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Are Companies Confronting Anti- Asian Sentiment in the Workplace?

Are Companies Confronting Anti-Asian Sentiment in the Workplace?

Jan. 25, 2023
More than 1 in 3 Asian-American professionals say they have experienced racial prejudice at their current or former companies.

Companies keeping silent about the increase of Anti-Asian violence is resulting in Asian-American professionals fearing for their psychological and physical safety, according to Lanaya Irvin, CEO of Coqual in a statement.

A survey, “Strangers at Home: The Asian and Asian American Professional Experience," from Coqual, found that half of Asian professionals say the “racially motivated hate has made it difficult to focus at work.”

However, only about one in four (26%) Asian and Asian- American professionals feel that their company is very vocal on the issue of violence against the community.

Given the ongoing violence against this community, the survey found that 49% of Asian and Asian- American professionals say that it's very or extremely important to them that their companies address violence against their community.

Nearly two-thirds say the ongoing violence against their communities has negatively affected their mental health and nearly half say it has negatively affected their physical health. Additionally, 62% say the violence has negatively impacted their feelings of safety commuting and half (50%) say it has negatively impacted their ability to focus at work.

“This cohort is experiencing a material impact to their mental health and their capacity to be productive contributors in their organizations,” said Lanaya Irvin, Coqual CEO in an interview in USA Today. “This has long-term implications for one’s ability to advance, to thrive,

While companies are keeping mum on the subject their employees are feeling the ill effects. In the study, 36% of Asian and Asian American professionals say they have experienced racial prejudice at their current or former companies. They report facing microaggressions more frequently than their peers of other races. Pervasive stereotypes such as being seen as quiet, and hardworking outsiders affect the workplace experiences of Asian and Asian American employees as well, the survey noted.

Workplace Culture Needs to Be Examined

Coqual's report examines the two specific types of microaggressions faced by this cohort: the perpetual foreigner and overvalidation. Microaggressions such as colleagues assuming they are not born in the U.S., asking "where are you really from?" and commenting on their good English-speaking skills maintain the perpetual foreigner concept; while overvalidation assumes that they are good at math and tech skills and labels them as hardworking or smarter because of their race. The study finds that some of these microaggressions seem like compliments, but their effects are harmful, contributing to a wider structural impact such as being pigeon-holed, less visible, having their contributions overlooked or being assigned unfair workloads.

"Solving for the challenges Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander (A/AA/PI) communities face in the workplace requires dedicated focus," said Melonie Parker, Google's Chief Diversity Officer, in a statement. "Coqual's latest report, which we are proud to sponsor, presents fresh data and insights that everyone can use to better understand the nuances of their experiences, and builds on the data-driven approach proven to help address equity across communities. It's important work that can light the way to a more informed and inclusive path forward."

Diversity in executive representation is critical for advancing structural equity, the report concludes. In the survey, Asian and Asian American professionals are the least likely of any racial group surveyed (29%) to say they have role models at their company, the least likely to say they have strong networks (17%), and least likely to have a sponsor (21%). Due to underrepresentation in senior roles, lack of role models, and thin support networks, A/AA/PI employees have few, if any, advocates in powerful positions to help their career advancement.

Steps Companies Can Take

To help companies drive sustained, meaningful change, Coqual has developed a framework: Audit, Awaken, Act to provide steps for companies, to use as they develop and execute their DE&I strategies.

Audit: Assess the current state by engaging in organizational introspection. Identify where systemic inequities exist. Companies should avoid treating A/AA/PI professionals as a monolithic cohort and disaggregate the data and take inventory of missing leadership qualities.

Awaken: Share audit results with leaders and employees and educate them on the structural racism that A/AA/PI professionals face. Build bridges for communication and prioritize solidarity among the cohort.

Act: With the knowledge and understanding developed in the Audit and Awaken phases, companies must engage in a collaborative effort to build solutions, hold employees accountable to contribute and take action to drive systemic change.

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