This month, Stellar Women welcomed Karimah Campbell back to the podcast. Karimah is not only thriving in her role leading Relativity’s EMEA customer success efforts, she also is elevating the voices of Black female professionals in tech. Her video series, Black Tech Queens, explores the idea of storytelling and its power in bringing people together and showing the possibilities for Black female professionals interested in pursuing tech careers.
In this episode, Mila and I chat with Karimah about the video series, her passion for inclusion, diversity, and belonging, and the steps we all can take toward creating a more equitable industry.
Manager, EMEA Customer Success
Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.
Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.
MR: So Mila and I are really excited because we have a stellar woman making a comeback to the podcast: Karimah Campbell, who is in Relativity’s London office. Hey, Karimah. How are you?
Karimah Campbell: I'm good, thank you. How are you?
MR: Doing well, doing well. We're really excited to have you back on the podcast. We've worked together for the Stellar Women podcast, but you're also very involved in inclusion, diversity, and belonging efforts, both on the company level and in your personal life. To kick us off the bat here, what motivates you to get involved in IDB work?
KC: I'm really motivated by the experiences that I've had throughout my journey. I've always been one of few women and one of very few Black people serving in the industry in the jobs that I've worked in. Because of this, it is just really important to me to show our success and show that we’re here and doing a good job. When I'm seeing that this is making changes and people are actually coming into the industry, it's really refreshing and helps to keep my momentum and keep me motivated.
MT: With these programs, I know there is a lot of work to still do, but seeing these little changes happening is probably really rewarding. You’ve also launched your own series called Black Tech Queens. What's the goal of that series and what prompted you to launch it?
KC: There are three main things that I'm trying to achieve with Black Tech Queens. The first is just being able to help inspire Black women who are working in technology and also to help bring more Black women into tech careers. The second is to help us to achieve our aspirations. And the third is to recognize and celebrate our achievements. I was prompted to launch Black Tech Queens partly due to my frustration that I mentioned earlier about being the only Black woman. But it’s also a way to pay it forward. I realized that I'm at a point in my career where I feel fulfilled and happy so I’m doing what I can to help other Black women feel like this.
MR: You mentioned that launching a reason for launching Black Tech Queens was due to a lack of representation for Black professionals in the legal tech field, specifically Black female professionals. Why is it so important to have a platform to share your dreams and experiences? What do you think that does to help foster connections?
KC: It's really easy to start thinking that this woman is doing great and she probably had more opportunity than I have and someone from my background couldn't get there. But that's what we're trying to showcase in Black Tech Queens. We want to highlight the journeys and we want you to see that in most cases, there's nothing unique about these women or their situations. Many do have your background. Take me for example. I'm a girl from South London that did BTEC at college and has just worked hard. By sharing your dreams and aspirations, you'd actually be surprised at how many people are able to help you along the way and the difference that verbalizing aspirations can make. It doesn't only just make you feel more accountable. But as I mentioned, you never know who can help you.
MR: Who are some of the people that have helped you achieve your path and get you to where you are currently?
KC: I have so many to be honest, in the industry and some outside of the industry. I've had both male and female mentors and coaches. I think that is really important as well, because you need a variety of sponsors. But obviously, my mom is one of the biggest champions of mine as well. She's always going to be the person that I go back to for any guidance and inspiration.
MT: That's great. Can you tell us a little bit more about your mom and why is she so inspirational to you?
KC: My mom, she embodies resilience. She showed me that regardless of where you are in your life or your circumstances, you can achieve greatness. In terms of how she inspires me, she went back to university while I was still young, but she didn't let the barrier of being a single mother get in her way. She has shown me that you could achieve anything if you put your mind to it, and most importantly, you can achieve happiness. So, that's my mommy.
MT: I love that; I feel the same way. We're very lucky to have a built-in role model from day one. That's really cool. I know that you have some plans to work with kids in school and educate them about careers in STEM. Is this still on the roadmap? Why do you feel like this is important?
KC: This is indeed still on the roadmap. I've always thought it was important to go back and share your journey and your story. I've been doing that at my old university and college for quite a while now. In 2019, I realized the importance of sharing these kinds of stories with younger children as well. So I went back to a primary school. They did a project for me for Black History Month. And it's just a humbling experience. The kids at the school had social, emotional, and mental health needs. I was talking to one of the young ladies at lunch and heard her say, “I want to be like you when I'm older.” It just meant a lot to me. It showed me that seeing people that look like you really does make you see that everything is possible. With Black Tech Queens, I hope to go to more schools. We're going to be partnering with more children, doing things like mentorship, coaching sessions, trainings, and things like that down the line. We’re in the early stages. So it's coming, but it's not in place just yet.
MR: It's so cool. And I'm sure that was such an inspiring moment for you to have a young student admire you and want to be like you. What a cool experience.
KC: It really was, and she referred to me as her bestie.
MR: I mean, that's a big compliment. Is she Gen Z? What are kids nowadays?
KC: I don't even know. She was seven.
MR: So you're pretty cool.
MR: The coolest. Something I love about Black Tech Queens is this idea of storytelling—sharing your story and showing that there's people that have similar experiences and who look like you that can pave the way for others. You mentioned that you're a girl from South London. I’d love for you to share: What is your story? How did you get to where you are now?
KC: I'll start with my love of technology. Whilst I was in school, my favorite subject was ICT, as we called it back then. I've always been quite academic and a high achiever at school. So, it was a big shock to my teachers when I said I wanted to leave and go to college and not stay at school and do my A-levels. By doing a BTEC, it was a more practical course. I had quite a few people say to me that I'll make nothing of myself, and I'd basically be committing suicide for a career I didn't even have yet. But I had my mom, my biggest champion, on my side. She fully supported everything that I wanted to do. She saw my vision and my passion and encouraged me to follow my destiny. So I went to college, I studied BTEC and came out with top marks, which was distinction, distinction, distinction. That was a big milestone for me. It was a contribution towards my self-belief. After I went to uni and graduated, that self-belief that I'd achieved by going into BTEC-tech helped me to move 160 miles from home to get my first job in the industry. So that is Karimah at a high level.
MR: What was that like, moving so far from home? You're obviously close with your mom. I think you have a sister as well. What was it like to be far away?
KC: It was interesting. Where I moved to was a small village and I had come from Clapham, which is on 24/7. So, in that village, everything shut down at 5 p.m. and I didn't finish work until 6 p.m. So it was a bit of a strange one. I hope my mom doesn't mind me saying, but as you mentioned how close we are, she actually got quite ill while I was gone. We didn't know what was wrong, but it was stress. She genuinely was stressed by me being gone. But it made us closer. We speak two to three times a day.
MR: Mila, I'm sure you can weigh in, too, because I know you're super, super close with your mom and you're an ocean away.
MT: Someone once said to me that I was able to move away from home because I have such a strong foundational relationship with my family. I'll have them forever and ever, and they’re the strongest pillar of my life. Having that support from them, and strength, has enabled me to move far away and do a lot of the things that I otherwise don't feel like I would have been able to do on my own.
KC: I totally agree with you on that, Mila. I think that really did help in that. You've got the support. It helps get rid of any of the anxiety or stress that you might have from being away.
MT: Exactly. I probably actually speak to my parents more than I did when I was home, because I make this effort. Every day when my mom is getting ready for work and I'm kind of winding down the day, we have this time that we speak every single day and it's a meaningful conversation versus when I'm at home, it's just passing by and saying, “Oh, I’ll see you later.” Whereas now, we have this dedicated time to actually catch up. It's hard being away from them, but it definitely is made easier when you have unconditional support.
MR: I love that. Switching gears a little bit—or going back, rather—to IDB and getting more women into this field, we talk a lot about the current state of things and issues that might hinder the ability for women to progress. In your opinion, what does progress really look like in this industry? For those who are listening, what tips do you have for ways we can band together to try and get us to be more equitable, quicker?
KC: It's important that the makeup of teams reflect the makeup of the wider community. There should be representation across genders and the races. Make sure that even if we have this representation, it's not tokenistic. Hire the people with the relevant skills and make sure that we're pulling on the varying experiences of these people. I think it's important that we share opportunity. I saw a study recently that 70 percent of jobs aren't openly advertised. It goes back to that saying about, it’s not what you know but who you know. As individuals, we should share the opportunity that we're aware of with people from different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Make sure that we're filling the roles with the relevant people and the people who reflect makeup of the community, not just people that look like yourself.
MR: That’s a crazy stat—70 percent.
MT: Wow, that is crazy. I like the way that you frame that. I haven't quite heard people say it like that. People want diverse teams because diverse teams make better teams, but they should also be representative of the community that you're serving. I think that's an interesting way to look at it. I haven't heard it like that. Thanks! Okay, so my next question is one that you can take in whichever direction you’d like. What is next for you?
KC: I'm going to take it in two directions. So work-wise, my team here at Relativity is growing. We’re also growing the EMEA team as a whole, so plenty of opportunity there. And then for Black Tech Queens, we are continuing to grow. We want to connect with more Black tech queens and allies and share knowledge, stories, and opportunities. I'm looking forward to partnering with more groups and organizations such as yourself with Stellar Women and looking at how we can benefit our community and give back. 2021 should be a good year.
MR: And we're really excited, Karimah, to continue partnering with you and learning more about the awesome work you're doing. And listeners, we will be putting a link to Black Tech Queens, the fabulous video series in the blog, in the transcript. You ought to check it out. It's a great series.
MT: Thanks so much for chatting with us. It's always fun. I always feel like I leave these conversations energized, excited, and like I learned 100 things from you. So thank you so much.
MR And for Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And I’m Mila Taylor.
Both: Signing off.