Working at Williams

Employee describes journey to fully embracing her Korean heritage

Born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted by an American family at four months old, Sarah Gilpin grew up in a small Oklahoma town.

“I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me, and there weren’t any cultural celebrations in the schools or community then,” said Gilpin, a communications specialist on Williams’ brand team.

Gilpin said she was a resilient kid and got involved where she could, including the NAACP youth group in sixth grade. She had supportive teachers and graduated from the University of Tulsa.

“However, even as a young adult, it was difficult to embrace my Korean heritage,” she said. “I didn’t want to be known as the ‘Asian girl’ at work. I wanted to be recognized for my insight and contributions.

“When someone asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I cringed. I didn’t want to tell them my adoption story—how my birth mom was alone with no support and sending me to a foreign country to give me an opportunity of a better life was the one gift she could give her daughter.”

When Gilpin’s adoptive mom passed away last year, she said she felt ungrounded and sought connection with other Asian Americans. 

It was around that time that she became more active in Williams’ Asian Pacific Islander (API) Employee Resource Group (ERG) and was asked to join the City of Tulsa’s Asian Affairs Planning Commission.

“I felt excited to not only identify but work with a collective team of Asian Americans — an opportunity I had never had before,” she said. “The journey to fully embracing my Korean heritage really began to unfold.”

She said the ERG gave her the opportunity to connect with other employees and learn about their experiences and backgrounds.

I’ve had the joy of learning about other countries’ holidays and religious celebrations like Diwali, Lunar New Year and Chuseok, which is Korean Thanksgiving Day. This has been a fun and meaningful experience for me that I didn’t expect to gain when I started working at Williams.”

Gilpin even had the honor of designing and implementing new brand identities for the 10 Williams’ ERGs – graphics of fingerprints meant to represent “our unique qualities, our humanity.”

“The colors of each ERG embody our differences that make up the colorful tapestry that gives each ERG a unique voice and value to the Williams workforce,” she said.

For this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the ERG has several events planned, including a session open to all employees about emotional intelligence and professional development with the executive director of the Institute for Civic Education in Vietnam, a World Cultural Diversity Day luncheon and volunteer night at a Tulsa food bank.

Gilpin chairs the City of Tulsa Asian Affairs Commission that she helped form.

“I worked with an incredible group of Asian Americans from a variety of cultural backgrounds and shared experiences since most of us are first-generation immigrants,” she said. “We worked on identifying the greatest needs of our Asian American communities in Tulsa and created the goals and objectives for the commission such as workforce and economic development, research and data collection, community development, education and civic engagement.”

The commission meets monthly with a goal not only to elevate and empower Tulsa’s Asian communities, but to give them opportunities to share their rich cultures and heritage with the citizens of Tulsa.

Gilpin said she’s proud of the work they are doing and her journey to learn more about her heritage.

“As my birth mother envisioned a better life for me in America, I’m grabbing hold of every opportunity to elevate and empower our Asian community.”