Kimberly Reed has spent her career inspiring and guiding some of the most influential business leaders in implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and practices. Listen in on this Keystone Education Radio conservation, as host Annette Stevenson discusses with Kim her remarkable journey to establish her organization, her advice for establishing DEI policy in schools, and what drives her tenacious pursuit of optimism.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- How passion can shape your career path
- Fundamentals of tackling subjects such as diversity, equity and inclusion in educational settings
- Why embracing optimism in your darkest moments changes your response to these situations and builds resilience
“The theme of that was people. And working with people, advocating for people, being a champion for our community.”
“I had a great mentor, sponsor, and I also had a wonderful boss who saw the talent in me and who believed in me, and who was a champion of my success. I’ll never forget those important ingredients or those two people.”
“But for me, when they said that, ‘Kim, go follow your passion,’ I got on the plane that evening and I thought about what my passion is. What is it? I thought it was diversity and working for a global organization, making an excellent salary, and I will get on the cover of Black Enterprise Magazine, or Forbes Woman, at the time that I was reading, and I would ride off into the sunset. Continue to work and ride off into the sunset into retirement. Well, that didn’t happen. I followed my passion. I called them when I got back the next morning, and I said, ‘I am going to see what else is out there for me.’”
“Our projects are sometimes short, our projects are sometimes long, but at the end of the day, what we do is develop people. We develop leaders and we develop organizations, to ensure that they are innovative and that diversity is in the DNA of the organization.”
“Encourage school boards to embrace the importance of teacher and school leader diversity. What does your board look like? Is it a replication of the communities you serve? That’s important.”
“We’ve got to start in the right direction. We have to use the data. We have to engage the school boards. We have to look at recruitment. We have to look at work conditions. And lastly, it has to be about support.”
“What I want the book, what I want readers to know, that this book, is that it encourages readers to road test their optimism skills, eliminate discouragement and create new a set of positive habits.”
“Learn how to really just embrace and take your inner strength, stand tall, and use your power to power through life with grace, confidence and resilience, because these difficulties and struggles are unavoidable in our lives, but a person has complete control over how you respond to a situation.”
“Gratitude is the rocket fuel to our resilience.”
Q: So Kim, would you start by telling us about you, a little bit about you and your background and what led you to where you are now?
A: Sure, sure, sure. So my name is Kimberly Reed, and I am a new best-selling author.
A: Yes, and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but where I started is in corporate. I had the blessing to work with some of the most influential companies in the world, and I had such a great ride on my corporate journey. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest people on the planet. No question about that. I started off in recruitment, talent management.
So if I hit the rewind button even further, I thought I was going to be an attorney. I saw Johnnie Cochran… I’m dating myself, but I saw Johnnie Cochran, the whole OJ trial, and I was in college at the time and I said, “wow.” I always wanted to be a teacher on the college level, but I also wanted to be Oprah, in the sense of, I love people. So I wanted to be a talk show host. Then I wanted to be an anchor woman on the 11 o’clock news.
The theme of that was people. And working with people, advocating for people, being a champion for our community. And I still did that. I did that. How I did that was all of my corporate experiences in recruitment, talent management and diversity brought me to this very moment. So I had to learn the business. I was in professional services, for example. I worked for a company that you might know called PWC and Deloitte. I worked in these large companies, global entities, and I was able to learn about the business aspect of diversity and understanding back then it was just diversity, and inclusion wasn’t a part of the equation. Nor belonging, nor equity, or equality.
So I was focusing on diversity, and ensuring in tech at the time, because one of the practices I was in was tech, and the tech practice that we diversify; that we had more women and people of color in that space. So I fell in love with diversity, and going back to the ingredients of what brought me here is the champion, the advocate.
And my passion to ensure that women and people of color have a seat at the corporate table, because I know what that table feels like. I also know that a lot of mentees that I have on college campuses, they aspire to be those people. To be those people at the table, whether it is educational administrator, or whether it is a corporate executive like myself. So it was a kaleidoscope of experiences that brought me to this very moment. I am currently, my day job, is a diversity, equality and inclusion executive and strategist. So I have the blessing to work with still the world’s most influential organizations, some that I worked for previously, to ensure that they are not only hiring, because we know hiring is important, retention is important, but their culture is diversity ready. So in that there’s a sense of belonging also in that culture that permeates your employees.
