The Lions Share - Kia Christian
Kia Christian is a Global HR leader with a strong track record of delivering exceptional results in some of the world's largest organisations. Her relentless focus on both the employee and customer experience has fuelled her professional success. Her straightforward yet humble style is complemented by an authentic and bold resilience often described as "grit".
In addition to her varied professional experience, Kia is passionate about giving back to people and communities in need. Whether she's serving in a leadership position on non-profit Boards, donating to Children's Hospitals, or providing camp scholarships for kids from underserved communities, she is constantly seeking opportunities to support and uplift those who are experiencing difficulties in life, many of which mirror circumstances Kia has personally overcome.
We were honoured to sit with Kia to speak about how she became the inspirational leader she is today.
So tell us a little about what got you here today, Kia...
I started my career in retail sales. And when the company I was working for declared bankruptcy, a recruiter asked "what are you going to do next?". I had no idea! I hadn't taken the traditional route in life or with my career. I had already started a family, I was super young and only had a high school education. I knew I needed to further my education and find a new job quickly, but I wasn't sure how I was going to do all of this while caring for a young family.
Several roles were presented by the recruiter that I was fortunate enough to meet in one of my stores. I didn't get hired for any of them because I didn't have a college degree. She came to me with one final job and it was an entry-level benefits role in HR. I had no clue what HR even was. I went backwards in pay and I was leaving a leadership role to answer phone calls, one after the other all day long. But this was a chance to start an intentional career path, have a generous benefits package and work normal hours while going to school [eventually]. And so I took the job.
It's funny that I've spent so many years in HR. I always dreamt of a career in law enforcement and wanted to work in the FBI. I guess in some ways I'm still flexing my investigator's muscle and working to protect the good folks. Years later, I couldn't shake my desire to join the FBI though. I was on the cusp of the age cut off when a colleague said they could introduce me to the Philadelphia FBI lead. As much as I wanted to take the plunge and apply after meeting him, I had ten years of work experience by now, my daughter would soon be a pre-teen, I was caring for my mother and grandmother, in school full time and this time, I couldn't go backwards in salary. I don't regret not taking the opportunity because it was the right decision at that time and I firmly believe what's meant for you, will be yours.
What's something about you that surprises people?
My background and journey in life seem to surprise folks. People see amazing organisations on my resume, I travel all over the world (when the world was open anyway) and I've held big job titles. That gets translated into a version of me correlated to who people think I am and what my path must have been. There is very little understanding of what it took to get to this point. When I tell them I was a teenage mother, living on my own at 19, that I didn't have expectations set from parents about going to college or lessons taught about establishing financial independence that those with privilege grew up with, eyebrows raise. Many people sacrifice in life but I can only speak to my journey, which has required hard work and tremendous compromise. And I'm just getting started!
People's assumptions and biases can tear you down if you let them. I remember an HR colleague asking me at a work event what school I graduated from. She knew I didn't have a college degree because the week prior as we rode the train into work together, I asked her if she could provide me with information regarding the company's tuition reimbursement program to finish my education. Why she felt it was necessary to try and embarrass me in front of the group I'll never know. It's so important to surround yourself with people who truly see you and believe in you. Those who know you are incredible and will keep you grounded, but always elevate and illuminate your potential.
It feels like I am constantly working against being seen as less than. But I'm deeply competitive so these perceptions light a fire in me. I'm a winner and have always seen myself as such. This mentality has saved me even when the world was sending hard signals that I was anything but a winner. Every day is a new opportunity to grow and to evolve for the better. I hope I'm instilling this in my daughters. I want them to know they matter in this world and they are immensely capable of anything they aspire to.
How do you deal with setbacks?
This question reminds me of a quote from the Bible, "weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning". Acknowledgement of the fact that things can be better tomorrow is a belief that has steered me home more times than I can remember. In life, setbacks are more constant than wins, so you have to learn to rebound quickly. When you've been disappointed over and over, you become quite resilient. Resilience is a double-edged sword though. People take advantage of resilient people, especially resilient black women because we persist through extraordinarily difficult circumstances time and time again. On the flip side, if there's something I put my mind to, I usually find a way to get there no matter how many times I fail along the way.
It comes down to perspective and your ability to attract something better through your energy and your faith. You'll soon recognise that even the biggest setbacks can be overcome.
What areas of growth have been most impactful for you?
I've grown loads in terms of how I define my value for myself. Early in life, Black children are taught you have to do twice as much to be considered half as good. I always do more and work harder, only to hear "now replicate those same results somewhere else in our organisation" often without support or recognition. You're constantly needing to prove yourself but you can look at it from a different angle. I worked hard to find my voice and learn my value. No one gives that to you. The messages I heard as a child, especially a poor black girl, made me feel invisible like no one cared. This is why you need to build a healthy relationship with yourself and know your value. And yes, you'll still have to work harder and fight through systemic inequities but you'll have all the belief in yourself that you need to persist for you and those coming up as your successors.
What made you dare to be different?
I was born different - poor, black, female. None of this was by choice. I was different from the majority and looked at as such by those with privilege. Starting a family very early was also different from many of my peers in Corporate America who followed the "right path". I've always been a "different" HR person. I have a gritty resourceful style that has been central to my survival in life. Solving hard problems was necessary at a deeper level and turned out to be a useful skill professionally too. While others focus on doing their part well, I want to understand all the parts and how to make them work better together. I'm intense and I work fast with a focus on business strategy and customers. My HR colleagues would say "but you're in HR. Why do you care about that?" I didn't know how else to my HR job if I didn't first understand the business. They used to laugh or roll their eyes but I often receive offers from business leaders to work for them on the business side of things and therefore being laughed at isn't so bad.
I am not sure I could say if I didn't discover a purpose in my life greater than my own existence, things would have worked out the same. But I do know that I used every bit of the grit and determination that was laid on top of me when I was younger to my advantage, now that I've found my lane.
Being a senior Black woman in business is not common enough yet, so throughout my career, I have regularly been the different person in the room. My best competitive advantage is being me, that's my superpower. If you can consistently outperform others and push your way into spaces where you are otherwise underrepresented, despite that hard and lonely climb, you will become unstoppable as most people aren't used to trying even half as hard. Everyone will not carry the same level of resilience that enables you to fail and rebound with speed and even greater awareness. Harness that and use it to lift others as you climb.
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