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Firms Should Do More to Help AAPI Employees Feel Valued, Respected

Companies are being urged to play a more proactive role in tackling workplace issues with their Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) employees as that population faces increasing violence in the U.S.

person 801823 640In one of the latest acts of violence, Atlanta police charged Robert Aaron Long, 21, with eight counts of murder and homicide last month, alleging that he killed eight people, including six Asian women, in what many have called a hate crime, The Washington Post reports.

Hate crimes reported against AAPIs in the U.S. shot up 150% last year even as overall hate crimes dropped, Korn Ferry reports. And while these acts of violence have occurred outside the workplace, diversity and inclusion experts say it is long past due for employers to take action on the challenges AAPI workers encounter at their companies.

From not locking down high-profile assignments and not asking for their opinions, to facing questions about their cultural background and being asked to repeat themselves as they don’t have an “American accent,” AAPIs face these and other hurdles at work, Korn Ferry notes. While employers may be powerless to stop violence committed against AAPIs outside the workplace, they can improve their corporate environments to help these employees feel more valued and respected, Korn Ferry chief diversity officer JT Saunders says. “Everyone should be able to learn, stretch, and grow.” 

AAPIs also have to contend with the negative consequences of being labeled the so-called model minority (intelligent, hardworking and quiet). This trope frustrates many AAPI employees with Jaya Pathak, an associate principal in Korn Ferry’s Assessment and Succession practice, noting that “because of that broad stereotype, we don’t get to have our voices heard.”

Michelle Kim, CEO of the diversity training provider Awaken, says employers should feel obligated to recognize the anti-AAPI violence happening outside their workplaces and the damage it may be causing to their employees, CNBC reports. Kim also concurs that employers are doing their AAPI employees a big disservice by subscribing to the model minority perception and how they may not see AAPIs as victims of racism.

“Part of the myth is that we stay quiet, we’re apolitical, that issues we’re experiencing are not valid or are not attached to our race,” Kim says. “There’s a continual investment in upholding this myth, and we need to question who benefits from it, because it’s not us or other marginalized people.”

Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry’s global diversity and inclusion strategist, points out that the model minority stereotype can hurt AAPIs’ careers as companies may deem it “fine to have them, but just in technical roles, not in a management role.” AAPIs comprise just 2.5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, just a bit higher than the number of Black CEOs. However, AAPIs make up 5.6% of the U.S. population.

“If you haven’t gone out to your employees to show your commitment and support to them, you need to do it today,” says Sunny Wang, consultant, diversity, equity and inclusion for Korn Ferry.

AAPI employees who may have been impacted by the violence against their communities outside the workplace are not getting sufficient support from their employers, advocates tell CNBC. Many employers also are failing to acknowledge their own anti-AAPI discrimination at work. “First and foremost, you should absolutely have these conversations with your employees,” says Kim Tran, a consultant and author. “I don’t think enough people have conversations about what’s happening in real life and how that impacts your ability to do your job.”

A year ago as the pandemic started to gain momentum, Society For Human Resource Management noted how AAPIs were being blamed for COVID-19 and how they were experiencing this bigotry in the workplace.

Melissa Peters and Alka Ramchandani-Raj of law firm Littler Mendelson say that “when [employers] hear things in the workplace that may seem to target those members of a specific protected class… [they must] take proper action, including reiterating and reviewing its anti-discrimination, harassment, bullying and retaliation policies and conducting investigations where needed.”

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