Learning Power Moves - The Learn Phase - Karen Boykin-Towns

Talking Trends
3 min readApr 19, 2022

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A Feature in Deepa Purushothaman’s ‘The First, The Few, the Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America’

Breadwinners, workers, caregivers, and corporate executives — women of color have been unsung heroes for too long. We are one of the fastest-growing segments of the corporate workforce, and yet are still underrepresented, often underpaid, and many times impacted by bias and/or prejudice. In an effort to highlight the struggles women of color in corporate America faced by herself and others, Deepa Purushothaman met with women across industries and ethnic backgrounds to capture their experiences. I am honored to have been a part of this powerful book and to share some of my stories from my time in corporate America as a Black woman and how I made it. The book titled The First, The Few, The Only, allows us to have our stories heard and to make an impact on those to come next.

In this series, I will be highlighting some of my experiences that have been featured in Chapter 8 How to Play The Game While You Change The Game, along with valuable lessons shared by Deepa. The first part, ‘Learning Power Moves — The Learn Phase’. Below is an excerpt from the book, highlighting one of my experiences while I was in the ‘Learn’ phase:

“The Learn phase is about getting used to the norms of the culture you are in, understanding what you are good at, and proving yourself. But for WOC there is also a large focus on fitting in and deciding how much to assimilate.”

“Karen Boykin-Towns spent twenty-two years at Pfizer, moving up the company from legislative affairs to chief diversity officer. Early in her career, she had to travel for work but had a young daughter at home, so when the meetings were done, she would rush to her hotel room to call home. Others would go to the bar, but she would stay in her room to relax and prepare for the subsequent day. She was content knowing she was missing the stories that would be talked about the next day. But her husband is a politician, and he told her, “You need to go to the bar. Even if you don’t drink, that is where you will learn things that they won’t talk about at the meetings, and you will develop deeper relationships.” Knowing he was right, she started doing that. “In some ways, looking back, it was a form of conforming,” she said. “I was tired, a new mom, and I really didn’t want to socialize. I wanted to rest.” But attending the events helped her make strong relationships, and others got comfortable with her and learned more about who she was. Karen says it was important to share her life in these social ways. Her rise as a Black executive is a great example of how women learn, navigate, and gain help along the way.”

Deepa further shares a WOC (Women of Color) Learning Playbook:

1. Learn through osmosis

2. Learn through mentors

3. Learn through ‘we’

The learning phase is bound to come with its set of struggles and phases of confusion. However, in overcoming them, the lessons learned are invaluable and last for a lifetime. The next phase Deepa discusses in her book is the ‘Earning Power Moves Phase’.

Stay tuned!

You can order the book here.

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