As spring continues across the US, symbolizing renewal and new beginnings, we have another reason to celebrate! May is Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month: an opportunity to recognise the many contributions of people who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander.
In the US, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) make up roughly 6% of the US population, representing different ethnic groups who speak over 100 languages. They have contributed significantly to American culture and society – from medicine to literature, arts, sports, government and politics (including Kamala Harris who is the first Asian American Vice President).
I sat down with Skedulo’s Silvia Zhang – Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Program Manager through our Embracing our Diverse Stories initiative. This storytelling platform focuses on diverse perspectives and backgrounds and highlights the unique experiences that have shaped the identity of Skedulo employees to be who they are today. Silvia is the only child of Chinese immigrants and grew up in Illinois, near Chicago.
We asked Silvia to share what it was like growing up in the US as a second-generation immigrant and how her culture has helped shape who she is today.
“Growing up, I loved music and played the cello and piano – participating in various orchestras and playing for high school musicals. I was always involved in different clubs and volunteering, and in college became part of the AKPsi (business fraternity), Ascend (a Pan-Asian business professional organization), and Asian Cultural Exchange which promotes AAPI awareness and aims to preserve the richness of cultures. I loved being part of the board, planning events and promoting these communities.”
“I studied accounting, finance, and Chinese studies and was lucky enough to live in Hong Kong for a semester. That really changed my life as it brought me closer to my culture and helped me embrace the language I grew up with but never spoke.”
Silvia’s career has since seen her work in private equity, design, and SaaS. As a qualified CPA, she spent much of her early working life in accounting and finance – particularly mergers and acquisitions which she instinctively knew wasn’t for her for a long time.
“For cultural reasons and pressures, I stayed in the industry for many years but knew I was neglecting my own inner talents and truth. I wanted to leave but wasn’t sure what to do so I hired a career coach and a life coach a few years back. As part of the process, I journaled a lot and, after a few months, realized that what brought me most joy was community work – being on all those boards and clubs, even in adulthood, and creating possibilities for people to connect and make lasting memories.”
“I wanted to create a sense of belonging and community for others, just as I was able to find. As a kid, the community I grew up in was very non-diverse and I always felt like I didn’t belong. I remember bringing seaweed snacks or dried squid to school for lunch and being ashamed. But my mom was just packing things that were part of our culture but no one at my lunch table knew what it was. I didn’t have any other family around and it wasn’t until I went to college that I saw people like myself with similar experiences.”
Bringing diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging to the workplace
As our DEIB Program Manager, Silvia designs and manages a range of DEIB initiatives with a focus on empowering people and creating an inclusive culture. She believes DEIB takes a conscious group effort which starts and continues with education.
“There are many components to DEIB, so we always want to have a growth mindset and treat people with empathy and compassion. We need to encourage people to get outside their comfort zones, engage with others who don’t look like them, read content that talks about diverse issues, and always be aware of privilege and what that means for marginalized groups.”
“I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know everything, to ask questions, and to be in a state of vulnerability. We want to see everyone as a person who is simply having a different lived experience to us.”
Silvia believes more industries will become involved in DEIB in the future, but there are steps every organization can take right now to improve DEIB in their workplace, such as:
- Practicing and promoting non-judgement and awareness of one’s own bias (Humility, Curiosity, and Empathy) throughout the organization
- Encouraging participation in underrepresented community groups
- Education about Allyship; understanding where one’s privilege falls and speaking up for those who are less privileged
- Evaluating collaboration and what that means as we become more remote, global and multi-generational
- Exploring how technology can be used in diversity efforts. For example, to reduce bias in the hiring process
Embracing both cultures
In her personal time Silvia loves to read, go for hikes, connect with family, and spend time with close friends. It’s a little more relaxed than her recent years spent doing competitive dragon boating (she even competed internationally!), crossfit and half marathons.
She says that while her journey to finding her passion in DEIB wasn’t easy, she wouldn’t change anything.
“Being an only child of an immigrant family impacted who I am today. I am a high achiever and hard worker because my parents instilled that in me. But most importantly, I’ve found that being Asian American means embracing both cultures and living a life that is authentic to me.”
API Heritage Month 2022 runs from Sunday May 1 to Tuesday May 31. How are you joining in the celebration?