Born to two immigrants from El Salvador and Turkey, when you’re a first generation child like myself, you live in two worlds. The outside world is American – you speak English, you talk about American culture – you assimilate. But then you have your inside world where your parents don’t speak English, you’re the translator, you’re talking about the old country and your parents tell you what you should aspire to be because you are the valued investment that your family doves “the American dream”.
Most recently Jack Morton did a cross-cultural diversity and inclusion event with the San Francisco Unified School Districts Chinese Education Center (CEC). With our diversity and inclusion team, our goal was to create an event that would require our office to step out of our comfort zone and into a different cultural mindset, one of an immigrant. It truly was a social experiment since no one in the office had done an event like this before, and honestly, I was afraid what type of reaction it might spur. Luckily I enlisted the help of my Hong Kong colleague Cara Au who helped fill in some cultural gaps for me to bring this vision to life.
The Chinese Education Center has a special purpose: assimilate all new comer Chinese students into American culture and studies so that they can succeed in main stream schools. The principal Victor Tam said, “These students are uprooted from all that they know … As a consequence, many of the older students struggle, neither wanting nor feeling like they need a sense of belonging to San Francisco. While our school provides an environment wherein the students can connect with and relate with their peers, even then, the relationships are fragile.”
When planning the Chinese Education Center event, I learned from my colleague Cara and Jane Ou, a teacher at the CEC, that in China, creative careers like advertising/marketing are mostly unheard of. Most jobs that you’re “expected to study” are medicine, engineering and business. Another interesting point was that in China, when you’re a student, you’re often expected to work alone. You’re told what to do and you do it.
Here in America, most school environments are centered on creativity and collaboration. However, for the CEC students, the idea of creative and collaboration is new, and can often times be a hard adjustment. Jane stated,” the expectations in those (Chinese) schools tend to be teacher centered where one teacher lectures over forty students in rows. Therefore, our students find collaborative group work and project-based learning a challenging experience.”
Taking that experience to heart – the #jackwestside diversity and inclusion team had the approach to do an information “exchange” and teach the CEC about marketing and experiential work, and in return the CEC students would teach Jack Morton about Chinese Characters and make Chinese scrolls with us. Our hope was to illustrate to the students that collaboration and creativity is actually a good thing.
I realized quickly that having this diverse perspective in the office opens up different type of D&I dialogue – not just speaking about race but really seeing how different communities react to the industry. On the day of our event, there was a child whose first day in an American school was coming to the Jack office. They were shown work we did in their own country alongside work in their new country. Knowing that our agency was able to impact a student, and make it known that they too, can do this – is the most impactful live experience our agency could create. Who knows, maybe we have a future Account Director in that classroom.
Not only are the CEC student’s first generation, most often the students will come from low-income communities where career options are slim. Most often, unless agencies go outside of the recruiting norm, underrepresented communities may never know that an advertising or creative career is an option for them. When asked about the importance of external partnerships, Victor Tam and Jane Ou from the CEC stated, “This experience was REAL. When the community connects with our students, it broadens their perspectives on where they can reach and how far they can go. The experience opens up their vision of something more that they might be able to do in the future. For our students who come from working class, low-income families, this opportunity is very significant.”
This event was so meaningful to me I was able to do this in partnership with my colleagues, locally and globally, we created an extraordinary event that was truly moving. As we continue to have diversity and inclusion as a pillar supporting our Jack Morton values, I encourage everyone to explore communities like the CEC and try to make an impact. Who knows, you could be the reason why in 10 years someone says “I am in advertising because someone took the time to show me that this career was an option.”
To learn more about our event and learn more about our D&I initiatives, feel free to reach out to me: Michele_Karakas@jackmorton.com