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Leon Kaye headshot

Across the U.S., Companies Still Overlook the AAPI Community

Corporate messages about standing with the AAPI community aren’t matched by commitments to ensure all employees feel welcomed and included in the workplace.
By Leon Kaye
AAPI Community

With May ushering in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, there has been no shortage of commemorations and reminders from companies that they “stand with” the AAPI community.

But based on data that has gauged how Asian Americans across the U.S. feel about their roles in the workplace, it has become clear that messages about standing with people with AAPI heritage aren’t necessarily resulting in organizations actually doing enough to stand up for these employees to ensure they feel welcomed and included.

Bottom line: The challenges many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders feel about assimilation and acceptance across much of the country is magnified on the shop floor and in the office.

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Take a recent Bain & Co. report which, among other studies, confirms that a more inclusive environment can improve a company’s performance while lending a hand to other efforts such as recruitment and retention. But dig a little deeper into Bain’s research, and one will find that among various demographic groups, Asian men (16 percent) and Asian women (20 percent) overall feel less included in the workplace compared to the rest of the population.

To be clear, the AAPI community is hardly a monolith, as beyond many ethnicities, the wider community also experiences a wide range of differences in political leanings, socioeconomic statuses and how closely individuals actually identify with their culture. Nevertheless, it is clear that management needs to do more to order to make all employees feel as if they have a stake, and therefore a future, within any organization. “The facts on the ground, as opposed to widespread assumptions and stereotypes, demonstrate clearly that U.S. companies need to start paying attention to inclusion and belonging for Asian American employees,” wrote Karthik Venkataraman and Pam Yee, Bain partners who are based in the company’s Washington, D.C. office.

Another dataset to consider: While about 9 percent of the U.S. workforce identifies as part of the AAPI community (13 percent when evaluating white-collar jobs), less than 6 percent of senior executives at America’s largest companies are Asian American — suggesting that many AAPI employees frequently find themselves overlooked come promotion time.

A SHRM study from last summer found that many Asian Americans witness a lack of opportunity to advance within their organizations. Completed a few months after the March 2021 murders of six Asian women in Atlanta, SHRM’s survey found that about two-thirds of Asian Americans said that the business community had ignored racism against the APPI community; 58 percent of them said racism experienced on the job damaged any relationship they had with their employer; and 55 percent believed business at large had done very little to take any action against systemic racism.

Clearly, leadership is lacking across corporate America when it comes to supporting the AAPI community. And while we’re on the topic of leadership, conventional thinking about what makes a “good leader” ranks among the problems why companies often struggle to build a more accepting and inclusive work culture.

“Many companies are trying to expand the idea of what skills and characteristics make a good manager, though they are still fighting against a long-ingrained belief that traits such as aggression and competitiveness, adjectives typically associated with alpha males, are necessary for good leaders,” Theresa Agovino wrote last summer for SHRM. “All minority groups would benefit from broader definitions that would allow for more respect of cultural differences.”

Image credit: PxHere

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye