PR Career Paths: A Conversation with Kim Bardakian, Sr. Director, Partnerships at The Kapor Center

At Gravitate, we’ve always humbly sought out the experiences and insights from a variety of communicators and industry professionals. As an agency that places a strong emphasis on diversity & inclusion, a number of us have been proud participants in Bay Area Storytellers of Color (BASC), which is a diverse network of media & PR professionals who gather several times a year to speak on a variety of topics and learn from each other.

Kim Bardakian
Kim Bardakian, Sr. Director, Partnerships at The Kapor Center

It was through BASC that we met Kim Bardakian, its co-founder – an inspirational leader who brings a rich and interesting background in communications. Recently, she’s transitioned into a partnerships role at The Kapor Center, which aims to make the technology ecosystem and entrepreneurship more diverse and inclusive. We wanted to learn more about her career trajectory, her commitment to diversity, and how her past work has led to her current role. Below is a conversation between Gravitate PR president, Lisette Paras and Kim. 

You’ve spent your career in PR and just recently transitioned into a Partnerships role at the Kapor Center. Why the shift and how are these relatable?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a promoter – the “hype” person. From small events to big gatherings, whatever I was involved in and loved, I wanted to promote it and encourage everyone to get involved. I loved being in the mix of things and knowing who was making things happen. Little did I know that those innate skills were the foundation to a career in Public Relations for over two decades.

The Kapor Center recently created a new Partnerships role which has provided me an opportunity to utilize my diverse network and passion for making connections. I love “connecting the dots” between people, organizations etc and creating strategic alliances to better help all parties involved move towards a common mission. It’s a win-win for everyone involved! 

Your career in promoting diverse voices and culture in the Bay Area preceded you and I’d love to better understand how you’ve been able to weave together your skills in communication and your passion for highlighting diversity in your career?

Anything I’m involved in, both personally and professionally,  I look at through a diverse lens and try to determine how I can connect the dots.

Back in 2016, I co-founded BASC, Bay Area Storytellers of Color, a diverse network of media and PR professionals in tech who gather a few times a year to share best practices and network. This group continues to grow with over 100 members who find solace in a group that truly understands what they are experiencing in the industry.

For many years I served as the Diversity Chair for the PRSA-San Francisco Chapter. During my leadership, we organized many Unity Mixers where we brought together Bay Area PR and journalists from the Black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBTQ communities. These gatherings were a big hit which is currently held during the PRSA National Conference. I’m happy to say that the Diversity Mixer is still a signature event, even a decade later!

In your previous role with Visit Oakland, you took the mantle to highlight Oakland on a national level. Can you tell us about the significance of making sure that Oakland was given attention, especially during the rise of the Warriors?

I’m from New York, but my heart lies in Oakland. We call it The Town. For almost 20 years I’ve lived in The Town and have watched it change, both for better and worse. When I was hired at Visit Oakland– the tourism bureau for the city– I felt it was a natural extension of the passion I already had for the city. Oakland has been and remains an underdog city. In my role, I was able to positively shift the outward perception of Oakland through media coverage, locally, nationally and internationally.

One of my proudest career moments came during the 2015 NBA Finals with the Warriors.  I worked tirelessly to convince the producers at ESPN and TNT to show a majority of Oakland during their broadcasts, rather than “the City”– San Francisco. The Warriors are Oakland’s team!  It had never been done before and I wanted to ensure everyone saw the beauty of a city that I truly love.

You are an active and vocal member of the Armenian community. Can you discuss how your role in that community helps inform the work you do at the Kapor Center?

My entire life I’ve been an active (and proud!) member of the Armenian community no matter where I’ve lived. While we are not large in numbers we are powerful with our collective voices. 

Similar to so many minority groups, Armenians have been persecuted for over a century. Our community continues to fight for justice for the acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide where 1.5 million Armenian were massacred at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. To this day these atrocities have not been acknowledged by many governments – including the US – and generations later Armenians globally continue to fight for recognition,

Having this lived experience has made me more empathetic to the work we do at the Kapor Center and to everyone we serve. We all come from somewhere. We all have a past and a history. Ultimately we want to create opportunities and provide access to level the playing field for all.

The tech community has long been criticized for its problems in addressing diversity. Even as more resources and attention are being given to this area, where do you think the largest disconnect remains in tech’s ability to recruit and retain talent from diverse backgrounds? 

It’s funny, people believe that there isn’t enough diverse talent to successfully fill tech positions. We’re often told that there’s a pipeline problem. That’s a joke and simply not true.

The real questions remain: where do you look to hire talent? What does your staff look like? How are you helping to build that pipeline? How do you retain the people that you’ve got?

Take a closer look at your recruiting process. Which colleges do you recruit from? Do you have an internship program to cultivate talent? Do you give larger referral incentives for recruiting underrepresented people of color? Do you have a workplace culture that allows everyone to thrive?

Change will only happen if you begin to look inward– at yourself, your organization and leadership. Sometimes it’s as simple as creating opportunities for people, and supporting them along the way and amazing things will happen.

COVID-19 has also changed a lot of advocacy and networking opportunities, especially for women and minorities. How are you/ the Kapor Center adjusting to the new normal to ensure progress isn’t lost? 

As an extrovert, it’s been difficult not being out and about at industry and community events on a regular basis, like I always did before. However, this is the new normal and we must adapt. It’s weirdly easy to stay inside for days and weeks on end without much connection.

One thing that I have found helpful is keeping a list of friends and colleagues (present and former) who I call when I have spare time. Usually it’s a 15-20 minute check-in to see how they’re feeling. In the end, we both feel better actually hearing a live voice. 

To keep our ecosystem connected, the Kapor Center has shifted to online events and webinars. Our goal remains to be a valuable resource for many underrepresented people of color in tech and venture capital.

What would your words of advice be to the next generation of women and BIPOC leaders in your field?

Speak Up. Get Involved. Take Action. 

Change can’t be made – big or small – from sitting on the sidelines. Look around your organization and see where you can make a difference. Mentor someone younger or with less experience. Work with your HR team to find new pipelines to find diverse talent. Create an internship program with diverse candidates. Help build the pipeline you want to see in the workplace. 

Creating opportunity and access to those who are often marginalized should be your focus. You’ll always find success when you are trying to help others!

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Post Author

Lisette Paras
Lisette is the founder and president of Gravitate PR. She started her career leading regional PR strategy and campaigns for some of the world’s biggest technology brands, and in recent years has honed her craft in partnering with startups primed for their next stage of growth. An award-winning PR professional, she has worked on dozens of M&As/IPOs in her career.

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