🌈 DEI Spotlight: Meet Soon Mee Kim
Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Omnicom Public Relations Group
As Internal Communications professionals, we collaborate with teams across our organizations. This is the first post in a new series to share stories of those collaboration partners, how our work intersects and what we can learn from other disciplines.
I’ve selected Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as the first in this series because of the recent rise in hate towards the API community. I have been incredibly sad, angry and disappointed by these acts of violence. This prompted me to reach out to many friends and mentors, including Soon Mee Kim.
After you learn more about her story below, I invite you to join me for an interactive conversation with Soon Mee that I’m hosting with CreativeMornings Atlanta, an organization where I have served as volunteer FieldTrip captain for the past two years. I organize meaningful experiences to explore thought-provoking ideas and spaces. You can register for this free event: “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Supporting the API Community at Home” on April 21st at 7:30pm ET here.
About Soon Mee
Soon Mee Kim is executive vice president and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Omnicom Public Relations Group, the world’s leading communications agencies across a broad array of industries and specialties. As part of Omnicom Group and the Omnicom People Engagement Network (OPEN) leadership team, Soon Mee is responsible for driving greater diversity, equity and inclusion across 17 agency brands with over 6,000 professionals worldwide.
Recognized as an industry pacesetter and culture creator, Soon Mee was most recently executive vice president and Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader for Porter Novelli, the global purpose communications consultancy within the Omnicom network. She is a high-empathy, strategic talent builder with a heart for mentorship.
A dreamer and a doer, Soon Mee is passionate about the power of the workplace to drive societal impact. In 2020, she was named an ADCOLOR Legend, as well as PRWEEK Hall of Femme honoree. Soon Mee spearheaded the best agency diversity initiatives for 2018 and 2019 as determined by PRWEEK and the PR Council, and was named Agency Diversity Champion of the Year in 2018.
Soon Mee is an active board member, volunteer and advisor to numerous organizations. In her local community, she serves on the editorial advisory board of Atlanta Magazine, the advisory board of the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network, the board of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, and is a dedicated volunteer with Leadership Atlanta, the city’s preeminent leadership development organization. She is a graduate of Emory University, and a trained diversity coach through Coach Diversity Institute.
What sparked your professional path into Diversity Equity and Inclusion?
Several years ago, I remember being frustrated with opportunities that I was getting in my organization. At times, a lot of us feel this way in our careers. For me, those moments have been very instructive – helping me to reflect and hone in on the areas I really wanted to focus on professionally. These experiences can also make us super alert to where those tensions are coming from and how to address them with action.
I remember going through what I call “the state of popcorn” where you are hyper alert to what's going on around you and having those pop, pop, pop moments of ideas and connections, which for me led in the direction of purpose.
At the time, a lot of terrible actions were happening in culture and society, specifically against the Black community with killings of unarmed Black men. Because I'm the beneficiary of work environments that are really diverse, I remember feeling intense sorrow and grief alongside colleagues that I really care about who were experiencing these situations. It awakened in me feelings that have likely been there all along – to be more alert to my own background and experiences and how they could be a benefit to my greater passions. This led me towards being an advocate in the environments where I work.
Did growing up in the South have an impact on your professional path towards DEI?
Sometimes, I joke that I’m not South Korean, but I’m actually Southern Korean. What I mean by that is that my father was a Professor at historically Black colleges and universities throughout the South. Back then, we didn’t necessarily think of it this way, but we were quite pioneering in that we were often the first, only and different members of the communities where we were living.
But, while we were having this kind of experience in one capacity, my sisters went to high schools named for confederate generals. On the weekends, we were part of Korean church activities and often with multiracial and biracial families because we were near military bases. All of this led to different intersections of communities and identities that I've never thought of anything more than – isn't that what everybody else is experiencing. But, it wasn’t and that has been really helpful for me in framing my perspective.
How do you describe DEI work?
Sometimes for people, DEI can feel very corporate, but for me, it’s about everything – infusing all of the moral imperatives and the business imperatives. It’s about recognizing when we are in environments that are more diverse equitable and inclusive. On every measure, we perform better.
I think about my role in three parts. First, it’s similar to ministry and calling. Second, it’s about activism, but more on the corporate and internal side. And third, it’s a bit like being a hall monitor, I jokingly say this but it’s watching out for what’s happening. DEI is about making sure the best of who we are and what we bring together are infused in all parts of what we do.
How do you work closely with Internal Communications and Communications to share your work with team members?
I come from the communications world. I have such respect for that function. This is the moment where we really need to be leaning on our Communications professionals even more strongly. I often look at that function as the conscience of an organization. That's because we sit in spaces that are sensitive to and cognizant of both internal and external stakeholders.
It means we really have to hold that space to instruct both spheres on those important issues. These days, those issues are societal, cultural and relate to our identities. It means making sure that our employees feel seen, acknowledged and recognized for their identifies. I think it's a very pivotal place where Internal Communications and Communications sits within an organization.
What's one project you are proud of having accomplished?
I'll share an internal campaign that I'm really proud to have worked on – it is called “We Stand for Love.” That campaign was born from this notion of hate that we continue to see today, but back in 2018, it was the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville. At the time, there was going to be this big march on Washington and our airwaves would be filled with the stories about hate. So we made a decision instead to focus on stories of love and standing up against hate.
We featured a number of very powerful personal stories from people in the LGBTQ+ community, the disability community, the Hispanic Latinx, the Asian and Black communities. Employees were willing to share very meaningful and personal stories that affect the way that we now see different groups. It was very multifaceted.
When we were starting that program I thought to myself – this might be one of the most important things that I do in my career as it helped us really see each other. Personally, I was extremely changed by the stories that I heard and the empathy that I felt. Three years later, this reminds me that you never know what people are experiencing in their lives and how powerful their voices are when they share it.
What’s one project you are working on now that you hope to have an impact?
Externally, we don't always necessarily realize the power and influence that we have by being in the creative field. So we've started a campaign that’s going on right now called “3 in 5” to increase Asian-American representation in advertising.
As we see all of this hate directed at the Asian community, it was based on this data point that 3 in 5 Asian-Americans do not see themselves reflected in advertising or marketing. So what if we started to build that muscle memory to ensure we’re not invisible – our stories of joy, triumph and challenge become seen and people build an awareness for what's happening. We want to humanize each other more.
We have collected over 36 million impressions of donated time and made a call to all of our agencies and creatives to invite them to consider creating a PSA of 15 or 30 seconds that would run on those donated space throughout the month of May during Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. That marketing power can be such an empathy machine for greater society. You can learn more and participate here.
What are resources that you recommend for professionals to learn more about DEI?
There are so many resources and learning opportunities now more than ever – there are webinars and video conferences that are happening all the time.
I really enjoy listening to podcasts. I never miss an episode of NPR’s Code Switch. There have been some one-time shows such as The New York Times’ 1619 about slavery that really still haunts me. Also, Crooked Media’s This Land was very powerful and really helped me understand indigenous groups.
In terms of books, my nightstand is filled with a tall tower of books that I try to read. I’m interested in history or history that I might have missed is what I am focused on right now. I recently finished “Just Us” by Claudia Rankine and “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Y. Davis. I’m currently reading “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, and next on my list are “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” by Cho Nam-Joo and “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee.