One of the most difficult and exciting challenges in my life was leaving my family in Iran and moving to the U.S. at 18 years old to pursue my dreams of higher education. As a foreign student, I initially struggled to fit in and find my place. I attended English as a Second Language classes at the same time as I was taking my first university classes at USC in Los Angeles pursuing an engineering degree, all while trying to adapt to an unfamiliar culture and start life on my own.
Though I was grateful for the educational opportunity, being separated from my family while Iran was at war for many years was heartbreaking and challenging. Ultimately, my parents and siblings were able to leave Iran and reunite in Los Angeles with me, but they had to leave everything behind and build their life from the ground up. Living through that experience taught me the importance of grit, resilience, and staying strong despite life’s unexpected challenges and obstacles.
I am reminded of those qualities and how they can guide us through challenging times and ultimately help us thrive as I consider the theme for this May’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Unity in diversity: Stronger together.
Now is a particularly important time to come together. The recent acts of violence and hate against the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the U.S. and around the world are deeply upsetting. They have caused immense pain and fear both in and for the community, and as executive sponsor for the Asians at Microsoft employee resource group (ERG), I want to express my support and let the community know – I am with you. When hateful acts of violence occur, they are often intended to drive people apart. I hope the recent events can instead unify and strengthen us in diversity. I’m excited to kick off a month that brings us together to recognize and celebrate such a rich and vibrant community representing over 40 countries and over 17 ethnicities, whose contributions and influence have had and continue to have an enduring impact on our collective global culture and history.
This month is about embracing the beauty of strength in the collective voices of a unified Asian community – one that is stronger together. It is about recognizing that we can accomplish much more together, lifting up other communities and minority groups. Lastly, it is a month that celebrates the courage of those who have come before us and paved the way to where we are today, and where we are going tomorrow.
Reflecting on over four decades in the U.S., my personal, lived experiences as well as the values I grew up with have shaped the way I lead and connect with others. Each of us has a story, and I believe strongly that we need to embrace our roots and remember to have compassion and empathy for one another. We never really know what someone is experiencing, and there is so much beneath the surface of each person that we don’t see.
The opportunity to be an executive sponsor for the Asians at Microsoft ERG was one that I did not have to think twice about. I was unsure about my qualifications as someone who is not Asian, but in learning about the opportunity from the current leadership team I knew I wanted to engage and advocate for those whose collective set of hopes, fears, dreams and challenges require more visibility and allyship than ever. The powerful breadth, depth and diversity of the Asian experience and community is one that I am humbled to learn about and from.
This month is about reflecting on the diverse and collective history of oppression and discrimination that all Asians face, celebrating our differences, and being allies in support of all communities. Allyship is about transforming learning into action. It requires personal growth, understanding and empathy, but also showing up and using our voices, in ways both big and small. As this country bears witness to an alarming increase in hate and violence against Asians, discrimination and ongoing issues and struggles perpetuated by racial bias, it requires leadership within all of us and working together on these issues to make a difference. I am committed to learning from our employees globally and taking action to make our workplace more inclusive, through investing in mentorship and career development, partnering with Microsoft recruiting to bring in talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences and beyond. I don’t have answers to all the questions and challenges, but I aspire to lead with compassion and empathy to help us continue to support each other and thrive. In this role I hope to amplify and celebrate all the ways that Asians at Microsoft contribute to our culture and achievements, across our company, industry and society.
It has already been an incredible and deeply humbling privilege to learn and have deeper conversations about the lived experiences of our Asian colleagues as we’ve begun this month of reflection, recognition and action. I look forward to what this community will do and achieve together, stronger in our unity and diversity.