Empowered — RV’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women — strives to foster a community that inspires, supports, empowers, and educates all women-identifying folks and allies of all gender identities. And one of our favorite ways to inspire and empower our community is simply by sharing the wisdom of the amazing RV women we get to work with every day.
On this month’s Empowered leaders feature, we hear from RV’s new Chief Diversity Officer Khemari Cook. We discuss the career journey that led to her new role and what she’s learned about advocating for herself and others along the way. Check out her conversation with Content Designer Jessa Hanley below.
“We believe in being the change we wish to see in the world.”
That’s a core tenant of our business. The phrase lives on our belief wall and stands at the center of all Red Ventures stands for. It’s also the driving factor behind our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) mission to create a culture that empowers employees and fosters belonging.
Khemari Cook is spearheading that change at RV. Just over the last year, she’s led efforts to build out a robust DEI program across the company. With the rest of the DEI team, she’s created impactful workplace trainings and established employee resource groups — spaces for people to gather, discuss, and learn.
Sarah Soule nominated Khemari for this month’s Empowered feature. She said Khemari’s DEI leadership has been invaluable to the organization.
“Leaders have had to navigate many complex topics and conversations, and I know many of us have leaned on Khemari for her wise advice,” Sarah says. “She always seems to know exactly how to approach a difficult conversation and is always willing to jump in and help. She’s an inspiration to so many of us.”
Jessa Hanley: First of all, we want to say a big congratulations on your new position! To get us started, can you tell us a bit more about the role of Chief Diversity Officer?
Khemari Cook: The Chief Diversity Officer role is about being a steward of an inclusive and equitable culture. It’s educating, connecting, and challenging the way we think, interact, and show up for one another. It’s removing barriers to opportunities to give runway to growth — for everyone. It’s giving name and voice to things that are uncomfortable, but it’s also about celebrating and appreciating all of the beautiful things that make us who we are. The Chief Diversity Officer role is about being an agent of change through influence across the company.
JH: Did you always know you wanted to lead diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives? What passions or experiences led you to where you are today?
KC: No, I didn’t. I knew that I had the most joy and satisfaction in my career when I could pour into other people. I loved seeing people on my team achieve their career goals and live out their potential. In that, I knew both by observing and by experience that the path to success could be different for some people.
I grew up being taught to work twice as hard to get similar opportunities as my peers. I want to change that. I know what it’s like to be one of one — to be an “other.” I know what it’s like to feel like the finish line moves. I know what it’s like to betray parts of yourself to get to where you want to be. Drawing from that experience has given me the courage to advocate on behalf of those who have been historically excluded from opportunity.
JH: Tell us about the most empowering person or encounter you’ve had and how it impacted you (in your career or otherwise).
KC: Empower means to make someone stronger, giving them the tools to control their life and claim their rights. In that context, Shannon McFayden has been the most empowering person I’ve encountered in my career. She encouraged me to find my voice and lean into the strength of it.
Shannon wouldn’t let me shrink into a more palatable version of myself and supported me in being my authentic self — claiming my right to take up space, to make mistakes, and to lead. I know what it’s like to show up as my full self, and I could never go into a space in which I had to do otherwise.
JH: As a woman of color in leadership, what are some of the unique challenges you’ve faced?
KC: I sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome because I may be the only Black woman in a room, and, for a moment, I question if I should be there. I’ve learned to affirm myself. (Yes, I’m the person with the sticky notes.)
I also do my best to balance speaking from my own perspective with speaking on behalf of women of color. My experience as a woman of color is not universal and it’s important for me to make that delineation.
JH: What about the unique rewards?
KC: I have the privilege to contribute to discussions and decisions that directly influence the experience and growth of people who have historically been excluded. I get to be a voice in rooms I never imagined a person like me could be in.
JH: As you well know, it’s a core value at RV to “be great people to work with.” And you’ve teamed up with ERGs and leaders to roll out awesome allyship training. I’ve heard people across RV say that it’s the most impactful training they’ve ever had.
To briefly encapsulate the work you and others have done, can you name a few ways — big or small — every RV-er can grow to be a better peer and coworker?
KC: Sure, here are a few:
- Build authentic relationships with your team.
- Practice compassion and empathy with yourself so that you can also give it to others.
- Be comfortable making mistakes. Allyship is a practice — the more you do it, the better you get. But there is a learning curve.
- Commit to learning and unlearning. We all have experiences and lives that shape our perspectives. As we learn new things, we sometimes have to unlearn other things to show up in the way we need to.
- Remember, the goal is not for us all to be the same but to create space for everyone to show up authentically.
JH: If you could rewind the clock to the beginning of your career, what would you tell first-day-of-work Khemari?
KC: Grind. Do the work — it pays off. You’re allowed to take up space. Correct the pronunciation of your name every single time.
JH: To end on a more personal note, we have a few silly questions to get to know you. Here they are, rapid-fire:
- What’s your hype song when you need a boost? Beyonce’s “Formation”
- If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Salmon. Alaskan wild-caught, to be exact.
- What fashion trend do you wish would come back in style? Custom airbrushed t-shirts, pants, shoes.
- On the flip side, what trend should be barred for all eternity? Windbreaker tracksuits. Yikes!
- What’s your go-to dance move? I’m a terrible dancer; it’s best if I stand still.
- If you could write a biography about anyone (famous or not), who would it be? It would be my mom. We often think about our parents purely in the context of being caregivers, but learning about her as a whole person has been amazing. My favorite discovery is that my mom was Miss Fresh 1987. I wonder what else I don’t know!
Want to learn more about DEI at RV? Check out our Annual Progress Report and more, right here.