You’re on a plane again, returning to California after another one-year stint living in Korea. This time, it’s different. You’re 13 years old and you have to get ready for high school soon. You didn’t really feel like you belonged in Korea because the locals viewed you as American. But when you returned to your hometown in Southern California, everyone there thought you were from Korea.
Let me just warn you — you will continue to experience this as you go through college and even in your professional career. These experiences will make you question your identity as a young Korean American woman, but by the time you’re in your thirties — a professional, a wife, a mother — you’ll realize that all the questioning actually helped you embrace who you are.
Let’s talk about how you’ll get there. Despite the obstacles along the way — some related to your identity, some not — you will receive your master’s degree and get to work at some incredible entertainment and technology companies. And you’ll feel proud of yourself knowing you got where you did based solely on talent and hard work. As the years go by, you’ll become more and more aware of the importance of diversity in perspectives, not only because of your own personal and professional experiences with prejudice and microaggressions, but because you’ll also see the lasting impact of inequality on everyone around you. After more than a decade in the corporate world, you’ll notice a trend and once again start asking yourself questions.
Why don’t executive teams look like me?
Where are the women executives?
Where are the Asian leaders?
Could I ever become a leader?
Can I grow my career if there really is a bamboo ceiling?
These questions will reach a crescendo during a time in your life and career when there’s a global pandemic, racial injustices are getting more attention and action, and senseless murders and acts of violence seem to be in the news more than ever. And you’ll be part of the response. Right now, it might seem crazy to think your future job could one day be supporting diversity, equity and inclusion at a company whose work touches people all over the world, but let me tell you something, 13-year-old Sunah: This is when you really hit your stride. When you come to CrowdStrike, you will have the opportunity to work on a team that really listens to the people around them and makes it part of their mission every day to create an environment of true acceptance and belonging.
Don’t turn a blind eye to it, Sunah. Use your position to help your coworkers feel safe and heard, regardless of who they are. Use it as a platform to spread understanding around what it means to be both part of an underrepresented group and an ally to others. Because you’ll know exactly what it feels like to be excluded simply because of what you look like or how your name is spelled. Answer the call. Read the news. Learn about injustice. Listen to others. Share your thoughts, feelings and resources that will help raise awareness around you. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Accept the challenges that you will face each and every day.
Because time will pass by quickly. You’ll end up getting married to your high school sweetheart, having children and living not far from where you started to question your identity as a teenager. Yes, you are still Korean. Yes, you are still American. In fact, these days you proudly say that you are Korean American, and you no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed that both cultures make you who you are. You’ll know it’s an asset, in work and in life.
So my advice to you is to raise your children to embrace all of the different aspects of their identity. Expose them to Korean and American cultures while creating new traditions along the way. Answer their questions honestly, listen to their concerns, and teach them to stand up for themselves and others — their experiences growing up as Korean Americans in this world may mirror some of your own. Help them build confidence in their abilities so they come to love their work as much as you do. And always remember it’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers. That’s what it means to be a human, regardless of where you come from.