Supporting AAPI Colleagues in the Workplace

Diversity, equity and inclusion practices are good business. A McKinsey study from 2019 found that the most diverse companies were 36% more profitable than their least diverse counterparts. DEI efforts also go far in retaining top talent: people want to work for inclusive companies. There’s a lot you can do in your own workplace to support these efforts, and to support your AAPI colleagues. 

According to the reporting organization, the workplace is somewhere many AAPI folks experience racist harassment. One in four reported incidents of hate took place in businesses like grocery or big box stores, and six percent reported workplace harassment or discrimination. These incidents can look like outright racist comments, micro-aggressions, being shunned, or even institutional issues like discrimination in promotion decisions, or what work someone is asked to do. 

There are a number of things that work when it comes to supporting AAPI colleagues. From individual actions, to big and bold organizational solutions, you can help make the workplace a more welcoming environment for AAPI people. 

Be an active bystander

Make a positive impact by being an active bystander when something uncomfortable happens in the workplace. Remember the five Ds for an easy place to start:

  • Distract
  • Delegate
  • Document
  • Delay
  • Direct 

Distract means distracting from the harassment so that the victim can remove themself from the situation. You can change the subject of conversation, pull the person in to a work meeting or ask a question about a work product. If you choose to distract, focus on the person who is being harassed and ignore the person who is making harmful comments. 

Delegate tasks to other people to handle the harassment or incident. This can be going to a manager, or even a colleague with more power than you to handle the situation. Be clear and direct with the person whom you’re delegating to. 

Document what happened in an email, a formal conversation with someone in a position of power, or written communication. Make sure you’re working in tandem with the person who’s victimized to make sure the actions your taking are what they’re comfortable with. 

Delay response if the situation is unsafe or if things happen too quickly for you to act in the moment. If your immediate response isn’t as quick or effective, you can still support your colleague by checking in on them after the incident, letting them express their feelings or even offering resources to follow up on what happened. 

Direct action is sometimes necessary by calling out the person or situation that is causing harm. Make sure you’re safe and that the direct response won’t escalate the issue. Sometimes speaking up in the moment is the appropriate way to handle harassment in the workplace. 

Organizational Strategies for Fighting Hate

The best support for AAPI colleagues can typically be found in institutional solutions. Organizations can look to the most effective forms of DEI actions in data transparency, system-wide education efforts, and changes to organizational practices beyond recruitment. 

Workplaces should be transparent in their hiring and recruitment data. Transparency leads to accountability, which some organizations balk at. By knowing who a workplace is interviewing, hiring, and what positions they’re filling, employees and watchdogs can know exactly how prioritized diversity efforts are. Encourage your workplace to share this data openly. 

Education remains the top way to fight hate, in the workplace and beyond. Some employers start with anti-bias training, and that’s something we should all get behind. Doing more with that education, like adjusting suppliers, or reflecting diversity in marketing efforts is the goal workplaces should strive for. 

Finally, employees should advocate for positive changes throughout the whole organization, not just diverse hiring. Through institutional changes like equitable pay practices, or even adjustments to products to be more inclusive, a company can signal that it takes DEI seriously. 

These individual and institutional actions can make your work life more inclusive and equitable. Practice small acts that move your workplace towards a more diverse and effective place to be. 

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