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In this episode, host Chris Thornton talks with Soon Mee Kim, Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Omnicom Public Relations Group, to understand how 2021 will be a year of action for organizations’ DE&I initiatives. They discuss the fear that often prevents change in the workplace and how that can be replaced with an attitude of progress over perfection. Moving forward, Soon Mee encourages decision-makers to surround themselves with diverse perspectives and offers advice to leaders who know there is so much work to be done.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;33;23

Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, principal here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients. We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals.

00;00;33;25 – 00;01;00;07

I am so happy to welcome Soon Mee Kim Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer here at Omnicom Public Relations Group. She was recently recognized with an Innovation Achievement Award at the Innovation Saber Awards. The slow progress of diversity and inclusion within the PR industry has compelled a new generation of leaders to disrupt the tired initiatives that clearly weren’t working in the way that they should have been.

00;01;00;11 – 00;01;21;09

Soon Mee was honored as one of those pioneers. She’s an industry pacesetter, a culture creator, and I’m so glad she’s joining us today. Soon me. Welcome. Chris, thank you so much. What a what a warm welcome. I’m so glad to be with you and the Daggerwing family. So thanks so much for the invitation. Peek behind the curtain.

00;01;21;09 – 00;01;51;29

We did a prep call together just to make sure we were talking about the right things. And you and I were aligned, and I left that conversation inspired. And with a lot of energy. And so I was I’m so looking forward to getting to talk with you again and for our audience to get to listen to you. One of the things when we started, you know, you changed you probably don’t know this, but you changed me as a result of the conversation and some things that you shared.

00;01;51;29 – 00;02;10;01

And I can’t wait to get to those. And kind of share that with our audience today. But before we do that, and I know you’re a listener to the podcast, so thank you. And kind of just make sure that to prove it, you’re human on the human side of change. Ask you a couple of questions. I know you’ve got this.

00;02;10;01 – 00;02;33;23

You’ve got this. What is your most prized possession? Yes. So thank so much for this question. I think it’s so fun when I hear you ask it of others or think or I’m like, what is my favorite or Right. And I don’t think I really have one. But I also am surrounded by the things that I love.

00;02;33;23 – 00;02;58;21

So I love just color and vibrancy and I love pens and pencils and I’m full of. My office is full of office supplies that just make me happy or, you know, just silly things. So they’re not necessarily pricey, but they’re special to me. And I have, for example, an abacus that’s on my wall that my father used that to.

00;02;58;21 – 00;03;21;29

My my daughter’s perception looks like that looks like interesting hipster art. But, you know, it was actually a functional thing and things like that from from my family, from memory. And just things that just delight me are the things that surround me. Well, I have good fortune of being able to see you and all the color and things surrounding you.

00;03;22;01 – 00;03;44;03

I think I see a picture of your daughter as well behind you. It’s a beautiful picture. Let’s talk about pens and pencils. Let’s let’s nerd out on pens and pencils. Favorite pen. Favorite pencil. And why? gosh. You know, I don’t know why. I, I, I just love color. And I think it’s. I don’t know if you remember.

00;03;44;05 – 00;04;15;24

Aspire. Yes, of course. All right, let’s describe it. Describe it for the audience in case they didn’t get to live through the magic of the spider graph. gosh, I feel really old now. Chris, thanks. No, they’re back. I saw him in his store. I saw him in a store couple weeks ago. They’re they’re back. But yeah, I think it’s like, you know, I guess you’d say like these little gears, but kind of like, like on a ruler but gears and you put your hand in the circle and you would just go round and round, it would create this like cool design.

00;04;15;26 – 00;04;42;04

So yeah, I just, I don’t know. I just really like the tactile idea of color and, you know, it just drawing and doodling. And I think there’s something about having all these different colored pens around me that to me just inspired as possibility. Now, one of our past guest, Katie Sibley, who’s at HP, she shared with us that she’s into some coloring.

00;04;42;06 – 00;05;03;09

Do you do the coloring as well or not? No, I wish I did. No, I don’t, do I? There’s a beautiful what she does, but not coloring for you. You just like having the different colors at hand and being able to express yourself. Yes. Like I love and all I love to like, I feel like I’ve got a big calendar here that in the olden days with my kids, I would probably put out all of their schedule.

00;05;03;09 – 00;05;35;04

I don’t have that mess that need necessarily. I’ll just write down things. I’m just grateful for or yeah, just quotes, things like that. I love that. What’s one thing that can instantly make your day better? you know what? I wake up pretty happy. I may go to sleep annoyed or ticked, but I wake up pretty happy. I’m one of those people that regardless of the amount of sleep that I get, I feel pretty refreshed, which is quite the opposite of my husband who hates me for it.

