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Claiming you support AAPI employees is not enough—you have to create space for them to be themselves

May 6, 2022, 7:16 PM UTC

Does representation matter? We’re about to find out as trailblazers take on important new roles at the White House and a new labor movement champion takes the Senate by storm. All that and a deep dive into the oppressive new world created by A.I., and the unlikely gig workers who have cracked the code for equity. Bonus: Who doesn’t love Aspen in July?

Happy Friday.

Let’s start with some stats to get your attention. According to research from SHRM, some 55% of Asian American respondents say that business has taken few concrete actions to address systemic racism, and 67% say that business has ignored the current problem of racism against their community.

So, what would action look like? 

As promised, I’ve been collecting great advice for anyone who wants to be a more inclusive leader in their organizations and a better ally to their AAPI colleagues.

Eric Toda, board member of Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH) and advisory council member of The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), wrote in to help unpack the findings from the second annual STAATUS Index, a national assessment of stereotypes and attitudes towards Asian Americans.

The findings were troubling.

“Our survey found that Asian Americans are among the least likely to feel that they belong and are accepted in the U.S,” he said via email. “Corporations and businesses have an immense responsibility to not only address this within the broader society but to ensure that they are looking at their own organizations, starting with supporting their internal AAPI communities. There isn’t one perfect way to go about this–you have to build trust with employees by showing continued progress and genuine commitment. This means offering sponsorship and bringing representation from all communities into rooms where decisions are made. It means creating space for dialogue and the right conditions for people to feel that they can share their experiences. These are just a few of the steps we need to take in business. Mentorship alone is not enough. Posting a ‘we stand with you’ note is not enough. We don’t need to just be taught and coached better. We need a better path forward through allyship and sponsorship.”

I asked Norman Chen, LAAUNCH co-founder and CEO of TAAF, what potential allies may not understand about the lived experiences of the Asian American colleagues.

“People may think COVID-19 or political rhetoric are the leading causes for the rise in anti-Asian American racism and violence,” he said via email. “While these are certainly factors, the deeper reality is that anti-Asian sentiment has existed in the U.S. for generations—we’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder and it’s sobering to reflect on how little progress we have made. The insights from this year’s [STAATUS] survey spotlight the long history of stereotypes (like the perpetual foreigner and model minority tropes) in the U.S. and the uncomfortable truth that more Americans question the loyalty of Asian Americans. It is unacceptable that in 2022, we are still grappling with this xenophobia and racism. We also recognize that the AAPI community is not alone in the challenges we face but that our experiences are shared with other marginalized communities in the U.S. today. Our country is facing a racial crisis, and allyship has never been more important. We must work together to find new solutions to the declining race relations, the growing inequality, and discrimination that affect us all.”

So, what can you do today?

I asked Christine del Rosario, PwC Trust Solutions Partner, and Pan Asian Community Inclusion Network Leader for help.

“Allies have to understand that identity can be dynamic, and it can also evolve over time,” she said via email. “The best thing to do is reach out to your Asian colleagues—bring the relationship and the discussion to an individual level and listen, learn more about them as a person and create space for them to share their stories and journey. This paves the way for a workplace in which all identities are acknowledged and supported.”

A listening posture helps people understand the complexity of individual AAPI identity, she says.

“Business leaders should support Asian colleagues at the intersection of work and identity—to meet the individual needs within the range of backgrounds and cultures that exist in our community, and the varying degrees that people may identify with those cultures. This, in addition to advocating for those colleagues when they’re not in the room, allows Asian employees to truly bring their whole selves to work and encourages an inclusive workplace.”

What are you doing that’s working? What behaviors or programs have helped you feel seen and supported at work? Let me know, subject line: AAPI ally

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On point

Meet the first-ever Black and out LGBTQ White House press secretary  Followers of politics likely already know Karine Jean-Pierre, a longtime political analyst and former chief of staff for then-candidate Kamala Harris. She’ll be replacing Jen Psaki, who has earned praise for her command of the issues and deft handling of the press. Psaki was visibly moved during the announcement. "I just want to take the opportunity to celebrate and congratulate my friend, my colleague, my partner in truth, Karine Jean-Pierre, the next White House press secretary," she said. "She will be the first Black woman, the first out LGBTQ+ person to serve in this role, which is amazing because representation matters and she is going to, she will give a voice to so many and allow and show so many what is truly possible when you work hard, and dream big and that matters, and ... we should celebrate that." She’s also an immigrant, too.

Christian Smalls was in the building  Worker- and union-rights advocates have been thrilled with the ascent of the charismatic founder and president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), who has been a clear voice for corporate accountability. Even his clothes speak volumes, says GQ. Yesterday, he was invited to a Senate Budget Committee meeting to weigh in as to whether the government should stop offering federal contracts to companies accused of violating labor standards. “We cannot allow Amazon or any other employer to receive taxpayer money if they engage in illegal union-busting behavior and deny workers’ rights,” Smalls said in his testimony. “We cannot provide federal contracts to these employers. We cannot allow them to receive taxpayer subsidies from our state and local governments.”

Also, a Black woman now leads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy  Alondra Nelson is the first-ever in its 45-year history, too. She brings an interesting perspective on the role: She’s a sociologist. And that, says Nancy Scola in this fascinating profile, is notable. “This job shaping the United States’ mammoth, multi-trillion-dollar science and technology complex has been most often held by physicists,” she writes. Instead, a person who understands human experience, who comes from a marginalized demographic, and deeply understands the possibility of technology is in charge of furthering the administration’s broad agenda to advance racial equity. “[T]hat’s the whole arc of my life, my career,” says Nelson.

Does A.I. advance colonialism? Scholars and journalists at MIT are aiming to make the case that the answer is yes. This three-part series, supported by the MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program and the Pulitzer Center, begins with a grand assertion: Artificial intelligence is creating a new world order. “While it would diminish the depth of past traumas to say the A.I. industry is repeating this violence [plunder and slavery] today, it is now using other, more insidious means to enrich the wealthy and powerful at the great expense of the poor.” But sometimes the poor fight back, as this story about Jakarta’s motorbike taxi drivers working for ride-share giant Gojek demonstrates. Gojek drivers are unique in that they had an already formed community, that continued after they left the informal economy for A.I.-based gig work. That gave them a unique advantage. “[D]rivers don’t just keep each other informed; they support one another and band together to bend Gojek’s system a little more toward their will. It’s opened up new channels of communication with the company and laid the groundwork for lasting policy change.”
Technology Review


Brainstorm Tech is back

Brainstorm Tech is live and coming back to Aspen! This year’s event takes place July 11-13, and we’re excited to announce our initial lineup of speakers. As usual, we’ll convene leaders from Fortune 500 companies, the top emerging entrepreneurs of the tech world, and the most important investors who finance them. Among the speakers are Terri Burns, Partner, GV (Google Ventures); Stewart Butterfield, Co-founder, and CEO, Slack; Uzoma Orchingwa, Chief Executive Officer, Ameelio; Jonathan Kanter, Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division, Department of Justice; April Koh, Chief Executive Officer, Spring Health; and Jen Rubio, Founder, President, and CEO, Away.

To apply to attend, please use this link.

Parting Words

"This opinion is dark. It is incredibly dangerous and it is not just about a woman's right to choose. It is about much more than that. Any American who says, 'Look, I'm not a woman, this doesn't affect me. I'm not Black, that doesn't affect me. I'm not gay, that doesn't affect me' — once you allow this kind of extreme power to take hold you have no idea who they will come for next.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade.

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