If there’s one thing that you need to take away from this episode, it’s overcoming adversity. The world is full of people with different beliefs, and they will try to bring you down, exclude you, and tease you so you need to be prepared to overcome that. If you can do that, you’ll be able to teach the next generation of people the correct values. Join Rosie Zilinskas as she talks to Kim Pipkin about overcoming adversity to climb the ladder to success. Kim is an expert in sales and marketing. She is also passionate about commercial real estate, architecture, engineering, and construction. Kim is also the Principal of Black Kite Consulting where she helps underrepresented and under-resourced students. Learn how she fights for diversity and how you can find your purpose in the world. Start climbing your ladder to success today!
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Diversity, Inclusion And Overcoming Adversity With Kim Pipkin
I was so happy to talk to Kim Pipkin. She provided some great insights on being an extrovert, networking, and being a social justice advocate. Kim is an expert sales and marketing professional, passionate about commercial real estate, architecture, engineering, and construction. She is a visionary leader with the strength for developing strategic roadmaps to meet challenges head-on. She is best when coaching those looking forward to managing change in growth. She draws on her many years of experience to improve client services and identify growth opportunities that deliver measurable results and success. With that, let’s go ahead and know Kim’s insights.
Kim, thank you so much for being with me. I appreciate your time. I’m going to start straight out with the conversation. Earlier in your career, you were 1 of 2 women that worked in a company. At the time, you had two advanced degrees. You still were one of the least paid employees at the time. You felt expendable and voiceless. Tell me a little bit about that.
Thank you for having me. That’s a poignant question that you are asking. That’s happened to me many times in my career. I recall being 1 of 2 women in a board room with a lot of men, and I did have more degrees than almost all of them. What was interesting was that I was considered overhead because I was not a billable employee.
However, I was responsible for generating the revenue like going out and doing client meetings, securing new opportunities, and yet my expendability was because I was considered overhead, I wasn’t a billable person. It would be interesting because I would be in those rooms but not participating. If I was, it was minimally participating. I wouldn’t be asked questions or my opinions. Sometimes it felt as if I was not there and that I was being disregarded. Sometimes it wasn’t intentional but it felt as if I wasn’t engaged, and I could have easily left the room.
As time went on and you gained a little bit more experience, what did you do with those feelings of not being there?
I did want to add what exacerbated those feelings of not being there and being expendable was the fact that there was nepotism in the room, which made that feel even scarier. There was a lack of psychological safety because the owner was the husband. To answer your question, over time, I felt more comfortable because I understood the culture and the dynamic that was happening in the room.
I will give you an example. It’s as if I was Jane Goodall or Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who was watching the activity to be able to understand what was happening. I was able to speak and feel more confident. It was hard at first because I thought, “Something is going on here, and I’m not a part of it.” Yet by being able to be a little bit not engaged, I was able to understand what was happening and could contribute. For the most part, I took away a lot of tools. I was able to stabilize my emotional self. I was able to use those skills, not necessarily in that particular work situation but later, I was able to leverage what I learned.
The point of me asking you that is because we are talking about women in corporate. A lot of women don’t necessarily use their voice but it’s important to know that even if you feel that you are not there, your experience is going to help you be able to mesh and incorporate yourself into the culture so that you can start feeling like you are more important, people start noticing you and all that good stuff. Along those lines, I know that you believe that when you feel alone, it’s important to establish a network. What does a network look like? What is a network, in your opinion? What can women do in their careers with a network?
I happen to love people. A big part of networking is enjoying and engaging with humans at all levels and in all places in life. It’s not always about the career that the network is. I will go back to when I was in graduate architecture school. I used to teach group fitness. When I was in this teaching role, I remember that those people were my students.
That was the beginning of networking for me. It didn’t feel as if I was being a career networker but I was able to use those skills from group fitness, teaching, and coaching. When I’ve got to a professional role, I was very comfortable being in front of people, in big crowds, engaging and focusing on people’s different ways of connecting with me because everybody has a way they need to be connected to.
For example, there are kinesthetic people, audio people, and visual people. If you are able to understand how to relate to them, then you are able to hone in and focus on how you can make those connections. I happen to be probably an extrovert, which makes it more comfortable for me to network. To answer your question more clearly, I think of networking as a community of people who most often are aligned with the same goal that you have. You don’t network with people who you don’t have any interest in or who are not on the same road, path or journey as you.
