This May, Edelman’s Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander (AAPI) employee network, Boundless, is leading Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) programming with the theme Waves of Change. This theme emphasizes the cultural shifts taking place within and across AAPI communities in the U.S. and highlights the new generation of visionaries who are breaking down barriers and reclaiming their identities.  

To introduce Waves of Change, Boundless led a first-of-its-kind national panel event that centered four junior-level panelists to share their perceptions on the current state of the AAPI employee experience.  

Each panelist shared their thoughts on what it means to be an AAPI employee today and words like “advocacy,” “agency,” “generational cycle,” and “code switching” framed the important topics of double consciousness, the model minority myth, the AAPI glass ceiling, and Xenophobia. The panel event also featured Edelman’s work with Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH) and The Asian American Foundation (TAAF)—Pro Bono work through Edelman’s Bay Area teams—to share insights from their second STAATUS Index, which stands for Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the U.S. This comprehensive, annual assessment of attitudes and stereotypes towards Asian Americans helped to reveal shocking results that grounded our panelists in the work that must continue towards inclusive actions and behaviors that benefit all employees.  

Results like “Across all racial groups, Asian Americans are among the least likely to feel that they belong and are accepted in the U.S.; this is especially true for younger Asian Americans and Asian American women,” “The majority of Americans still see Asian Americans in ‘model minority’ terms—as smart, nice, and hard working—and believe (incorrectly) that Asian Americans are well represented in leadership positions in corporate America,” and “Most Americans cannot name a prominent Asian American when asked,” reveal that perceptions of Asian Americans are worsening in the U.S. Find the full report here.  

Additional external reviews brought to the conversation revealed that Asian Americans are the least likely demographic in the U.S. to be promoted to management. These insights and trends are important reminders that AAPI members represent a large fraction of the workforce and are aching to be included in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programming. The truth is, Asian American representation in the workforce is often not included or considered in DEI programs, underlying a critical blind spot for organizations and progressing the false narrative that AAPI members are well represented. Transparent, internal conversations like this help us all to better understand our individual and active responsibility to a culture that prioritizes inclusion for all—one that is not only rooted in the business case and capitalist outcomes. We can no longer attribute anti-Asian sentiments to political rhetoric and it’s time we see the Asian, Desi and Pacific Islander network for their integral contributions to the American cultural mosaic and to corporate advancement.  

Below is a list of inclusive practice considerations that came out of our AAPI panel event for companies across the board to consider:  

  • Further data and research about stereotypes that impact Asian, Desi and Pacific Islander Americans to address the reality of AAPI specific barriers and to help inform policies and programming that help to support AAPI employees in meaningful and material ways.  
  • Review retention and promotion rates of AAPI employees and garner open support from the CEO to institutionalize AAPI leadership as one of the goals within DEI programming, so that race is not a predictor of success and of promotion or turnover rates. 
  • Rally executive team members to implement new narratives that foster belonging and acceptance for Asian Americans. 
  • Actively combat false narratives of the model minority and perpetual foreigner biases in campaigns by utilizing proper lighting to capture a wide range of skin tones and including the contributions to American society from diverse AAPI members.  
  • Understanding what it means to mobilize against anti-Asian racism, and that the model minority myth is rooted in anti-Black rhetoric and racism. 
  • Reaffirm existing policies that support mental health and wellbeing for employees, and provide link to external resources for mindfulness and psychological safety.  
  • Review and refresh the investment to AAPI employee resource groups to fairly mirror the ask and time you are asking from AAPI champions to advance internal programs.  
  • Address the AAPI community beyond heritage months and keep a two-way communication channel to engage members throughout the year. 
  • Identify individuals and be as specific as possible when addressing the AAPI community. The importance of heralding the differences within our communities starts with acknowledging the aggregation and generalizations of how we identify and reach AAPI communities.    

This is work that benefits all of us; DEI work is not exclusive for marginalized communities, rather for our collective wellbeing, understanding and gain. The AAPI communities are a significant audience, and the considerations above helps leaders make real, measurable impact towards a more culturally intelligent and just society.  

Sharon Cho is Senior Account Supervisor, U.S. Multicultural DEI in Edelman L.A.  
Lorenz Esguerra is General Manager, Edelman Southwest.