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Inclusive Leadership Challenges That Organizations Must Overcome with Kori Carew

Inclusive Leadership Challenges That Organizations Must Overcome with Kori Carew
Inclusive Leadership Challenges That Organizations Must Overcome with Kori Carew

Regardless of recent attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), moving forward is an inevitability. Organizations that want to thrive are going to have to get on board or get left behind. And they could use the help of someone like my friend Kori Carew.

Kori is a former litigator turned speaker, writer, and consultant who advocates for (among other things) diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Through her work, she helps bridge differences and facilitates learning and growth for people and organizations in inclusive leadership development.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn about the impact of inclusion on brands and the greatest challenges leaders face when confronting (or being confronted with) issues involving equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. You’ll also see how Kori’s background contributes to the unique way she works with organizations and individuals on these issues.

1:25 – What personal brand means to Kori, how she (and others) describe her, and why she has a hard time coming up with favorite things

10:58 – How Kori’s unique backstory growing up in Nigeria as a Canadian-born Sierra Leonean shaped her life

17:31 – How studying political science opened the door to Kori becoming a defense lawyer

23:01 – The driving force behind Kori’s work navigating inclusion with organizations and leaders and the specific nature of what she does

30:04 – What it means for the brand of a leader who doesn’t prioritize inclusion now (and why many don’t want to talk about the consequences)

35:46 – The biggest challenges for organizations that express a desire to improve their diversity and inclusion

41:27 – Why truth-telling (with grace) is such an essential part of Kori’s brand and her Branding Room Only quality

Connect With Kori Carew

Kori S. Carew, Esq. is an attorney, TedX speaker, and community builder who generates awareness and understanding of critical human issues by creating the space and climate for open dialogue that is meaningful, and enables people to expand their perspective and drive positive change. With grace and truth she is a people inclusion strategist, advocate, speaker, coach, writer, status quo disruptor, truthteller, wife, and mother of two curly-haired, wise, energetic, fierce, spitfire daughters. She brings an incisive voice, unapologetic questioning of the status quo, and a lifelong fascination of human potential to empowering women and historically marginalized and excluded people. Her multi-national, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual family background gives her a keen sensitivity to belonging and inclusion across differences. Beyond her work within organizations she actively serves her community as a civic leader.

Kori brings a fierce love of community and belonging that transcends differences to her work, ministry, and life. She loves to sing, cook, entertain, dance in the hallways at work, and read when she is not equipping leaders to be inclusive, interrupt bias and disrupt the status quo, or helping individuals live their best and fiercest lives. At her day job she focuses on developing and implementing strategies for individual career, leadership and organizational diversity and inclusion success, helps organizations build bridges across differences and improve inclusion, coaches, trains on people, leadership, and talent development as well as diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging topics.

Kori is the Chief Catalyst Officer and Founder of the consulting firm Bridge 68 LLC focused on empowering individuals and organizations to be their best through people and leadership development and cultivating belonging, inclusion, diversity and equity. She brings 22 years of experience leading, advocating and counseling in law firms including leading Inclusion and Diversity strategies and programs in AmLaw 100 law firms.

Kori Carew

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Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Hi everyone, welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where I speak to innovators, excellent people, and influencers about their personal brands. I’m super duper excited today to have someone who is not just an innovator, not just one of my favorite people, but she is a change agent.

Let me tell you about her. It was Kori Carew. She is the founder of Bridge 68 LLC. She’s a TEDx speaker. She’s the keynote speaker and writer and the creator of a national collaborative, The Belonging Project, which nationally supported the advancement of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging during the pandemic.

She’s a former litigator and law firm partner. She’s a former big law chief, inclusion, and diversity officer, and more importantly than all of that, she’s my friend. Hi, Kori, welcome to The Branding Room.

Kori Carew: Thank you for having me on this amazing program that you’ve gifted the world.

Paula Edgar: Thank you.

Kori Carew: Thank you for creating this and with each session, given us just amazing conversations and nuggets. I’m so grateful for you, Paula.

Paula Edgar: Thank you. Well, speaking of amazing conversation and nuggets, I have a question for you. What does your personal brand mean to you? How do you define your personal brand?