The reason why I was bringing that up is that if you are one of a few whoever you are in the corporation, having that safety net of the people around you that make you feel you are welcome and you belong, that’s your network. It’s not necessarily 100% within the company. Some of that networking can translate into personal friendships and things like that. The bottom line here is that when you go out and seek those people that have your goals and are like-minded to you, that’s when you start networking. For those extroverts, it’s easy to create a network a little bit different than for those people that are introverts. I love your question there.
I want to add something though. I went to an all-girls high school, and by going, I attribute a lot of my confidence and ability to move in spaces that maybe most people don’t get to be in. There were no limits. Nobody said that I couldn’t be a part of something. I didn’t have to compete with men to take up space. It was very easy for me to say, “Why can’t I be here? Why can’t I be in the room with powerful people, powerful men, and women?” That was a real core part of my ability to network.
When you are in an all-girls school, there are no boys. You don’t have any boys intimidating you, acting out or being more vocal. You grew up, and we all have adversaries but you said something about your adversaries that they would shape your character. We talk about role models who shape your character but you brought out something specific about adversaries and how they shape your character. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
I use adversary not to mean that they were villainous types, mean, evil, and deliberately trying to upend me but when we think of mentors or sponsors, we most often think of them as being warm, fuzzy and very caring for you. I realized that those people in my life were relatively easy to obtain and to be in the room with.
When I figured out what an adversary was or somebody who had an opposing point of view and how they shaped my character, it was more about somebody who had an opposing view, pushed me beyond my comfort level, and demanded that I do things that I wasn’t prepared for or that I didn’t think I was prepared for. I will give you an example but I may have mentioned when you have a negative motivation.
People might say, “It’s not possible for you to do that.” Their intention is to boost you up and push you. “We know you can but we need to give you a no.” Some people say, “There’s no way you can do that,” and they mean it. They are the naysayers in the room. They don’t offer opportunities and dismiss you. Those people I also consider adversaries and I’m motivated to do the thing that they say I cannot do.
That’s so good because sometimes someone challenges you and says, “You can’t do that.” Parents use that all the time over their kids. “You can’t clean your room in five minutes.”
That’s what I mean. In my career, the adversaries have been men but I don’t think that they were intentionally doing it to me. They would have been doing it across the board to any people.
By them saying, “You can’t do that,” that motivated you similar to what other people said, “I don’t think you can do that,” but more like challenging you to think outside of the box. I like the fact that you are stating that adversaries are people that challenge your thoughts. It’s an opposing point of view. That’s good because a lot of times, we don’t know what we don’t know. We think that everything we think is truth and reality when the actual truth is that there are so many different views and opinions out there.
When you come across somebody that has a differing opinion, whatever the topic, a lot of people sometimes try to convince the other person about their opinion. I believe that I am not going to convince anybody about anything when it comes to their beliefs and opinions. I can relate to them and agree to disagree but I don’t think I’m going to be powerful enough to change someone’s opinion. There’s value in listening to other people’s opinions, especially when it’s an opposing point of view, because you learn. You may even learn about something that you don’t want anything to do with. It’s a different way of looking at the world.
I wanted to also add something that I didn’t say previously. I’m a Black female. Sometimes the adversaries were looking at me from a biased lens. In other words, “There’s no way you could be the president of the United States because you are a Black female.” They don’t say that out loud but it’s the way they are thinking, which is, “That’s not possible because we don’t have any evidence that it is possible.”
I am 100% Mexican. I don’t look like it but in my childhood, in high school specifically, I moved from Mexico City to Texas. In Texas, there are a lot of people that speak Spanish but I look White. There would be some kids that would be talking about me in front of me in Spanish. When I answer them in Spanish, and they realize that I am Mexican, they are like, “I’m so sorry. We thought you were a gringa,” which is what they call White people in Texas.
You cannot judge a book by its cover. This is a lesson that we are trying to teach all humans in the entire world. Hopefully, one day, it won’t matter if you are a woman, a man or of any kind of ethnicity. Our goal for humanity is that, at the end of the day, we are just people. Along those lines, you do a lot of diversity equity and inclusion advocacy. You are a spokeswoman. Tell me a little bit about the work that you are doing. How are you contributing? Why?
We know that DEI is a buzzword. It’s on the minds of many people. We see corporate manifestos and doctrines about it. It’s Black History Month. For me, if I go back in my life and figure out why is this something I’m doing, it’s because I consider myself a social justice person. I believe in fairness, and one can do good things when you are mindful. When you are not thinking of being fair is when you get that tension.
Fast forward to where you have more diversity equity inclusion as something we are all thinking about, I had an opportunity to be an advisor to a professional association, and they asked me if I would take on the diversity equity inclusion. I can easily do that because of the background of who I am professionally and personally.
