I can no longer stand by and ignore what is happening to me and my community. I know that as a business leader I have the opportunity to use my position to make changes. I firmly believe that the only way to fight anti-Asian hatred is to act.
My life has been littered with moments of racism, each one shaping my outlook and behavior. Because of this lunch incident, I stopped bringing Chinese food to school and begged my mom for the most American lunch I could think of: Lunchables. After the incident on the bus, I stopped driving it for over a year. And after the incident with my coworkers, I kept my head down in the workplace and ignored the subtle (and not so subtle) taunts.
I was so desperate to integrate into the world around me, I glossed over these cases and focused on assimilation. When I heard reports of racism against other Asian Americans, I always found a way to distance myself. I was a successful and well-off Asian-American woman with a promising career and a happy and stable personal life. I had so internalized the myth of the model minority – the idea that Asian American immigrants played by the rules of the American system for their own group through hard work and assimilation – that when I experienced racism, I changed my behavior instead of rejecting it. I was in denial because I didn’t want to see myself as a victim.
To create change, we must start from within by recognizing how our own experiences and internalized biases have clouded our way of seeing the world. The first step is to recognize any biases that we may have and to actively work to challenge and study them. For example, I used to prioritize assertiveness and self-confidence when hiring team leaders, who often turned to the white candidate in the room. I am now more aware that there are certain cultural differences that would make a candidate more reserved during an interview, and this does not necessarily reflect their potential leadership qualities. As hiring managers, we need to recognize that great leaders don’t fit one mold and that different cultures have a variety of values and traits that need to be considered.
Recognize the escalation of hatred against the AAPI community
As business leaders, we cannot be dismissive of the recent escalation of hatred against the AAPI community.
Create clear goals and strategies within your business
Business leaders need clear diversity goals and comprehensive strategies to achieve them. This includes regular and transparent reporting on diversity progress and continuous feedback for all employees. It also means actively seeking out candidates from under-represented communities and not relying on the standard pool of referrals “like us” when hiring. This means training the workforce in unconscious biases and putting in place controls and processes to identify them where they occur.
These are practices that we have implemented at AppDynamics, and we have a zero tolerance policy for racism. We are focused on creating an inclusive environment that allows everyone to sit at the table and be heard. It is the standard that the industry and other leaders should embrace.
Speak out, publicly and out loud
I am naturally a private person who does not openly share his feelings and opinions, at least not beyond my family, friends and closest colleagues. Expressing yourself is not something that comes easily. Now I feel obligated.
This is important to me because the initiative was very action-oriented; it went beyond simply mentioning the problem. We have collectively pledged to donate $ 10 million to organizations that tackle issues of discrimination against the AAPI community. Firm and personal commitments make the difference.
Create and foster links
Most importantly, the connections between people are essential in driving change. It is only when people come together to have honest conversations that we can truly empathize with each other. Diversity brings new ideas and perspectives that reflect the broadest spectrum of our company and the market. This inevitably leads to more creativity, innovation and commitment.
As leaders, what we cannot do is think that we can solve diversity problems with one solution or one program. Each individual has their own experiences of prejudice or hatred, so broad brushstrokes just don’t work.
We must ensure that diversity remains at the forefront of our mission by creating clear goals and strategies within our companies. Words are important, but it’s bold, decisive actions that will boost credibility and ultimately change.