Kori Carew: Oh, I think of branding the same way I think of feedback, which is that it’s how the environment is interacting with you. It’s what the environment is reflecting back to you about how they’re interacting with you.

I mean, there are great definitions out there. Is it Bezos that says it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room? I love that one. But all in all, I think it just sums up to being feedback about how the world is interacting with you, how it’s receiving you, how it’s perceiving you. That’s how I think of branding.

Paula Edgar: Okay. Well, with all of that, how would you describe yourself in three words or phrases?

Kori Carew: How I would describe myself. One of these is going to be a word I chose, and then the other two are going to be words other people have reflected back to me. The first I would say is curious and a learner. I would pick that too because I think I am that. I’m a very curious person. I’m very learning-oriented. I’m an admitted nerd and I’m quite okay with it.

The other I would say that has been reflected back to me is intense or passionate. People tend to use one or two of those depending on the interactions. Then the third that I will choose, because I think it reflects the lifelong journey that I’m on, is that I’m a walking contradiction in the sense that I’m a feminist.

I’ve been a feminist since I was seven, but I’m also sexist. I do certain things I just expect my husband to do because he is a boy and he should do those things and I should not. I am a Jesus lover who in one moment can break down in tears, worshipping and praising, but I have a cussing problem.

I’m passionate about leadership and yet still I’m imperfect and I’ve made so many mistakes. I sometimes stay up thinking about the people that I’ve impacted. I’m extremely sensitive and empathetic and pick up the emotions of other people and will cry at a dime, but I’ll also fight. I’ll fight in a minute.

I’ll fight people three times my size very, very quickly. When I think of that, I think there was a time in my life where I felt as if those contradictions were a problem and as I’ve grown older, I’ve just leaned into it and accepted that I am all of those things and it’s okay.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I was like, “Where is she going with this?” But I liked that. I think at some point, we all walk in contradictions but we don’t always walk in the sunshine without contradictions. That there’s a lot of, “This is what I’m going to say, but not necessarily this is what I do.” So I love [inaudible] up the alignment in light.

We could go on for days about this in terms of how that impacts leaders and how we as a country now advocate that often. But I love that you started us off with that. Tell me this, do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you used to guide you?

Kori Carew: I do not. I do not. I mean, I think there are certain things that I hold on to that I refer to. I wouldn’t have a favorite, but in fairness, if you asked me the same thing about food, wine, even bourbon, which I love, anything, I have difficulty coming up with a favorite, artist, anything, maybe it’s a symptom of the fact that I don’t want to choose.

There are things that I lean to in seasons. There are scriptures that I lean to. Definitely, I joke about this with my dad that my dad doesn’t know how to answer a question without giving you an African proverb, everything is a proverb and everything is a story. I have a list of things that he has said over my lifetime that I hold on to that I refer to.

Paula Edgar: Oh. Really?

Kori Carew: Yeah, but one of them that lately I’ve been leaning on more than others is this thing he told me that he said my grandmother told him, and I’m going to translate it to English not the way he originally told me that she told him in Creole, but essentially that when you meet a man, you never leave him worse than you found him.

If the person is good to you, great. If they try to harm you, you don’t try to harm them, you walk away. But regardless of what you do, you don’t leave a man worse than you found him. At the very least, you leave it neutral.

Paula Edgar: As your intention, right?

Kori Carew: Yeah.

Paula Edgar: I hear that. I definitely had some additional thoughts, so I was like, “Yes, I do.” I was like, “First of all.”

Kori Carew: I mean, I told you, I like to fight.

Paula Edgar: Maybe that’s what you just catalyzed it for me, because I was like, “I definitely feel like it could,” but anyway. Okay, so perhaps you’ll go in the same vein of not wanting to choose a favorite, but I’m going to ask anyway, which is, Kori, do you have a hype song, something that you use to sort of give the people, like when they’re going to get full Kori, this is a song that’s playing in your head, or if you need to pick yourself up, this is a song you play to do so?

Kori Carew: I don’t have a hype song, but I have a playlist that says, “Battle in the Valley,” and I have a playlist that says, “Celebration Praise,” and I have a playlist that says, “I’m on the dance floor when I’m 70.”

