January 24, 2023
It was a tragic beginning to what was supposed to be a peaceful and hopeful year.
On Saturday night, a man opened fire on revelers attending a Lunar New Year celebration at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., killing 11 people and injuring nine others. He died by suicide before he could be taken into custody.
While his motive is still unknown, the incident has further terrorized a community already suffering from rising anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment, fueled only partly by COVID.
“Asian-Americans are the one group in this country who has faced certain kinds of exclusion, expulsion, rejection on a consistent basis, on a policy basis, from the very, very top of our society throughout our history,” writer Jeff Yang told Fortune in 2021 after the deadly attack on an Atlanta-area spa business that targeted Asian women. This history of systemic exclusion has helped create the ugly petri dish in which violence against the broader AAPI community continues to fester. The community faces a tough duality—ignored and under-resourced as a model minority, yet perceived as a threat and perpetual outsiders. For Yang, a child of immigrants yearning for a better life, it’s an experience fraught with pain. “I want to believe in the American dream…Every time something like this happens, I am reminded that the dream is not for us.”
The impact of such violence against the AAPI community extends to the workplace.
Coqual, a global DEI think tank, has just published Strangers at Home: The Asian and Asian American Professional Experience, a new study that asks important questions about how the atmosphere of violence affects Asian American workers. (Click through for the responses disaggregated by ethnic origin.)
Of the Asian and Asian American professionals surveyed:
– 62% say they now feel less safe traveling for work
– 63% say the violence has negatively impacted their mental health
– 45% say the violence has negatively impacted their physical health
– 40% say the violence has negatively impacted their relationship with their managers
And only one in four say that their company is “very vocal” on the issue of violence against their community. That’s a big problem.
Asian Americans are already hamstrung by persistent stereotypes in the workplace that keep some stuck in poverty and prevent others from moving into leadership roles, even in fields where they’re overrepresented, like software. “Asian Americans experience lower inclusion and receive less support at work than their white peers,” a 2022 McKinsey report found. “Asian Americans perceive lower levels of fairness, feel less able to be themselves at work, and are less likely to report that their sponsors are effective at creating opportunities for them.”
Also last year, a study released by Bain offered similarly grim evidence: Only 16% of Asian men and 20% of Asian women said they felt fully included at work, ranking lowest of all demographic cohorts behind Black women, at 22%.
So, what does this mean for leaders, managers, and peers, particularly non-Asian allies? I will end with advice I’ve shared too many times over the years.
It is time to reach out to your Asian American colleagues and find out how they’re doing. Don’t ask them to join your committee or weigh in with ideas. Just check-in. And be sure to ask about their parents and elders in their lives.
In 2019, Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Chair, Diversity and Inclusiveness, published data that showed simply asking the question, “Hey, how are you doing?” can trigger important moments between colleagues, regardless of ethnicity and context. The report found that while more than 40% of workers surveyed reported feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace across all generations, genders, and ethnicities, about the same number reported feeling more included when people checked in on them.
When it comes to checking in, however, truly listening matters, regardless of how someone responds.
“In times of crisis, we become aware that for some folks, danger is ever present in their lives…and [violent events are] less exceptional than we would like to believe,” David Kyuman Kim, the executive director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University, told me after the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.
And that’s what we all need to heed. As tempting as it is to look away when something terrible happens, acknowledging it is the only way forward.
“We have a responsibility to draw our attention to co-workers and community members to ask a simple question: ‘How are you doing?’” he says. “And then listen, really listen, as if you don’t already know the answer.”
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.