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March 23rd, 2021

Why We Need to Confront Bias Against Asian Americans Now




On the heels of the devastating attacks that took place in Georgia in March, there has been some discussion over how to express empathy for these groups. Business and community leaders are seeking ways to understand how best to engage in courageous conversations and inclusivity with those impacted by acts of bias toward the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community.

While the need for open, authentic conversations may be constant, it becomes increasingly important when colleagues and employees experience situations that challenge or threaten their sense of safety. Acts of bias, discrimination, hate, and violence toward the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community can negatively impact all employees and often carry a negative toll on the mental, emotional, and physical health of your colleagues and employees that identify within the community. Sometimes, when colleagues or employees share deep emotions or heavy thoughts and experiences, knowing what to do can be challenging. If a colleague or employee wants to talk, it’s important to create a safe and open space.

It is especially important that these discussions take place now. Consider the following facts:

  • While implicit bias against the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community was on a 13-year decline, 2020 marked an alarming return to previous levels of bias
  • Acts of violence toward the community increased 845% in 2020, exceeding cases in 2017, 2018, and 2019 combined
  • 233,000 Asian American businesses have closed since the pandemic
  • Stop AAPI Hate has recorded nearly 4,000 self-reported acts of violence against community members

Talking it over

Recently, a panel of experts convened to discuss the crisis. Members of the panel included Michele Ruiz, co-founder and CEO of BiasSync, Crystal Miller, Ph.D., and organizational development expert, and Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, a business owner, activist, educator and community organizer.

“I want people to know that we're not okay,” Ms. Maraya-Ramey said. “There is not a single day that I haven't cried. There's not a single day that I don't grieve over what's happening in our country. There's not a single day that I don't fear for my elderly parent's safety.”

“This is a time of mourning,” she added. “It's almost like people should be able to take bereavement leave for this and take time for themselves to reflect upon what is happening in our country in terms of our endangerment.”

Dr. Miller stressed the need for companies to provide a safe space for employees. In addition to physical safety, she said, mental safety is acutely important.

"Are we creating a space that's safe for conversation? Do we have dialogues in the organization where people can share their feelings their sentiments? Are we providing resources without people having to dig them up that say it's okay, we're supporting you and taking your needs in mind?" she said.

What companies can do now

Today, companies can take several proactive steps to combat bias in the workplace—particularly against Asians and Asian Americans. Goals for open, inclusive, and courageous conversations should include:

  • Increasing awareness about the experiences of bias faced by Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders
  • Gaining skills for holding safe and open space for those in the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community affected directly by bias
  • Enhancing confidence in opening and entering the conversation about bias

Some steps employers may want to take to achieve these objectives include:

  • Sharing the objectives of the session with participants
  • Acknowledging the history of bias and violence
  • Providing participants the opportunity to work in partnerships, small groups, or breakout sessions
  • Facilitating sharing of possible responses from all small groups

In addition to creating a safe space—both physically and mentally—it is important to facilitate productive dialogue. Colleagues or employees will not always directly offer the experiences they’ve encountered with bias. They may be distant, quiet, or even frustrated. While disengaging can be a common coping mechanism, some colleagues or employees may not show any signs of hardship or may do just the opposite—they may throw themselves into work even further, staying distracted and keeping busy.

Managing the difficult emotions, thoughts, and other impacts of bias can take different forms among different individuals. However, when we exercise inclusive leadership, we acknowledge disparities and inequities and make space for those that have been marginalized or impacted regardless of our own role or title. It’s important to get curious about how your colleague is doing, acknowledging their loss, and offering your support and action.

Bear in mind

Remember, individuals have unique qualities and preferences. What may be supportive for one colleague may not be helpful for another. Take note of your colleagues’ preferences and values proactively. Get to know them. The more you can get to know your colleagues, the better equipped you become in having difficult conversations.

Mistakes happen. Remain humble and open. Take a learner’s approach, knowing that your skills will improve with practice. It’s absolutely natural to be afraid of making mistakes, but don’t let that fear outweigh your ability to exercise allyship.

There are other important factors to bear in mind when conducting conversations around sensitive topics. You can offer a pass to someone who may not be comfortable discussing their personal experiences. Passes can be tangible or spoken. Similarly, “check-ins” offer you an opportunity to learn. They encourage those impacted to provide feedback as they see fit.

Organizations that take proactive measures and lay biases out on the table are usually more productive, open, and happy. “When I see a solidarity statement and concrete actions that will be implemented within an organization, I believe in that company,” Ms. Maraya-Ramey said. “I believe that their employees are going to be safe.”

Follow the discussion with Michele Ruiz, Dr. Crystal Miller and Anjanette Maraya-Ramey. Learn more about how to mitigate bias in your organizations.

Not just diversity. Inclusion.

Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.