Q: Yeah, absolutely. You touched upon what your day job is now, so talk a little bit about what the biggest catalyst was for founding Reed Development Group. Was there a single big moment, or was it cumulative? What did you set out to achieve when you started your organization?
A: Sure. I got laid off.
Q: Well, that is a catalyst.
A: That was the catalyst. So it’s funny Annette, I will tell you, when I tell the story sometimes of my background, or how sometimes where we weave optimism into our lives, etc., people always wait for me to say this big moment of that, I came to entrepreneurship. It was a default. I thank God that I have an entrepreneur spirit. I just didn’t know it was within me. Because… I will never forget, the short story; it was Deloitte, was my last corporate job, and I worked on the national practice. I reported directly to the chief diversity officer of Deloitte Global. One of my mentors was one of a few highest-ranking partners of color in the entire firm.
So I had great air cover. I had a great mentor, sponsor, and I also had a wonderful boss who saw the talent in me and who believed in me, and who was a champion of my success. I’ll never forget those important ingredients or those two people. So I was working in Philadelphia, but both of my bosses, well one of my bosses, the chief diversity officer, was in Houston.
And I flew down to Houston because she wanted to meet; no problem, that wasn’t out of the norm. And so when I met with her, then the partner who I told you about, who was a mentor of mine, was also there. And they said, Kim, we know that you love what you do. We are leaving the firm. I’m like, what? What do you mean you’re leaving the firm? Who’s going to be my air cover? Who’s going to be my advocate? Who’s going help me get work done?
Because sometimes in organizations, you have some people that fully don’t believe in the cause. And when you have executives or when you have people at that level to help you navigate the culture, your job is that much easier.
So needless to say, we ate dinner, we had this conversation, they told me they were leaving. They said, but Kim, we know that we see you as a professional speaker. You always are doing great sessions for the firm. We understand, we know your passion for diversity, etc., and the list went on. We can have another role for you in the firm because the Global Diversity Team was disassembling. There was a lot of re-org happening, etc. We just didn’t know where the chips were going to fall at that moment.
So for them, as the mentors they were and great boss that they were, they were protecting me, because we just didn’t know where that fallout was going to be. They said, “Kim, you could stay with the firm and we’ll find you a role; no biggie. But go follow your passion.”
And I thought this was my passion! But entrepreneurship is the hardest job I ever loved, and I have no ceiling. Meaning when you work inside, and there’s nothing wrong with working internally, because I tell my students all the time, you want to diversify your experience. Go work for a global company, travel, go work in education, go do what you want to do to make an impact in other people’s lives and simultaneously make an impact in yours.
But for me, when they said that, “Kim, go follow your passion,” I got on the plane that evening and I thought about what my passion is. What is it? I thought it was diversity and working for a global organization, making an excellent salary, and I will get on the cover of Black Enterprise Magazine, or Forbes Woman, at the time that I was reading, and I would ride off into the sunset. Continue to work and ride off into the sunset into retirement.
Well, that didn’t happen. I followed my passion. I called them when I got back the next morning, and I said, “I am going to see what else is out there for me.”
And on October 20, it will be actually 14 years this year, I started Reed Consulting Group, and then the name changed later to Development. And you might say, why did you do that? Well, consultants go in an organization, they come out. We go in, we do the work, we come out.
But diversity is a little different, because we tend to be a part of the fabric of the organization. Our projects are sometimes short, our projects are sometimes long, but at the end of the day, what we do is develop people. We develop leaders and we develop organizations, to ensure that they are innovative and that diversity is in the DNA of the organization. That’s how I got to where I am now, and the impacts to the world that I hope that I make.
Q: That’s an amazing journey there. So some of the subjects that you talked about that you help incorporate into the DNA of an organization, tackling subjects like diversity, equity, inclusion, all of this can seem overwhelming for leaders of organizations, or leaders of school districts who are setting about to do some work in this area. So when you’re consulting, let’s say with an educational entity, where do you advise, or what do you advise as the starting point? What’s some of the groundwork that must be laid?
A: Sure. I always recommend… There is a form of a playbook, this D-E-I-B [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging], because some entities use belonging, playbook. And what I would say specifically to educators, and school district leaders, staff, teachers, who are interested in improving and walking in the evolution of diversity, equity, equality, and inclusion, I would recommend there are a few steps that you take.
