Each month, Seramount hosts a webinar for our Diversity Best Practices organizations centering on a heritage month, and partners are invited to share how they support their diverse employees. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and this month’s webinar was moderated by Managing Director of Seramount Advisory, Katie Mooney. She opened the webinar by sharing some facts and statistics related to Asian and Pacific Americans in order to establish context for our audience, such as the fact that the US Asian population will reach 45 million by 2060 and there is not a single group of Asians that makes up the majority of Asian Americans. She then introduced the opening keynote speaker, Jerry Won, a podcast producer and the founder/CEO of Just Like Media. He created his company three and a half years ago with the intent to share stories of Asian Americans that he wished he had heard when he was growing up. Because of the rise of Asian hate in 2020, there was an increase in the demand for Asian American stories. One of his goals was to open the world’s eyes to the sheer vastness that is Asians in America. When you search the Internet for Asian Americans, the images that appear are typically of lighter-skinned East Asians, but the reality is that Asia is made up of many countries, including India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, and the Philippines, adding to the vast demographics of Asians. He wanted to create a space for the entire Asian diaspora to share their stories in a world that has increased in violence against them. He found his niche and has since exploded on the scene, even being invited to speak with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Asian American Experience in the Workplace
Before Jerry started his own company, he worked in finance for 20 years and learned to navigate the corporate world as an Asian American man. Speaking from lived experience, Jerry wanted to demystify the model minority myth that often plagues Asian American employees. The model minority myth is a harmful stereotype that says “all Asian Americans are intelligent, hardworking, and diligent and therefore more academically, socially, and economically successful than other minorities.” Asian Americans are often more educated than the average American; however, within the large conglomerate of Asians in America, many were refugees who couldn’t afford higher education. This stereotype is untrue and harmful and causes unrealistic expectations from higher-ups in organizations. Many people believe in the model minority, and microaggressions continue to plague Asian American employees. It is okay to be curious about cultures of your coworkers, but be mindful of how insensitive certain questions and tones can come across.
ERGs in Practice
Lis Rakanovic from AbbVie and Boni Wen from Liberty Mutual both joined the call to talk about how their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) support Asian American employees and help educate others who have the willingness to be Asian American allies. First, Lis explained the work that the Asian Leadership Network (ALN) does to provide intentional inclusion for the Asian and Pacific American communities within AbbVie. She explained that the ALN has four key pillars:
- Community Impact
Within these pillars, the ALN celebrates and supports Asian American employees by celebrating different holidays such as Diwali and Lunar New Year, offering mentoring opportunities, using the AbbVie grant to help local groups, and including local Asian communities in the research that AbbVie does. In May, each week focuses on one of the four pillars and is marketed to the rest of the organization so that everyone can participate.
Then Boni Wen shared how Liberty Mutual’s ERG, Leading and Empowering Asian American Professionals (LEAAP), supports and empowers their employees. This ERG has three main goals connected to three main priorities:
- Engagement – Develop an inclusive culture
- Development – Advance career opportunities
- Partnership – Expand reach
This ERG, which was organized in 2015, initially celebrated Lunar New Year, Asian Pacific American Month, and Diwali. It was then expanded to include specific regions so that employees could support their specific communities. It has since been further expanded to start the 3L campaign in 2021: “Listen, Learn, Lift” to educate other employees about how to support Asian employees. Because of the work LEAAP has done, 86% of its members feel that DEI is encouraged at work and 30% of participants have experienced career advancement; 1,400 employees attended this year’s Lunar New Year event.
The work that these two ERGs do is necessary for a successful business. By allowing employees from different cultures to express themselves at work, productivity and innovation can improve tenfold. ERGs are a great way to get employees involved with a community that is important to them.
If you would like to know more about ERGs and the serious impact they can have on your business or how to become a Diversity Best Practices member to participate in webinars like this one, contact us.