Progress and challenges for Asians in the workplace: A reflection for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
- Posted on May 20, 2021
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Growing up back and forth between the U.S. and China, I didn't think too deeply about my identity and what it meant to be Chinese in America, versus Chinese in China – it was an invisible switch that allowed me to toggle between being a minority versus the majority. However seamless my own personal adjustment was, the external contrast between the two was and continues to remain acute. With Asian Heritage Month, it is important we elevate and empower our fellow community members to tell their stories and proactively offer our support. Prior to having to process the trauma of what is happening in the AAPI community today, in America I mostly struggled with the little things – work meetings where I am the only Asian woman, the “konichiwas” (a Japanese greeting) I hear walking my dog, being asked where I “was actually from.” In those moments, it doesn’t matter where I went to school, or how successful I am at my job, or that I’m a contributing member of this society. In those moments, I truly feel like “the other,” the minority.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I had to confront my identity. After college, I moved to Hong Kong and China. During those years, I didn't need to self-identify as Chinese or Asian, I just was. There was a sense of comfort, a natural cultural affinity that was unfamiliar to me in America. And I yearn for that here in America – and it’s what I want for my daughter, should she grow up here as well.
I appreciate that Asian Heritage Month is about uplifting, acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of the AAPI community. But as a society, and specifically in the corporate world, we have a long way to go when it comes to driving equity and inclusion for us all. First off, it’s overly simplistic to consider Asians as a monolithic group. Asia is made of 48 countries with distinctive cultures, religions, languages, traditions. For some in the community, it can be damaging to erase, or not acknowledge individual identities. We are all lumped into certain stereotypes (some considered “positive stereotypes”) and like many people of color, Asians are frequently misunderstood and must confront discrimination, bias and microaggressions on a daily basis in the workplace and beyond.
So what does that mean for the workplace today? I come from a creative agency background, and for many years, it meant ensuring that the stories and experiences we crafted for our clients were inclusive. It meant vocalizing and demanding that those in positions of power mirror the world we live in —colorful, complex, diverse. It meant helping fellow women of color in the creative world find their voice and show them they were worthy of having a seat at the table. Proactively mentoring and nurturing talent so that they can have the same opportunity to earn a spot in the C-suite as anyone else.
I saw a statistic recently that stated, “When looking at the overall workforce, Asian Americans make up 13% of working professionals in the U.S., but, as they move up the corporate ladder, they occupy just 6% of leadership roles.” We must push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and advocate for those who haven’t had enough representation and support in the past. Not just one month out of the year, but every single day.