But I think every once in a while, I need to listen to Lose Yourself by Eminem every once in a while, and it’s just the beat of it gets me moving. The words, including the cuss words, are like, we’re not going to lose this moment, it’s once in a lifetime.

As you know in June of ’22, I lost my mom. In her memorial in Abuja, the praise team, one of the songs they sang was Goodness of God, “All my life you have been faithful,” that one by CeCe Winans.

Then when we were in Freetown at the funeral, they did it again. For some reason, that song has been my song since June 2022. It’s almost like a promise. I think that would be the closest to a hype song right now. I’m sure that would change because I go through seasons.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, no, and I love that you, number one, refuse to answer my questions. Number two, you talked about that it’s not a consistent thing, it sounds like what you need and what you experience, it can shift, which is absolutely fair, I think very authentic that even if I have a consistent hype song, like if you play this song, I know what space I’m going to be in my body. That’s what it’s going to do. I know.

But there are times when I have to do like a one, two, three song, including that song, because I feel X way or I’m doing this thing. I think you’re the third podcast guest who has used Eminem Lose Yourself so I might have to send him a note and be like, “Listen, you clearly need to give me right for the song.”

Kori Carew: Are we all Gen Xers?

Paula Edgar: No.

Kori Carew: That’s fascinating.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. It’s a good across-the-board hype song and I think the audience knows although they haven’t [inaudible], or maybe only a couple of times, I do love a cuss word. I’m a Brooklyn girl through and through. Every now and again, I’m like, “All of the words,” and I don’t feel bad about it at all.

Kori Carew: You know another one that picks me up is Hamilton–

Paula Edgar: I am not throwin’ away my shot?

Kori Carew: Yes. Yep. Then Running Out of Time, I always feel like Running Out of Time speaks to this tendency that I have to feel as if I have to do as much as possible because if I die tomorrow, I want to make sure that I’ve made the impact I was created to on this earth. Those two songs always get me where I need to be.

Paula Edgar: I want to do the color purple like hand clap because I feel the exact same way, particularly about Running Out of Time. I was just saying recently that some people are frustrated in busy-ness and the busy-ness is surface level.

I am honored by busy-ness and my busy-ness is impactful because I feel like the world needs to do and have X thing happen so I got to get it done. I felt what you were saying, and I’m loving the Hamilton, shout out. I think you might be the first to bring up Hamilton. I love it.

All right. We’ve kind of weaved a little bit already into some of your backstory, but I’d love for you to tell me where did you grow up, which I know was a complicated answer and how did that shape you?

Kori Carew: I grew up in Maiduguri, which is a town in the northeast of Nigeria. I was born in Canada, then we moved to the US, and when I was four years old, we moved to Nigeria. So I grew up in Nigeria. It’s what I know.

My family’s not from Nigeria. They’re from Sierra Leone. I am technically, by all the patrilineal rules, I am Sierra Leonean. My children though think that we’re Nigerian, which is hilarious. I’m like, “Don’t let your late grandma hear you.” But anyway, they think they’re Nigerian and I love it. I love it. I love my Nigerian peeps, I blend in with them.

I grew up in Northern Nigeria and it shaped me in many, many ways. I think you have that experience where you look like everyone, well, not everyone, you look like a large percentage of the population, but technically you’re an alien, which shows up in opportunities that you’re allowed to access or not access.

I showed up there, I had an accent, I got teased by the kids. That began my lifelong practice of covering, which at this point is completely unconscious. I don’t even do it intentionally.

When I was with my Caribbean friends, I started to look like them. When I’m talking on the phone to my dad, I sound completely different. My kids can tell who I’m talking to, depending on how I sound. I just automatically will pick up the sounds of people I’m around to blend in because of the teasing and all that happened when I was four years old.

I also grew up around quite a bit of what we would call tribalism, ethnic discrimination. Not quite the same as racism because that power dynamic is not there. That history, that legacy, the systemic nature of it isn’t there. But definitely who’s an indigent and who’s not an indigent? Religious discrimination, which sometimes erupted into religious violence.

There were multiple instances of my childhood where Christians were killed over a variety of things, an allegation that someone says you cooked pork right next to their stand or a false allegation that somebody used pages of the Quran as toilet paper.

