When I was an editor of my high school newspaper, my state awarded me top prize for a column I had written on teen-aged drinking. The honor proved to be both my pride and shame – pride for obvious reasons; shame for the pseudonym I’d been using and was now forced to reveal to my parents. My byline read: Sarah Kim – an attempt to no longer be a perpetual foreigner, a given name that wasn’t given to me at all.
When I went to college, I changed my name back to Soon Mee. I figured if the world could say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they could say my phonetically spelled name. That proved to be untrue. I was told on more than a few occasions that I needed a nickname or an "American" name. Undeterred, I kept my name and began exploring PR while not knowing what it was and if it could be a viable career for me.
During a college internship at Apple, I met the company’s PR agency contact Peter Baron. He was often encouraging my skills, but, to my surprise, he also told me what a great name I had, saying it was perfect for media relations. It was a name that journalists could easily remember. To receive affirmation of both my abilities and an acknowledgement of who I am was a feeling I’d not known. Like all good sponsors, mentors, and coaches, Peter saw something in me that I didn’t fully see in myself. And it started with encouragement to recognize me for me. It’s why he has been my career-long mentor.
I’ve come to realize that these two elements – skills and acceptance – make up the two sides of diversity and inclusion. Diversity should bring an abundance of abilities, collaboration, and innovation. However, talent cannot fully flourish if individuals do not feel as if they truly belong.
Kim's mentor empowered her early on by encouraging her to "recognize me for me."
These experiences help me understand why it is so important to embrace opportunities to reach our youth as they are contemplating their career choices. In 2014, Porter Novelli was recognized with a Diversity Distinction in PR Award for our work with the TORCH organization. Based in New York, we supported TORCH’s efforts to introduce high school students to the fields of communications and advertising. Since then, we’ve gone on to work with organizations such as AdPR Academy, The Lagrant Foundation, the Emma Bowen Foundation, Junior Achievement, and more to ensure that high school- and college-aged students are exposed to the PR industry.
For the Junior Achievement Georgia Chapter, Porter Novelli has sponsored a cohort of Junior Achievement Fellows for over six years. Ten to 20 students from across Atlanta come to our offices weekly for six months to learn all facets of running a business – ideation, product development, cost analysis, market research, communications, and sales. They form a company and run for positions within the organization. They learn soft skills including presentation, teamwork, dressing for success, and building relationships.
This year, our Junior Achievement team, supported by Porter Novelli team leaders Anna Okula and Demeika Thompson, won the statewide contest, earning the opportunity to compete at the national level. Our student team made up of backgrounds of all kinds has already won so much through their commitment to one another. I’m proud to say our students with names such as Fola, Jevon, and Safiya among names such as Eric, Justin, and Tanner are all affirmed for who they are as they receive accolades for their efforts.
Even if you don’t generally put a lot of stock in awards, I encourage our industry members to enter for the 2018 Diversity Distinction in PR Awards. No matter the result, the awards force us to take stock of our efforts and ask: What are we doing to make our organizations and our industry better? They encourage us to hold ourselves accountable. They also serve as a time to acknowledge exceptional work while also affirming the totality of who we are as colleagues. Diversity and inclusion: We need both.
Soon Mee Kim is executive vice president and Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader for Porter Novelli.
And on May 10, the PR Council, in partnership with PRWeek, will launch the eighth annual Diversity Distinction in PR Awards.