Dasle Kim is a digital strategist, author, mentor, advocate, and certified "cool professor." Here, we sat down with her to inquire about the many roles of her life, as she shared with us insight on mentoring ESL students, fostering workplace diversity, and sharing her story.
Samantha: So let’s start with your journey as an international student. Tell me about what prompted it and how you felt coming here, which is an amazing experience.
Dasle: I moved to the States when I was 10. My parents moved from Korea to the U.S. for better education opportunities for my brother and me. I didn't know a single word of English. Fortunately, I had a phenomenal teacher named Kathy Gibson who understood the difficulties of people adjusting to a new country, and a new language. She embraced me for who I was. She understood the struggles and even assigned a buddy to me so that I would feel comfortable in the classroom.
One thing I still remember is how she encouraged me to put words across the classroom. For instance, I translated what a backpack was in Korean, and in the classroom, it was displayed in English and Korean. Everyone in the class understood that I was learning a brand new language. They were supportive of my development and treated me with kindness.
I remember, during parent-teacher night, I still couldn't write my letter in English. So, I wrote it all in Korean. There was another student who spoke Spanish, and he wrote his letter in Spanish. And Ms. Gibson held up the two letters, and she said, "Look! Look how amazing it is to speak another language!" and that just made us feel safe. I think that was the best environment that I could have asked for during my first year in America.
Samantha: And tell me about life after school, since I remember you working in all sorts of cool places.
Dasle: After graduating college, I found myself at Pearson, the world’s leading education company. I held roles in marketing, talent development, and corporate social responsibility.
One of the most memorable experiences I had at Pearson happened while I was presenting about how to volunteer and give back through the company. A woman came up to me at the end of the presentation and said, "Dasle, I remember teaching you." That woman turned out to be Kathy Gibson, the teacher who taught me all those years ago. We had an incredible reunion, and I’ll never forget that moment we shared.
After that, I got my MBA and moved to a company called Sprinklr. I was asked to activate 100% of our employees on social media. I ran photo contests, listened to employee conversations, and engaged with employees on social media. This role in employee advocacy opened me up for so many opportunities to teach people to have a voice. I was teaching employees to advocate not only on behalf of the company, but for each other, and other causes they were passionate about, like Black Lives Matter or Stop AAPI Hate.
All this taught me that, as humans, we have really powerful voices, where anyone with social media, anyone with a voice can really stand up and make a difference. It taught me how powerful employee advocacy could be, not only for companies’ brands and marketing, but to create real change, to drive movements, to create positive change in the world.
Samantha: So I was curious more about your time in the business world. For me, my parents as immigrants are much more comfortable in technical work, something where prejudices can't really affect them. Did you ever experience any pushback, prejudices in the workplace?
Dasle: Unfortunately, yes. I have been a part of non-diverse teams where I sometimes felt discriminated against based on my race and gender. I’ve also been a part of many conversations where I’ve felt ignored or less valued.
Beyond that, I think that what I'm experiencing is more long-term and hidden. I’m now finding that there is a lack of diverse female mentors. I managed to find a few, but they are very, very rare, and I definitely don’t see many at the C-suite level. I think there's a great amount of systemic racism and diversity and inclusion issues that all companies need to work out long-term, and my hope is that I will continue to see more people who look like me as I continue moving forward in my career.
Samantha: And then you started becoming a teacher of your own, right? Can you share your experience mentoring ESL students (which I personally find so inspirational)?
Dasle: I started mentoring ESL students during my last 3 years at college, helping students with presentations, essays, resumes, and cover letters. It was so rewarding for me to help people where even a simple review of their paper or presentation would improve their confidence in their own writing/speaking abilities.
Last year, I was given an opportunity to become an adjunct professor at Pratt. This was and is a dream job for me. What surprised me most about my Pratt experience was how much of an impact my life story would have on the students, so many of whom learned English as a second language.
The students didn't feel comfortable speaking up and participating in the classroom. And I got to say, "I was in your shoes, I also was not comfortable speaking in the classroom, and I learned the language when I was 10. Yet today, I am in the communications field teaching other people how to advocate and communicate."
Seeing myself in their shoes prompted me to offer 1-on-1 office hours outside of class. I got to build deeper connections with each student, share resources, and give career advice.
Samantha: What really strikes you about working with these students? And what should people be more conscious of in the lives of ESL individuals?
Dasle: At Pratt, I was blown away by everyone’s incredible creativity and passion for making a difference in the world. I’m truly inspired by the next generation and it’s an honor for me to spend time with these students.
One thing people should be more conscious of in the lives of ESL individuals? People see not speaking English as a crutch. They see it as not being smart, when it's just a language. It's just a barrier that people need to get across. It's not easy learning a brand new language, assimilating into a new culture. And I don't think that people understand just how difficult it is and what it takes to get over that hurdle.
Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. In your experience, what's the best thing to do as a mentor? How do you guide students through the process of not being able to speak the language in a technical sense, but having the confidence to do so?
Dasle: As a mentor, I think having deep empathy for ESL students is the most important thing. In order to instill confidence in people, it starts with having empathy for their challenges, their fears, and discomfort.