I thought I needed a little bit more credibility but I feel as if I have to have the Girl Scout badge to back up my voice. This is what happens sometimes when you are a woman of color. You have to double down on your credentials. I was able to obtain a certificate from Cornell in Diversity Equity Inclusion. It was a great program.
I am not an HR professional, so I’m not going to say that’s my space but it allowed me to speak with some degree of authority because I had enough education to back up my opinion. I wasn’t just out there ranting, spouting or talking about things about DEI. With that role I did for the professional association, I was then able to leapfrog into other opportunities.
Mostly, I moderate panels and engage in conversations with other luminaries who are involved or engaged in DEI efforts. I also like to speak to people who want to talk about the topic. They don’t have to be DEI experts. We want to have a voice, amplify the opportunities and shed light on what it feels to be in workspaces where maybe you are not included, and there’s a lack of adversity. I’m pretty much being in those spaces so that I can be the conduit.
How does that translate? You have a passion for helping young people but how do those two fit in?
I’m going to go back to my past. I went to the all-girls school. I remember going to the college counselor and telling that person, who was a nun, that I wanted to go to school. I was shooting for the stars, and she was pretty much telling me to tone it down. I felt that was in part because I was a Black girl. When she was not buying my dreams, tamping them down or discouraging me, I realized that she was not supporting me. I thought to myself, “How many people do I know who are young and do not get the right support?”
I could tell you many stories, especially from Black people who have had the same experiences. Fast forward, I decided that I needed to be an advocate for that group of people. I was on a board of another nonprofit that focuses on something called “Cinnamon Girl.” They focus on Black and Brown students’ mentorship, leadership development, and things of that nature. Most of these girls go to big high schools where there is 1 counselor and maybe 500 or 600 seniors, juniors or per class. They get no attention or very little attention.
I thought, “I’ve got to step into that space.” Going and getting another credential, I went to UC Berkeley Extension Program and had a certificate in College and Career Counseling. I don’t have a job in that but I do have a little consulting practice where I help underrepresented and under-resourced students with executive functioning skills, helping them develop their college list. I am able to do that work through the associations of nonprofit associations that I care a lot about.
I probably have readers out there that would like to do that group. What do you suggest would be a good way for people that are wanting to get back into their careers? That’s how I started in this work too. I find myself later in my career where I started thinking, “My kids are out of the house. What can I do? How can I contribute?”
I figured, “What are my skills? I’m an executive, so I have had a lot of corporate experience. How can I teach other women specifically to do this?” To my question, if there was someone out there that wanted to give back specifically to minorities, Black, young women or men, what do you suggest would be a good way for them to get involved?
I’m a big believer in doing things. It’s so easy for people to write checks. A lot of people think that their contributions to giving money are sufficient. I don’t disagree with that. If I had millions of dollars, I would give them away. However, for people who look like me, young people need to see you in person, in real life. They can touch you, it’s not ethereal and too far away. They have access to you.
You should do things you love. I don’t want to volunteer or participate in an activity, or engage in a nonprofit that I don’t have any interest in. Young people, particularly, can see when you are interested in them. If you love a particular aspect, let’s say it is young people, then do that thing but still write the checks. Be an advocate for bringing in people who may don’t know about an organization and don’t know how to do the thing.
For example, maybe you like young people but you don’t know where they are or how to reach out to them. I know that you are capable of that, and you have expressed interest, so then I bring you in however it works for you, whether it’s a small amount. Maybe you just do 1 or 2 things but essentially, for that audience, them being in the room with you is the one thing that adds the most value.
Do you have any experience with high school young people? What are some of their challenges about going to college or learning about different jobs that they would want to do in the future? Can you talk a little bit about that?
I spent five weeks volunteering on another high school campus, working specifically with high school students who were rising twelfth graders. One of the things that I figured out in the five weeks is that they lacked executive functioning skills. Somehow or another, those things are not taught. What I mean by executive functioning is they are not organized. They don’t keep themselves engaged in activities that generate, create or build confidence in their ability to keep themselves on track.
I will give you an example. A couple of the young people don’t know how to go to the registrar to say, “Do I have enough credit to graduate?” Young people can tend to be on their TikToks or Snapchats. They use acronyms and are not talking to people. They are taking shortcuts because they think that’s the quicker way.