There were these things that happened growing up that were peppered there. Most of my childhood, there was a military dictator that was in charge. So there was that. Nigeria has over 300 different languages, different ethnic groups so you’re surrounded by diversity, grew up on a university campus, and the professors were from all over the world.

Even though we’re in this very diverse country with these hundreds of ethnicities on the campus itself, I’m growing up with kids whose parents and families are from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Poland, USSR, and then that block, the block that now they’re all different countries, but they have different names when we’re growing up, Canada, United States, all of it.

So growing up in this microcosm of diversity on campus to where, at the age of nine, you know that when you get into a quarrel with the Indian kid, you just have to call them a Pakistani and you know that that’s going to get a rise.

All of that was going on as well as the very gendered culture rules about what girls can do and what boys can do. I’m the oldest of four girls. So hearing all the messages about girls and people even apologizing to my father and expressing sorrow to him because he had no boys, that was the background that I grew up in and it shaped me in many ways.

I would say that the way my parents raised us though in the midst of that, in retrospect, was maybe the most powerful of all because to think that I grew up in a culture like that and can honestly say that at the age of seven, I was already verbalizing that anything boys can do, girls can do, means I was being raised in a home where that not only was allowed but I was empowered to feel like that’s right. That is true.

My parents cooked food from all over the world and that was brought into our home. In a lot of homes, people will eat only the food from their ethnic group and we did everything. I saw my mom sharing her culture through food as a way of bridging. I remember during Ramadan, our family friends, she would make ginger beer and different Sierra Leonean stuff and sent to them.

I remember this whole conversation of some of the Muslim friends, like, “We can’t drink beer,” and having to explain that no, it’s actually not alcohol. Ginger beer is not alcohol. Then it became a tradition because they looked forward to it every year.

I think all of those things shaped my sisters and me in ways that we’re not conscious of at the time, but you can see in retrospect is that they really modeled how to navigate being different in an environment where you’re surrounded by differences and helping people build those bridges because that’s what my friend groups ended up being. I ended up being the person who brought different kinds of people together, and here we are. Now I get paid to do that.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, we’re getting to that. Tell me, from all the bridges you built in Nigeria, although I’m going to tell you that there’s definitely going to be at least one person who’s going to be like, “She didn’t mention the fact that she was truly Canadian because that’s where she’s born,” I guarantee you, I guarantee you that I get messages all the time, I’m telling you they’re going to be like, “First of all, she’s Canadian.” But anyway.

Kori Carew: She’s Canadian, I know.

Paula Edgar: But how did that bring you to studying law? Tell us about that path through the legal space and now navigating inclusion and wanting people to do better.

Kori Carew: Yeah. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have ended up becoming a lawyer, but for a professor of mine in college, it’s so super weird. I came to the US. I started university in Nigeria as an electrical engineering major. Hard sciences, that’s all I’d ever done. That’s all I knew and the way the education system is in Nigeria, if in secondary school you take hard science classes, you can’t really switch.

The only non-science class I had taken for the last three years of secondary school was English. Not history, not social science, nothing. But my very first semester, I was a research assistant for this professor and I was helping him and we would get into these conversations about foreign policy and international relations. I had a million opinions because as you know, I’m quite opinionated.

I would talk about all kinds of things including the World Bank and IMF and all these programs that they claim are supposed to be helping developing countries but really were crippling the economy and the hypocrisy of Western countries and just all these things.

He started saying to me, “You should study political science,” and I remember saying to him, “Nobody sends their kid to America to study. That doesn’t even make any sense. What job am I supposed to have with a political science degree that’s going to help me take care of my family? They sent me here to be an engineer, and here you are talking about something else.”

But it ended up being I started taking these additional classes to fill in hours. When I had hours to fill because they only offered X number of math classes for my major, they allowed me to design my own major. I said, “Okay, if I’m going to do this political science thing as a second major, I want to design it.”

They allowed me to design it, worked with the professor, we designed it so that I could focus on the politics of development and underdevelopment, whether it’s on a national level or an international level, what causes some groups to be rich and some not, what causes some nations to be first world nations and others to be third world, hegemony, international relations, all of that. They let me design that.

