Culture
7 min

How to Support Your AAPI Colleagues (and the Greater Community) Right Now

Elisha Hahm Senior Content Strategist

Anti-Asian violence has been on the rise since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and has surged 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 also been high-profile incidents of violence against older Asian Americans, including fatal assaults. In fact, the group Stop AAPI Hate has received 3,795 reports of racist incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the last year alone.

Living through these traumatic times takes a toll: more than half of Asian Americans who responded to AAPI Data’s 2020 Asian American Voter Survey said they worried somewhat often or very often about experiencing hate crimes, harassment, and discrimination because of anti-Asian rhetoric surrounding COVID-19.

It’s important to recognize how the trauma, anxiety, and fear experienced by people in Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities carries over into the workplace. If you want to be a better workplace ally, that means doing your own work before you reach out so that your support of Asian colleagues is meaningful instead of invalidating. Here are best practices for leaders and peers to better support their Asian American colleagues right now:

How to address the trauma of anti-Asian violence in the workplace

One reason more people aren’t speaking up on the news or at work, whether they’re Asian American or not, may be due to the model minority myth, which perpetuates a harmful stereotype that all Asian Americans are successful while erasing the long history of racism against Asian Americans and the structural inequities they face.

Part of the myth is that we stay quiet, we’re apolitical, that issues we’re experiencing are not valid or are not attached to our race. There’s a continual investment in upholding this myth, and we need to question who benefits from it, because it’s not us or other marginalized people.” 

Whether related to perceived cultural norms or otherwise, some Asian Americans may feel the need to power through the normal routines of their day despite the challenge of dealing with the trauma of increased violence targeted toward people who look like them and their families.

It’s crucial not to make assumptions about how your colleagues are feeling right now based on outside appearances: even if someone is doing their job as usual, it doesn’t mean they don’t need support right now.

Asian Americans watching the news and feeling stressed, anxious, or distracted should check in with themselves first: be your own judge when it comes to deciding if you can power through work—or if you need to take a day off to reflect and heal.

It’s important to take the time to actually process what you’re feeling. If your workplace has policies in place around taking time for yourself, like mental health days or flexibility to extend deadlines or rearrange meetings, consider utilizing those resources.

How colleagues can show support for their AAPI peers

If you want to reach out to your Asian colleagues directly, think about the actual relationship you have with them first. If you don’t know the colleague well, ask yourself if your overture is meant to be truly supportive or if your desire to be helpful is just a way to feel better or address your own anxiety. 

Let the person impacted dictate how they want to do their work, and at the same time be explicit in your offer of support based on what they need.”

Refrain from asking open-ended questions like “How are you feeling?” or “Is there anything I can do for you?”, which can create an emotional burden for the recipient in their response. Instead, you might acknowledge that the news is distressing, and then offer specific forms of help: taking a meeting off their plate, extending a deadline, or pitching in on a project.

Your goal should be an offer of meaningful support that someone can take or leave according to their own assessment of their needs. There are a couple of easy ground rules to follow: don’t pressure someone to take you up on the offer, don’t center yourself and your feelings in the conversation, and don’t suddenly reach out to AAPI colleagues you don’t have a relationship with—that in and of itself is a form of tokenization.

What leaders & organizations can do to support their AAPI employees

If you’re a manager, don’t automatically assume your Asian direct report needs time off, extended deadlines, or a different assignment without discussing it with them first. Leaders need to make sure any workload decisions are truly coming from a mutually agreed upon place so their employees don’t feel like they’re being stripped of agency.

It’s also important for leaders to clearly communicate options for support. Trauma diminishes executive functions, so managers need to go beyond simply asking if their Asian employee needs support and instead outline exactly what resources are available within and through the organization.

Employees look to the top when determining what’s acceptable and what’s not. When leaders are silent about anti-Asian violence, it sends a hurtful message to Asian employees. When organizations do not make it clear that talking about societal trauma and their identities is okay at work, it silences discussions.

What that silence does, it makes people feel this cognitive dissonance. ‘How can I go to work while people from my community are getting attacked on the street because of anti-Asian rhetoric that’s been happening for over a year? How can I even concentrate at work?’”

Immediate action and clear communication from leadership signals that what’s happening takes precedence over production. For instance, following the horrific Atlanta mass shooting, Wpromote’s RepresentAsian employee resource group held an immediate roundtable discussion to show support for our Asian American employees by addressing the history of Asian stereotypes, the tragic recent events, and model minority myths—giving participants a platform to share their personal experiences of being dehumanized and silenced.

Holding space for discussion and acknowledgment of anti-Asian issues and their effects demonstrates compassion and care for targeted colleagues.

What everyone can do to be an ally for the greater AAPI community

Here are several ways to get involved in taking a stand against anti-Asian racism and show support for the greater AAPI community:

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