February is Female Series: The Power of Not Fitting In

Since I started my blog I have always wanted to share stories from inspirational women in my life. With today being February 1st, I decided Fridays in February are going to be all about females. Each Friday in February I will share stories written by honest women who have inspired me and motivated me thru their leadership and success. Keep reading after each story for a brief Q&A to get to know these amazing women better.

First up is one my favorite people on this planet – Mi Kim. Mi is an engineer working on a very large and extremely complicated project we are building in Vancouver. In 2018 Mi was featured in STEM Workforce Diversity magazine (STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) and she has played a huge role in my company’s diversity initiative. Mi is the perfect person to kick off my February is Female series.

Mi’s Story:

Micki asked me to talk about my career and aspirations…basically how I handle my life.

Before I get into any of this, let me give you a bit of a background:

I’ve lived many years on this earth as someone who stands out, and not because I’m an awesome human being, but simply because that’s what life had in store for me.

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I moved from my native South Korea to Honduras with my family at the age of 4. A tiny, third world country in the middle of the American continent where the closest thing to a Korean are the number of Chinese immigrants that were ahead of us.

I was the only Korean in my schools growing up amongst Latin Americans and to a smaller extent, North Americans. I graduated high school and continued to pursue secondary education in Canada. Let me tell you, there aren’t too many Koreans who speak Spanish better than Korean in Canada.

I also happen to be 5’8” tall… which, according to Wikipedia, is an inch taller than the average height for a male in South Korea. The average female is 5’2” tall. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but visiting my native Korea and being taller than most everyone, walking into a retail store to have the sales associates cross their arms in front of their chest and say “no big size” is not very beneficial to a girl’s self-esteem (I can shop at retail stores in the rest of the world, no problem), let alone my sense of “belonging”. My Korean speaking is also not at a native speaker’s level, but rather have a noticeable accent. In summary, I have never blended in any crowds I was ever a part of, not by choice, but by fate.

I absolutely do not perceive any of this to be negative, by any means, and I do not want to give that impression. I just want to highlight that sometimes we don’t have a say in where we are born, how tall we are and who our parents are, but what we do with it is what matters (and it helps when your parents are very encouraging and support you unconditionally).

I decided to become an engineer (with some encouragement from mentors early in my life), I got a job in construction (by accident), and now I want to conquer the world.

My definition of “conquering the world” is not to become the next Prime Minister of Canada or the president of South Korea, but to conquer the world that I’ve created and continue to create for myself.

I set goals for myself, with the understanding that it’s ok to change them because life changes (maybe I’ll win the lottery tomorrow!), but without allowing myself to not have something that I’m working towards. I made that mistake once. I did not reset my goals when faced with a change, and it ended up compromising my performance at life!

Today, I want to retire as a member of my company’s board of directors. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s my goal. Everything I am doing today is helping me achieve this goal. This includes finishing an MBA while working full-time and pursuing career opportunities that allow me to use my existing talents and strengths while at the same time develop new ones. Along the way, I seek advice from everyone I surround myself with: age, gender, race, job title, and background are all irrelevant. I’ve learned as much from an executive leader as I have from the tradespeople or from young students I get to meet while recruiting. It’s also important to have fun: I allow myself enough time off to pursue one of my other goals, to visit 40 different countries by the time I turn 40. I believe that it is this past that makes me who I am today and along with my present decisions, is helping shape my future.

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Q&A with Mi:

What advice would you give younger Mi, just starting off her career?

Listen to your parents!! They know. I continue to give myself that advice.

What is your favorite thing about working in a male dominated industry?

I work in a male dominated industry?? i.e. I have never noticed and it doesn’t affect me. I have a theory that it’s because I’m used to not fitting in, so this is my normal?

What is your least favorite thing about working in a male dominated industry?

That people ask me what it’s like to be a “female in a male dominated industry” (see answer above)

In your opinion what is the #1 thing leaders should do to attract and retain more female leaders?

Find people (I hate the focus on females) that are willing and able to become future leaders. Don’t make any assumptions based on preconceived notions that a person with a young family will not want to relocate, or that a single person will be willing to relocate. Do not assume that everyone has the same goals, just ask! You might be surprised.

What country are you visiting next?

I have not planned this, but likely I’ll be going home this year to Honduras, and if lucky enough, I might cross Ireland and Scotland off my list.

 

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