Tag Archive for: inclusion

“Our organization wants to celebrate [X] Heritage/History Month, but we are not sure how.”

This has been an increasingly common concern we hear from clients.

Heritage month celebrations in the United States were established by congressional proclamations during the 20th century. Now, they are celebrated throughout the year, commemorating the histories and contributions of historically marginalized communities to this country.

Celebrating heritage months as an organization can be tricky. Leaders are often afraid to come across as inauthentic or opportunistic and worry about causing more harm than good by missing the mark in celebrating these heritage months. As a result, many organizations and leaders, with the best of intentions, end up doing nothing at all.

As with any other form of DE&I work, there are no easy solutions or shortcuts. Successful DE&I initiatives require commitment and hard work. However, when done right, heritage month celebrations can help build trust with those people who matter most to your organization. Moreover, when the recognition and celebration of non-dominant identities becomes a natural part of an organization’s culture, that organization will become more inclusive and employees will become more engaged in their work.

In thinking about celebrating heritage months at your organization, there is a simple, yet powerful mindset that can help leaders and organizations approach this challenge: Meet the expectations of those people who matter most to you.

I will unpack what this means by using this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month as an example and offer practical advice for how you can celebrate heritage months the right way in your organization.

Shifting Societal Expectations: A Historical Problem Brought to the Forefront

At Logos Consulting Group, we teach clients that trust is the natural consequence of promises fulfilled, expectations met, and values lived. When it comes any form of DE&I work, having a current, up-to-date understanding of societal expectations is essential in thinking about meeting stakeholder expectations.

For the AAPI community, the rise of anti-Asian hatred since the beginning of Covid-19 has continued into 2022. According to the NYPD Hate Crimes Dashboard, 158 incidents of hate crimes against Asians were reported between March 2020 and December 2021. Hate crimes against Asians increased so much so that the New York Police Department created an Asian Hate Crime Task Force.

However, nothing we are seeing today is new. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have suffered from systemic racism and oppression throughout the history of the United States. People from India were brought into colonial Virginia in the early 1620s as servants and slaves. The 1871 the Chinese Massacre resulted in 10% of Los Angeles’s Chinese American population being killed. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prohibited all Chinese immigration to the US. The 1924 Immigration Act was an explicit race-based immigration ban against Asians. The Japanese internment between 1942-1946 resulted in 120,000 people of Japanese descent being incarcerated in US concentration camps. And these are just a few examples of this systemic anti-Asian racism and oppression from US history.

What makes matters worse for the AAPI community is the “model minority” myth, a perception of universal acceptance and success of AAPI people who bear few traumatic racial struggles. As a result, their plight is often absent from racial justice discussions, and their suffering and contributions are often missed or glossed over in textbooks.

This systemic racism and erasure have set the tone for the AAPI community in the US for generations. Many Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have walked around in American society with their heads down, mouths shut, and a persistent sense of otherness and inferiority. The rise of anti-Asian hate has finally, for good or for bad, shed a light on the elephant in the room.

Since the Atlanta shooting in March 2021, we’ve witnessed an outcry against Anti-Asian hate from across the country. For the first time in American history, advocacy for AAPI racial justice has been placed at the forefront of social discourse. Therefore, an expectation has been built in the AAPI community and with their allies – an expectation that their employers, partners, companies, and favorite brands will speak out and stand in solidarity with the AAPI community.

Opportunities and Risks

Given this shift of societal expectations, the 2022 AAPI Heritage Month becomes a critical moment. If organizations fail to meet those new expectations of the AAPI community and its allies, it will lead to a loss of trust among those who matter. However, if organizations succeed in meeting these new societal expectations, the trust and confidence of those who matter most will be maintained or even strengthened.

We can make this argument for all other heritage or history months. In this moment when ideologies in the US have become deeply polarized and when many ethnic cultures have been politicized and weaponized, it takes so much energy for people outside the dominant culture to check their identity at the door when they come to work.

Celebrating heritage months opens a door for necessary learning and honest conversation. It makes people in historically marginalized groups feel like they can be heard and that it is safe to bring their whole self to work.

If we don’t intentionally include, we will unintentionally exclude. Once an inclusive culture is in place, all of the positive benefits of an inclusive culture follow, such as increases in productivity, morale, creativity, collaboration, and so on.

Dos and Don’ts for Heritage Months

Given these new societal expectations, below is some practical advice to help you think about how your organization can celebrate heritage months:

  1. Show you care

In thinking about meeting stakeholder expectations, one common expectation is that all stakeholders expect you to care.

The first thing organizations and leaders can do to show they care is to utilize heritage months to facilitate learning about the history and culture of the specific community being celebrated. For example, an organization can host a screening of a relevant documentary or organize a book club or common read of a book the subject.

The second way organizations can show they care is to build understanding and advocate for solidarity, during heritage months and beyond. Using the AAPI Heritage Month as an example, you can host town hall meetings or facilitated conversations and invite AAPI employees to share their experiences and stories. As leaders, you can also personally reach out to your AAPI team members to offer support or appreciation of their contribution to the team.

