It has been one year since I shared my personal experience growing up as a Chinese immigrant in a white world and what it meant to me to be an Asian in that world. Early on, I felt a need to try and fit in and gain a sense of belonging, but now I realize it’s more fulfilling to appreciate the value of our differences, cultures and traditions, and the power of uniting in diversity.
Since I wrote about my experience, our world has evolved in an unexpected direction, and we are now living in very different circumstances. Many countries are still in an unprecedented health crisis, and against this backdrop, we are also witnessing an alarming rise in unacceptable anti-Asian racism, which is taking a heavy emotional and mental toll on Asian communities.
The circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic conveyed new realizations. We learned we need every person on the planet to fight against the virus together to overcome it. I see similarities in the approach we need to take whether we are tackling a global pandemic, hate and violence against the Asian community, or other tragic global events. As individuals and as a society, we all need to unite and fight against anything which is a threat to humankind.
Embracing our differences
This opportunity and imperative to work together for positive change is what comes to mind when I think of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Being able to advocate for this change is why I choose to continue as a global executive sponsor for our Asians at Microsoft employee resource group (ERG). Our challenges and our strengths are present every day of the year, but this dedicated month affords us an opportunity to reflect and appreciate a rich heritage and historic achievements, while also raising awareness of current issues facing the community. To unite, we first need to respect and accept every person as they are. This individuality is the vitality, energy and joy of life. It is up to us to understand and embrace this uniqueness and nurture it so that we can all live in harmony and peace.
I feel privileged to live this uniqueness every day. In addition to my global ERG executive sponsor role I lead a team in Microsoft Finance where I am accountable for creating a diverse and inclusive workforce for professionals spanning over 60 countries and representing many races, ethnicities, religions and cultures.
The way we collaborate and support each other to deliver value for our company and for our societies is a constant validation for me that we are stronger together. In my career I haven’t always been surrounded by people who look like me, but I have always been invited to share my unique perspective, challenge the team to be even more global in how they think, and work with teammates who have a curiosity and desire to continue to learn about other cultures and communities. Personally, I have always felt supported and respected as a female leader who is Chinese. And frankly, it’s a feeling more of us should have at work, which is why it’s so important to me that we focus on this work together. For me, being embraced as an individual can mean many things. Sometimes it’s simple acts of thoughtfulness that make a difference, such as when we had to replace an in-person subsidiary visit with a virtual one, and the APAC team sent me a bubble tea-making kit. From a previous visit, they remembered that it’s my favorite drink. This gesture helped me feel connected and like I had a bit of Singapore with me.
Learning and growing
Microsoft has a strong network of centralized and regional employee resource groups (ERGs). Our finance teams have initiated several local chapters of our broader ERGs as part of the goal to support each other and create a more inclusive society. The impact reminds me that when we come together in intention and action, we can achieve great successes. For example, the Disability India chapter has trained more than 3,000 employees and created a unique mentorship program to build awareness and understanding of physical and intellectual disabilities. They also worked with local universities to host a student summit with over 250 potential candidates, helping them network with our employees and identify where we can speed up the implementation of accessibility and innovation for people with disabilities. Lastly, the team has built deep partnerships with our customers to help them in their accessibility journeys and worked on a digital skilling and advocacy program to better prepare youth living with disabilities for the workforce.
I’m confident that if we apply this mindset of harnessing our differences, uniting to learn and working across groups, regions and identities, we can tackle even the biggest problems that divide us as societies.
Support in unity
Amid the rise in discrimination against Asian Americans and Asians around the world, it’s been encouraging to see allies offer support and solidarity. Earlier in the pandemic, I was on a crowded long train ride and noticed that the seats around me were the only ones available. Since no one chose to take those seats, I can only assume that there must have been a perception that because I was Asian, I had a higher likelihood of transmitting the virus. In recent months, on a rare occasion when my mother left her Washington home to get vaccinated, she and my sister were aggressively approached by a stranger who shouted verbal abuse at them. Both incidents created a range of emotions – isolation, fear, anger, questioning oneself, and even shame. Having heard about many instances shared by others in the community, we need to be aware of how these awful acts can be painful and destabilizing for people who are expected to carry on with their work and personal lives even while experiencing significant fear, stress and anxiety.
This is where the support provided by our colleagues is invaluable. In our U.S. Finance team, we have made space for our team to discuss and share experiences with the many issues the country faces across social and racial injustice. I personally felt a sense of togetherness and support during a recent session held to discuss attacks on the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community.
Peaceful rallies and town hall meetings held across the country, many of which have been sponsored by youth and attended by members of our Asian ERG have shown that many are united in fighting against racism and violence across all communities and ethnicities. As one member shared, participating in a recent rally and seeing a broad range of allies “felt empowering, was good for my soul and gave me hope for the future.”
This year, I would like to invite you to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with the aspiration to amplify voices, understand the Asian community and embrace all communities around the world. This will help us to realize a world where people can live in harmony and peace by just simply being themselves. As the executive sponsor of the Asians at Microsoft ERG, and as an Asian daughter, wife and mother, I will continue to passionately drive toward this vision.