It was in that process when I was learning more about the United States and what this professor did was amazing. He felt like one of the first things we need to do in understanding American foreign policy is understanding how we treated the Native Americans. That’s where he had to start, and understanding the ways in which communities of color and race have been treated.

In that process of understanding America, it was so clear to me that democracy hinges on the legal system. People talk about going off to wars and every Veterans Day and and Memorial Day, we will post on social media, we will say, “But for them, we wouldn’t have our freedoms,” “But for lawyers and the legal system, we wouldn’t have our freedoms.”

The way in which this country was designed for those checks and balances, I saw very clearly, this is what distinguishes between the United States and nations that have fallen into chaos, dictatorship, whatever. So I started having an interest in the law.

My home country, Sierra Leone, was going through a brutal civil war, losing family members. I started thinking, “I want to be a human rights lawyer, but I also want to be an engineer. I don’t want to have to give that up.”

I had declared a major in math with minors in physics and chemistry, hoping to transfer to continue this engineering journey, which I started. I started as an electrical engineering major in Nigeria. Long story short, I ended up going to law school. I follow a boy around.

I didn’t become a human rights lawyer. I didn’t become a civil rights lawyer. I didn’t become a prosecutor. I didn’t become a lawyer for legal aid. I am going in the order of my top choices because working at a law firm was not on the list.

God knows if I had to work for a law firm, it was going to be a plaintiff’s law firm. That was number five. I did none of those things. I became a defense lawyer. I’ve been in defense side ever since. That’s how I became a lawyer. It was not planned.

Paula Edgar: I tell people often that there’s no line, there’s no straight line anywhere in your life and there’s no plan that is direct. There are always mountains and valleys and rocks and barriers and slides and all that kind of stuff.

You went from practicing the law and then navigating diversity and inclusion within the law firm to now having your own consultancy and speaking company, et cetera. Tell me, what is the thing that drives you in doing this work of navigating inclusion in organizations and with leaders to do what you do?

Kori Carew: I think my central tenet driving is this idea that there isn’t a single person on earth that we will ever lock eyes with, or at least for a faith perspective for me that God has created, who is not immensely loved and deserving of belonging, of equity, of justice. That is the throughline that we each come with an immense amount of potential, that the rules of this world somehow dim in many ways, and that this journey is about polishing, varnishing, and removing those layers so that we shine.

That we are deserving of a fierce, awesome life, and that there are things that get in the way of that and what drives me is I want to be part, I need to be part of tearing those things down.

I also recognize that we are each wired in particular ways. When I talk to my childhood friends and they say things like, “Oh, you’ve always been this way. Don’t you remember when I used to get bullied and you would fight for me?” I’m like, “I don’t remember that.” Or “Don’t you remember when this happened and you spoke up for me?” I don’t remember that.

I do think that much of this is a wiring. I think we are wired in particular ways often, and those things that are core to our values show up even when we don’t have a name for it. I didn’t have a name for it. I became a lawyer and only after in the process of making a pivot to do a diversity work when I was trying to figure out, “Are you really going to walk away from being a law firm partner? Are you really going to walk away from this?” is realizing, “No, what you are is an advocate, you’re an advocate for people and going to court and trying cases is just one form of that. There are other ways that you can advocate for change and be part of creating change for other people.” That freed me.

That freed me to say, “I don’t have to practice law in order to do that.” That’s been how that came to be and that’s what drives me. Even in the work that I’m doing, I get so excited when I’m talking to a potential client and they’re telling me what their issues are and I’m helping them solve a problem.

Even if the solution to that problem is, “I really think you need such and such analysis. I don’t do that work, but here’s who does. You really need somebody to help you with your branding. I can give you some tips, but let me tell you who’s amazing at that. My friend Paula,” even if I’m not the person to solve it, I get so much joy when I get off the video and I feel like I helped somebody solve a problem, a people-related problem. That fills my cup.

Paula Edgar: Talk to me about your work with leaders and organizations and how does it work? If I’m calling you and I’m saying, “Everybody’s terrible here and I don’t like it. Fix us, Kori,” what is the nature of the specific work that you do with organizations? Because I know that it’s vast, maybe focusing on what you particularly love to do with organizations.

