Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.

What is your name and title?

So-Young Kang, Founder & CEO (known as Chief Energizer) at Gnowbe.

Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.

I energize my teams, partners, advisors, investors and collaborators to continue pioneering the microlearning and micro-authoring revolution to maximize human performance.

How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.

After leaving McKinsey in 2009, I founded my first company, Awaken Group, a human-centered Transformation Design (TD) firm that advises companies on how to align people with purpose and performance. We needed a digital solution to scale this impact to billions which led to the launch and creation of Gnowbe which stands for ‘Grow Knowledge Into Being.’

In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?

Curiosity and the desire to solve real problems. I’m motivated by impact and coming up with creative solutions to solve really large global problems. We have a global challenge with how to maximize and encourage continuous human flourishing and do this in ‘human’ ways using technology. This is a challenge worth solving.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?

We need technology to enhance the human experience, not to replace it.

With the inability to connect physically and socially, it has made us appreciate and value the ability to connect and engage in more authentic ways. That’s always a good thing.

What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?

I’m not part of the ‘tech bro culture’ and that’s ok. As an Asian-American non-tech founder, it can be challenging to gain credibility and the interest of some investors who may not know me or the work we have done. It requires patience and creativity to connect with those that do support and believe in our vision. It’s also an opportunity for me to learn and adapt. It’s a continuous learning journey and I’m grateful for mentors and advisors to guide me along the way.

Do you have any mentors? What does mentorship mean to you?

I have many mentors and many mentees. Mentorship is ultimately about a relationship built on trust. It’s about a willingness and ability to advise, guide and help the mentee develop and grow as a person, a leader, and/or a founder.

What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek out as many mentors as you can (both male and female). Not everyone will be a good fit. Remain curious and don’t get discouraged. Don’t apologize for asking for people’s time. Oftentimes, they are delighted to spend time helping you out. You are NOT a burden. You will find your way. Be open to learning and adapting.

What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?

It’s hard to not be biased but being aware of unconscious bias is a starting point. Sharing stories of other female leaders can be very inspiring and being intentional about calling out examples of successful women in tech like the Wojcicki sisters (CEO of YouTube, Founder of 23 and me) and Whitney Wolfe (CEO of Bumble), etc. can be a good starting point for shifting mindsets and images of what a leader looks like.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the next year?

Triple the impact we have on our clients and their employees.

Is there a cause that is particularly close to you? If so, why this cause and how did you get involved?

The Young Professionals’ Group is a character-based scholarship and mentorship program that I co-founded 20 years ago because I believe in investing in character to help young people achieve their dreams. We have mentored hundreds of young people from the US and all across Asia (Singapore, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia) to experience the power of mentorship to guide them on their careers.

When did your company join Pledge 1%? What does your impact program mean to you?

Since we started beta testing our products in 2017. We call our impact program GnowMe. GnowYou. and we are proud to have contributed our product to support over 30k people from helping unemployed youth in South Africa get jobs, to training Syrian refugees, to equipping volunteers in Pakistan during Covid. Impact is part of our DNA.

What do you like to do outside of the office? Any interesting (or unique) habits or interests?

Travel to unusual places and do unusual things in places like introducing surfing to North Korea and connecting with female leaders and members of royalty in Saudi Arabia to understand human rights and cultural differences. I’m an active snowboarder, wakeboarder and diver. I love exploring new places, people and things. I’m also a musician who started playing the piano when I was 4. I often describe myself as a ‘musician who happens to do business.’

Are you reading/listening to anything interesting at the moment? Please share your most recent favorite book or podcast!

“How We Love” by Kay Yerkovich and Milan Yerkovich is a must-read to understand yourself better. “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz is awesome for tech founders. “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari is an interesting look at human history. I love reading very different kinds of books.

What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?

Be intentional with staying emotionally connected with your teams. Our team is global and we created a “Weekly Mood Meter” using Gnowbe to check in on how our people were feeling and to humanize the work experience through jokes, games, and non-work related sharing. That helped improve our culture and keep us connected.