By: James Matthews, a Laurier Institution Blog Contributor
“My first love was the film industry. I was fortunate to attend one of the newest high schools in Vancouver at the time and we had a TV studio,” Warren Wong shares during our (virtual) walk down memory lane. Instead, it was a different corner of California that would eventually shape his career: Silicon Valley, not Hollywood. “I looked at myself in terms of what might be a good career for me and I chose a non-traditional Asian route. I didn’t want to be a doctor. I didn’t want to be an accountant, I didn’t want to be an engineer. I wanted to be in human resources. Quite frankly, there’s no literal translation for what a human resources professional is in the Chinese language. So I went to University majoring in communications with a minor in business. Looking back 35 years later, I had a good career in human resources.”
Warren carved out a personal and professional niche supporting the HR development of tech companies, including eBay at the time of their acquisitions of PayPal and Skype. Most recently, Warren joined The Laurier Institution as Board Secretary and Communications Officer. Film, HR, and tech seem to merely scratch the surface of a larger collection of his passions. Amongst those passions exists a drive to volunteer; a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion plus a rich understanding of the importance of teamwork. I joined Warren via Zoom as he reminisced to learn more about how his personal and professional journeys aligned at The Laurier Institution.
Tell me about your roots and your family history
I was born and raised here in Vancouver. Both of my parents are from the People’s Republic of China, but they met in Hong Kong and eventually immigrated to Canada.
I was a very curious child so my parents nicknamed me Curious George after the character. I was always injuring myself in the process of curiosity. Eventually, I was able to direct my energy and curiosity into competitive sports. I was a high-performing track and field athlete, competing at the provincial level throughout my high school years. I still follow track and field and a number of different sports. I like to say that I’m a master of none, but my passion now–you can see my bike behind me—is road cycling. This year, my goal is to ride 7,000 kilometers. Currently, I’m close to 1,800 kilometers (at the time of this interview).
When I think about my family roots, I think of my late father. He passed away suddenly, just a few years back. He arrived in Canada in the late 1950s by himself, initially working at a diner in Prince Rupert before attending college in Nelson. He eventually returned to Hong Kong and married my mother through an arranged marriage. He brought my mother back to Vancouver and I was born 60 years ago this October.
I’ll always have his nuggets of advice and wisdom. You know, as a child and even as an adult, you often get advice from your parents that borders on excessive. But as you grow older, you realize that those moments were meaningful and certainly helpful. My father always taught me the importance of giving back to the community.
My dad was a volunteer principal at a Chinese school and was active in Vancouver’s Chinatown community. He was probably more active because he spoke both English and Cantonese which, back then, not many could. So he was a bit of a pioneer. As a child, I remember him speaking in many banquets and functions. I remember being dragged along as a youngster and in one night I think I attended three Chinese banquets. I don’t know if you’ve attended any Chinese banquets. They’re a 10, 11-course meal. So that’s a lot of Chinese food to consume for a little, skinny Asian boy like myself.
Tell me about the Laurier Institution in three words
This is another good question. I have to kind of pause because I want to choose words that would supplement our value statement, our mission, and our vision statement. The first word that comes to mind is education. The Laurier Institution, we’re educators. Another word is awareness. We create awareness around equity, diversity, and inclusion. And the third word is possibility. We make diversity, inclusion, and equity as a possibility in terms of something that we could see as part of our lives.
Why did you decide to get involved?
I was introduced to board director, Ben Lu, from a mutual contact and one conversation led to another. I have the unique, dual role of being Board Secretary and Communications Officer. It was a natural role transition to the next chapter in my life. Service is very important to me. My personal values need to be aligned with the values of any entity that I work with either in my job or a volunteer position.
Diversity is certainly about the representation of perspectives. Also, it’s an opportunity to have fierce, authentic conversations that support inclusion. But the three—diversity, equity, and inclusion—link to each other. Inclusion prompts answers about creating environments that are conducive to feedback and supporting diversity while being open. Equity I would describe as being fair.
The more I reflect, I believe diversity, equity inclusion should not be separated from society and how we live in a global community. It should be infused and an integral part of how we live.
What I love about the Laurier is our rich history. We’re a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. We’ve been around for more than 30 years so I love the legacy and its history. Having been a chief people officer and a chief talent officer, equity, diversity, inclusion is part of my DNA, and part of my motivation for choosing the HR industry. Diversity and inclusion are typically a part of my mandate. And it was not always something assigned to me, but rather something I chose to lead. So I feel very aligned with The Laurier Institution’s vision of shaping a world where everyone is valued and included.
What motivates you to volunteer?
The opportunity to form, influence, and make improvements in the communities that we work, play, and live in. This might sound cliche, but we really only have one opportunity to live on this beautiful earth and one opportunity to make a little dent in the universe. I’ve always believed that volunteering does this in a meaningful way.
Finish the sentence: “What does a world where diversity is valued and everyone is included mean to you?”
This can be best answered for me based on my own personal career experiences–having worked in small to large multinational companies—as well as my personal travel experiences around the world. I have had the good fortune to explore and learn from former colleagues throughout Europe. Then, I was based in Asia for a brief time. The business meetings and after-work socials are enriched by the different cultures of the local people that I am visiting.
What is even more special is the opportunity to break bread in family homes while traveling either on business or vacation. It’s amazing to authentically connect and engage with people in this context with different perspectives other than my own. I truly feel in other people’s homes a sense of inclusion and belonging.
Personal travels allowed me to deeply experience different cultures in countries such as Vietnam, Morocco, and Peru to name three. I am in awe of the diversity of the different cultures in our world and know that I am only scratching the surface. I am constantly learning about different peoples’ history, experiences, economies, politics, religion—seeing how inclusion is modeled especially in more developing parts of the world. It gives me hope that we can live in a world where diversity is valued and everyone is included.
What is your favorite moment from your time with the Laurier?
I have only been with the board since November 2019. We all know what happened shortly afterward in March 2020. After an in-person strategic planning workshop in January 2020, we have all worked together only virtually. Despite this, two moments stand out.
Firstly, the work that we did with an outside consultant to redesign and launch our organization’s new website. Secondly, working collaboratively across committees, we hosted our first In Conversation event since I started with The Laurier Institution. No small feat given the tight timeline and still continuing to work with others virtually.
These two moments reinforce the work we are doing to amplify The Laurier Institution’s vision and mission.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.