Kori Carew: What do I particularly love to do? The work is vast, like you said. I think about when I was in-house versus out, and it’s even “vaster,” if that were a word, when you’re in-house because you’re wearing so many different hats.

A key part of what I do, I describe it as equipping and empowering people. A lot of times, people think the DEI person is going to come and give you the silver bullet. I used to refer to it when I had just left litigation, I would refer to it as a fen-phen diet, like people want the fen-phen diet. They know they want to lose weight, but they just want you to give them a pill that would make it happen.

That is not what we do. What we do though is I’m going to come, I’m going to help you understand what the challenges are, I’m going to help you understand what the obstacles are, I’m going to help you develop the strategy to get there, but you have to do the work.

A component of what I do is developing that strategy. A component of what I do is equipping and empowering you, whether it’s through training or coaching, on how to get there. A component of what I do is accountability, especially when you’re in-house, which is the part of this job that is perhaps one of the scariest, and the part that people do not like the most, is when the diversity person has to say, “Hold up, we’re not really about to do that, are we? And here’s why that’s a bad idea.”

Especially in law firms where people feel like, “I’m the partner, I get to say how this is,” and you’re like, “Actually, you literally pay me to tell you no.” The work is that combination of empowering, equipping, and challenging, but doing it in a way that gets people to move individually and organizationally.

The work has these two components of the systemic and the individual. As you can imagine, oftentimes, people would prefer to focus on the individual, which is a very American thing. It’s a very American thing. Like let’s not talk about the big system, let’s just talk about the person as if we all just pull ourselves up and we would just magically make things happen on our own. But that’s essentially, if I had to whittle down a description of the work, that’s what it is.

Paula Edgar: I love it. Because the podcast is about personal branding, when I was thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about, I thought it’d be helpful, when we were talking about diversity within organizations, people will say a lot of things.

One thing I find that resonates a lot, which I was surprised by, is the ego of it all when you don’t do this well. I thought I would want to ask you about what does it mean to be a leader but not to prioritize inclusion in this day and age? How can that impact your brand?

Kori Carew: To be a leader in this age, in a society where the world is increasingly smaller and increasingly diverse is to be a leader who causes harm. Period. We are in a space and time where people want to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion as if it’s optional and as if it’s a negative thing without recognizing that when we fail to be inclusive leaders, when we fail to focus on being better leaders, effective leaders—and you cannot be better and effective without being inclusive in a world with diversity—you are actually sanctioning the causing of harm.

Because we all don’t come into the system, we don’t participate in the system with the same level of privileges, rights, opportunities. By failing to be inclusive, you essentially ignore the needs of entire segments of people.

Their needs are different because there are different kinds of marginalizations, different legacies, different histories. So to be a leader that is not inclusive is to be a leader that is causing harm.

We don’t talk about it in those terms. Instead, we talk about in the positive, which is to be a more effective leader, you should be inclusive. But the converse of that is when you’re not, it’s not only that you’re not as effective as you could be, you’re actually harming people.

We don’t want to talk about that harm because we have this weird problem. relationship with guilt, we confuse guilt and shame. We also have a weird relationship with guilt in the sense that we keep carrying it around which is this useless emotion as opposed to leaning into accountability, acknowledging where we could do better, and then just moving forward. There’s all that.

In terms of the brand, I’d like to answer that question twofold. I think thus far, you can have an external brand that can go largely unimpacted by your lack of inclusion as a leader because the system is not set up right now to highlight the impact and the voices of the marginalized.

We’re beginning to see that shift because we have a generation of people coming up that are vocal and who talk about things our generation didn’t. If we worked in a place and we worked with leaders that were not inclusive, what did we do? Gen X, we were the first to begin to say, “Bye, we’re going to move somewhere else.”

Then the millennials came and they were even more vocal and they’re going to talk about the problems. Now we have a whole new generation that has no problem getting on Twitter, whatever it’s called now, LinkedIn, or some other place and really calling out leadership for its failure to be inclusive, to be intersectional, to be equitable.

Maybe we’ll see some change, but by and large, the system doesn’t really penalize leaders externally. Internally, it harms your brand in that when you’re not inclusive, you’re just not seen as a good leader.

