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[Expert Column] On Becoming an Indispensable Modern Leader with Subject Expertise and Learning Agility

Written by Stella H. Kim

Published May 16, 2024

The Key is to Develop Subject Expertise Early, Uniquely, and Consistently

Stella H. Kim, SVP, Head of Americas & CMO at HRCap

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrated throughout May in the United States, this column will be dedicated to the topic of representation and impact of Asian leaders in the U.S. mainstream market and the overall global society. 


Although there has been some substantial progress across companies in building and strengthening Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives, the majority of the Asian American leaders in the U.S. still struggle with climbing the corporate ladder to executive positions due to the barriers of both the Broken Rungs and Bamboo Ceilings.


Asian Americans constitute only 3% of executives at U.S. corporations, while the percentage of Asian American Board Directors at public Fortune 1000s has only increased from 4.0 percent in 2020 to 6.4 percent in 2023.


Even fully localized Korean Americans with excellent pedigree and unmatched work experience still endure significant challenges compared to their white counterparts due to the lack of sponsorship, promotions, and representation in the mainstream workforce. 


Many professionals oftentimes heavily rely on companies to invest in their professional development and for the greater society to be more equitable. Fostering an equitable work culture for women and ethnic minorities is indeed a social responsibility for both companies and a lifelong mission for modern society, but it is also essential for Asian Americans to take personal responsibility for their own individual and collective growth. 


Instead of just waiting for society to change, wouldn’t it be more proactive and effective to first become the critical talent and indispensable organization that society needs for essential change and sustainable transformation?


So then, what types of talent and organizations are truly indispensable? Renowned subject experts with deep expertise and high learning agility are desirable, essential, and indispensable. All organizations overextend significant investments to truly recruit and engage these experts.

HRCap, a Top 10 Global Executive Search & HR Consulting firm, has deep roots as the first Korean-American search firm with deep niche expertise and high agility in shaping the modern HR and Recruiting field. We have provided differentiated services from other recruiting firms that allow us to strengthen our strategic partnerships with over 1,500+ clients across the world.

As such, it is best to specialize early to get a differentiated head start in one’s career as a subject expert. Students can develop their expertise by specializing in research fields and obtaining higher degrees and professional certifications to proactively seek information and continuously ask the right questions. Exuding such passion and building intellectual curiosity will allow us to develop a daily routine of becoming life-long learners and, before we know it, experts in that field.


Next, professionals must focus on building niche experience and deeper expertise, which are far more important than getting academic degrees and credentials. After gaining substantial subject knowledge in a particular field, we must internalize the learnings to build a unique stance and truly differentiated thought leadership. Only then will organizations and the greater industry seek and rely on our subject expertise for insights and solutions.


Lastly, indispensable subject experts have growth mindsets with high learning agility, allowing them to nimbly adapt and strategically grow with today’s rapidly evolving market. Only through continuous learning and development can we develop a distinct voice of insight and intuition that can project market trends and lead the global industry through greater growth and transformation.


The time has come to now focus on differentiated voices over skin colors and subject expertise over social status. Instead of relying on fairness and equity, we must all take greater agency to build a voice and competency to overcome any challenges. Only when we invest in ourselves can we truly become the talent that others too will want to invest in.

Stella H. Kim, SPHR

HRCap – SVP, Head of Americas & Chief Marketing Officer


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