  1. Address violence and oppression, while celebrating progress

Heritage months are to be celebrated – recognizing each community’s contribution to this country’s history and rejoicing in the richness and uniqueness of each cultural identity. However, we cannot celebrate cultural differences without addressing ongoing violence and oppression. Heritage months are also a reminder that we still have work to do to ensure justice and equity for all people in the US.

One way to address ongoing violence and oppression is by simply acknowledging the ongoing challenges faced by the group and announcing and/or reminding people of what action the organization is taking to address these challenges and ensure equity within and beyond the organization. For example, AAPI Heritage Month can be a great time to launch an AAPI employee resource group (ERG) or a mentorship program that focuses on sponsoring AAPI employees.

  1. Be consistent

As I noted before, all DE&I work takes commitment. Leaders and organizations need to be disciplined and consistent in celebrating all people of all identities throughout the year. Once you start celebrating heritage months, a new expectation will be formed among those who matter to you. For example, if you publicly acknowledge AAPI Heritage Month this year, the Indigenous people within your organization or among your customer base will expect you to acknowledge Native American Heritage Month in November as well.

Consistency also means that even when heritage months are over, your commitment to those communities should remain until the celebration of difference becomes a natural part of the organization’s culture.

  1. Avoid window-dressing.

Window-dressing is best understood as performative advocacy that does not pair with tangible action or the delivery of promises made. While making big promises and statements may feel right in the short-term, in the long run window-dressing further alienates marginalized groups and cultivates a toxic culture. Every statement or newsletter you push out makes implicit promises to those who matter to you. If you feel pressured to make a statement on a social issue without being prepared to follow through with real action, you are not ready to make that statement (yet).

Concluding Thoughts

The American identity was shaped collectively by a variety of races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and many other nuanced identity factors. And this is what makes the United States unique.

In the United States, we can hold pride in our uniqueness and in our diversity, while also holding and acknowledging the atrocities and injustice that are also core to this nation’s history.

This duality is also true for heritage months – heritage months come with opportunities and risks, enormous responsibility and tremendous potential. If done right, heritage months can help to lift the sense of otherness and alienation among marginalized groups and foster an inclusive culture in your organization.

In my first few years after coming to the United States from China, I was known and addressed by two names.

The first was my own name, Yinnan, given to me by my parents. The other was Iris, a name I gave myself for the ease of others in the United States – Starbucks staff, professors and classmates in graduate school, and other acquaintances.

How I introduced myself largely determined how I showed up in that space. Iris could superficially pass as an “American,” but Yinnan was an alien in this land. I reserved my true name only for those who I wanted to forge a genuine relationship with.

I juggled between the two identities for a long time. The process was mentally exhausting, but manageable. Until I faced a choice.

I was working at a three-person production shop and had been charged with reaching out to filmmakers on behalf of a film screening project. My work email was created under Yinnan, but I called myself Iris in the emails. I realized that the discrepancy might confuse people, especially if it was our first time connecting. It became clear that it was best for me to use only one name.

The question was, which one?

‘Yinnan’ is authentic to my identity. But ‘Iris’ makes cross-cultural experiences and my career development much easier to manage. I consulted with my boss at that time, and he responded without thinking, “Why don’t you keep your Chinese name? We have one American, one Australian, and one Chinese at the firm. We’re literally from all over the world. Isn’t that cool?”

I was shocked by that answer. It had never occurred to me that being anything other than American could be “cool.” Since then, I have strictly used my real name.

It was only years later that I was able to decipher what that moment truly meant to me. It cracked open the shell I built around myself and gave me permission to welcome and show up as the person I truly am. My former boss may have forgotten about that interaction years ago, but I remember and will forever be grateful for it.

That is an example of a micro-affirmation and how powerful micro-affirmations can be.

Micro-affirmations are small positive messages that explicitly recognize and validate an individual and their identity. Researcher Mary Rowe, who studies micro-messages, described micro-affirmations as, “tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion, and caring and graceful acts of listening.”

The complexity and enormity of what it takes to thoughtfully engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) work can be overwhelming, even for the most devoted leaders and organizations taking on this work. Micro-affirmations can be a starting place for those seeking to create a more inclusive workplace.

Micro-affirmations are those expressions of empathy and appreciation, that little extra effort taken to understand and respect someone who may be different from you. While micro-affirmations matter to everyone, they are especially significant for groups and individuals who traditionally have been excluded or underrepresented. Micro-affirmations can affirm their value, something that has oftentimes been neglected or diminished. Like microaggressions, micro-affirmations can have a disproportionately large impact on an individual’s self-image and self-esteem.

Committing to these small daily acts of inclusion can send a powerful message throughout your organization. Micro-affirmations can be as simple as giving your undivided attention to someone speaking, being genuinely curious about and inviting other people to share their opinions, or asking a person to teach you how to pronounce their name if you’re not sure about the pronunciation.

When coming from leaders, micro-affirmations can also model inclusive behavior and explicitly communicate expectations for your team. For example, if a male employee has a tendency of interrupting his female colleagues in meetings, you can intervene when you witness this behavior and say, “I’m sorry, I want to hear what she has to say first.”