Paula Edgar: I think that there is a power that some leaders who are hesitant on outwardly working towards, embracing, acting, and being inclusive are not capturing. The same way, to your point that there’s a harm that happens, I think you know what, at this day and time, if you literally say, “I’m going to work on this. It’s not going to be easy but this is going to be my goal, my vision, my value, my ethos,” and then do it, there’s much more benefit than there is negative.

Especially now I’m like, “I would be putting on my inclusion jacket, my inclusion hat, and hope that it becomes a part of my natural outfit,” because there’s so much more to be gained than to have lost.

To your point about the causing harm, yes, you can cause harm when you are intending but not impacting the way you want, but I do think that people will give you some grace if you are learning, understanding, and being accountable about being on that learning journey.

If it was me, and this is my like, “Hey, leaders, I do get paid to do this, but the point is, here’s some free advice,” and it is to get with the program because the resistance is literally futile now. It’s going to happen one way or the other and it may not be with you because you may be gone.

But anyway, I’ll take a rest. All right, so tell me to that end, what are some of the challenges that you see organizations face when they’re trying to improve diversity and inclusion? Then talk about maybe some of the strategies that you’ve seen that have been effective.

Kori Carew: I think the number one challenge to the progress of diversity and inclusion and just all aspects of leveraging the best of people is an absence of courage. I think part of it is when we think of courage, people always think of the big grandiose things.

They think of the running into buildings, they think of the putting your life on the line. It was that courage. But what’s happening in our organizations is we are unwilling to move away from our place of comfort and safety into the unknown.

This movement towards more equity, it requires some unknowns. It also requires what you said, where you’re exposing yourself and your learning and admitting that you may not know all the things, that’s vulnerability by definition and we are not comfortable doing that.

Whenever you have to choose vulnerability, potential exposure, potential risk, courage is required because you have to make the decision that this may feel icky, it may backfire. Someone may say I got it wrong, I may even be embarrassed. However, it is important enough that I’m going to take the risk.

That is the definition of courage, where you experience the fear, you have this hesitation, but you know this thing is important, and so you do it anyway. That courage is missing in our organizations. That courage is missing to where we are more reactive and responsive to criticism and attacks than we are to the vision.

Courage says, “This is the value, this is the vision, and therefore this is what I’m going to use to drive.” In our organizations, what happens is, “Well, this is the vision, but these people over here don’t like it. These people over here were upset.” “Yes, what you said was really true about the lack of intersectionality with gender equity, but these women over here are really upset because they feel like you call them out.”

So now we are centering fragility, we are centering tears, we are centering discomfort. It takes courage to say, “Ooh, this feels uncomfortable. But because we said these are the values and this is where we’re going, we got to keep going.”

The number one thing missing is courage. Because when we choose courage and we say, “It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be uncomfortable. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to get egg on our face. I’m going to use the wrong word. Someone’s going to publicly correct me,” and you say, “No, but we’re going to do it,” then all the other things that are obstacles become easier to do.

Then some of those other obstacles then become an unwillingness to disrupt the status quo because the status quo is working for some people. It’s working for a lot of people. Or at least it’s working in the ways that they believe matter most.

I believe a lack of diversity and a lack of equity actually impacts everyone. There are some people who disagree. They feel like racism doesn’t really impact white people, for example. I believe it impacts everyone, but maybe not in the way that you may consider most important.

Maybe you’re thinking, “My pocketbook, I may be a partner, I’m making millions of dollars, diversity, no diversity, I’m still making my millions.” But that unwillingness to disrupt the status quo is part of why we would be willing to do the superficial things around diversity or even leadership development, but not the things that are going to rock the boat too much.

That’s where this is how we’ve always done it. Oh, but this is our culture. All of those excuses. When you pull back all the layers, it all boils down to courage.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I do think that people do think of courage like, “Let me fight this lion,” when sometimes we say in a meeting, “Hey, that’s not who we are here,” it’s something to where there’s a little bit of risk or maybe a lot of bit of risk, but you’re taking it a little bit for the collective to advance the culture.

If more people did that, I think you’re absolutely right, we would see such a momentous shift because we’re talking about branding and a big part of branding is influence. People use their influence to be impactful, to shift cultures, to navigate change collectively.

