Steve Jun
May 30, 2022

I challenge my team to be better global citizens. Here’s how you can, too.

Innocean Worldwide's Americas CEO reflects on how the industry can start to better support the Asian-American and Pacific Islanders communities and advance broader cultural understanding and acceptance among staff.

I challenge my team to be better global citizens. Here’s how you can, too.

As I reflect on what AAPI Heritage Month means to me at this moment, the first thing that comes to mind is progress.

I feel extremely grateful for the journey that my career has taken me on since supporting the establishment of our global headquarters in Seoul, Korea nearly two decades ago. Prior to coming to the U.S. in 2015 to lead Innocean USA, I was based in Germany for two years as CEO  and president of Innocean Worldwide Europe. I like to say that I’ve slowly migrated from East to West, and everything I’ve learned and experienced along the way has influenced my approach to leadership.

When I first arrived in the U.S., my honest impression was that Americans were much more nationally focused than globally. We recently conducted research for a campaign and found that 30 million Americans had never left states where they were born. These results made it clear to me exactly why Americans seemingly had less understanding of a global perspective – they haven’t explored far beyond their own comfort zones.

But that was only my first impression. Today, I genuinely believe that Americans have become much more open to diversity, and I’m so proud to witness that progress.

As a global network with 30 offices in 21 countries, cultural differences in the workplace at Innocean are understood, acknowledged and respected. I don’t really have to explain any particular differences or set guidelines for my colleagues anymore. Whether colleagues or friends, I’ve found that people are interested in asking me questions about my Korean culture and learning, which I always encourage because it demonstrates their passion and commitment to becoming better global citizens.

This newfound acceptance of other cultures goes beyond the workplace. I’ve noticed major progress in the understanding and acknowledgement of K-culture (the growth and popularity of Korean culture in popular culture). The success of artists like BTS, and popularity of films and shows like Parasite, Minari and Squid Game on mainstream streaming services like Netflix and Hulu prove that people are curious and open – and fostering that curiosity is a critical part of continuing to drive progress.

Of course, the learning process is never done. For other leaders in the ad industry looking for ways to better support the AAPI community and advance broader cultural understanding and acceptance among staff, here’s where to start: 

Be genuine

This work is not easy for everyone. In fact, it’s very challenging for most. Your colleagues, friends and others in your network are all going to be at different stages in their education and understanding of different cultures. Acknowledge that and be prepared and willing to answer their questions honestly.

Be open to ideas

At Innocean, every single one of our team members brings a unique and valuable perspective to the table. We commit to listening and implementing their ideas when possible. It’s how we become a better company internally and for our clients.

When the pandemic is over, I hope to bring back our culture experience program, which allows our employees to visit our global headquarters in Korea and experience the culture firsthand. Employees have always come back with great stories and a much deeper understanding of our Korean heritage and how it has shaped us into the company we are today.

Encourage curiosity

If DE&I is truly a priority, find a way to open up communications channels.

We the INNclusion Council, a growing group of employees dedicated to paving the road for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. In the past year, it has implemented numerous programs including a virtual discussion series that invites the full team to come together for real, and often difficult, conversations on topics such as race, equality and systemic racism. Speakers have included people from Asian, Black, LGBTQ+ and disability communities, among others. This initiative has been extremely well-received and has resulted in double-digit increases in employee satisfaction of our leadership’s encouragement of diversity (+14% YoY), as well as agreement that we are doing a good job providing training programs to promote multicultural understanding (+33% YoY). This open dialogue helps to catalyze a global community of mutual understanding.

Start somewhere

You can’t change the world overnight, but you can’t change anything if you don’t start somewhere. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed. It’s ok if you don’t know where to start. Identify a singular culture or issue that resonates with you and your team and just begin.

Steve Jun is head of global new business at Innocean Worldwide and CEO of Innocean Worldwide Americas and USA.

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