In the first post of this two-part series, Greenhouse Senior Manager of Customer Success Kevin Do provides candid and insightful advice for leaders looking to best support their AAPI team members.
AAPI Heritage Month is a time for us to celebrate the achievements, contributions and influence that AAPI folks have made – and a time to bring visibility to our people.
It’s no secret that there has been a rise in violent hate crimes toward the AAPI community. And those crimes have become more visible through video recordings and the dedicated work of social change activists like Amanda Nguyen who have been making calls to action to the government and media.
To be quite honest, AAPI Heritage Month was not something I was eager to participate in in previous years. I believe my attitude was a symptom of the lack of visibility and celebration given to our community historically (the Model Minority Myth has contributed to rendering AAPI people invisible in this country). In some ways, you could say that my attitude had been neutral or apathetic.
However, this year’s AAPI Heritage Month is especially significant to me because of this recent devastating wave of hate crimes. Seeing our community be attacked – especially our elders – has enraged me in ways that I cannot even begin to express. It’s more important than ever for me to find ways to bring attention, celebration and unity to my community.
There’s a saying along the lines of wishing you could see someone that looks like you in the media, in classrooms or in public to look up to when growing up. I want to be that person for the next generation. I think about this a lot when I need to source inspiration to lead. Beyond my incredible boss and therapist, I don’t really have any mentor figures. In some ways, leading is a scary process for me. I’m building the ship as it flies. I know myself, and at the same time I don’t. I battle imposter syndrome and second-guess whether my words and actions hold weight. I hope that my reflections in this article can help leaders with their journey to embody what it means to be human in their roles.
Balance support and celebration
For the leaders wondering how to best help their teams, my advice would be to not checklist your actions. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Have meaningful conversations with your teams and ask how they would like to be supported and how they would like to be celebrated.
Some leaders might prioritize or only focus on the “support” aspect because they're suddenly aware and worried for their teams, or maybe they feel a sense of personal guilt for not being as informed of the hate crimes as they should be. But sometimes, staying in the support zone might put more salt in the wound as peers might not even know what they need at the moment.
To bring some balance to this, I encourage leaders to explore the celebration side of things as well. How can you go out of your way to make your AAPI team members feel valued, seen and celebrated in a way that feels personal and awesome to them?
Cultivate self-awareness and ask yourself questions
I believe that cultivating self-awareness is the foundation to identifying why you want to help and how you will help in an authentic way.
As you continue to learn and grow, ensure you’re being genuine. It’s okay to not know everything, so share your intention to help and the messiness that you sift through as you take action. Being vulnerable about imperfect actions, owning up to them and continuing to bring the team along can build trust and connection.
Sometimes, there’s a lingering anxiety in my mind that questions the impact I have on others. I must constantly check myself to understand the root of my motivations when making decisions. Is it career-driven? Is it aligned with my values? Is it for my own professional development or for a greater cause? When can there be space for both, or even multiple motivations? The inner work I do is to make sure that there is a fair balance across my motivations, and to index into certain ones depending on the needs of my team, peers and organization.
More questions to ask yourself: What might I still need to unlearn? What are my blind spots? What will I stand for? Am I doing enough? How am I evolving?
Unlearn what doesn’t serve you
In my current state as an AAPI leader, I fluctuate between feelings of uncertainty and knowing. I feel lost because the external world has shone a light on hate toward my people, and I struggle to find the best way to respond while balancing my own self-preservation to process the anger and grief I feel. At the same time, I feel a sense of knowing and certainty of what to do because there is a burning force in me to do something, even if it’s a small action. I know that even the smallest of actions will compound over time to effect change.
There are many complexities to being an AAPI leader in our society. I have an incredible responsibility that I feel very deeply to represent the next generation, and I must constantly challenge myself to unlearn beliefs that were instilled in me. Beliefs that are not my own, that were internalized growing up in a predominantly white environment juxtaposed with my family values.
My superpowers are my self-awareness, vulnerability and heart. Being an AAPI leader means that I must do the inner work to unlearn internalized racism, stereotypes, gender norms and even some of my family values.
My way of being a leader is to become the truest version of myself and live courageously. My hope is to then give others the permission to explore the range of possibilities of who they can be and what’s possible for them. I believe that I can only take others as far as I am willing to go in my own personal development journey. I hold myself to high standards when it comes to modeling my values.
Put simply, I believe one of the best ways to show up for my AAPI community is to be kind. To me, being kind means over-communicating my intentions and going out of my way to support others, especially in a remote world. Being kind means prioritizing belonging, even if it isn’t an explicit competency on my career ladder. I always take my team's personal well-being very seriously, beyond their professional deliverables. One of the many reasons why I love my job is the fact that I can shape the shared culture of my team through embodying the values that I believe in. As a leader, I have the opportunity to create space for tough conversations, which contributes to more inclusive hiring processes and a more welcoming and empathetic environment for my team.
Growth isn’t always visible – be an avocado tree
Leading is giving myself the grace and self-compassion to recognize that growth does not happen overnight. I’ve recently picked up gardening as a hobby and sometimes think of myself as my avocado tree. You can water a plant for months and not see any upward growth, but in looking at the roots there is an expansive and grounded foundation. I equate that foundation to the inner work that I do to show up as a powerful leader. I must have a strong foundation.
Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I'll share insights on how to support the AAPI community company-wide.