It does it because they’re influencers. No matter what starts the way, we’re still going that way. Then hopefully people pick up the best practices on their way. I really love that you brought up courage as the thing as I knew was going to happen because I know you and I know me.

We are already close to the end of our conversation, but there are two things that I ask all of my guests to do, and then I want to make sure that I get your answers before we close. Then, of course, you’re invited to come back to The Branding Room any time.

But first is this—I think maybe I know the answer just based on how you answered it, but I’ll ask anyway—stand by your brand. I like this as a thing, what is a part of your brand that you will never compromise on?

Kori Carew: On my LinkedIn and on my branding, I have on there truth-teller. That came to me from a colleague at Shook who reflected back to me the way in which I led. I thought about it and it’s so important to me because there’s a lot of not telling the truth that happens in organizations and even externally.

We do it under the guise of being nice which honestly to me, it’s like somebody who doesn’t have sense of feeling their skin being on fire, you don’t tell them they’re on fire because you’re being nice doesn’t seem very nice at all. So truth-telling, authenticity is definitely a core, I get that reflected back to me and it’s important to me because restoring authenticity is one of my core values.

But another thing that I think sometimes I get or I see pushback within the space amongst other people who do similar work is that it’s very important to me and I hold it dearly when people have described my approach as truth and grace.

That is important to me that I have difficult conversations with people that other people wouldn’t even step into, that I create disruption in a room and people may, I mean, I’ve had discussions with managing partners where they are red in the face, angry, furious but we walk away respecting each other, but that at the end of the day, I told truth, but with grace.

To me, grace does not mean that I coddle you. I mean, nobody will ever accuse me of coddling. If anything I’ve been told, I may be quite blunt and direct, which I don’t apologize for. That’s part of the cultural difference that I bring, but for me, my faith teaches me that the definition of love is truth and grace.

When that got reflected back to me, it’s like, yes, that’s important to me and I’m always going to hold onto that because I do believe the only reason I’m able to have conversations with people who ordinarily shut down or move white men, for instance, who a lot of people will treat like they’re the problem and I just have this way of being able to connect with them and get them to move, it’s not just because of the truth, but it’s also the grace that I’m never going to be the one who’s going to shame or blame you or attack you even if I am holding you very accountable and giving you some hard truths or translating something difficult. Is that what you thought my answer was going to be?

Paula Edgar: I thought your answer was going to be truth-telling because I know that is who you are. But I love the additional contact and additional pieces on there, which kind of brings it to my last question, which is Branding Room Only is a play on standing room only.

The question for you is what is the skill, experience, or magic of quarry that would have a room filled to the gills and with standing room only because they want to experience it? What is that thing about you?

Kori Carew: I think the thing that they would want to experience is that they feel seen. I frequently hear or read reviews where people say, “I don’t know about you, but I feel like she was talking to me,” that I’m connecting with you.

What I think that they are not necessarily coming in to see, but they end up getting, and I’m going to paraphrase the words of someone, is he said that I communicate in a way that makes you want to duck for cover, but also hug it up that you’re going to get pulled into this difficult thing and you’re going to be like, “Oh, I can’t believe we’re doing this,” but then you’re going to be like, “Oh, we did this and it was important. I feel good that we did it even if I wouldn’t have chosen this already.”

I think that’s what it is. At least based on feedback that I get from people, that’s what I hear back and I appreciate that.

Paula Edgar: I think that is a fantastic way to close our conversation. Kori, how do you want people to stay connected with you and find out more about your work?

Kori Carew: I have a website. I am, just my name. I am on LinkedIn. Five years ago, I used to be so much better at LinkedIn. In 2024, I’m going to be more consistent about being on LinkedIn. I am on Instagram, so follow me there. I talk about food and my art.

I love food, and clearly, it’s now part of my brand. I didn’t realize that until recently when I was traveling, it is part of my brand now. I used to be on Twitter, but I’m not on there very much anymore. Those are all the ways you can connect with me. I am super easy to find.

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. Kori, thank you so much for being a guest in The Branding Room. Everybody, tell a friend about this episode. Share it with your favorite leaders and tell them to reach out and let me know what they thought. Have a wonderful rest of your day and remember to tell the truth.

Kori Carew: And shame the devil. Tell the truth and shame the devil.