Karen Boykin-Towns Chosen as One of City&State New York’s Power Players

Insights from Leaders
5 min readDec 11, 2020


Karen Boykin-Towns, CEO Encore Strategies

Karen Boykin-Towns, Vice Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors and CEO of Encore Strategies strives to promote and create a societal transformation based on equality through her various channels of leadership. She was recently featured in City& State New York’s article ‘The Power Players,’ an article highlighting Black women who are making strides in government and politics.

The article noted that,

“As the nation turns its attention to the penultimate power move for a Black American woman — becoming vice president of the United States — let’s note that this triumph isn’t happening in a vacuum. Black women have long had a pivotal, yet overlooked, role in politics and government. They believed in women’s suffrage back when (white) women’s suffrage didn’t truly believe in them, as local voting rights activist Sarah Jane Smith Thompson Garnet did over 100 years ago.

“In this special collaboration with The New York Amsterdam News, we’re speaking to Black women who hold — and have held — leading roles in state government and politics, to hear what drives them despite the challenges they face and to learn how they navigate the corridors of power.”

Karen spoke on her experiences being a Black woman in cooperate America:

“In thinking about where we are, I cannot honestly say anything has changed or challenged how I do business. I’ve always been authentic as a leader and unafraid to speak up even when it might not have been popular. Funny enough I’m always looked to as the one to ‘say it.’ I do feel a greater sense of urgency in the work to bring about change both in society and corporate America. We currently have a window of opportunity that will eventually close, so it is imperative that we move at a deliberate speed as it relates specifically to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“I’d be hard pressed to know of any woman of color who hasn’t experienced bias at some level. It could be overt or any one of the many microaggressions that can be exhibited. Either way, I have always found ways to deal with it.

“The worst piece of advice I ever received came during the time when despite all of my success I wasn’t being promoted beyond senior director. After confronting my manager, I got him to agree for me to have an executive coach and a 360-review. While it came back with very positive feedback one item of advice that was provided by one of the executives interviewed was, “Karen should smile more in her interactions because she is so serious and it would make others more comfortable.” They went on to say, “Karen should share more about herself and what she does on the weekend. She is trying to break into a level which is like a club and they need to have a better sense of her.”

“I started my career in government/politics working for then state Sen. David Paterson, where I learned a tremendous amount. Any “obstacles” I faced, I had a supportive network led by the senator and our staff which operated as a family. It is the learnings from here that allowed me to navigate the true obstacles I faced as I transitioned into corporate America. They included working in an environment where I knew going in I was making less than most at an entry level, but more than what I had made in government. There was a bias/concern on my ability to make the transition so it was important for me to work hard and show value quickly. I did just that and received great performance reviews but I was consistently compared to a white male who came in a year after me. For years they kept us at the same level despite the impact I had within the department and company. At one point during a performance review my manager said, “We don’t know what to do with you.” Several years with the company and with a stellar reputation for getting things done, I knew it was time to take things into my own hands. I sought out our CEO for guidance and support.

“Remember when I said I took things into my own hands and went to the CEO? The CEO at the time was someone who I had intentionally built a relationship with when he was general counsel. I had worked with him on a few high-profile projects that were important to his success and helped with his elevation. Knowing he thought highly of me, I sought his advice on how I could advance having been with the company for nine years and getting feedback like ‘they don’t know what to do with me.’ What he said to me I will never forget. He advised that in large companies working hard and doing great work only gets you so far. You must have people who speak up on your behalf and provide you with a ‘turbo boost’ and he was going to do that for me. Indeed he did and I finally broke through the senior director level, ultimately retiring from Pfizer as the only Black person to report to an ELT member (a senior executive who reports to the chairman and CEO) and one of the top 200 executives in the company of 90K employees. It’s important to note that after giving me a ‘turbo boost’ approximately two years later he left the company. I continued to excel but without his initial help none of what came after would have happened.

“I’m blessed to have many mentors/advisers who comprise my personal board of directors. Each has a role and purpose that help me navigate the various aspects of my career. When considering leaving Pfizer, I had those who were able to help me properly plan for my departure and make sure all things were in order before doing so. Having never worked for myself, members of my (board of directors) have been critical in helping me properly set up my consulting business. They have shared insights that have been invaluable including making introductions to individuals many of whom have become clients. Most importantly they push me to think about ways to take Encore Strategies to the next level.

“My personal mantra is “I’m blessed so I can bless somebody else,” therefore mentoring is something that is consistent in my life. Most times I too benefit from these relationships. My ‘mentees’ range from leaders in their own right like L. Joy Williams who was my planned successor of the NAACP Brooklyn Branch; Meenu Matthews who was valedictorian from George Washington University and now a JD candidate at Columbia Law School; Nasaiah Hoskins, president of the PA NAACP Youth & College Division; and, Valerie Brooks who will be graduating next year from Hampton University School of Pharmacy, just to name a few.”

Read the original article here.



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