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How to support your Asian colleagues right now at work

Anti-Asian violence has increased since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and has increased in recent weeks. In March, eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were fatally shot in Atlanta-area massage spas in an act of misogynistic racism. There have been high-profile incidents of violence against older Asian Americans, including fatal assaults. On Monday, a 65-year-old Filipino American was told, “You don’t belong here” and beaten up in front of a luxury apartment building in New York City.

The Stop AAPI Hate group received 3,795 reports of racist incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders last year.

Experiencing these traumatic moments has harmful consequences. Over half of Asian Americans who responded to AAPI Data’s 2020 Asian American Voters Survey said they worried quite often or very often about experiencing hate crime, harassment and discrimination because of the anti-Asian rhetoric surrounding COVID-19.

The trauma, anxiety and fear experienced by people living in Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities also spill over into the workplace. If you want to be a better ally in the workplace, it means doing your own homework before reaching out so that your support for Asian colleagues is meaningful instead of invalidating it. Here are the best practices to keep in mind:

Just because your Asian colleague looks good doesn’t mean it’s true.

Don’t make assumptions about how your targeted coworker is feeling right now based on outward appearances. Your coworker may appear to be doing their job as usual, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need support right now. Bereavement trauma therapists call this mask the “social divide,” when what a person feels after a loss is different from how they act at work.

Trauma can show up differently in the performance of colleagues. Some may withdraw more at work, while “some people get really productive and become very functional as a defense mechanism to protect themselves,” said Deborah Kim, a California-based psychotherapist who works with professionals experiencing marginalization in because of race.

If you are a manager, don’t automatically assume that your Asian subordinate needs time off, extended deadlines, or a different assignment without first negotiating it with them. Kim said bosses need to make sure all workload decisions really come from a mutually agreed upon location, otherwise Asian direct reports might get cynical and think, “Like. usually I can’t make my own decision. ”

Reaching out can make a difference. But consider your relationship first.

If you want to contact your Asian colleagues directly, think about your relationship first. If you don’t know the coworker well, think about whether your openness is meant to be genuinely supportive, or if your desire to be helpful is just a way to make yourself feel better. The intention to feel better about yourself will prevent you from being able to listen to what your coworker needs.

“Many Asian American colleagues that I speak to now receive a variety of text messages and phone calls from their friends, and some are really meaningful from people they know well, and others are saying: ‘Haven’t heard from this person in a year, and did they just copy-paste something they saw on Twitter so they didn’t feel guilty? Kim said.

For coworkers who are caught in the need of pushing their help, Kim recommends taking a break and asking, “Am I doing this out of anxiety to make them feel better?” If the answer is yes, respond to your own feelings before reaching out.

If you fall into the distant coworker category, you can still offer meaningful help less directly, said Joyce Chiao, founder and CEO of InclusionLabs, a company that helps guide the dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion. Offer to change meetings or take on different responsibilities by saying, “I can join this meeting instead if you’re busy,” are some of the ways that team members can intervene for coworkers targeted by. anti-Asian hatred, she said. .

If your Asian colleague shares with you, let them lead the conversation and don’t cancel their feelings.

If you are a work friend of your Asian colleague, you should always keep in mind not to expect a response. Questions such as “How is this in light of all the news?” ask the Asian colleague to do the job to give you feedback on this issue and it can be intrusive, Kim said.

“Well, that’s not something that happens to all Asians. Asians are very well off. These are all internalizations of the myth of the model minority. “

– Joyce Chiao, Founder and CEO of InclusionLabs

Removing the wait for a response from the table might sound like, “I just wanted to let you know I’m here if you need anything,” Chiao said. “Something that can invite room for more conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I think it’s okay anyway.

When expressing words of comfort, you also need to be careful not to push your own narrative, which can downplay and invalidate your Asian colleague’s experiences. “Well, that’s not something that happens to all Asians. Asians are very well off. These are all internalizations of the model minority myth and can actually be very re-triggering and traumatic for people who are also trying to deal with what is going on outside, ”Chiao said.

The myth of the model minority perpetuates a nefarious stereotype that all Asian Americans are successful, and it ignores structural inequalities such as the wealth gap, the promotion gap, and the pay gap that Americans face. Asian origin face.

If you are a manager, clearly state the support options.

Since trauma decreases executive functions, Kim said it would be helpful for managers to go beyond the simple question of whether their Asian employee needs support and instead describe exactly what resources are available, like taking a day off or extending deadlines.

“TThey may need to provide a lot of scaffolding for the employee if he has a traumatic brain injury because he will not have access to his complex thinking, ”she said.

“The clients that I have who are in workplaces where nothing is said, it is so hurtful to them. This further increases injuries. “

– Deborah Kim, psychotherapist

When leaders remain silent about anti-Asian violence, it is especially damaging.

Employees look up when they determine what is acceptable and what is not.

When executives are silent about anti-Asian violence, it sends a hurtful message to Asian employees. “The clients that I have who are in workplaces where nothing is said, it is so hurtful to them. It further increases the hurt around the idea of ​​not being seen and feeling like a special person, ”Kim said.

“The best answers always start with leadership,” said Pooja Kothari, CEO of Boundless Awareness, a company that provides advice to companies engaged in anti-bias and anti-oppression work. She said when organizations don’t make it clear that talking about societal trauma and who they are is okay at work, it silences discussions. “What this silence does, it makes people feel this cognitive dissonance. “How do I get to work when people in my community are being attacked on the streets because of the anti-Asian rhetoric that has been going on for over a year?” How can I even concentrate at work? Kothari said.

A better response would mean immediate management action signaling that what is happening takes priority over production. “By the time this happens, the leaders should approach it company-wide and either organize an all staff meeting – and send an email to all staff for those who couldn’t attend that all staff meeting – and continue to keep a space for it to be digested and recognized, ”Kothari said. In this way, compassion and caring for targeted colleagues can be at the center of attention, she said.

As an ally, you must educate yourself, so that your Asian colleagues do not have to do this work for you.

If you are working to support your Asian peers at an interpersonal level, the next step would be to look at what systemic support might mean in the long run. “It’s not enough to just make statements and verify people. It’s really about looking at your organization internally and understanding where inequalities can be occurring at any given time, ”said Amie Ninh, Chicago-based diversity, equity and inclusion consultant.

“It’s not enough to make statements and verify people, it’s really about looking at your organization internally.”

– Amie Ninh, consultant in diversity, equity and inclusion

Keep in mind that employees of different Asian and Pacific Islander identities may have completely different needs and concerns at work. “The Asia-Pacific island community is not a monolith. This is really important when we talk about coaching, representing and supporting employees, what it looks like when you desegregate the data. Who is really represented and who is not? »Said Chiao.

“The way I experience this moment as a second generation Taiwanese Chinese American woman in American companies is very different from my colleagues whose parents are refugees from other countries, Asian women whose parents are are refugees, also second generation, but just very different experiences, ”Chiao said.

Everyone in a workplace has a responsibility to address systemic inequalities, even close work friends. “Are these close friends doing the job of trying to ask questions about the existence of pay inequality in an organization?” Ninh said. “Do people, whatever their role in the organization, think about it? Do they think about performance appraisal systems and promotion rates? Are these systems really fair? ”


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