SEATTLE — Like many of us did, Ngoc Do experienced a particular inflection point during the pandemic.
As the senior coordinator for people & culture with the Seattle Mariners, Do supports employee engagement programs for front office and event staff. Last December, when leading the front office’s participation in a community service project with the United Way of King County, she was reacquainted with its Project LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Diversity) program, a nonprofit board training for leaders of color.
That’s when she saw an opportunity.
“When 2020 happened, it made you see the effect it had on social services and mental health services, and where the gaps are in society,” she said. “I felt fortunate that I was able to keep my job and I thought, ‘Well, I have these skills, I should try to support other causes as well. I have a lot that I can offer.'”
That opportunity led her to apply — and get accepted — to Project LEAD. Do graduated from the intensive month-long program in March and the experience has paid dividends. Not only did it help hone her leadership skills, it shed light on a new connection to her cultural background.
A voice for others
Do first learned about Project LEAD when working in the non-profit space prior to joining the Mariners. During the program, she attended trainings and worked with small groups on topics such as collaboration and conflict resolution, strategic fundraising with a racial equity lens, creating bold organizational strategies, managing legal risk and equity leadership.
Her next task as a graduate of the program is to join a nonprofit board and put what she’s learned into action. She’s considering applying for board membership with the Junior League of Seattle (of which she has been a member) or an organization that supports children with cancer.
“The content focused on being a voice for other people of color, bringing those issues to the table and being able to make an impact as a person of color,” she said. “It was a different lens for me which I thought was very valuable.”
It can be said that in her day job, Do is voice for employees in the Mariners’ organization as well.
In 2012, Do worked for the nonprofit organization, Camp Fire Girls, which supports youth and outdoor experiences. She was a chaperone for a group of teens participating in the Mariners’ Sustainable Saturdays green initiative at every Saturday home game that year.
That introduction was all she needed to pursue a role with the organization. Do started in ballpark operations, first in event sales before moving to gameday event operations. In that role, she oversaw employee services for event staff and two of her primary projects were leading a two-day job fair during which approximately 200 employees were hired annually and organizing preseason training for over 1,200 seasonal employees. She also handled internal communications with event staff and initiated perks and incentive programs.
In 2017, her role moved to human resources (now known as people & culture) and she started to support employee engagement initiatives for front office staff as well. In 2020, a large part of her role evolved to help the organization keep employees engaged while working entirely remote.
“I’m pretty much a jack of all trades,” Do said. “Because of my background in nonprofits, I came to the Mariners with a toolbox of skills including marketing, training, internal communications, event planning. I really appreciate working for the Mariners, and under Lisa Winsby (senior vice president, people & culture) and Brooke Sullivan’s (vice president, people & culture) leadership. They see that I have a broad set of skills and allow me to use them to support what the organization needs at a particular time.”
During her time with Project LEAD, Do also experienced quite a significant “aha” moment.
“I’ve never been in a space with all people of color before and it was nice to hear other people’s experiences,” she said. “A lot of the folks in the group were children of immigrants and our families had one common thing in coming to the United States — it was an opportunity for your kids to get a good education which is paramount for them to be successful in life.”
Do’s parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 1975. They met in Washington state, got married and started a family in Bellingham. Do recalls taking monthly family trips to Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia to buy Asian cooking ingredients because they weren’t sold in her hometown.
It’s through her family and food, cooking with her mother, that she finds connection with her Vietnamese culture. And five years ago, she visited Vietnam for the first time with her father and was introduced to an entire branch of family she hadn’t met before. It was her father’s first visit back in 25 years.
Do’s father is from South Vietnam, near the Mekong Delta. During the Vietnam War, he fought in the South Vietnamese Navy alongside the U.S. Navy. He left for the U.S. the day before Vietnam fell and was sponsored by the church of an American Navy Commander who lived in Bellingham, Wash.
“That trip was the first time my dad really opened up about the Vietnam War and about his family,” she said. “I feel like that experience made me more curious about my heritage and wanting to connect more.”
Do hopes to return to Vietnam again to maintain and build on the connections to her family and culture. In the meantime, she’s helping the Mariners build their organizational culture with her people-first mentality.
“I’ve always just felt that the key to my role was internal customer service,” she said. “It’s about how I can make things better and support everyone around me.”