By: Kai Yeo
“We’re all connected through culture. Basically, we all must learn to adapt. We learn more through traveling and seeing more. When you’re in a different environment, everybody must love and laugh and dance. I don’t need to know your language. But companies need to focus on connecting everyone through love, not war.” – Vaughn Lowery
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for years, with its’ roots being found as early as the 18th Century. In my CSR research assignment before, I wrote that “the key idea of CSR is for companies to pursue pro-social objectives and promote volunteerism among employees (such as through donating to charity and participating in volunteer work), as well as by minimizing environmental externalities.” As an international student trying to find my career path in the United States, I find that company CSR is one of the first few things I look for when finding a suitable company to work with: how genuine they are and how much they care for their employees. The process of researching and writing my essay on CSR in the modern day and CSR within my internship site provided me with the valuable opportunity not only to learn about an important business topic, but also allowed me to develop a better understanding of what it is.
For my CSR Interview, I got the opportunity to speak on the phone with my supervisor Vaughn Lowery. His career started from “humble beginnings in Detroit to a full scholarship in Cornell University under the ILR program. From there, he became active in modeling, acting, and producing screenplays.” Now, Vaughn is the publisher and founder of leading fashion and lifestyle magazine, 360 Magazine, which is also my internship site. His job involves fostering relationships within the community and being an editorial director that curates and oversees content for all columns of the magazine. The position also entails making sure that Apple News, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all other news sites are updated. As a pop culture and design magazine, it is important to constantly be up to date with relevant content and breaking news. Being a quarterly publication, 360 is also working on their summer magazine issue. Vaughn mentions that with COVID making everything digital, the team has been working on expanding the business: creating a self-publishing division, developing e-commerce, getting sponsors, and most importantly, waiting for things to start opening back up.
With a background in studying business and company culture, Vaughn says that his education helped him design a company culture that made sense, “Transparency, cool kids, intelligence. I wanted a space for comfort regardless of race, age, and religion. Education was not the answer to my business but a part of the process to help with preparing for my magazine. The most important thing is life experiences, there are no books on it.” Vaughn emphasizes sending people in his company for events and communicating with clientele because “you can’t speak about things you don’t know.” COVID has made jobs in the media a little more mundane, but he’s excited about things opening back up and is hopeful for the future. Without in-person experiences, it is hard to understand the inner workings of media companies with everything being digitally produced.
Vaughn defines Corporate Social Responsibility at 360 Magazine as “having an environment that is inviting and inclusive, especially showcasing inclusivity.” As a magazine that promotes culture and lifestyle, it is important that everyone he works with is aware of what is going on in the world that we live in and what is happening with minority populations. He speaks about being the only African American in a lot of his school and work experiences, and he created 360 with the ideal of having more minorities and women working in his company: “We all live in the same world… and some people don’t know that. But we need representation and for people to see us. It’s not on us to educate them, but it’s on us to speak up.” 360 avidly speaks up for diversity (#metoo) and openly supports nonprofit organizations.
When asked about how veritable he thinks big companies are with CSR movements, he says that they’re doing it for a myriad of reasons. Companies get away with more stuff as a corporation, “But the responsibility is about being genuine. The board of directors and Zoom calls and the whole spiel. If they’re trying to just make money, revenue principals are not true to themselves. 360 was founded on real culture. The diversity is important. It is what it is.”
“Your company diversity is a reflection of the world, we’ve been doing this since the start of 360, we’ve been ahead of the trend.” The magazine has always featured drag queens, people who are transgender, and minorities, “This is very important when doing events and stuff, it’s a big family. We have less than 50 people. And it’s important for our clients to know that we have each other and rely on each other. That we know how to respect one another and appreciate each other, despite all odds.” Vaughn believes that diversity and inclusion of people of color has always been important, and he emphasizes that 360 will keep pushing these agendas and morals as long as he’s the head of the company. I see this in his effort to get everyone together (even if it is just on Zoom for now) to celebrate big articles, book releases, sponsorships, and so on.
As I type this interview essay, I find two key points to really reflect on: 1) assumptions about company morale and 2) why diversity is so important to me.
1) I think back on everyone else I’ve spoken to during my time as an intern here with 360, and I find that these core values that Vaughn spoke about with me are reflected in all the conversations I’ve had with him and other employees. Coming from a very structured, patriarchal Asian background, I came into this internship thinking that it would be like all my previous experiences (they talk of diversity, but it’s never really executed once you’re a part of it – school projects, internships, part-time jobs, and so on). However, no one in the company has been curt or condescending when speaking with me, and they truly mean it when they point out mistakes and gently correct me. Maybe it is because of the way I was brought up, or the environment I was most familiar in, but these good intentions had me on my toes for the first couple weeks I was here, and I’m honestly still getting used to it.
2) With the rise of Asian hate crimes in the past year, I find myself turning very reclusive and immediately trying to find fault with people when something brushes me the wrong way (though sometimes it really is a racist comment or remark). It’s been difficult having to correct people when they say my name wrong or trying to explain my culture when these simple things can so easily be looked up online. I’ve been very lucky growing up well-traveled and seeing different parts of the world, and I understand that not everyone has that privilege, but how far does “I don’t know” get you in the digital age? I need to work in a company where people are willing to learn and grow new perspectives, and I see this quality in Vaughn too as he speaks about his loneliness as the only African American in his industry when he was first starting out.
After 45 minutes of talking about diversity and the whole CSR conversation winding down, Vaughn tells me to keep doing what I love, “Understanding the industry through work experiences is how you’ll get in. It’s constantly changing.” He talks about learning to forecast and foreshadow and having connections at arms’ reach. By the end of our conversation, I felt that I learnt a lot and could have a clearer vision of what I wanted out of this internship. I’ve had the opportunities to go for company events (for brands including Lillet, Chinese Laundry, Rockstar Original, etc.), though I would really like to be able to go to a CSR event in the near future to promote these same values that I share with 360 Magazine.
To read more about Vaughn Lowery, please visit his Wikipedia and IMBD.