One, is that you encourage school boards to embrace the importance of teacher and school leader diversity. What does your board look like? Is it a replication of the communities you serve? That’s important. You have to encourage school boards, and we have to signal them to ensure that they are understanding the importance. We are seeing that play out in Florida right now.
Also, step two I would say, is to collect and use data to examine school district recruitment, interviews and hiring practices. And that’s internal, so let’s talk about external. In your student population, let’s look at the data of how many students are in a challenged socioeconomic environment. That’s a part of diversity. There are over 10 dimensions of diversity and socioeconomic is one of them. So are we looking at the demographics of our kids? Because every student has a different need.
Think about learning for a moment, Annette. A lot of times we have to modify our teaching, because I teach on the college level. We have to modify our teaching style, energy, etc., for the adult learner, because adult learners learn differently; visual, for example. Well let’s go back to children. There is a different learning style and a different, I would say, set of issues that students, for example, in the urban communities, face before they hit the school doors every morning. So we have to understand what our students, the kaleidoscope in the demographic of our students that we’re teaching, that we’re working with, in addition to the administrative stuff. Back what I just discussed; school district recruitment, interviewing, hiring practices.
I’m reading a lot now about diversity because of what is happening in Florida. It prompted me to read into some of the horrific depictions, videos that we’ve seen. And I understand parents, I understand both sides. But not to get into mask versus not mask, but this is talking about diversity, but that is an element of diversity, so you can’t ignore that.
Vaccinated versus unvaccinated. Some people who have religious beliefs of why they’re not vaccinated. They’re a part of this kaleidoscope of diverse people, and diversity in our re-made nation. Virtual learning. We developed, my team, we partner with the state of Delaware, and this is our second cycle; second year, if you will. And we developed an internship program and what the essential, without going into the weeds of what the program is, but it is a program that is for high school students in Wilmington. Most come from very humble beginnings. And so because it’s virtual, we have different issues than perhaps students that have access to Wi-Fi. Something so simple, but so powerful.
Our students, some of them have to be on video. Why? Two reasons. One, because of their background. Sometimes students are on video or off video, and some are off video because of their environments. We have to understand that. Sometimes students just don’t want to be on video; we got that, we got that small pool. But depending on the student, the groups, and the demographics of students that you’re working with, we have to understand that there are different challenges, and one is Wi-Fi. Something that you and I may take for granted, or people that are listening to this podcast. It’s like, what? We have Wi-Fi. I have cable. That’s why I have Wi-Fi.
But there’s still families that don’t, so the students have to figure out a way to be on a Zoom, or to attend their internships virtually. And that was eye opening for me, because I did not think about Wi-Fi, to be honest with you, for anybody.
So I had to check myself. So it goes to my third step… Well point, I should say. We have to think about how we improve a working environment for educators of color in our students, because not all students of color come from humble beginnings. We have to understand that kaleidoscope of thinking.
And I would say the fourth, is you have to question and change recruitment practices to identify qualified teachers of color. In Philadelphia we see a great diversity. I’m proud of Philadelphia’s school district, Dr. Hite. We have a great diversity of teachers. But you see in some areas, you see more Caucasian teachers. Especially in urban areas. I meant the kids that I’ve just talked to you about, these excellent, wonderful kids I talk about, that is a scenario.
And so the other step, I think we’re on four perhaps; invest in mentorship and career ladders for current and inspiring teachers, schools and district leaders. Let’s go back to what the premise of these steps processes, and I’m asking for my reaction to your question, is you have to start with this playbook.
And also an assessment. I didn’t jump into why diversity is important; no, that’s not it. There has to be… The bright spots across the state are school districts working hard to create diverse, equitable and inclusive environments for educators and students alike.
But we also are reminded that virtual and state level policy changes and investments that need to support a more diverse educator workforce, and also demographics of students that I just described, and there has to be powerful and practical steps that each school district and their leaders take right now in their local communities. And that is what I mean by this playbook.
We’ve got to start in the right direction. We have to use the data. We have to engage the school boards. We have to look at recruitment. We have to look at work conditions. And lastly, it has to be about support.
Q: So there’s a systematic approach for it to be successful, really, it sounds like?
