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The Role of Intersectionality

First published on LinkedIn.

Intersectionality can explain why some folks have it easier or harder than others. And if we realize that we're on the "fortunate" side, we can use that privilege to help those who are oppressed, discriminated against, or disadvantaged. Sure, they can speak up for themselves, but sometimes they need Allies to boost their voices. To really make a difference, we have to make it a habit to pay attention and observe who needs help the most and lend a hand or our voice however we can.


It basically means treating everyone as individuals instead of relying on stereotypes or assumptions. By really listening to people's unique experiences, we can start to understand the inequalities and discrimination they face that we might not have even known about before. It's not just about one perspective, but taking into account all the different factors that affect someone's experience. If we don't account for intersectionality, the most marginalized members of our society will continue to be ignored or overlooked. So let's make sure we're always being mindful of how different identities intersect and affect people's lives.


The month of May aims to bring awareness to those struggling with mental health, as well as celebrating communities such as Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Jewish Americans, and older Americans.


This year’s theme for AAPI Heritage Month is “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.” This is especially relevant right now because the public sector has shown how adaptable it can be by changing workplace processes to achieve organizational goals during and after the pandemic. This has created some really exciting opportunities that depend on innovation, critical thinking, strategic leadership, and building great teams to go above and beyond department and company goals. It's all about taking advantage of the momentum and using it to advance our leaders and teams in new and exciting ways.


By reducing the barriers to professional growth, employees are more likely to stick around and be happier. This is a huge benefit to all organizations. Plus, investing in your employees' professional development is a win-win situation — it allows them to refine their skills and become better leaders, which ultimately benefits the organization as a whole. It's all about creating a culture of growth and investing in the people who make your organization successful.


Asian Americans repeatedly face unique challenges in the workplace, but these obstacles are often invisible to those outside the community. Recent events such as the pandemic and the rise in anti-Asian violence have brought diversity, equity, and inclusion to the forefront of the public conversation, including in leadership positions. However, the concept of the "Asian American monolith" can be problematic as it overlooks the diversity within the community. With almost 20 million Asian Americans in the United States, they come from different backgrounds, immigration histories, and have varying socioeconomic statuses.


While Asian Americans are overrepresented in high-wage technical fields such as software development and computer programming, they are also overrepresented in low-paying occupations such as manicurists, skin care specialists, cooks, and sewing machine operators. This disparity in occupations leads to high income inequality among Asian Americans compared to other races. Even when Asian Americans are in higher-paying fields, they earn less than their White colleagues, and their representation decreases with greater seniority.


The term "model minority" is often used to describe Asian Americans and is divisive, especially when it is used to compare other people of color unfavorably. Despite high educational attainment and upward economic mobility, Asian Americans are often viewed as "doers" rather than leaders. This perception is harmful and contributes to their underrepresentation at higher levels of their fields. The "perpetual foreigner" misperception also affects their professional advancement and underrepresentation in leadership positions.


By acknowledging the diversity within the Asian American community and providing opportunities for professional development and advancement, organizations can maximize the potential of this group and reduce turnover while increasing employee satisfaction.

To address the issues of lower inclusion and support for Asian Americans in the workplace, here are 5 things companies and leaders can do:


  1. Collect more detailed data about Asian American workers. This can help employers better understand their unique contributions, challenges, and needs. This includes data collected by employers, public statistics agencies, or researchers separated by ethnicity.

  2. Support Asian American workers at critical moments in their professional journeys, such as recruitment, evaluation, and promotion. Companies should work to eliminate implicit bias from job interviews and evaluations to address lower perceptions of fairness. Training and awareness programs can help with this.

  3. Address Inclusion challenges for Asian American employees by developing programs that educate employees on how to identify and address inappropriate or biased behavior. Establishing and supporting Asian American employee resource groups can also help to improve inclusion by providing a space for employees to connect and support one another.

  4. Create sponsorship opportunities for Asian American workers. In order to advance in your career, successful sponsorship is critical. Unfortunately, as you climb the ladder in corporate America, sponsorships decrease in engagement and effectiveness. More active advocacy is needed to connect prospective sponsors with Asian American workers.

  5. Address Asian American issues as part of corporate responsibility. Many companies already engage in outreach as part of their environmental, social, and governance efforts. By including Asian American issues in the agenda, it can motivate Asian American employees to participate and improve inclusion, while also educating workers about the Asian American population and its subgroups.

 

It is also Jewish-American Heritage Month. Intersectionality impacts this group greatly as many Jewish people of color (JoC) experience a heightened sense of awareness about how they are seen by others. This feeling of being scrutinized can be attributed to the concept of "double consciousness" (W.E.B. Du Bois). JoC consciously compartmentalize parts of themselves in order to reduce the stress of navigating the hazards of racism in predominantly white Jewish spaces.


We also need to mention colorism and light skin privilege. Some JoC report being personally subjected to or witness racist and discriminatory treatment in Jewish organizations, from synagogues and schools to professional settings. This treatment takes the form of microaggressions and overt challenges to the validity of their Jewish identities.

Real change will require greater awareness of the intersection of race and socioeconomic status in the wider Jewish community.

 

The 2023 theme for Older Americans Month is "Aging Unbound", which aims to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat stereotypes. In 2021, roughly 1 in 5 adults aged 65 and older were working while others were forced into early retirement during the pandemic.


All the struggles faced by the groups highlighted above tie into Mental Health Awareness Month. It is vital to understand how the culture and environment we foster in the workplace can impact the state of our mental health & wellbeing. This year's theme is "Look around, Look within", so I invite you all to notice those around you and become aware of the biases you may be witnessing or projecting.


I aim to promote awareness with my clients and always remind them to have grace with themselves and others. Most of us are struggling in some way or another. The majority of people don't wake up with bad intentions to hurt others, but sometimes it is inevitable; as long as you continue to be open to learning and growing, you will continue to excel!!


ICYMI: FOX7 Good Day Austin, TX

Check out my morning segment with FOX7 where I discussed the negativity by the TX legislation around DEIB in Higher Ed.


FREE LI LEARNING COURSES ON MAY 21

In celebration of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, my LinkedIn Learning courses will be FREE for that entire day. If you haven't already, join the community of 300k+ learners who are certified in Diverse Recruiting and DEIB Data Proficiency.


MAY OBSERVANCES:

  • Asian Pacific American Heritage Month - Commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks on the project were Chinese immigrants.

  • Jewish American Heritage Month - Recognizes the diverse contributions of the Jewish people to American culture.

  • Older Americans Month - Established in 1963 to honor the legacies and contributions of older Americans and to support them as they enter their next stage of life.

  • Mental Health Awareness Month - Aims to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses and reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses.

  • International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, May 17 - A global celebration of sexual orientation and gender diversities. This year’s theme is “Together Always: United In Diversity.”

  • Malcolm X Day, May 19 - A holiday celebrated to commemorate the Civil Rights Leader. He was an African American Muslim minister who was a vocal advocate for Black empowerment.

  • World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, May 21 - An opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to learn to live together in harmony.

  • Memorial Day in the United States, May 29 - A federal holiday established to honor military veterans who died in wars fought by U.S. forces.

Until next month... Be well and stay safe & healthy!

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