Meet Hei-ock Kim of Kim Center for Social Balance
January 18, 2018

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hei-ock Kim.

Hei-ock, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.

When I was 12 years old, I taught my first piano lesson and realized I was empowered with a voice that could make a difference in people’s lives. I went on to earn my doctorate in piano performance, and became an avid educator through teaching and performing. I also began a career in nonprofit administration about 15 years ago that has ranged from the arts to environmental conservation.

In the summer of 2016, I read a shocking statistic by LeanIn and the McKinsey Institute: In America, it will take 100 years for women to achieve the same number of top executive positions as men. I thought, “Hasn’t it already been 100 years since suffrage?” Yet, the truth glared at me – women are still waiting for equality.

I realized I had become used to the status quo. Furthermore, I was not alone. Studies show that the women’s movement largely stalled around the year 2000. Realizing I needed to challenge others as well as myself, I decided I would now use my voice to start the nonprofit Kim Center for Social Balance in order to bring gender equity to the forefront of national awareness.

Large-scale transformation can happen if we all work together, so I designed our strategy around a Gender Equity Collaborative to help every community rally together to form a united force across the nation. I like to compare it to native California plants, where symbiotic root networks feed plant ecosystems that cover hundreds of acres and endure through all types of weather. The Gender Equity Collaborative too will give the gender equity movement strength and staying power until all women can take equitable treatment for granted.

Has it been a smooth road?
We get a lot of support and encouragement – everything from “Good cause, best of luck” to “I’m SO grateful for what you’re doing and here’s my donation.” In fact, we just received our first major gift, and San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar awarded us our first public grant.

I do encounter people who are understandably overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and wonder if we’ll really be able to make a significant impact. That’s okay. We just finished a small research project interviewing 30 people, and managed to teach every one of them something about gender equity. Now those 30 people will educate their families and friends. Imagine what we’ll accomplish when we work with an entire company or city or county. We know we’re in for a long haul but we’re determined to blow that 100-year projection out of the water.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Kim Center for Social Balance story. Tell us more about the business.
Social equality is intrinsically tied to status in the workplace, but it’s difficult to measure social progress. It’s much easier to assess metrics in the workplace, so the Kim Center for Social Balance focuses on workplace gender equity by transforming the beliefs and behaviors that obstruct women’s success.

Let me clarify workplace gender “equity” (versus “equality”) for a moment. Equity is a cultural state where employers offer benefits and rewards to all employees solely on the value of their talent and without judgment. For women, because we’re more often expected to shoulder caregiving responsibilities, being able to get the recognition we deserve may require companies implementing paternity as well as maternity leave, flexible work schedules, childcare options, pay based on results rather than time at their desk, etc.

Our priority must be to address the primary factors behind gender discrimination. Why do women still hold fewer than 20% of the highest positions in almost every industry and often find they have to work harder to prove themselves than men? Why do women of color struggle even harder to advance?

Several projects over the next two years will help us do this, including: the online Gender Equity Portal, a comprehensive, national information center for gender equity resources; San Diego County’s first-ever study to establish benchmarks for workplace gender equity; roundtables for local leaders to design a community-wide action plan around these benchmarks; and partnerships with businesses and social service organizations to create mentorships and internships for under-resourced women and girls.

I’m really grateful that so many incredible people have joined our efforts. We have a very accomplished Board and Advisory Council, and talented volunteers. We have partners who have long histories in the community, such as the Center for Women’s Leadership at the University of San Diego and the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Plus, we’re constantly honored by fascinating individuals who share their amazing personal stories and connect us with other supporters.

How do you, personally, define success? What’s your criteria, the markers you’re looking out for, etc?
My personal idea of success is based on three values. I feel I’m succeeding if I can bring joy to others, do or learn how to do things that make me happy, and help make the world a better place.

That last one is the Holy Grail. I’d love to wake up one day and know that the Kim Center helped create a society where everyone receives equitable opportunities to succeed professionally as well as personally.

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