A: No question, because organizations that successfully embody diversity, equity, equality and inclusion, they demonstrate the values at all levels, including with their governance bodies. School boards play a vital role in establishing diverse environments.
A: Right? And making clear to district and school leaders that a strong and diverse workforce is paramount.
Q: So you have a new book out, you mentioned best-selling author; congratulations on that.
A: Thank you.
Q: Your new book is titled Optimists Always Win. So expound on what that title means to you. Give us a few highlights of what that means.
A: Of course. So it’s funny, I get excited about diversity in my book, and family and all that great stuff, but I really get fired up on a Friday afternoon because Optimists Always Win was three years in the making. And it is a book about my battle with breast cancer. The devastating loss of my mom. And I just want to offer people some life lessons on overcoming dark days, because I hit rock bottom, Annette, when my mom died. She was my best friend, my air. I wanted this book to represent the journey, her legacy, and not in this order, and in blessing other people, hence why 100% of the proceeds go to two cancer charities. One, it goes to a research hospital here in the city of Philadelphia for breast cancer care and patient care. The other portion goes to the American Cancer Society, Philadelphia Hope Lodge. The Philadelphia Hope Lodge, like many nonprofits, have suffered during the global pandemic, but they are a very important part of our community because this is where families get to stay when their loved one is going through horrific treatment, or going over hospice, or dealing with a terminal illness.
They come out on the other side winning. And so it’s so important that I did that for the life of the book. The book has so many entities, and so many ancillaries, and I’ll bring it in closer. We launched a YouTube channel called Optimists Always Win. Named after the book, it’s a new, comprehensive exploration of the power of optimism. So what I want the book, what I want readers to know, that this book, is that it encourages readers to road test their optimism skills, eliminate discouragement and create new a set of positive habits. So in the YouTube channel, it’s short videos that will explore themes from each chapter of the book, and that will challenge participants to be optimistic every day. And two, to keep everyone on track, each video is a dose of optimism and practical tips for leveraging these discouragement eliminators, which I consider the most important technique for successfully adopting an optimistic mindset.
See Annette, people are looking at 2020… some, right, are looking at this as just the fifth quarter of 2021. We’ve been through a lot. It doesn’t have to be the case. And the key really is how you are going through this journey. How are you walking through this global pandemic, and all the stuff that we’ve had to experience? Vaccinations, all of this, is adopting a positive mindset. This is why I created the YouTube channel, really to push people out of this fear gear, and challenge them to be more optimistic, and show them how a positive attitude can really just alter your life in a big way in just mere weeks.
Finally, this book offers heartfelt and inspirational stories from me. Advice and tools to help you not just confront life’s worst moments, rock bottom, but learn how to really just embrace and take your inner strength, stand tall, and use your power to power through life with grace, confidence and resilience, because these difficulties and struggles are unavoidable in our lives, but a person has complete control over how you respond to a situation.
Q: Yeah, I was going to ask you. During these… you touched upon the times that we’re in right now, and the times that we continue to plow our way through with this global pandemic, and now this variant strain, and people are struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I think. I was going to ask you, how do you advise people that they can generate optimism? You’ve touched upon that already some, and it sounds like folks need to jump on your YouTube channel and grab a copy of your book and you’ve got some great tips in there; not just tips, but strategies and inspirations for doing just that. Finding optimism where it seems to be lacking.
A: No doubt. Absolutely. One thing I will say is be grateful. Gratitude is the rocket fuel to our resilience. So it’s so worth it to think about gratitude, to decide who you’re going to be and always remember that gratitude is the rocket fuel to our resilience. And that’s in one of the chapters. Faith by the speed of light, gratitude. We talk about great things, we talk about hard things, and we also talk about the bowl of sugar because there’s nothing wrong with that.
Kimberly S. Reed, M.Ed., CDP
Kimberly S. Reed, M.Ed., CDP, is an award-winning international speaker, author, corporate trainer and diversity, equality and inclusion executive, as well as a nationally recognized thought leader, expert, strategist and advisor to some of the world’s most influential organizations in global professional services, health care, financial services, consumer products and pharmaceutical industries. With more than 20 years of human resources, talent acquisition, and diversity and inclusion experience, she is a seasoned leader in transforming organizations into high-performing enterprises and challenging leaders to live without limits.