Vested’s co-founder and president, Binna Kim, was recently recognized as the public relations agency executive of the year by Business Intelligence Group.
Collectively and individually as professionals, we were thrilled to hear this news, but we were not necessarily surprised. Anyone who knows Binna knows that she exemplifies what Vested is: entrepreneurial, passionate, and extremely knowledgeable about the financial services vertical. As a leader, she motivates our team and ensures that, as an organization, we’re always thinking three steps ahead of our industry.
We’re using this recognition as an opportunity to express some viewpoints about the challenges and bias that women face in the workplace. Andrew Graham, our chief content officer and an advisor to Vested, and Binna had a discussion on the subject recently, a transcript of which is below.
Andrew Graham: What have been the highlights and challenges thus far in your career?
Binna Kim: As a woman, I’m faced with many challenges that other women face. How do you balance being a mom and a working woman? No one is perfect and you have to make sacrifices on both ends, and I think it took me a long time to recognize that feeling guilt — that I was either not the best executive or the best mom — was not an actual admission of fault but a natural feeling stemming from the impossible situation working women are placed in.
More broadly, I’ve always had to be one step ahead, if not multiple steps ahead, and fight to win trust and approval. I’ve always been either one of the youngest or one of the only women in meetings. And being both young and a woman means oftentimes having to fight harder for the same amount of trust as an older, male counterpart might naturally receive.
Establishing Vested was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It was scary and exhilarating because it forced me to confront my own ambitions and often unfounded fears. And seeing the agency grow validates the vision my co-founders and I had. During the last two years, Vested has grown rapidly and I’ve had the best time of my life hiring and working with talented people, onboarding amazing clients, and disrupting the agency space.
AG: What do you think is the one biggest issue for women in the workplace?
BK: It’s the fallacy of balance. Being a financial communicator means you never really turn off: At any given point in time, you might be dealing with a client crisis, or a market downturn, or a major breaking news story.
You also never stop being a mom, and this means that inevitably you’ll be sitting at home late at night, talking to a client about an emergency while also trying to put your kids to bed while also trying not to sound like a mom putting her kids to bed or feeling like an absentee parent. And this feeling of constant disappointment is hugely problematic because it holds women back. It makes us defensive or apologetic about playing these roles. I’ve learned that I can’t do it all — and that I shouldn’t have to. I do the best I can, and that in itself, is pretty amazing.
AG: Which other female business figures do you admire and why?
BK: Alfa Demellash, CEO of Rising Tide Capital, is a major source of admiration.
Alfa is genuinely just an amazingly good person. She was born in Ethiopia, graduated from Harvard, and focused her energies on economic empowerment. She started Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit I became involved with that was dedicated to micro-entrepreneurship, to help small businesses grow in the neighborhoods and communities that need them. She’s been recognized by President Obama and profiled as a CNN Hero. Her incredible passion and dedication is admirable and her commitment to her cause is awe-inspiring.
AG: How can other professionals, particularly men, minimize the role that gender bias, and other forms of bias, play in their decisions?
BK: Most simply, it’s about inclusion. Hire women. Consult women when making decisions. Serve women as customers and partners. Look at your leadership team. Look at your customer base. See that they’re diversified and, if they aren’t, make real, structural changes.
AG: A lot of large companies tout inclusion and diversity programs. Some of those programs are, in effect, empty promises. What approach can large corporations take to have a transparent, truly authentic commitment to doing better with this issue, and then execute on it?
BK: A lot of times these inclusion programs are based around some form of a quota but I think firms need to first evaluate their programs not simply from a hiring standpoint. Are the workplace policies women-friendly? Do the health care programs provide good maternity coverage? Maybe taking names off all inbound resumes can help reduce bias in the hiring pipeline.
AG: During the past two years, have the solutions to this problem progressed, or have we as a society moved backwards?
BK: I am increasingly encouraged by the solidarity I see every day among both men and women with respect to women’s rights. While the last six months have been incredibly difficult post-election, with many areas under attack, including healthcare rollbacks that impact women, it makes me hopeful to see so much support from brands, companies, associations, workplaces, and individuals all around me.
AG: What advice would you give to a high-performing, motivated woman who, despite her knowledge and qualifications, can’t get sufficiently heard in the workplace?
BK: It’s not you. I struggled with this for a long time but it’s so important for young women to not internalize the struggles they face. So often, women blame themselves — that they’re not confident enough, that they’re not outspoken enough, that maybe they didn’t deserve that promotion, or that they didn’t have anything smart to say.
We often turn inwards and pick ourselves apart. But I encourage young women to look outwards, to acknowledge that there are cards stacked against them, and to still be confident in themselves and their abilities. While the world isn’t going to change overnight, it is changing incrementally for the better and that will continue.