Learning how to communicate and engage with people who might be influential, in authority or powerful people don’t have those skills. When it comes time to ask for your transcript or get a thing done, they don’t even know how to talk to people about what it is or ask the questions. The executive functioning skills are a key to being able to create a college list, know what you want to do or maybe you don’t know what you want to do but at least you know how to ask for help.
Young people are on their phones all the time, so they text and use all social media but they don’t make phone calls. They don’t like to pick up the phone to ask a question. I will reference my children. When they were in high school, they were like, “I’m not going to call.” They would try to do anything to avoid a phone call. It’s important for parents overall.
I read a statistic that girls’ confidence peaks at age nine. Parents need to be able to allow their young people to figure things out without necessarily doing it for them so that they can start problem-solving. When you start problem-solving a little bit early on in grade school when it comes to high school, you are a little bit more proactive and that executive functioning that you are talking about is not as difficult. I agree with that. You also have said that people have to be purposeful and intentional in their careers. Can you expand a little bit about that? What do you mean by that?
Oftentimes, our society can tend to ask people, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” It’s always about the doing as if it’s a commodity. There’s an arc. You are going to start here and end there. These are the steps that you are going to take to do the thing but it’s not always heartfelt and mindful. It is mostly about executing the steps. It feels very transactional.
“I’m going to go to college, get a job, have a career, have a family and then retire.” They are not having this continuity of a thread around that’s being intentional and that it’s about your values that somehow the value proposition is woven in there. That’s where we have some trouble with ourselves when you look back and say, “I did all those things but it didn’t feel very good. I don’t know what I’ve got out of it. I’ve got a nice house and a car. I have money in the bank.” Those are tangible things.
If you were going to be at your funeral or memorial service, when you look back and say, “What are people going to say about you?” Is it going to be important that they said, “Rosie got a new car or another degree?” For me, the intention and purposefulness have to do with, “What is your mark on the world? What have you done for humanity? Have you changed somebody’s life? Have you created an opportunity? Have you advocated for somebody?” It doesn’t always have to be big, loud things. I don’t even want any credit for it. Sometimes you plant seeds that you don’t see grow.
For me, it makes a difference because if you think about what makes you happy and try to match a career with what makes you happy, then you are going to be fulfilled. That’s going to bring happiness. I agree that even if you help one person in the world and make a difference to one person, it’s better than not doing anything.
When it comes to careers, I love the fact that you say that it’s better for people to be purposeful and have that intention. There’s a lot of conversation about finding your purpose. For me, my purpose is, “What makes you happy?” If you can monetize that in some way with a career or degree, go do that. When you are happy, in general, then you start making a difference in the world. That’s what it’s all about. For me, I want to leave the world a better place than how I found it. That’s going to be my purpose in the world. Kim, what is your purpose?
I’m going to tell you something like an add-on to the last part. If you have the opportunity to sit with yourself, we all want to sometimes dream, whether you are on a podcast or in your exercise classes. One is, “When am I at my best?” Can you identify when you are at your best? What brings you joy? If you can link those together, that’s when you are feeling the magic of being purposeful and fulfilled.
When am I best? I’m at my best when helping young people, teaching, coaching, doing things for others, entertaining, and learning. Those are when I have the most joy. How that shows up is cooking. I do a lot of cooking and give my food away. I especially did that during COVID. I would say to you that I am a teacher.
We had also touched base on the Great Resignation. A lot of women are leaving the workplace. I read a statistic that the gains that we had done over the last decades eroded with COVID because so many women had to leave the workplace to stay home and take care of their families. They gained 30 extra hours of work in the house because of their role. Along those lines, you had talked about a broken rung. How do those two relate?
I’m a visual person. For people who will understand and maybe some people who don’t, the broken rung means you can imagine a ladder. You make it up a couple of steps on the ladder but one of the rungs is broken, so it doesn’t allow you to keep advancing. COVID has exacerbated the ability to keep climbing. Some of us might have been able to leap above the broken rung but then, with COVID, you look back and say, “I’ve got to go back down because I’ve got young children or my family members.” It’s not so much about down but, in other words, “I have to stop my climb because I have some other priorities.”
You can use, let’s say, a tree. Low-hanging fruit is easy to access but the prime fruit might be at the top. You might be on your way to the prime fruit on the tree but then you realize that you have to get back down on the ground here and work out some things that are a priority that is calling your attention if you are a parent. That includes men, aunties, grandparents, and a whole other people in the village. There are other priorities.
When you decide to have a child or be a caretaker for somebody, it is not oftentimes about what you want to do. It is about what’s being demanded of you. Broken ladder or not, COVID has created this dynamic that says, “We have a life that is big, wide, and full of a lot of things that call our attention.” We can’t not do them.
