Ph.D. Student Discusses How Prior Experiences with Diversity Led to Current Research
By Jessica Hirsch
Darden Ph.D. student Inhyun Han hopes to utilize her past study of socio-political issues and current research to help inform the general public and promote a more open-minded, inclusive climate in organizations.
Han was born in Seoul, South Korea, and she spent most of her life in the surrounding areas. Ten years ago, Han came to the U.S. as part of a working holiday exchange program, and she worked in a restaurant in Panama City, Florida.
“It was only a six month experience, but it motivated me to move to the United States,” Han said. “When I lived in Florida, I had a limited scope of experience. Charlottesville is a more pro-diversity town where people like to share stories about their exposure to other cultures.”
“I’m working on how to peacefully integrate diverse people in the organizational context.” Han said. “I like that Darden has a high level of diversity initiatives and the climate is very open to discussing sensitive issues.”
Han’s area of research was largely inspired by her personal experiences while working at the Korea Labor Institute, a government research association located in Korea.
“The power of experience is really strong,” Han said. “When I lived in Korea, I experienced a very homogenous culture, and I realized how difficult it can be to make big changes in society. I personally saw that organizations had a more positive, productive outcomes when they tried to accept different people’s stories and opinions. People with different viewpoints can have a more accurate perspective on the problem at hand, and sometimes the majority stream of thinking is not right.”
In particular, Han was drawn to study diversity in organizations from her research on the Korean workforce and labor laws. Specifically, Han’s interests focus on minorities within organizations, specifically how minorities can actively engage in networking and speak up. One of the biggest challenges she finds is when uncertainty acts as a threat to opportunity.
“Korea still has a very male-dominated network and there is a high discrepancy in the labor rate between women and men.” Han said. “There has to be a collaborative effort between policy, management, and social science to influence people’s mindsets on critical issues, but it’s hard to change social expectations about gender.”
In addition, Han’s educational background exposed her to a variety of perspectives and social issues which led her to pursue the field of management in her graduate studies. In her undergraduate career, Han received a B.A. in English Literature and minored in Political Science and Diplomacy at Hanyang University, a private research university in Seoul, Korea.
“My education showed me how socio-political mechanisms are important to enhance the quality of life for everyone,” Han said. “In my English classes, we often read about human emotions in English poetry and from authors like Shakespeare. My focus was always understanding human nature and the underlying behavioral cycles. Management seemed like an intersection of both interests so I could study and interpret employee reactions in an organizational context.”
After completion of the Darden Ph.D. program, Han hopes to share her passion both with students and a more general audience.
“It’s important to find a rewarding reason to pursue your job,” Han said. “When I get my degree, I can help people understand the descriptive reality. I plan to research and teach, but where I work will depend on what is best for my career and the well-being of my family.”
Although Han is busy with the Ph.D. program and spending time with her family, she also enjoys reading home improvement magazines and watching cooking shows.