We had the good fortune of connecting with Hei-ock Kim and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hei-ock, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
The Kim Center is dedicated to accelerating the achievement of equal status for all genders in the workplace. Women are of particular concern because they are the largest marginalized population. The cultural bias that women deserve second-class status is still so strong that people just can’t absorb how profoundly women’s ability to succeed at work impacts our economy and society, even though the evidence is crystal clear. Companies that have more women in leadership are more productive and profitable. Communities that treat women more equitably have higher education levels, increased resilience, and less violence. Families with women who receive the pay and recognition they deserve experience better mental and physical health. Everybody benefits. So what’s the problem? One thing I discovered is that most employers want to do the right thing, but are confused about what gender equity actually looks like, how to create actionable strategies, and how to measure progress. Thus, the Kim Center vision was born: 1. Help employers transform their working environments using data-driven and custom strategies 2. Measure change using academically researched and standardized metrics for gender equity 3. Unite each community around a single action plan, and then connect successful communities to support and solidify the national movement We start employers off with our GenderBALANCE™ Assessment, a comprehensive evaluation that triangulates company-level stats with employee feedback on key questions. Their results appear in a mobile-friendly dashboard that allows users to “slice and dice” their data and generate reports for leadership, employees, the public, and other stakeholders. The next step is to co-design and co-implement a custom GenderBALANCE™ Playbook. We’re working with early adopters on this tool right now. Because we only address the specific issues raised in their Assessment results, employers are able to focus their resources and drive progress efficiently. Lastly, companies will be able to hold themselves accountable through our nationally standardized GenderBALANCE™ Certification. We’ll be demonstrating that the GenderBALANCE™ program works on the community level too. San Diego is our proving grounds for uniting government, employers, and individuals around actionable and measurable goals designed specifically for our region. Society is at an inflection point right now. If we move with intention on workplace gender equity, we really can eliminate the pay gap and reduce sexual harassment, domestic violence, human trafficking, teen pregnancies, and poverty. We even have an opportunity to mitigate the economic aftermath of our current crisis. After all, the countries that most successfully responded to COVID-19 are led by women.
How did you get to where you are today professionally. What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I was a classical pianist in a former life, which I’d say prepared me better than anything for the unrelenting challenges of both entrepreneurship and the fight for social justice. Fortunately, it also taught me to see the beauty in the process. As a performer, I learned that determination to succeed rewarded me with incredible growth on the other side. As a teacher, I learned that versatility and agility enabled me to help each student create the best version of themselves. As a collaborator, I learned that embracing diverse perspectives, compromise, and humanity resulted in the best forms of excellence. I also learned things that make me a good leader today: how to be visionary while paying attention to the details; how to fail and still believe in myself; how to listen and build a strong, mutually supportive community. When it was time to choose our company values, all these lessons pointed the way to clarity of purpose with dedication to progress, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness of our actions and their impact on others. This is our brand.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m big on being outdoors, so we would stroll Mission Trails at dawn and Cowles Mountain at sunset. Also on the list is Torrey Pines Beach at sunset to watch the dolphins feed, Annie’s Canyon Trail in Solana Beach that leads to a mini slot canyon, and night kayaking in Mission Bay. In winter, we’d drive out to Sunset Highway to see trees encased in icicles. In summer, we’d snorkel the kelp forest in La Jolla. I might throw in Joshua Tree overnight to hike, rock climb and see trillions of stars without light pollution. On the cultural side, we would probably enjoy whatever La Jolla Music Society had going on that week and marvel over textile displays at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park. Some of my favorite eateries are Himalayan Curry and Grill off Mission Gorge Road and Chopstick Inn in La Mesa. EscoGelato in Escondido is a double feature if you go on a Friday evening: the entire town comes alive as locals pack the streets with their antique cars. Hmmm, all that’s left is relaxing. We would definitely chill in my backyard. It’s a mini California native plant park, perfect for sitting with good scotch (neat!) to watch baby bunnies leap around and lizards do pushups.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Without a doubt, my husband Brian is the silent hero of the Kim Center story. Entrepreneurs need tremendous support. The hours are long, the stress is high, the mission is all-consuming. Brian has been my rock in every way, from stepping up as president of my founding board to making sure I get healthy food each day. I’m also lucky that he’s a keen and intuitive strategist whose skill sets complement mine. In the absence of co-founders or staff, his contributions are the reason I’ve been able to bring the Kim Center to its level of success as quickly as I have.