00;05;35;06 – 00;05;54;13

So but yeah, I wake up pretty like ready to go. I don’t know. I got the good sleep. All right. I like that for you. I would, I, I did not get the good sleep, Jean. So I’m a little jealous there. Last question. Where did you grow up? So I am. I kind of jokingly call myself Southern Korean.

00;05;54;15 – 00;06;25;13

So not South Korean, but Southern Korean. Yes. Yes. yeah. My experience in life is largely like in the South. I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. My sister was born in Montgomery, Alabama. I’ve lived in North Carolina, I’ve lived in Georgia. And so what that means for me is that growing up, my father was a professor at various historically black colleges and universities throughout the South.

00;06;25;16 – 00;06;50;19

My sisters went to schools named for Confederate generals. And then, you know, on weekends we were often in places that were near military bases. And so we were forming churches, Korean churches that were often multiracial. And so that was kind of, I guess, the backdrop for, yeah, how I grew up. All right. You have proven that you are human.

00;06;50;19 – 00;07;19;24

Thank you so much for indulging that. Let’s let’s get into even more of the good stuff. So I said earlier that you changed me. And and one of the things that you said to me in our last conversation, I was as I was sharing some of, I guess some vulnerabilities and and some lack of confidence of does it make sense for a white man to be leading the conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion justice?

00;07;19;26 – 00;07;45;09

Do I have the right to speak and ask these questions? And you said something to me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. And it it was the sense of my words. And I’m going to ask you to expand. But what I took from it was you are where you are. Chris, In your role, do you want to be a figurehead or do you want to be a catalyst for change?

00;07;45;11 – 00;08;06;26

And you said it very nicely, but I need you to know it struck me deeply in I’m I’m going to carry that for a good long while. Can you expand upon those questions that you asked me in in an encouraging way? Do you want to be a figurehead or do you want to be a catalyst for change? What does that mean for you?

00;08;07;06 – 00;08;39;07

gosh. Well, I’m honored. First of all, I think that that touches me deeply, that, you know, we can have a conversation and we can feel growth and change from, you know, even these brief moments that we have together. Yeah. No, I often think about that comparison personally as well, is I think that we have, you know, time is finite, right?

00;08;39;10 – 00;09;03;13

I would love to say that time is one of those kind of resources that we have plenty of, but it is it is finite. And so whether it is throughout our lives or at this particular moment in time as we are experiencing, you know, this particular, you know, racial reckoning across culture, I think we have a particular window of opportunity to drive change.

00;09;03;16 – 00;09;31;13

And it’s an opportunity that every single one of us has and one that I mean, I have to think about the fact that, yeah, do do I want to be a figurehead or a catalyst and equipping myself and ourselves with the resources that we actually have. And I think we may have in abundance that we don’t even recognize.

00;09;31;15 – 00;10;06;10

I think of the fact that, you know, each of us has power and influence, each in our own way, and what I appreciated most about our conversation, Chris, is that you can, you know, at that conversation with what I called the two ages, humility and humanity. And I think if we just start there with the fact that, hey, we don’t know everything and we’re willing to try and the humanity of it, that we are people, we are fallible, we are works in progress.

00;10;06;12 – 00;10;37;11

And if we just start, you just start there a whole world of, I think, possibilities for connection and change and growth appears. Thank you for that. So much has happened over the last year as we’re recording this. It’s early ish in 2021, but 2020 certainly accelerated the movement of customers, employees, other stakeholders demanding that every company be accountable and ensuring a diverse, equitable, inclusive workforce.

00;10;37;11 – 00;11;19;26

What do you think organizations need to do this year now moving forward to keep it going? Yeah, I so often when I think about 2021, I quote my good friend Conroy Boxall, who is over at Porter Novelli, which is 2021, is the year of receipts. And that is so right on. I think we may have gotten we may have had some amount of grace extended to us in 2020, which is organizations that were saying, you know what, I’m going to reflect, I’m going to spend some time listening and learning and all of those things are super important, of course.

00;11;19;29 – 00;11;57;12

But 2021 is one of action. And, you know, we you’re right, are stakeholders across the board, internal, external. Our clients are going to be asking for those receipts and we need to be prepared to provide them. And so now, even as I counsel, you know, my colleagues and and clients now, like, you know, there’s no getting around the fact that we are approach being the one year anniversary since George Floyd’s murder and the one year anniversary since a racial reckoning that occurred.

00;11;57;14 – 00;12;18;07

And we’re going to have to have some things to show for that. And, you know, progress must be made. So, you know, there’s a certain kind of like time expectation that we need to be driving change. When you think about leaders, as I and as I talk with them about DNA issues, I know that they feel that they haven’t done enough.