The number one advice I have for those who may be learning English for the first time is just diving in. Embrace that fear, that uncertainty, that discomfort. Practice raising your hand, even one time in class. If you are given an opportunity to present, practice a hundred times if you have to, and get comfortable.
Watching American movies, making American friends, practicing your English at home with your family—these are all things you can do every day to learn the language and the culture.
For me, personally, finding my voice, practicing my presentations, and telling stories in my own way are all things that helped me overcome my own fears.
Samantha: Do you have any special students whose stories just really resonate with you, which you can remember? And would you want to talk about how their journey fit into your own?
Dasle: I've had many students that I am very fond of. One of my students at Pratt had a real desire to pivot from the arts to advertising and marketing. The marketing and advertising industry requires you to be comfortable presenting to executives—but she was one of the students afraid to speak up due to her language barrier. I started guiding her by looking at her cover letter and helping her frame her career story, so that she could pivot her career.
Coaching her through this journey has been really fulfilling for me. I’ve had so many people who gave me new opportunities, who advised me at critical points in my career, and quite frankly, changed the trajectory of my life. I have so much gratitude for the many mentors who have helped me along my own journey, and I strive to pay it forward every day.
Samantha: I feel like you would be the epitome of, like, a cool professor.
Dasle: (laughs) That would be my dream.
Samantha: So, I would love to just hear more about your personal growth, when you first met these students to how you feel about your job now. Are there any things that your students have taught you that you didn't expect to learn?
Dasle: My students taught me how powerful stories can be. And how important it is being vulnerable with others. I'm a huge Brene Brown fan, and I thought I understood the concept of vulnerability, but I didn't really get it until I stood in front of 25 students. I had to say, "I didn't know a single word of English. But here I am today."
I think doing that helped the students realize, "Oh, wow, I have something to learn from this person." I met my students where they were—in their desire to learn English and become confident in their communication skills. Next semester, I’m looking forward to teaching and learning from a brand new group of passionate and creative students.
Samantha: Again, I just can't get over how just very full-circle your life could be (laughs). Moving into your career beyond teaching and the employee advocacy side, you talked about your feeling of "What's this?" with your new role. How did you step into your role at Sprinklr?
Dasle: When I stepped in, I did competitive benchmarking first. I looked at what other companies were doing and what they were doing well, and then I just talked to as many people as I could. I uncovered different barriers to social media, such as people not feeling comfortable, not knowing how, or not wanting to mix personal and professional social media. I profiled those people, and I said, "Alright, there are people who are uncomfortable. There are people who need education, who need campaigns."
From that, I built out a long-term strategy in order to engage each group and each persona of employees. Today, we're at 70-80% participation. That number's been growing over time, as we get new employees. People are being trained on how to use our advocacy software. They're learning how to connect their social media accounts and post news as well as product updates, customer stories, employee stories on behalf of the company. That's driving forward not only our brand awareness, but our recruitment, as well as our sales.
Samantha: And what does this field mean to you now? What do you want employee advocacy to be about?
Dasle: Employee advocacy gives me so much hope and optimism. Moving forward, I really want employee advocacy to be about authenticity. People authentically sharing the company successes, as well as the things that they're really passionate about, in a way that’s aligned to your values, and hopefully, your company’s values, too.
Samantha: I'd love to tie diversity back to this. How do you support diversity in your workplace? And how do we benefit from it, besides diversity just being a really big buzzword for companies?
Dasle: I remember back at the peak of Black Lives Matter, as well as Stop AAPI Hate. People were afraid to speak out and say "I support Black Lives Matter," or "I support this movement" because they thought it felt very political. Or they didn't know where they stood, or they wanted to stand up but were afraid of what others would think.
I just remember going really deep and saying, what do I believe in? What do I want to stand for? I shared a simple article on my LinkedIn, and I said "These are resources if you want to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement. If you want to take action and support it, here's what you can do." From there, I received so many responses from my network saying, "Hey, that was a really brave thing that you did. And I'm going to re-share it too."
So that's what I'm choosing to do every day: taking a stand for what I believe in, and encouraging others to do it as well. I felt this even more with the Stop AAPI hate movement, because I didn't want to be seen as Asian. I didn't want to be seen period. But at the same time, it was one of the most traumatic and heartbreaking things I’ve encountered at a global scale. When I saw the news, I saw the faces of my grandparents. And I realized, I can't just stand here, I can't just be a bystander.
Again, I shared articles; I shared my beliefs; I shared my experience. My colleagues actually checked on me asking if I was okay, asking if they could help. I think that is real diversity, inclusion, and belonging. It's you taking a stand and being there for other people.
Dasle Kim is an innovative digital strategist with 10+ years of expertise in internal/executive communications, social media, and employee engagement. She is passionate about connecting people to the company values, mission, and vision through employer branding campaigns, corporate philanthropy, and authentic storytelling. Dasle is currently working in Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing at a FinTech startup called DailyPay. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Management Communications at the Pratt Institute and a published author in the Oxford University Press textbook: Digital Strategies: Data-Driven Public Relations, Marketing, and Advertising.