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Even though I’m Asian American, I haven’t always prioritized Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Admittedly, I haven’t used the time to honor my culture and reflect on how it has shaped me as a person and a leader. But this year feels a lot different; and I believe it’s more important than ever to celebrate it.
Former President George H. W. Bush first proclaimed May as AAPI Heritage Month about 30 years ago. It gives us a moment in the calendar annually to recognize the rich contributions and influences of the AAPI community in the United States. This is a diverse and vibrant community that comprises roughly 20 million people — representing more than 30 different nationalities and ethnic groups.
This year, AAPI feels different because I’m processing the recent spike of violence against Asian Americans. Over the last few months, I’ve worried about my family’s safety and mine because of our race. It has caused me to face new fears that sadly many people of color are all too familiar with. It also has opened my eyes more widely to the reality that exists for many Asians Americans today in the workplace. Asian Americans are the least likely within the underrepresented group to be promoted to leaderships roles, and they have less income equity.
It’s vital that we call attention to the issues Asian Americans are facing today in the places where they live and work.
When I think about honoring our heritage, I think about the value that all our diverse perspectives bring to our culture here at Genesys. We have an opportunity to use those experiences to lift others so we all succeed. That’s why I’m happy to share a broader perspective and guidance from some of my colleagues that we can all use to help make the world a place of understanding and belonging for all.
Language — the way we speak to and about each other — has an enormous impact on how we understand the world around us. When we normalize words or sayings like “open the kimono,” we invite others to use harmful language colloquially in the workplace. Don’t minimize your identity to make those around you more comfortable. Speak up when you see or hear something is wrong — these experiences don’t end at you.
Being raised in the diverse culture of Hawaii, I never knew what it was like to be “different” until I moved to the Midwest a few decades ago. I decided quickly to help inform people’s natural curiosity and tackle situations directly. I once called out a manager, firmly but kindly, because he was pleasantly surprised that I had succeeded as a “token hire.” And during a job where I visited people’s homes, I often lightheartedly let them know my race so they could tell their neighbors I was coming. Instead of letting it hold me back, I chose to take control of the conversation with others and, with it, my experience.
I left India at age 18 for college in the US with no contacts or support. I learned English, worked several jobs, including librarian, dishwasher and campus tour guide. I didn’t give up — even when I struggled. I set goals for my career, built a strong support system of allies and kept marching forward. If you focus, follow your heart and have patience — good things will eventually come.
Respect and humility are highly valued in Asian cultures. However, it should never keep you from speaking up for yourself and taking risks. Don’t underestimate the importance of pushing boundaries respectfully. And you shouldn’t feel shy about eliciting help and support from your allies. Their trust and sponsorship when you’re taking risks can help you identify blind spots and continue to challenge you, which ultimately helps you grow.
As a fourth generation Japanese and Korean American growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, I often found myself caught between two worlds. Asian Americans are told what and who we should be, whether that’s through stereotypes; the model minority myth; or underrepresentation in media, film and corporate leadership positions. Embrace who you are and don’t succumb to these societal pressures. Each of us brings our own unique perspective and value, so find what drives you and be your authentic self.
At Genesys, our values are grounded in building a better organization where every voice is heard, valued, remembered and understood. This starts with empathy and listening. The more we try to understand others, the more we’ll find common ground and become better and stronger from it.
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