Meet Ryan — Executive sponsor for CREW
Business initiatives often fail if they don’t have sponsorship and accountability from leaders — and that includes D&I initiatives. Executive sponsorship communicates a program’s importance and urgency to move the needle, strategic oversight from the leaders inspires more targeted actions and results in processes that have a lasting improvement.
Coupang has leadership commitment to forge women's equality and Ryan is the one leading the journey. We met Ryan who is the executive sponsor for the employee group 'CREW' (Coupang Rocket Engagement for Women) to learn his journey towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
I’m Ryan Brown and I’m the VP of ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance & EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) for Coupang. I joined Coupang in mid-2020, and before joining Coupang, I worked at another global e-commerce company and global energy technology company. I’m an American, and most of my career has been in EHS. I live in Seoul and really love living here and working at Coupang. It’s a special place with a wonderfully talented team of people who are daring to change the way things work for our customers.
You are the executive sponsor for CREW, what genuinely prompted your interest in D&I, and gender equality?
I grew up in the US and was in a religious school system, which admittedly was the opposite of diverse or inclusive. My mom taught me to appreciate the hidden roles many women traditionally take at work, and also to appreciate all work – I come from a family of people who were mostly not college educated but successfully self-employed. I always admired my grandfather who ran his own television repair business, but it was my mom who taught me that it would not be possible if it weren’t also for my grandmother who managed the books. When I was in high school, I moved from the Midwest to Atlanta, one of the most diverse places in the US. This experience really forced me out of a very monochromatic comfort zone and to learn about different perspectives and made it clear that things were a lot easier for me given my gender and race. In my corporate career, I witnessed plenty of examples of orgs that were struggling with equality, which made me pretty upset. I realized instead of just carrying around this angst the best way forward was to try to change it.
As a leader, I was always drawn to the idea of a team being something you chose to be a part of rather than something you were forced into because of an org chart, for me this meant being a leader on teams that were open and inclusive. As my career has progressed, I have stopped just thinking about my actual team and instead about the company where I work as “my team.” So, I have gravitated towards creating groups and tools that enable all teams to be open and inclusive; at my previous company, this meant supporting the creation of the Women in EHS team, being an LGBTQ team ally, and serving as a mentor outside of my function. CREW continues that path for me here at Coupang.
Could you elaborate on CREW and its activities?
CREW is an employee group aimed at contributing to Coupang's diversity and inclusivity.
Their activities can be summarized into creating a network of women at Coupang and encouraging women to develop their skillset and career. Korea’s attitudes about gender equality are changing, and for many, it can be valuable to have a network of people who are experiencing those changes together to discuss what’s working and what can improve. Coupang is a company founded on innovation and disruption – it's one of the main reasons I’m here. That means we are a place that embraces change, and also fosters a culture where success is defined by performance and Coupang’s leadership values – not defined by tenure or gender. Simply put – success is defined by merit. I think most people want equal opportunity and performance criteria. The idea that success should be driven by merit and not by gender or tenure seems straightforward to me as a principle of real equality, but this still carries some baggage. I have always considered myself a feminist – let's talk about equality.
Do you think leadership training is critical to help women achieve their potential and learn how to lead? If so, how do you help female talents succeed?
We created CREW to help women achieve their goals, work on development, and create a career path at Coupang. All people need leadership and development training, and CREW is one way to offer a bit more to our women who are interested. I asked some wise women this same question before – their answer is better than my own: hire more women, hire more executive women, and develop and promote the women you have on the team.
What do you believe supervisors, team leaders, and front-line managers need to do more of, in order to enable a better diversity and inclusion culture at work? What do you believe are the most useful things we, as individuals, can do to help progress diversity and inclusion?
I think the changes we make start at the interviews and become embedded within the way we do business. If you are a manager and all of your direct reports are male – ask yourself how it got that way and what you are doing about it. What happens when women on your team imagine their career path? Do they see a path? Run metrics on your team – look at diversity, promotion, and attrition. Be open with yourself and your team to ask these questions. Most importantly, just listen. Have 1:1s with each of your direct reports and use that as a time to talk about development and answer questions. There are plenty of ways to assign work and task to people; use 1:1s to work on feedback and development, listen, and ask questions to learn more about your team.
How do you ensure that everyone in your organization is aware of their unconscious bias or keep diverse and inclusive work environments?
Knowledge -- in this case self-knowledge -- is power. Every single person carries some bias. Taking the time to understand how this works and how it might affect you day-to-day gives you a better opportunity to recognize it when it happens and change your behavior as a result. This is beneficial for everybody including you. Difference is what makes humans wonderful; we shouldn't all be the same. You can recognize how your background and your experiences may give you some bias that affect you in ways that you might not be comfortable with if you really thought about it. It's great for CREW to be talking about unconscious bias, it's a key to success that any organization in Coupang is able to talk openly about it. Conversations are essential because if you are in a vacuum, you’re not going to hear how it affects other people.
Is there a single piece of advice you would give to the next generation of women leaders?
Don’t look to the gender / seniority structure for a lot of advice (aka, me). Instead, be yourself and find people who listen to you, challenge you, and push you to be the person that you imagine you could be in your dreams.
Do you recall any challenges in building D&I initiatives? How did you overcome it?
I’ve encountered detractors when I was an early supporter of the affinity groups at a previous company as well as when CREW began. There are some vocal detractors today regarding CREW. I’m one of the most privileged people in the world – I'm a white, male, VP at a large corporation. I have the least risk of anyone to take a leadership position and stand up for equality for women, for the LGBTQIA community, people who are disabled, or for people who are under-represented minorities. I hope to have more empathy for detractors than I have had in the past, but I try to focus on the goals of the group and ensure those will be met. Usually, when the detractors actually see what the group does and how it benefits the members, they let go of angst.
As an expat, it could have been a difficult decision to join Coupang. What mainly drove you to join Coupang?
I’ve worked in e-commerce since 2012, and I had already known about what Coupang was doing. Once I met the leadership team it became clear this was a group that believed in an extraordinary experience for our customers – but also that same sort of extraordinary experience for our own workers. So in that sense, it was very easy. Moving around the world will always be an adventure but it is one my whole family has eagerly embraced. I feel lucky to live in Korea, and continue to learn about the culture, the people, and explore the country.
How do you feel Coupang is doing in terms of gender equity, empowering women, and embracing the power of diversity?
I think we have taken the first step in a long journey. Our goals place us in comparison to other leading companies globally. You simply cannot be a globally admired company and not also be leading on diversity and inclusion – Coupang strides towards being more inclusive and diverse, but there’s still a long way to go. I’m happy that we are moving in the right direction and confident that we will continue to take small steps forward.