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Karen Civil is undoubtedly one of the most well-respected women in the entertainment industry. Her marketing expertise, her Always Civil branding empire and the creative content from her Live Civil blog has effortlessly proven that not only can she hang with the best of them, but she is the best of them.
Most recently, Civil has partnered with her bestie and fellow entrepreneur Ming Lee for their latest joint venture: The “Girl, I Guess” podcast via the Joe Budden Podcast Network where the two Black bosses have candid conversations about relationships, professionalism and everything in.
“Women’s History Month is always something amazing within itself where we get to set time aside to really honor the women who have paved the way, who have made things possible and I don’t think we should be limited to a month but for the time being, I’ll take it,” Civil told REVOLT in our exclusive chat. “It’s a great way in which we’re allowed to celebrate one another, our ancestors, the people who came before us and who have continuously created the foundation for women to thrive in the present.”
For Women’s History Month, REVOLT caught up with Civil to chat about being a woman working in the male-dominated music and entertainment business, her appreciation for radio personality Angie Martinez, and much more. Check out our conversation below!
When did it first hit you that women are treated differently in the entertainment business than men?
It definitely hit me very early on when I was an intern, but unfortunately it’s something that I continuously go through with my male counterparts while dealing with the pay gap, me speaking with passion and conviction and people will label that as me being a bitch and things of that nature. I’m at a point where I’m not letting society or my male counterparts dictate who I am as an individual or how I show up. I am a force to be reckoned with and I just so happen to be a woman. You’re gonna respect that regardless of the situation. It’s something that I’ve dealt with very early on in my career, it’s ongoing but I do not succumb to anybody else’s negative connotation on the limits that they’re trying to put on my life because my work ethic, my blessings and God’s grace continues to help me persevere. That’s all that matters.
Have you ever encountered any sexism or hypersexualization on the job? If so, how’d you work through it?
There was a situation like that when that did occur and it was so unfortunate that I had to go home and ask myself these questions. Karen, do you just deal with it so you can move forward with this position and company? Do you say something because once you say something, you’re a whistleblower? Instead of you being the victim, you’re going to be the one that’s persecuted. I had to take the steps not only for myself but for other women who felt like they don’t have a voice. I was not going to let anybody else silence me, so I spoke up for myself. I spoke up for the situation and I’m glad I did. I’m glad that I took that chance on myself because I never want to live with the regret that I didn’t stand up for myself and I decided to stay silent because this is going to continue to happen. What about the girl or the woman after me? If I can be the difference, why not do that?
Why do you think women, specifically Black women, have a more challenging experience in the industry than men do?
For a very long time, it’s been a boys’ club. I don’t look at it as two strikes, but certain people look at being a woman and being a Black woman as strikes against you. You go into situations where people want you to be good and not great, or they feel as though you don’t belong in this or you’re too emotional. It’s all of this negative connotation that comes with being women and it’s very unfortunate, but at the end of the day, women continue to lead. We make things happen. Tuck your ego and realize we are the ones that are setting the trends. We are the ones moving the culture and the world forward.
Look at what just happened with the presidential race. Women are on the forefront making things happen, so whether people want to understand that or not, that’s something that they’ll have to deal with. For a very long time, I used to ask myself these questions, but that’s not a question I can necessarily answer. That’s a question for a man with a male ego who for some reason wants to limit the potential of a woman who has greatness in her. My greatness doesn’t limit who you are as an individual and my success doesn’t hinder you in any way or make you feel like a failure.
How can creators do a better job at creating content that is more sensitive to the challenges of Black women?
It starts from where work starts. It starts in the meetings, specifically those creativity meetings because there will be a lot of things that come out and you’ll be like, “What is that? Who made that?” You can tell that there were no women who were a part of this team. You can tell that there were no Black women in that room, sitting there and saying, “Maybe this shouldn’t go out.” That’s where it needs to start. It needs to start on that work chart, it needs to start in that boardroom, it needs to start with that creativity team and understanding that we need to be part of that. Our voices need to be heard and our opinions need to be heard. Not just heard, executed as well.
With your knowledge of social media and the way the video of George Floyd’s death circulated, how have you seen the use of platforms transform over the past year?
I haven’t fully watched that video. I don’t want to watch somebody beg for their life for more than five minutes while telling you that they can’t breathe. Unfortunately, that honest truth took us back to the Rodney King riots and it brought up other injustices where things have happened and no justice was given. It’s one of those things that it’s hard to formulate and put into words because it’s just so sad. A man lost his life over something so miniscule. A child no longer has her father and it’s just a very disheartening situation, so it’s really hard for me to put into words...It’s really sensitive and it’s just a senseless murder.
How have social justice and social media found a way to work hand-in-hand? Has it been for the better or the worse?
It was for the better. The media couldn’t lie to us, portray a certain story or say certain things. It was videotaped right there. What if that person didn’t catch it? They would’ve told us something else. “He tried to fight back” or whatever. The video got shared, stories got pushed out, people used their platform to set up protests, marches and different things. I love that fact that people think social media was a bad thing because it was a wonderful tool to help push America forward and really face the racial issues and divide that this country has. You couldn’t lie to us because the tape don’t lie and we no longer need you to provide the information.
What women have paved the way for you today?
I always owe it to Angie Martinez because Angie Martinez is someone who embodies everything. Back when society told you that you could only be one thing, she was a radio personality, an author, put out an album, she’s a musician, and she’s a mother. Everything about her just made me realize that I can live up to my potential and not just the potential that society has set up for me where you can only just do one minor fractured thing and be mediocre. She literally lived up to her potential to this day and she hasn’t stopped. On days where I feel like my heart and my spirit aren’t at ease, I pick up Angie’s book and the same way people say, “What would Jesus do?” I say, “What would Angie do?”
What’s the importance of uplifting the next Black girl as you build your empire, and why is mentorship important to you?
I never really liked the notion of “the only Black” something at a company. When it gets to a point where they allow me to come through a door, I don’t leave it cracked. I leave it wide open because there’s so many other women who deserve opportunities and deserve to be there. At times, I think about my mom who had to put a lot of time and effort into my name. She said, “I did that because I didn’t want anyone to judge you off of your name and not give you a chance.” That made me sad, but now I’m at a point where I’m looking at resumes and I don’t even look at the name first. I just look at the work ethic and that’s the way it really should be.
Now, I just make sure to create more opportunities, hire more Black females and Black women to give them the opportunity to be at that table. It’s so great when you’re invited to the table and you have the seat, but I’m not just about occupying the seat. I want to be able to provide other chairs and build a bigger table for more women to come. That’s really what it’s about. As I continue this journey, there are going to be people who love me and people who hate me, but I focus on the women who I continue to help, who I want to see strive and be better for myself and for them, and just being able to create those opportunities. At the end of the day, the way they say Black women are unicorns, I say that we’re eagles because we continue to soar.