…More importantly, companies should acknowledge their social responsibility of fighting biases in this society. Every executive you hire and promote becomes a role model and a mentor to someone else. Diverse leadership opens up opportunities for a diverse group of people.
Aspart of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Kyum Kim.
Kyum is a co-founder at Blind, an online community that gives you the freedom to be honest about your work. Kyum believes anonymity is a powerful tool to safely highlight the unsaid, amplify the unheard, and understand the unknown. He started Blind in South Korea and brought it to the US, building an online community of over a million people from scratch.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
While growing up in South Korea, I wasn’t planning to become an entrepreneur, and I envisioned myself working at a corporation. My career trajectory changed when the first company I joined grew from 10 employees to 1,000 employees in just two years, becoming one of the most successful e-commerce companies in South Korea. I witnessed a startup transform into a mid-sized company and the cultural changes associated with it. As the organization got bigger, more siloed the organization became, and a culture of hesitation came in place. This experience influenced me to start Blind, space for professionals to have the freedom, to be honest about their work.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah, is a memoir of him growing up in Apartheid South Africa as a mixed child. To me, this book is about perspectives. Trevor Noah talks about his experiences treated as white, black, and mixed depending on the perspective of the people around him. He talks about the privileges and unfair treatment derived from it based on his situational race.
Coming from a racially homogeneous society, I did not have much understanding about the implications of a racially diverse community like America. Born a Crime made me think about the complex impact of racial diversity around the world and motivated me to take further steps to understand it better.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution.”
Even though I try to stay positive as much as I can, being a startup founder can be stressful to a point where I get stuck in a loop of only problems. I remind myself about this quote and refocus on the solution and what’s possible. This quote has helped me ask the right questions: “How do I prevent this problem from happening again?” instead of “Why is life a mess again?”
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think leadership is the ability to align individuals’ goals with the organization’s goals. First, we hire only people who are passionate about our mission to bring transparency to the workplace. Second, I trust the employees will bring in goodwill as long as they believe the company’s success will bring success to themselves, and I try to stay conscious of what employees want to become.
One of the exercises I do with employees at Blind is defining their future selves together, so I understand what personal growth means to them. Then I talk about how we can achieve that working in this company and whether it is realistic or not. After we set the right expectations and goals are aligned, it is much easier for me to help employees be successful.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I usually have a hypothesis of what is likely going to happen, but prepare myself for what is not likely to happen. When things don’t go as planned, showing vulnerability and being transparent was the best strategy.
When I was acquiring our first 100 users in the US, I connected each one of them in person. I once met with an employee at Amazon, and he started asking me challenging questions about the product. Unprepared and frustrated, I told him that I would get back to him the following week with clear answers. I did, and he later became a champion of Blind.
I try to remind myself and the team that it’s ok to admit when something came out of the left field. There is a healthy probability that we’ll get an opportunity to follow-up, a second chance.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
If you watched the movie ‘Parasite,’ you probably felt the same discomfort while watching the Kim family suffer in their flooded basement while the Parks lay warm in their mansion. I find it very intriguing to see how COVID-19 has revealed the most unfair aspects of this world, and technology has made it impossible to pretend these problems don’t exist. I think we have realized the discomfort we had for a long time is real, and we need to fix it.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
I must admit that I am still working on understanding D&I, and I thought the best way to learn is to work with someone in that space. We are actively seeking partnerships with organizations to enhance diversity within tech.
We recently partnered with Amber Takahashi, founder of Brown Girl, Tech World. We are promoting her cause to make donations from our users and working on a content partnership. If any organizations are looking for more awareness, please feel free to reach out to me directly.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Your executives are advocates for your customers and your employees in leadership meetings. You don’t want to be alienating a group of customers or employees, who are the most important groups of people when making business decisions. Having a diverse leadership team helps companies prevent groupthink.
More importantly, companies should acknowledge their social responsibility of fighting biases in this society. Every executive you hire and promote becomes a role model and a mentor to someone else. Diverse leadership opens up opportunities for a diverse group of people.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
After George Floyd’s murder, I believed it was my responsibility as a member of this society to understand why the Black Lives Matter movement was happening. I will share what steps I took to increase my awareness of the race issues in the US.
Admit your ignorance
The first step was to acknowledge that I have a limited understanding of people in other socioeconomic groups. I have always supported the Black Lives Matter movement. After George Floyd’s murder, I realized I didn’t have enough context to explain Black Lives Matter to others. I wanted this to change, and first, I had to admit that I don’t know a lot about Black history.
Do your research
We now live in a world where we have access to resources to learn almost anything. I started searching about the LA Race Riots of 1992 because I have heard stories of Korea Town burnt down from my friends. After watching a few documentaries, I realized that the riots didn’t just start overnight, and there was a long history of police abuse. It also changed my mind to understand how the media played a role in creating conflict between racial minorities.
Connect with people you want to understand
I believe the best way to understand is to listen to what one has to say. I wanted to hear from Black people in America, and I started looking around.
One memorable discussion I had was with John, who works in our office building. Through the conversation, I learned about his family history, how his grandparents were abused and separated from their children. I also learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and how he feels that history is repeating itself again and again. John also talked about an Asian American standup comedian who has explained why Asians should support Black Lives Matter and what that means to Black people. The discussion I had with John was a life-changing experience.
Empathize with their story
After learning about Black history, I was surprised how similar the sufferings of Black people were to what happened to Koreans under Japanese colonization from 1910–1945. As a Korean growing up, we learn about the 35 years of brutality under the Japanese. We learn about how they tried to take away the Korean language and heritage. We learn about the comfort women the Japanese kidnapped to abuse as sex slaves. As we learn, we grow to become angry at the Imperialist government that ruled and abused us.
If 35 years of history has made Koreans that angry, I couldn’t imagine what 400 years of accumulated pain would feel like for Black people. Whenever I think about the Black Lives Matter movement, I remind myself to start from there.
Share what you have learned
Whenever I learn something new, I run it by the people I trust the most. I do that to make sure I have a solid foundation to deliver what I think. My wife was the first to hear what I learned about Black history, how it is similar to Korean history, and how I empathize with their pain. I have been actively talking about the Black Lives Matter movement whenever the issue comes up, correcting misconceptions, and many times learning a new perspective. I am looking forward to learning more about diversity, equality, and inclusion these steps I took for Black Lives Matter movement
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am optimistic because now people are beginning to realize the lack of context in understanding each other. I believe that people can always find common ground when they discuss the experience, not the logic. I think we are starting to ask the right questions, and the collective knowledge of history is growing.
One example, I have recently watched documentaries about the Tulsa Race Massacre, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, and activist James Baldwin. Out of curiosity, I have also looked at search trends on Google, and these events were gaining an unprecedented amount of traction on Google search. I think this is a great sign that people are now looking to understand stories rather than just focusing on what is on the surface.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com. There was a translated copy of his book, ‘Delivering Happiness,’ in my first company’s office. Almost everyone in the office read the book, and Zappos became the role model for the company. I’ve always wanted to talk about how he has created a culture that has impacted many companies around the world.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please follow me on LinkedIn.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!