May is observed as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, when we recognize the significant contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders in our society. AAPI Heritage Month celebrates a variety of cultures, including all Asian continents and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island). (Asian Pacific American Heritage Month)
In this article, The WICT Network spoke with five chapter leaders about the importance of observing AAPI Heritage Month, how leaders can support multicultural staff, and ways to overcome possible challenges and stereotypes. Read on to learn how these leaders embrace their culture, support their peers, and more.
Keeping Traditions Alive
“In terms of being an Asian American, I want more people to know about AAPI Month,” says Christine Nguyen, Project Manager for Comcast and Director of Marketing for The WICT Network: Northern California Chapter.
Nguyen notes that she is a member of Comcast’s employee resource group called APA (Asian Pacific Americans) and helped the group plan events throughout the month. According to Nguyen, the first event was centered on the disturbing rise in AAPI hate crimes, and a speaker discussed how the country is doing in terms of countering anti-Asian rhetoric. *
“The second event is more about mental health,” Nguyen explains. “We’re going to be building mental health kits with My Sister’s House, which is an organization located in Sacramento that helps AAPI women who have been domestically abused.”
Kasey Ferrua, Regional Training Manager for Charter and Membership Chair for The WICT Network: Florida Chapter, looks forward to spending time with family and educating friends on her cultural background when celebrating her heritage.
“When we get to this month, we typically bring more people into the circle,” Ferrua says. “I have five children and my husband is American, and we try to invite our friends and their friends to join us for different things that celebrate our culture. Our favorite [thing to do] is bringing them to a traditional Hong Kong style dim sum.”
According to Ferrua, there’s a restaurant in Florida that has its staff push carts of food around the dining area, just as you would see in Hong Kong. This brings a unique experience to her friends who are learning about AAPI. “I grew up in Hong Kong and the United States, but that whole cultural experience is something that you don’t typically get in most Asian eateries,” Ferrua explains.
Why We Celebrate
Observing May as AAPI Heritage Month is relatively new. It was designated in 1992 under the George H.W. Bush administration (History.com) to shine a spotlight on the accomplishments and milestones achieved by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as celebrating the many different cultures that fall under the AAPI umbrella.
“AAPI Heritage Month has only been in existence for 30 years, which is pretty minimal [but] it creates an open dialogue so people remember to keep their culture alive,” says Vutny Un, Sr. Specialist, Marketing & Sales Ops for Comcast and Director of Board Strategy for The WICT Network: Northern California Chapter.
Un notes that now more than ever it’s important to understand the unique nature of AAPI cultures because of the incidents that caused a sharp uptick in violence against Asian Americans. “I think a lot of it is keeping everyone aware because it might not affect everyone at first.”
Jennilee Carrera, Product Manager for Comcast and Sponsorship Co-Director for The WICT Network: Greater Philadelphia Chapter, says that designating one month to AAPI shows that we as a country are aware and are trying, but more could be done.
“It’s kind of like Mother’s Day, it can’t just be a one-time a year thing. Yes, it’s great that companies create special AAPI logos, Zoom backgrounds, or events, but it should be something that you do more consistently throughout the year,” explains Carrera.
“So many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed to American society. For example, Kamala Harris, who became the first Asian American VP of the U.S. in 2021,” Nguyen says. “There are more stories to share about AAPI people with stories and traditions becoming more visible through media, entertainment and more. AAPI should be celebrated every day, as there’s so much to acknowledge.”
Representation Matters in Fighting Stereotypes
Having more AAPI representation in leadership is a necessity for Un, as she believes it will pave the way for future rising leaders.
“There’s a lot of stigma around AAPI individuals in the workplace, like ‘oh, they already work hard so they don’t need help, they aren’t ambitious or creative.’ This is a challenge that many of us face. Growing up I was always told that as long as you do a good job you will get noticed. We’re also taught to respect our elders, which also translates into the workplace by being able to respect the hierarchy as well as following directions, which has been deeply ingrained in us.”
Sujata Gosalia, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer for Cox Communications and Advisory Board Member/Executive Champion for The WICT Network: Southeast Chapter, believes that when companies focus on diversifying their talent, they better represent our society.
“Representation matters,” says Gosalia. “It matters because if we believe that no single group has the monopoly on talent, everyone needs to be represented to have the best and the brightest at the table.”
The Asian American community is one of the fastest growing populations in this country, according to Gosalia. “To represent those communities is essential as they are both our customers and employees.”
For Carrera, it’s important to know that companies are focusing on not just finding diverse talent, but also retaining diverse talent to help create a better working environment.
“It’s great to see women in leadership positions, especially when some of them look like me,” says Carrera. “You don’t always want to look at the leader board and see everyone looking and sounding like the same person. It’s not reflective of the country that we live in or the mentalities that we want to have [when it comes to making] the best decisions that resonate with your customers.”
Creating More Inclusivity Through Mentors & Sponsors
When looking ahead, Ferrua notes that an emphasis should be put on mentoring and sponsorship in order to increase the representation of AAPI women in leadership roles. “There are more senior leaders that sponsor someone and pave the way for newer and younger leaders. I think mentoring will get you to a certain level, but when you get there, you need someone to sponsor you,” explains Ferrua.
For Gosalia, companies have been making efforts to increase AAPI diversity in the workplace by making it a focus. “A wonderful thing that’s happened in our industry is that inclusion is becoming a business imperative. I think a lot of companies, particularly in the last couple of years, are talking the talk and walking the walk around policies, practices and culture in this area.”
*Members can watch The WICT Network webinar #StopAsianHate, part of the Beyond the Hashtag series, recorded in May 2021.