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Meet Jen — Global Mobility team female leader

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Coupang recognizes the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace and sets strategic goals to bring talent from various backgrounds. The Global Mobility team helps Coupang to realize these goals and embrace the roles in advancing diversity and inclusion.

We met Jen, who leads the team and has a critical role in providing vital support for a diverse group of expat employees as their first experience with Coupang.

 

Hi Jen, thank you for your time. Could you please introduce yourself?

Hello, I’m Jen Ignat. I’m originally from the US (Houston) and moved to Seoul in Fall 2020 soon after joining Coupang. I’ve worked in Global Mobility for 15+ years, and most recently led the function at a sports apparel and footwear company, based in Baltimore, Maryland, US.

 

Some may not be familiar with Global Mobility, could you please elaborate more about your role and team?

I’m the Head of Global Mobility (GM), which is a part of the Recruiting organization. GM is the function that handles immigration, relocation, onboarding, and various ongoing benefits for our expatriates who work for Coupang outside of their home countries. GM  is an important enabler of our talent strategy and as Coupang grows, a compelling GM program is necessary to attract and retain our global talent. Just as Coupang is hyper-focused on wowing our customers, GM also takes a customer-centric point of view for our employees. We recognize that an international relocation is an exciting and potentially stressful life event for our expat employees and their families. The GM team works very closely with our expats throughout their journey, whether it’s navigating the latest immigration and travel challenges, advising on the local housing market, arranging school tours for their children, or locating the nearest hospital in their new city. We are the go-to for our expats as they settle into their new environment and ramp up quickly in their new jobs at Coupang.

 

Listening to you, I think it's a job that entails a lot of communication and requires multiple skills. Do you have any special skill set?

Aside from the technical expertise and experience that is helpful, the skills that I use most frequently and continue to improve on include building trust and having empathy, effective communication (especially listening), anticipating and problem-solving; being flexible, and working well under pressure. The world of GM is not black and white—it’s ever changing which makes it an exciting part of HR. While we set up core foundational elements with our policies, processes, and key vendors, we never quite know what each day will bring and we are comfortable operating in this fluid space, endeavoring to make the best decisions for Coupang and our expats with the information we have while also continuing to evolve and iterate. We also proactively dive deep, think systematically, and collaborate with other functional experts, for example the tax and legal teams. As you can imagine, tax and legal compliance are hot topics in GM, especially with all the buzz around ‘working from anywhere’.

 

You must have a lot of experience as a Global Mobility expert, then what’s the greatest risk you’ve taken as a professional?

When I was a younger woman, a well-meaning family member advised me not to get married or have children before I was 30 or I may end up stuck without as many options for the life I wanted. I didn’t intentionally do the opposite just to spite them, however I did what was right for me and as it turned out, I was indeed married with 2 children before I was 30. This isn’t to say that one way or another is better—it’s certainly not—we all have different choices available to us and take different journeys. During the span of my career thus far, I have taken time off to give birth to my children and bury both of my parents when they passed. All of these things required time for proper healing, and I needed to shift 100% of my focus to my family. For women, we know that these types of things which are significant family life events that warrant our full attention are often ours to shoulder and can profoundly impact our careers. I needed my employers support, and I recognize that I was privileged in that I was able to take time off when many are not afforded that option or if they do take leave, they do so knowing it may impact their future growth for several reasons.

The pandemic has exacerbated the struggle for so many to harmonize their work and home lives, but it has also led to new and important discussions about flexibility and new ways of working. I’m optimistic that positive changes will arise from companies surviving, and in some cases economically thriving during the pandemic while many employees were not able to be in the offices for extended periods. I’d like to see society, companies, and governments do more to support people in creating a culture that enables and empowers us to have the flexibility and the support we need without compromising our important family time or our professional potential. Let's break that trade-off. 