We have to do all of those things but the burden and the weightiness of it feels like Sisyphus pushing this rock up a hill, and it keeps rolling back on you. You never get up to the crest. It can be very difficult. There’s a sense of regression sometimes when you are making progress, and then you have to stop, pause and feel like you are taking a break or maybe you feel despondent because you are not able to keep working and you are tired.
A lot of people are tired over these years because of COVID, all the responsibilities, the stress, and that good stuff. What would your advice be to somebody that had to pause in their career because of whatever life situation they are in?
This is going to sound cliché but I’ve got to say, self-care. It sounds too magical probably for some people but it’s when you have flown on an airplane, and they tell you every time, “Put your mask on first.” Too often, we forget to put our masks on, reboot, and even share with people, “I have boundaries. I need to take a break and have my own space. I have to be able to do that for me to keep going. Otherwise, my battery is going to run down.” Once the battery is down and out, you can’t get it back and recover. Whatever self-care means for you, whether it’s yoga, some exercise, reading a book, taking a nap, sleeping or saying, “No, I can’t do it anymore. We need to bring some help in. I don’t have the capacity.”
For women, self-care is one of the things that we put everybody else ahead of us. We don’t take care of ourselves because we don’t think we have time. That’s huge. The other thing is asking for help. If you have too much on your hands and you have family and friends, say, “Can you cook a meal for me? Just one meal so that I don’t have to cook tonight,” or worst-case scenario, Uber Eats. Take out something where you don’t necessarily have to be in the kitchen cooking or taking care of others. It could be as easy as three minutes where you go to another room and breathe. That could be as simple as that. That’s important.
Hopefully, as far as the career, once you are done taking that pause, you can get back into it with renewed energy. You have a mental break from work, and you can get back into the workforce or continue to focus on your career. You have that second breath of fresh air, and you can continue working that way. Kim, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I do have one last thing to ask you about your two tips. Before we do that, do you have any final thoughts or any other comments that you would like to share?
You don’t always have to listen to what the committee is saying. What I mean by the committee is the chatter. In other words, there’s so much stuff out there. You need to filter out the noise so that you can hear yourself. Pay attention to your intuition. Your gut is always there to alert you to things that might be great, not so great but essentially, pay close attention to the little voices and red flags or things of that nature. That is your full self guiding you. That would be the one thing I would say to people. Listen to your heart and what’s happening for yourself.
The last thing is I would like for you to share two actionable tips of something that people can do in their careers that they can implement. Why don’t you tell me about that?
I’m a scribe. I’m a big advocate of pinned paper. If you have a mission or a goal that you want to accomplish, I believe in writing it down. It does not mean you have to share it with people. I would say probably don’t share it with people or share it with a very few people but write it down in a place where you can see, read, and repeat it all the time. It’s there and becomes a part of your subconscious. It could be something like, “I want to get a PhD, make a certain amount of money and accomplish a thing.” Don’t be afraid to say out loud what it is that you want. They go together. One is to write it down, and then one is to speak it out loud.
It doesn’t even have to be spoken to anybody else. You can speak it to yourself and put it out into the universe by saying it out loud.
It’s important. It sounds cliché and maybe focuses on some people. Essentially, you can say out loud, “I want to do a thing.” I don’t want to be an astronaut, for example, but some people do. Some people attain it because they said it, focused on it and did the steps as they knew it inside. I am a big advocate of writing it down and then speaking it out loud.
It all goes back to the intention of whatever it is that you are trying to do. Kim, thank you so much for spending time with me.
Thank you very much. It has been so nice to be here. I hope I was helpful to many people or at least inspired you.
Thank you, Kim.
I am so grateful that I was able to spend time with Kim, and we talked about some powerful topics. To recap Kim’s two tips, tip number one is that if you have a mission or goal that you want to accomplish, write it down. It’s best if you see and read it daily. Tip number 2 goes along with tip number 1. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak your goals out loud. Put it out into the universe. If you have any suggestions on any career development topics that you want to hear or learn from, please send me an email or a DM on social media. With that, remember to be brave, be bold and take action. Until next time.
About Kim Pipkin
Expert sales and marketing professional passionate about commercial real estate (CRE), architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC). A visionary leader with a strength for developing strategic roadmaps to meet challenges head on. I am at my best when coaching those looking forward to manage change and growth. I draw on my 25 years of experience to improve client services and identify growth opportunities that deliver measurable results and success.