00;12;18;09 – 00;12;47;26

They’ve tried in many cases, but they know they have more to do. What advice would you give to them and where should they put their focus and energy? You know, this is where I’ll I’ll probably practice a little bit more tough love in the sense that I agree with Dr. King. You know, that some of the biggest inhibitors to progress are good people, Good people who have good intentions.

00;12;47;26 – 00;13;14;04

And and I don’t want to use the word wallow, but I’ll use the word wallow wallow a little in not getting things right or the fear of getting things right, rather, versus making progress. And so what I would say to the folks that you reference is I think we need to take on an attitude of progress over perfection.

00;13;14;07 – 00;13;43;11

I see a lot of paralysis right now of just folks that are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, of doing the wrong thing, and that’s causing a lot of inaction. So when I came into my role at Porter Novelli, there were a few things that I kind of set up. First of all, it’s like making sure that we are very tied to the values of the organization and from that, identifying some guiding principles from which we would act.

00;13;43;14 – 00;14;09;25

There are about nine different principles, but a few that I would specifically mention is like, you know, we’re not going to agree all the time. And, you know, sometimes we can be kind of consensus driven to a fault. And so, you know, recognizing that we’re not going to agree helps us kind of, you know, determine like that. There are times that we’re going to take action and hopefully folks will kind of come along afterwards.

00;14;09;27 – 00;14;31;26

And another guiding principle for us was around the fact that we’re not going to be neutral on human rights. And so if there was a question where, you know, should we shouldn’t weigh the risk and all of this kind of stuff, well, if it did align with our values and this is not something that you know, that is not supporting human rights and this is going to give us give us a reason to speak.

00;14;31;28 – 00;14;52;10

Another guiding principle for us is that we’re going to make mistakes again, the progress over the perfection. And sure, there are places and times that I have made mistakes and folks have come to me and, you know, let me know or tried to make me feel better about it. I’m like, no, I mean, part of this is that, you know, I think I accept that we’re going to make mistakes.

00;14;52;10 – 00;15;12;20

I take responsibility for this. I will learn from it. However, I’m not sorry for it. And we did the best that we could with the information that we had. And we learn and we grow The it is powerful to be able to say, I did what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I will learn from that.

00;15;12;23 – 00;15;32;18

I might not do it the same way again, but I was trying my best in that moment and I wasn’t holding back from doing what I thought was right. Is that is that what I should take from that? I think that’s right on, Chris. I mean, again, it’s funny because I think in other spaces of work, I think we are we understand that concept a lot better.

00;15;32;23 – 00;15;54;24

But for some reason, as it relates to diversity, equity, inclusion, perhaps because people are not as comfortable, they’re so afraid of mic making offense, that type of thing. Yet it causes a lot of a standstill, if you will. That’s fascinating. And I want to dig in on that because I can think of three clients that I work with who who have a fail fast.

00;15;54;24 – 00;16;24;14

Learn fast, not just fail fast, right? Learn fast and apply it culture and mindset, especially when it comes to meeting the needs of customers. What? We don’t have that. Do we want it when it comes to diversity, Equity and inclusion on learn fast may not fail fast, but try your damnedest and do what you think is right. Try and stop letting fear hold you back so that you can learn and get better and grow much more rapidly.

00;16;24;14 – 00;16;58;11

I think you’re absolutely right. We don’t have that mindset. And if we did. I’m sorry, Emmett. I’m. I’m catching up, okay? I’m catching up to where I think other people are. But I that resonates to me so much that why why not do what you believe is right so that you can learn faster? Yeah. I mean, I think there’s something really powerful in our intentions and I know for some people their intentions don’t matter, particularly if it doesn’t follow with good action.

00;16;58;13 – 00;17;24;13

But for me, I think moving with intention is a core part of integrity, right? So I think it’s all very connected. So, you know, the other thing that I will say is there are folks that will come to me with, you know, what do you do in this particular situation? Yeah. And so much of diversity, equity inclusion is about context and nuance.

00;17;24;13 – 00;17;53;18

Context and nuance. I always push that because I don’t think there’s ever a kind of one size fits all. And I think so much is is based on the culture of your organization and the groundwork that you have already laid. So that somebody might do something and it is lambasted and then that actually will not receive a lot of grace because again, the groundwork is not been laid.

00;17;53;20 – 00;23;32;23

In other case, somebody might do the exact same thing and receives so much grace because again, the culture that has been developed over time. So again, I think there’s so much that is it’s critical to, yeah, the context and nuance that one builds within the cultural essence of an organization. That context does matter so much. So how do you help people?

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.