation today, Kim. What else should I ask you?

Kim 32:34

What else should you ask me?

One of the things that I, and I don’t know if it’s a question or a commentary or whatever, how can organizations identify their leadership values at an organizational level, but also at a departmental level?

The reason why this is so important is because as you are building a workplace culture, as people are coming in, one of the things that is powerful about understanding what your values are, is getting a sense of who you’re able to retain and who leaves, and how quickly that happens.

Getting a sense of promotions, and who’s being promoted within the organization.

Taking a look at whether or not the organization in and of itself is innovating on a regular basis, in a space, whatever that is.

When we look at value, sometimes your values can be dictated just by that information. And not even by what people say their values are.

We grossly underestimate our ability to be inclusive, or our ability to understand different cultures and backgrounds other than our own. We grossly overestimate what that looks like.

If that’s the case, then what we need to do is take a look at the outcome.

The more that organizations are willing to take a look at outcomes and then reverse engineer that into, “What are our leadership values? Even though we say this, this is what’s showing up. And so, if we’ve made a promise to inclusion and to equity in the workplace, maybe what we’re doing is not quite there.”

It is a real layout of not only your values as words, but what does that look like in action and in practice, in those workplaces, as leaders?

And then, based on that, what needs to shift and change over time? What does that look like?

As leaders, what do we have to shift and change as a department in order to move that forward?

Michael 35:02

What are the outcomes we have now? What are the outcomes we desire? That shows us the delta. How do we start moving from the former to the latter?

Kim 35:14

Period. That’s it.

Michael 35:17

It’s so easy. Thank you for solving all our problems today. [laughing ironically]

Kim 35:22

[laughing] It’s not that easy.

If it were, we wouldn’t be here.

But conceptually, it is easy.

For those organizations that are willing to step in with two feet, I can tell you they are mitigating risk.

They are making sure that things that could have been really detrimental to the brand overall, or the organization overall, do not go unnoticed, because they are actively involved in listening to other folks with different backgrounds and seeing things in different ways and presenting those things differently and understanding that their audiences are going to receive and things will land a certain way with their audiences, whether those audiences be internally, externally, board members, whatever.

There’s real power in understanding that actively making sure that an organization is living in action, the things that they say they believe, is imperative.

It is a smart business function.

It’s all the more that we think about it as a smart business function and also as great for humanity the better.

Michael 36:33


For people who are bought into everything we’ve talked about today, or maybe not so bought in but open to learning more, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?

Kim 36:49

The best way to connect is two ways. One on LinkedIn, you can find myself, you can find Kim Crowder, or Kim Crowder Consulting on LinkedIn; search Kim Crowder, I’ll pop up, I promise.

And that’s Kim Crowder, like a crowd of people with er at the end.

Then, also go to Sign up for that newsletter. It’s chock full of information. Very soon, we’ll be splitting that newsletter up so that you can get the information that connects with your area of focus the most. So stay tuned for that. But sign up for that newsletter at or find me on LinkedIn.

Michael 37:25


What would you like to leave our audience with today?

Kim 37:32

I would say that we are at a pivotal point in history.

I really believe that.

In this moment, we are writing what future generations say and believe about us.

We are deciding what our legacy is going to be.

Right now, today.

And the more that we are desirous of history to show us in a light of positivity, of the ways that we wish people remembered us, those actions, those choices, start now at that leadership level.

We are seeing the crux of this thing that’s coming to a head.

What I believe is that there are folks who are ready to do this, there could just be fear around that.

That’s okay, lean into that, attack that, figure out what that is.

If you’ve never seen examples of leaders who have done this, search them out, find them, so that you can at least have a far-away connection with someone who’s already doing this.

Courageous leadership is powerful.

The more that we as leaders are willing to be self-reflective and self-aware, the more that we’re able to expand our ability to see others.

Michael 38:58

That sounds beautiful.

Audience, please let us know what resonated with you today. What maybe didn’t? How can we help you understand what doesn’t make sense? And where do you disagree?

Thank you for being with us today.

Have a great day.

Kim 39:24

Thank you, Michael, for having me.

Thanks for joining us on Uncommon Leadership today.

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