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4 Must-Know AAPI Workplace Statistics and What To Do About Them As an Ally, From an Ally

“Hey, stop right there. What is your business here? What is the exact address you are staying in? Show me confirmation of that now. Yes now!” 

These were the words I heard the moment I felt the sting of my white-passing, American-born privilege smacking me in the chest. I was standing on the outside of a customs line in a European country after breezing through it, flashing my American passport like a VIP pass. My Thai friend did not have that luxury. He was stopped at almost every turn of this particular airport customs with not only more intense questioning, but a shockingly different tone that I would describe as straight up rude. At this particular moment, my friend became so fed up that he unfortunately felt the need to say “I’m with her!” pointing at me as the customs interrogator finally let him through.

I remember this moment, along with many moments as early as childhood when kids would tease my Asian-American classmates for bringing in “smelly” food from home (Which I thought was unfair given that I remember thinking curry smelt a lot better than my mayonnaise-drenched ham sandwich but that’s neither here nor there). I remember going to parties in college where my Asian female friends would get blatantly fetishized, and then sitting through meetings where my Asian colleagues were assumed to be better at topics like math. Obviously this barely scratched the surface of the types of challenges that Asian-Americans face, and this is from the perspective of a non-Asian person who is not tuned into the micro nuances of the other incidents that probably happened right under my nose.

And unfortunately, I have now spent the past few years watching Anti-Asian hate crimes spike in the news cycle. As an ally watching the violence, my feelings of absolute disgust and sadness would immediately turn into feelings of action – What can I do? What is the right thing to do and say? What should I NOT say?

Although one of the first things I’ve learned as an ally to all communities of color is this: 

Oppression is not about you. It’s about THEM. As an ally, always prioritize listening, learning, and supporting over sharing your thoughts and doing what actions you think are right. You don’t know what you don’t know. Educate yourself always – keeping in mind that every person of color shouldn’t be burned with the responsibility of educating you.

It’s important to watch all communities model us for what it means to be an ally and call out racism because we are all learning and we can all benefit – and that includes how other communities of color can lift each other up. When we actively come together across color, including white people, to combat racism we can all benefit.

In this blog I aim to give you the tools to not only stay more informed about the state of the AAPI community in the workplace, but also how to act as a better ally. This is especially important during a time where more and more people are coming back into the physical workplace. Whether you’re in the AAPI community or not, being aware of these stats is one thing, but doing something about them is another. I want to ensure these stats don’t just drop jaws and then leave us with a sense of confusion, sorrow, or even anger. Let’s do something about them as allies.

Stat 1: 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, CNBC

Diversity in leadership is beneficial not only to the people who the leaders they represent, but the organization as a whole. Diverse leadership has more perspective and breadth of experience that allows for better creativity and relatability with employees, partners, customers, etc. Yet even with the recent strides in the workplace when it comes to representation in the workplace, there’s still a “ceiling” that many minorities hit when it comes to moving up in the organization. Many Asian Americans describe this as the invisible ‘bamboo ceiling’, an expression started by Jane Hyun, a Korean American researcher who noticed how we need to find a way to communicate why talented Asian Americans are still not able to reach the top compared to their white colleagues who are getting promoted.

"I think the bamboo ceiling is something that's pervasive inside these organizations, the Fortune 500. And I talk about it as individual factors as well as organizational, because I think that there are some cultural nuances that keep Asians from really being perceived as a leader.”

- Jane Hyan, NPR

It’s also important to recognize the nuances – that Asian Americans are an incredibly diverse group of people. As Monica Kang, Founder of InnovatorsBox, shares as an Asian American woman, “Every Asian American has a different story to how they became who they are and it’s important we stop generalizing what we think of Asian American type of personalities to fully recognize who they are as a person.” 

So even though researchers like 2020 PNAS identifies that South Asian Americans seem to attain more leadership roles in East Asian perhaps because East Asians are “less likely to speak up, engage in constructive debates, and stand their own grounds in conflicts,” it’s important for us to really ask, is this really why, and is there any other reason we may have missed?

Generational lack of leadership and representation is a problem we must take into closer. It’s a generation of future leaders not feeling if they could be a leader, or feeling they are discredited for their full leadership capacity, just because they look or show up differently as a leader.

I resonated with a story Monica  shared in her book Rethink Creativity about how it felt odd to realize how all the leaders she often admired were men or white or both.. She had to be intentional to think of leaders who were Asian or female to find role models who looked like her, because they were often not celebrated and if found hard to learn more about as they weren’t enough information. This made me curious to reflect on what we can do as allies by building better awareness. For instance when I meet people in the future I want to think about what perceptions and unconscious bias I may carry to how I think of this person as a leader and a colleague.

Further Action Steps As an Ally:

Reflect on Hiring Culture While Addressing the Diversity of Asian Americans:  

Intentionally test hiring and promotional processes and partner with your current employees (who are available and willing) to improve diversity in leadership. Oftentimes this means hiring more diverse recruitment, HR, and DEI professionals so that there isn’t so much bias in the hiring process.  Another important action step is to start collecting data on the percentage of Asian-Americans in leadership, (if you aren’t already doing so) across the different subsets of the Asian-American demographic as well as setting a data-driven goal for your organization to meet. 

The second component is culture: Are the people in your leadership team generally of the same personality type? Do you tend to promote people who speak up (ask for the promotion) or do you have systems in place to automatically reward employees who do good work? How much of that is my bias on what I think is a certain leadership style as a good leadership style? Tackling workplace culture is a much more challenging thing to change, but over time, and with the right partnership, the entire organization will reap the rewards.

It’s important to take a holistic approach and know that every action and inaction we take matters. 

