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How to Support Your Asian American and Pacific Islander Employees

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, also known as AAPI Heritage Month, which began as a ten-day celebration of AAPI communities after New York representative Frank Horton introduced House Joint Resolution 1007 in 1978. As a result, President Jimmy Carter signed the law designating May 1 to 10 as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. The Week was celebrated for years until the 1990s, when Congress expanded it to become Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and President George H.W. Bush made its official proclamation. The month was then renamed to AAPI Heritage Month in 2009. 

AAPI Heritage Month is an excellent time for organizations to demonstrate their dedication to these communities and begin initiatives that support Asian American employees all year round. And research shows these communities need this support: According to a survey conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value in conjunction with Oxford Economics, 80 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander workers have experienced racially- and ethnicity-motivated discrimination on the job, while only 40 percent report feeling supported in their workplaces. Considering there are 11 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the workforce today, that's a lot of people who need to be uplifted at work—this month and beyond.

5 Ways to Support Asian American and Pacific Islander Employees

Supporting individuals who are Asian American and Pacific Islander requires that companies make a strong commitment to these workers in various ways. The following are five ways you can support your Asian American and Pacific Islander employees through commitment to their communities.

1. Strong Commitment From Leadership

Creating an environment that truly supports AAPI employees starts from the top. As with any other diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative your company adopts, you need to have a buy-in from your leadership for it to take root in the organization. Leaders not only need to invest money in programs to uplift Asian American and Pacific Islander employees, they also should lead by example—showing their workforce how to learn more about these communities, and demonstrate a genuine commitment to making the work environment more inclusive for them.

2. Commitment to Inclusive Policies and Practices

Policies and practices are the cornerstone of any D&I initiative, so when working to support AAPI employees, it's important to examine your company’s policies and practices to determine whether or not these underrepresented communities are being treated fairly. Start by reviewing hiring practices to ensure that you’re making a concerted effort to increase the representation of AAPI employees in your workforce. Are you partnering with professional and student organizations that cater to these communities? Are you attending events where these groups congregate? Are you posting opportunities on job boards designed for these workers? These are great places to start in updating your hiring practices to attract more Asian American and Pacific Islander employees.

In addition, your company needs to have policies that support AAPI communities and make them feel safe in the workplace. Considering how much discrimination AAPI communities face, your organization must take steps to ensure they’re protected. If your company doesn't already have strict anti-discrimination policies in place, it's time to review what you're doing and create zero-tolerance rules, as well as procedures for enforcement when they’re broken. 

3. Commitment to Open Communication

Creating a workplace that values honest discourse can help Asian American and Pacific Islander employees and allies alike, so encourage open communication with and between AAPI employees in your company. To learn more about their experience, create channels of communication that allow Asian American and Pacific Islander workers to express themselves and let you know what your workplace can do to help them succeed. Similarly, creating employee resource groups for Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals allows workers to get together and discuss their concerns about the workplace in a safe environment. This is an additional channel that leadership can tap into, since executives can attend ERG meetings to find out how the company can provide more support for these communities.

4. Commitment to Education

Like communication, education can benefit everyone at your company. To help employees learn more about their Asian American and Pacific Islander colleagues, while giving these workers a voice, your company can organize education programs that allow everyone to hear stories about the experience of different AAPI communities. Host programs that teach employees about the history and customs of people from different AAPI backgrounds, and provide information about the discrimination Asian American and Pacific Islander communities face—such as the treatment they’ve endured since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the effects the “model minority” stereotype has on their lives and careers.

5. Commitment to Mentorship

According to the Ascend Foundation, which is a Pan-Asian research organization, although people of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent make up 13 percent of the workforce in the United States, they only make up 6 percent of executive positions. One way to increase the amount of AAPI leaders at your organization is to provide mentorship programs that help them advance. Mentorship supports employees’ professional development and demonstrates a pathway for them to advance. This is especially true if you have Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals in leadership positions, who can show employees that people from their backgrounds are able to succeed at your company.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is an excellent time to celebrate your AAPI workforce, as well as an opportunity to learn more about these communities. It’s also a good time to make your workplace more inclusive for your Asian American and Pacific Islander employees and these tips can be incorporated into your DEI work to accomplish this.

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