How to Support Asian Employees

There’s no doubt that workplaces are becoming more inclusive, and employers are doubling down on their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). With recent hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) dominating headlines and traumatizing communities, you might be wondering how you can support Asian employees and show AAPI candidates that your company is a good place to work.

Pledging financial support for anti-racism efforts is a good start, but looking inward to address AAPI inequities and build inclusiveness and belonging within company borders are needed more than ever. Action is what drives change for marginalized groups, and business leaders can find ways to address racism in the workplace, and support and stand with AAPI employees.

What AAPI Employees are Experiencing

COVID-19 has unmasked and accelerated negative Asian American sentiment and exposed deep-seated biases and microaggressions that have long gone unnoticed. Anti-Asian racism has skyrocketed by 150 percent in 2020 and has not abated. According to a report from StopAAPIHate, 4.5 percent of the reported incidents are workplace discrimination.

“The more concerning number is that 35.4 percent of hate incidents occur at businesses, including several reports of Asian customers being refused service or harassed,” says Shalene Gupta, a research associate at Harvard Business School and co-author of The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, and Regain It.

This all points to a great need for businesses to do a better job of creating safe and inclusive workplaces that are anti-racist, says Gupta. “It is hard to imagine a business where employees are harassing Asian customers is also a workplace that’s safe for Asian employees,” she says.

Ways to Support Asian Employees

Monster spoke to experts to learn ways business owners and colleagues can support Asian employees.

Acknowledge Bias 

In the workplace, Asians are often confronted by long-standing biases and invisible barriers that impede their career progression. Although Asians tend to be more highly educated and have the highest median income than any other racial group, Asians face significant discrimination while getting hired, are the least likely to be promoted, and had the highest rate of unemployment during the pandemic.

Asian Americans are often stereotyped as the model minority—successful, hard-working, self-effacing—and “when you add in different cultural values such as modesty and a respect for authority, this can create a stereotype that Asian Americans aren’t a good fit for leadership positions,” Gupta says.

They are often employees, but seldom CEOs. According to a Silicon Valley diversity report, Asian-Americans make up 12 percent of the workforce, yet fewer than 19 percent become managers and less than 14 percent are executives.

Eliminate Bias

Managers need to be aware of these biases and how they can impact the decisions they make about who gets promoted. Bias training and cultural competence education can make leaders more aware of how these stereotypes impact their decision-making, says Gupta. “They also need to take a hard look at how they define success in a role and what personality traits they are screening for when they hire.”

Include AAPI in DEI Efforts

Asian Americans often grapple with the struggle of being the invisible minority because of the model minority myth so actively including and engaging Asian Americans in your DEI efforts will allow workers to feel respected, safe, and valued, says Sharon Kwon, a psychotherapist for Asian American, BIPOC, and immigrant populations struggling with racial trauma and identity.

“Asian Americans are not only fighting for a seat at the table, but we are also fighting for a seat at the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion table as well,” Kwon says. “After Atlanta (shootings), my colleagues and I received an influx of emails requesting Asian American speakers to present at DEI initiatives for schools, non-profits, companies, and government agencies. While it has been refreshing and validating to be included in the discussion about anti-racism in America, we still have a long way to go.”

Condemn Racism

Getting there requires leaders to take a strong stance on supporting the AAPI community and condemning racism. Kwon advises addressing and acknowledging anti-Asian racism as soon as an incident occurs—even if this is through a company-wide email—because your Asian employees will feel seen and heard.

Reach out to Asian American employees and colleagues during difficult times. “After Atlanta, my white supervisor at my non-profit mental health agency, called me to acknowledge this tragic event and how this may be impacting my mood and concentration. I felt respected as a human being, valued as an employee, and that my work environment is a safe space,” says Kwon.

Provide Resources and Support

Let all team members know the resources that exist and that you’re available to talk, Gupta says. That way those who want and need support can come to you to open up and no one gets singled out based on their race.

Make yourself available all the time—Asians are targeted by harmful discrimination every day. “Support can come in many forms, whether it’s letting the team know that your door is open, allowing people to take time off to process their feelings, or simply giving them their space,” says Gupta.

Leaders should not assume that racism isn’t happening just because their employees aren’t talking about it. “An HR professional told me her (mostly white) senior management didn’t want to create programming for Asian employees because they thought their employees were content. There’s a difference between being silent and being content,” Gupta adds.

Create a Space for Discussion

Gupta says that best practices include creating AAPI-specific programming to discuss what’s going on and solve problems in the community. Creating a voluntary employee forum to discuss racial microaggressions and hate incidents can help Asian American employees feel supported and like their company is committed to wiping out racial disparities. Having a safe place to voice concerns and be heard creates psychological safety and loyalty.

Commit to Change

Invest in equitable recruiting, hiring, and inclusion. Gupta recommends improving hiring practices, ensuring that your processes for promotion are fair, and making you have representation in senior management. That may mean cultural sensitivity training is in order.

Continue to Support Racial Literacy

Every company is responsible for doing its part to support Asian employees, and all employees.  Prioritizing inclusion and respect requires targeted focus, appropriate resources, and senior-level support. Our Diversity & Inclusion Hiring Guide has advice for companies of all sizes.