The rule of thumb within micro-affirmations is to be genuine. Inauthentic micro-affirmations can risk tipping over into microaggressions.

While small in comparison to other grandiose DE&I efforts, micro-affirmations can be a force multiplier in cultivating, modeling, and maintaining an inclusive workplace for leaders and organizations.

So, if you are wondering what you can do to advance DE&I in your organization or to simply to be a better ally to marginalized communities, consider starting with micro-affirmations.

On August 5, 2021, Logos Fellow Yinnan Shen was quoted in Massage Magazine on how DE&I practices improve businesses.

The article outlines the ways that the killing of George Floyd and the social unrest and political events that followed the tragedy have changed expectations around companies’ DE&I efforts and commitment.

Shen, who teaches a course on Elevating Multicultural Competence at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering, recommends that companies perform a “culture check” to check to see if their diversity and inclusion goals are being met.

“No matter what kind of diversity you want to promote, it is always worthy to do a culture check first,” she said. “When it comes to generational diversity [for example], ask whether the culture inherently only attracts people of a certain age range. If the answer is yes, then you have a culture problem. And you won’t be able to see any changes in diversity until you change the culture.”

Read the full article here.

On June 28, 2021, Logos Fellow Yinnan Shen quoted in an InHerSight article on cultivating an inclusive and healthy office environment for all employees. The article offers insights and tips from experts on what it takes to create an inclusive, respectful culture in the workplace.

 

According to Shen, who teaches a course on Elevating Multicultural Competence at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering, employers need be intentional about hiring and prioritizing diversity and inclusion in upper management, as culture is created from the top down.

 

“Is the leadership heterogeneous? Are diverse voices and perspectives included in planning processes? If not, a good starting point is to make sure that you have diverse voices in the room where decisions are made,” she explains.

 

Shen further noted that to create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace culture, companies need to go beyond performative measures and prioritize inclusion rather than diversity.

 

“Yes, it’s good to have women and people of color sitting as part of your company,” says Shen. “But it’s more important to truly respect and value their input and understand why their presence is necessary. Diversity doesn’t drive innovation or performance; inclusion does.”

 

Read the full article here.

On April 13, 2021, Logos Fellow Yinnan Shen was interviewed by Amine Rahal at Thrive Global on the difficulties she has dealt with as an Asian woman in corporate America.

When asked about unique challenges she has faced, Shen described the difficulties of having a non-American name, dealing with stereotypes at work as an Asian woman, and professionally conducting herself while maintaining a low profile to avoid attention.

“Because of the model minority myth, we Asian Americans are extra pressured to prove our worthiness in the workplace. We’re constantly in the mindset that respect to us is earned not given. We must not let people down, we must be diligent and perform well, otherwise we don’t deserve to be part of America,” she explained. “Additionally, because of the persistent sense of otherness we feel in this country, we’re accustomed to just be quiet and work hard. “If I can just blend into the mass, maybe no one would notice that I’m different, maybe I would belong.”

She also described how the rise in anti-Asian hate creates new challenges for Asians and Asian Americans, and what is required to lessen or overcome acts of discrimination Asians and Asian Americans face.

“Culture change will be the key, whether for an organization or for a country as a whole,” Shen explained. “Leaders have a responsibility to model and reward the behaviors they hope to see more. They also have the responsibility to create an inclusive environment, where resources are equally distributed, and where all people are treated with respect and valued as who they are. Until an inclusive culture is in place, any progress in overcoming acts of discrimination will be limited.”

She closed her interview with a message for how non-Asian allies can support Asians and Asian Americans facing discrimination and harassment.

“We must stand in solidarity with one another – with the Asian community, with the black community, with the Latino community, with the indigenous community, with the LGBTQIA community, and all other marginalized groups,” said Shen. “When all those who face oppression and our allies stand together, when we fight for one another instead of against each other, when we lift up each other’s struggles rather than tear down and compare our struggles, when we recognize that, as Emma Lazarus said, “until we are all free none of us is free,” we have a chance to make the dream of a better, freer, more just country a reality.”

Read the full article here.

On April 6, 2021, Logos Fellow Yinnan Shen was quoted in Zengler News on why corporations should have a diverse employee pool. Shen teaches a course on Elevating Multicultural Competence at the Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering.

 

According to Shen, studies show a direct and positive correlation between diversity and other variables such as financial performance, employee morale, and productivity.

 

“The reason we want people of different gender, race, and age at the table is because of their unique experiences,” Shen explained. 

 

Read the full article here.

On March 30, 2021, Logos Fellow Yinnan Shen was quoted in a Forbes article on the new approaches to DE&I that companies are taking. The article outlines the current state of diversity and inventories the way that current DE&I approaches fail to achieve sustained diversity and inclusion.

Shen, who teaches a course on Elevating Multicultural Competency in the Professional Development and Leadership program at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, made the case for why diversity matters to corporations.

“The reason we want people of different gender, race, and age at the table is because their unique experiences,” Shen explained.

Read the full article here.