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REVEALED: SECRETS TO A MORE WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT FOR AAPI EMPLOYEES and STUDENTS

Sue O'Halloran Race Equity Speaker and Story Artist

4 min read

May 23

20

2




I mentioned in my last post that I work in corporate America and this country's School Districts. I've seen talented Asian Americans passed over because others thought they weren't management material or "right" for top administrative positions. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of stereotypes out there, but this is one that each of us can address immediately. When we see AAPI individuals as the worker bees, rarely the leaders, we lose a whole host of opportunities to benefit from people's talent and knowledge.


I became aware of this micro-inequity long before I became a Diversity and inclusion Consultant. In my twenties, I was in a management training group where, each week, we were to stand up and report what we had accomplished. One day after our meeting, I was talking to my friend, Katsumi. He said he hated—I mean he hated—that part of our meeting. We got talking about our backgrounds.


I told him I was raised with the script best summed up in the proverb: "The squeaking wheel gets the grease." It means that you'll get what you need if you speak up. Although I get nervous beforehand, as anyone does, I feel comfortable standing in front of groups, giving talks, or telling stories.


Katsumi, who had lived in Japan until he was 15, reflected that he was raised with this Japanese saying, "The quacking duck gets shot." Do you see what an extremely different script that is from "The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease"?


We lived out the scripts our cultural backgrounds had handed us. I had a "speak up" script, and Katsumi had a "shush up" script. So, what happens when the squeaking wheel and the quacking duck meet in the classroom or the workplace?


If the squeaking wheel and the quacking duck are unaware that their perspectives are just one way to approach life, they can easily judge the other. Most of us don't just think our way is merely good; we believe it's right, the best way, and the only way, and that there is something "wrong" with anyone who thinks differently from us.


Since the majority culture in the U.S. operates on a "speak up" script, Katsumi was stymied in his career for several years. Luckily, a company that appreciated his quieter, thoughtful ways recruited him. Eventually, others recognized his gifted leadership, and he spent most of his career as a Vice President of that large company. 


Of course, many Asian American/Pacific Islander students and co-workers are highly extroverted. I am fortunate to spend time with Asian American storytellers who regularly get up in front of thousands of people to perform their stories. However, almost every one of them talks about feeling that they are pushing against a cultural norm by enjoying the attention they receive.

 

We want our Asian American/Pacific Islander students and colleagues to feel seen and heard. How do we fight harmful AAPI stereotypes that can hamper their opportunities for success?


First, we can realize there are many ways to lead. In addition, we can draw out more introverted individuals by asking open-ended questions, not yes/no questions. We can facilitate discussions so that interruptions are not allowed. Also, we can mix up meetings with partner shares and small group work.


Only some people feel comfortable speaking in front of the whole group. However, we still want to hear everyone's suggestions and opinions. Give people less public ways to speak their minds, such as writing their thoughts. Allow people time to gather or write their ideas before you ask them to speak up in front of others or read people's recommendations anonymously. A debate-type discussion is difficult for those whose central family or cultural value is to avoid confrontation. We can learn much from those whose families and cultures prize harmony and consensus over competition.


Writing private notes can also work for compliments. They can feel pride and encouragement without feeling conflicted about being called out in front of the group. Also, we need to understand that in some cultures, asking questions can be paramount to losing face or challenging authority. Mix it up: Provide times when students or co-workers anonymously write questions and then read their questions out loud without any names attached.


Productive, amicable relationships are always about getting to know people as individuals and as part of their cultures. Everyone is part of the groups to which they belong and unique within those groups.


One more positive thing you can do immediately is learn about people's countries of origin and how they want to identify themselves. Most people will want to be known as Japanese American, Pakistani American, Fijian American, and so on rather than broadly Asian American or Pacific Islander.


When you get to know the fullness and complexity of ethnic backgrounds and people as individuals, you are more likely to avoid common mistakes. 


 

* If you know someone who is part of an organization that wants to focus on equity issues, would you send this article to them or tell them about O’Halloran Diversity Productions? They can reach me at susan@susanohalloran.com and we will set up a short conversation to see if I can be of help to them. Thanks in advance!

 

You may reprint this article with proper credit: Written by Sue O’Halloran at www.SusanOHalloran.com



Sue O'Halloran Race Equity Speaker and Story Artist

4 min read

May 23

20

2

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