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May 2, 2023

Advance Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Leaders In the Tech Industry

In recent years, the Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community has been making headway in tech leadership, with some of the biggest companies now run by Asian Americans, such as Google CEO Sundar Pichai, AMD CEO Lisa Su, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and many more. However, when looking at the tech industry as a whole, the AANHPI representation numbers aren’t particularly impressive: 23% of companies say Asians make up just 11-20% of their executive leadership teams, according to Built In’s 2022 State of DEI report.

It’s fitting then that the Federal Asian Pacific American Council has deemed the theme of this year’s Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity

To explore what organizations—especially those in tech—can do to help their AANHPI employees thrive and succeed in their career, I spoke with Jin Lee, Dataminr Senior Customer Success Associate, U.S. State and Local Government, and global co-lead of the Asian@Dataminr employee resource group (ERG). 

Here’s what she had to say.

What does Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you? How do you celebrate it in and outside of the workplace?

My family immigrated from Korea to a predominantly white community in the U.S. when I was eight years old. So growing up, like many in the AANHPI community, I made conscious and subconscious efforts to fit in and never draw attention to myself. I also never learned about AANHPI history and contributions in the U.S. when I was in school.

That’s why Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month is particularly special to me. It has helped me better understand the history and contributions of AANHPIs, as well as to embrace and be proud of my Korean heritage. I don't have to hide who I am or try to be a shadow in the room. 

In the past few years, I have made a much more conscious effort to consume AANHPI-related media and literature—especially those that are directed, produced or written by AANHPIs. At work, I support and celebrate my AANHPI community by leading and participating in the Asian@Dataminr ERG. 

Why do you think we’re still not seeing more AANHPI in leadership positions—not just in the tech industry but overall?

I believe there are several factors to this. A 2016 article I read in the Harvard Business Review, Why Aren't There More Asian Americans in Leadership Positions, attributes this to two stereotypes:

  1. Asians are highly competent, which makes them appear threatening in the workplace
  2. Asians are lacking in social skills, which makes people think they are unfit for leadership roles

The article also cites a study, which “found that groups of student participants not only stereotyped Asians to be less dominant than whites, but also judged them negatively when they violated this stereotype...So Asians face a double bind as well: If they act more dominant, they will be less liked, but if they do not project dominance, they will not be seen as leaders.”

There’s also an old but popular book, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, which claims that differences in cultural values play a big role. Eastern cultures tend to encourage humility and deference to authority, but leaders in Western cultures are typically required to command authority and aggressively promote themselves and their ideas.

Lastly, there’s a prevalent “model minority” myth that depicts AANHPIs as smart, wealthy, hard-working, quiet and docile. These stereotypes obviously create biases and paint a misleading picture about a community that doesn't align with current statistics

Learning about these biases and stereotypes was shocking to me. I didn’t know these were the things that were stacked up against our community. 

What can tech companies do to empower AANHPI employees to thrive and advance in their career?

Firstly, I think it’s very important that leaders don’t remain silent when anti-Asian hate crimes, like the 2021 Atlanta spa  incident, happen. Leaders should ensure that their AANHPI employees feel supported, heard and seen during those difficult moments. One way to do this is to facilitate a safe and open environment, where people can comfortably share their feelings and opinions. 

This is where I think Dataminr has done a good job. While preparing for interviews for my current role, I saw that there was one specific ERG for Asian employees on our website. I think that is a really great step in the right direction to make Dataminr a more welcoming and inclusive place for all.

Second, all leaders and employees can do a better job at understanding the diversity of the AANHPI community and workforce. AANHPIs don't consist of just East Asians—there are also Southeast Asians, South Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians. Each of these communities faces different, multifaceted barriers and challenges that may hinder their ability to succeed professionally. 

Tech companies can also invest in and create manager development programs to encourage and expose rising talent to leadership opportunities that they might not otherwise know of. 

Last but not least, employees of all levels can show support for their AANHPI colleagues by participating in related activities and events, if available. At Dataminr, colleagues can attend sessions and workshops sponsored by our Asian@Dataminr ERG. It’s how we raise awareness of the challenges facing our community and explore ways to break down those challenges together. It takes all of us, the non-AANHPI and AANHPI leaders and employees, to affect change. 

What events is the ERG planning to celebrate this month?

For this year’s AANHPI Heritage Month, we're planning to host an in-person trivia and happy hour night at the NYC office to help people learn more AANHPI facts as well as to introduce some AANHPI cuisines. We’ll also have a fireside chat with Kiran Rao, Dataminr chief strategy officer and executive sponsor of the Asian@Dataminr ERG. The discussion will explore Kiran's background and career, as well as career pathing for AANHPI employees.

It's been really rewarding to work and connect with other AANHPI employees at Dataminr, especially those on different teams that I might not have crossed paths with, had it not been for the ERG. Through these meaningful activities—including those beyond AANHPI Heritage Month—we will continue to strive to foster a workplace environment where AANHPI employees can flourish, thrive and be their authentic selves.

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