 

Then, what’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with and for many really great leaders, both women and men, all of whom I’ve had many lessons learned. A few takeaways include the following: Above all, act with integrity. Your moral principles should be your North Star, even when, and especially when, you are faced with a difficult situation where there may be a shortcut that would lead you astray. Be yourself. Resist the comfortable urge to conform to try to fit in. I remember watching a strong female leader command her audience at a big meeting, and I was absolutely enthralled and inspired, not because she was the loudest or most outgoing voice in the room but because she was so true to herself. She is vulnerable, imperfect, and honest. When our leaders allow us to see their humanity, this gives us permission to follow suit. Lift others up. Think about your own journey and what it was like being new at something. Spend time with more junior colleagues, both within your reporting line and outside of it, to coach and empower them, especially underrepresented groups.

 

Is there any advice you would give to the next generation of women leaders?

When you are at university or early in your career, it’s okay not to have it all figured out. I’ve read about how so many of the jobs of the future don’t even exist at this point, so from that perspective stay open-minded and curious. In addition to any technical areas that may be of interest, I recommend focusing on building the skills and having experiences that will be valuable in any number of roles or professions including critical thinking, problem solving and creativity, effective communication and collaboration, and confident humility (emphasis on humility, young friends!) while also staying abreast of the latest technologies and trends in the digital space. Also, get out there and meet people from all walks of life. Connect, build relationships, listen to their stories, and share yours. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have specific goals or a 3-year plan. But with the incredible pace of change these days, plan to stay open-minded and flexible as new options will be available, or you may even decide to chart a completely new path for others to follow.

Some of my most interesting opportunities have arisen from being in the right place at the right time AND recognizing the opportunity and going for it, even if it’s scary or I didn’t feel 100% prepared. It’s a mindset of having the confidence that we are capable of learning and improving along the way. Much like that first dive (or jump) into the swimming pool, it will be a little frightening and exhilarating, but you just have to go for it! It’s usually worth it, or at least it will be a good story.

 

Sometimes it is difficult to find a balance between work and life. How do you manage work-life harmony?

I’ve found that the quality of the ‘unplug from work’ is more beneficial to me than the quantity when I’m recharging. I also have learned that to stay healthy and feel my best, I need to focus on wellness for my whole self—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. On a daily basis, I take short walks, practice yoga, meditate, and read. My days feel incomplete without these little things, even for just a few minutes. 

 

As an expat, it could have been a difficult decision, but what made you decide to join Coupang?

I had a couple former colleagues who had already joined Coupang when I was still at my previous company. In fact, one of them had consulted with me personally about their relocation to Korea when they were in their own recruiting process, so I had had my eye on the company for some time. (It’s not unusual for people to go to their GM friends when they are considering an international move with any organization). When the GM role came up, it was that first summer of the pandemic—a very challenging time for GM teams at any organization, especially Coupang, which is fast growing and continuing to hire and move expats during a time of uncertainty with quarantine rules, immigration changes, and general anxiety about Covid-19. That said, I knew it was an amazing opportunity, and like any adventurous GM leader, I had my passport and suitcase ready to go. 
As for my family, they were also ready for a change of scenery. My husband is from the small Eastern European country of Moldova. We met and got married while I was there serving in the Peace Corps, then we moved to the US in 2004. We’ve always had it in mind that we would move again at some point and the opportunity to come to Asia was very exciting as it’s our third continent as a couple, and new to both of us. We wanted our children to have the opportunity to experience another culture and meet people from all over the world. It’s been a life-changing experience for them.

 

How do you feel Coupang is doing in terms of gender equity and embracing the power of diversity?

In terms of embracing the power of diversity, I think Coupang is doing very well. As a GM leader, I know firsthand that we are bringing in new talent from various backgrounds and from all over the world. Our diversity as an organization continues to increase, which is so exciting. It will propel our innovation and make us better for our customers and shareholders. 

Regarding gender equity, there have been studies that show that companies with more women in leadership roles (specifically on executive teams), outperform those with fewer or no women executives. I’d like to see Coupang attaining and increasing the number of women in leadership positions. Achieving gender equity, especially at senior leadership levels, would take decades to happen organically, if ever. If it’s a priority for our senior leaders, they will show us, starting with their direct reports and inner circles. It will start from the top to realize the most positive impacts of D&I.