Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month and a Continued Shift to Inclusivity

May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate our contributions and reflect on our collective history and struggles as a group.

Recently, the Genesys Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) office delivered programming centered around the “Power of Words,” highlighting the importance of words and the lasting harm they have when non-inclusive language is used.

I’m reminded of how words have shaped who I am today. As a refugee and Vietnamese American, I’ve had to learn to navigate my dual identities and the concept of acculturation when we set foot onto US soil. Acculturation is a cultural modification of an individual, group or people adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture. Growing up in Oregon, a predominantly Eurocentric community and being “the first” for many life milestones, wasn’t easy. I was the only Vietnamese American in my high school graduating class, the first Vietnamese American to serve on a leadership team at a higher education institution and the first Vietnamese American on an HR leadership team with my previous organization.

At first glance, these firsts should be celebrated. However, they also remind me of the adversities I had to navigate and learn to “blend in” just to get to where I am today. Deep down, I knew I was socially pressured to acculturate so I had a chance to succeed — at the cost of not being my authentic self. To access opportunities, I had to live up to other’s expectations because of the perception that anything outside of the dominant culture would be less than desirable. And I had to do this all while being stuck in a never-ending cycle — living out the “Model Minority Myth” and “Imposter Syndrome.”

Let’s start with my name. My parents became US citizens through the process of naturalization. On the day my parents and our family were sworn in, a judge turned to me and said, “You look like a Victoria.” This is how I came to be known as Victoria because my birth name was too hard to pronounce.

While I was in school, I was told I could accomplish anything I wanted. Yet, I was always pushed into the sciences. My teachers advocated on my behalf when I had no interest in STEM. Instead they didn’t believe I could be successful in liberal arts. Unconsciously, they thought I would excel in math and sciences, furthering the Model Minority Myth that all Asians are good with STEM.

As a young professional, I continued to balance the dual identity with hurtful, unsolicited comments —from male colleagues who have told me I need to have more of an executive presence by wearing pantsuits, be more vocal, project my voice and be more aggressive. These are dominant leadership traits that don’t take into consideration diversity or gender nuances.

In meetings, I’ve had colleagues say, “Your English is good. Where are you from?” This comment suggests that I’m not an articulate individual — and that I must be a foreigner. But, after 40 years as an Oregonian, these assumptions aren’t true. These constant barrages of stereotypical words have made me second-guess who I am, perpetuating the internationalization of Imposter Syndrome.

Hurtful words span across diverse communities. I’ve experienced horizontal microaggression from an AAPI colleague, telling me that, to be taken seriously, I need to “look the leadership part” by cutting my hair short to avoid perpetuating Asian stereotypes of being exotic.

We’re all guilty of having bias – whether overt or unconscious. As a practitioner, I’m not immune. How do we change the paradigm and shift our thinking from exclusionary to inclusive practices? The only way to combat bias and inappropriate language is to have self-awareness, give others grace, be open to receiving feedback, learn and practice bias mitigation. We need to lean-in on allies, build a coalition to remove exclusive behavior and languages from the workplace, and offer authentic conversations among employees to increase the multicultural competency of others. At times, it can be painful when educating others. I ask myself, “Do I want a part in creating the world I live in? Or do I want others to do it for me?”

At Genesys, I lead employee and community engagement. I empower employees to speak up, be the solution, develop inclusive programming that shifts the Genesys work culture to become empathetic and equitable for all. I have the honor of working with our five Employee Resource Groups and scaling Regional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Councils across our global footprint to ensure all employees feel that they belong and can bring their authentic selves.