Stat 2: Civil rights violations such as workplace discrimination, refusal of service, etc. account for 11.3 % of total asian hate incidents, Stop AAPI Hate

It’s no secret that even with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplace discrimination happens, and unfortunately it is much more profilerated than allies like myself will ever come to understand completely. When it comes to enforcing and expanding civil rights, creating and deeping collaborative relationships with communities is essential. According to the Stop AAPI Hate report, “practices that and ethics for reducing and responding to harm can simultaneously increase a sense of safety as well as build solidarity with communities to address common concerns.”

Action Step as an Ally:

Speak Up At The Top: The simplest thing managers and organizational leaders can do for their Asian American employees is to use their privilege to acknowledge any recent news of anti-Asian violence, and give space for impacted individuals to process, grieve and heal. This could mean adding mental health days or bringing in outside resources like workplace experts and consultants to facilitate these conversations. Notably, don’t burden every AAPI member of your team with the responsibility of coming up with resources to help them feel safe. Do share what options you’re considering with them and get feedback along the way. If they’re comfortable and interested in being involved, give them a seat at the table and ensure their voices are included and heard.

Another important component is to ensure there are consequences to discriminatory actions by ensuring there is a convenient and anonymous reporting process in place for employees to call out unethical behaivor. Craft your own company policies around discrimination and make it public when those wronged are righted.

Make psychological safety a priority: The news takes a toll, and not everyone feels comfortable talking about it. Don’t assume as an ally that the best way you can support your colleagues is by talking to them directly about it and asking how you can help. Instead, be flexible and emphatic by  encouraging all your employees to take time for themselves by instituting mental health days, giving flexibility to extend deadlines or rearrange meetings, etc.

Stat 3: 74% of white respondents report feeling empowered and supported professionally, compared to just 40% of Asian Americans, IBM Institute 

I know that I feel the most empowered in the workplace when I can not only enter spaces where I feel like I’m free from judgment, but also feel that I have my own community / support system within my workplace that I can use as a resource. Unfortunately there is not a one size fits all solution to ensuring your employees, including Asian-Americans, feel empowered but there are some essential baseline steps in doing so. 

Action Step as an Ally:

Cultivate an Inclusive Culture in the workspace: Funding Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) not only provide community for often marginalized groups in the workplace, but also can serve as essential resources for education across the team by hosting cultural events, educational webinars, etc. If you’re a small business owner and have smaller teams, you can still instill a sense of inclusion by encouraging your team to collaborate openly more through thoughtful team building exercises and activities. But every team is different, so I encourage you to get creative on how you can ensure all team members feel supported (Notably,  the last 2 action steps feed into this problem as well).

Stat 4: There are an estimated 620,300 Asian American women-owned businesses in the United States. This reflects a tremendous 83 percent increase since 2002 and a 156 percent increase since 1997, American Progress

Here’s where one of my favorite words, “interactionism” comes in, which recognizes the nuance in different asian cultures, the asian experience as a woman versus a man, asian and LGBTQ+, etc. As I mentioned before there are so many nuances in the Asian-American community and in your team as a whole. As an ally we must catch ourselves when we start lumping populations together in our mind and intentionally reflect on the different ways our different identities come into play.

Action Step as an Ally:

Education, Education, and More Education.

The prime tool in our toolbelt to show up as an ally is education. Educate yourself on the historical legacies of anti-asian rhetoric that has permeated our society: everything from internment camps, to anti-asian immigration laws to the intersectionality between misogyny and racism, and so much more. We can use our voices and privileges to not only stand up against anti-asian racism, but to support our asian colleagues and friends. And another important component of education is to constantly check your OWN bias and take on a mindset of continuous learning. We are never a finished product, and we’re all in this together. 

Do business with diverse vendors who are talented.

We all have purchasing power, and we can all put more intentionality into buying and using products/services from diverse business owners. You can be more intentional about learning who these makers are by going to local fairs / cultural events, following minority-owned businesses on social media, or just doing a quick Google search.

Becoming an advocate for your AAPI team members looks different for everyone, who has different backgrounds and privileges.

I tried to keep these action steps broad enough that no matter who you are and what you do in the workplace, you’re able to reflect on some ways you can better support our Asian-American colleagues and even friends.  We all have different roles, perspectives, privileges, and platforms that we can use to craft our own position as an ally, and it’s important to reflect on that. As a writer and communicator I intentionally embed my allyship into the people I interview, the research I review, and the perspectives I am able to offer. No matter what part you play, it’s important to remember to be engaged in the long haul not just in moments of crisis. Your allyship doesn’t turn on right when an Asian hate crime hits the news cycle. It should always be on.

Other AAPI-Allyship Related Resources:

  1. The Cost of Being an Interchangeable Asian, the NYT
  2. PBS: Asian Americans Documentary Series
  3. How to empower your employees to be allies to the Asian American community
  4. Stop Asian Hate
  5. Asian Americans Read Secrets about the Asian American Experience 
  6. Veryasian.co
  7. Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya
  8. Asian Hustle Network (Network and community)
  9. Dear Asian Americans (Podcast)

 

Individuals to check out

  1. Eugene Lee Yang – Entertainment
  2. Samuel J. Hyun – Community development
  3. Michelle MiJung Kim Community development, Entrepreneur, Author
  4. Lee Minjin – Author 
  5. Andrew Chau – Entrepreneur
  6. Tiffany Yu – Disability Inclusion, Entrepreneur
  7. Jeanie Chang – Therapy / K-Drama
  8. Jerry Won – Community / Storytelling 
  9. Eun Yang – Journalism
  10. Amanda Nguyen – Civil Rights Activist
  11. Masami Moriya – Entertainment
  12. Emma Tang – Influencer

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