The month of May has been designated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to honor and commemorate the contributions that generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders have made to enrich American history and culture. This year, AAPI Heritage Month comes after a profound rise of xenophobia and crimes against the AAPI community, spurred by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the circulation of misinformation. A report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that while hate crimes decreased overall by 7 percent in 2020, “those targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent.” And the rise of these targeted crimes has persisted through the first quarter of 2021. In fact, the Center also found that hate crimes against the AAPI community surged by 169 percent in the first quarter, compared to the same time period in 2020. The pandemic put a spotlight on the mistreatment of this community, but it is not an outlier. These data offer only a mere glimpse into the hardships this community has faced for generations and should serve as a call to action for people, and companies, across the country.
Alongside the pandemic, last summer culminated with the realization from business leaders that they must do more to develop, improve, and support equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) initiatives within their organizations. Numerous companies issued statements and more than 200 life sciences CEOs signed MassBio’s Open Letter 2.0. However, in reflecting on these ongoing efforts, it is critical that all initiatives include measures to directly support the AAPI community. From finding a functional cure for HIV-positive infants to advancing cancer detection, the STEM field has accelerated tremendously at the hands of AAPI innovation (Learn more about AAPI leaders in STEM, here). Now it’s time for companies to take action and to ensure the AAPI community is recognized and supported in the workplace, alongside other minority populations. To solve the world’s greatest unmet medical needs, we need the best and brightest minds from across the globe working in the life sciences.
AAPI Heritage Month is celebrated only in May, but its significance should be reinforced and integrated into every facet of an organization’s ED&I strategy. Creating a robust ED&I initiative takes a thoughtful, concerted effort – there is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor does it come to fruition overnight, but to get started you need to take the first step. Here are some ways companies can support the AAPI community and further develop their ED&I strategy:
- Support the ongoing work of advocacy groups, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice, AAPI Women Lead, Stop AAPI Hate, and countless others.
- Encourage employees to educate themselves about the community and host discussions afterward – this PBS documentary is a great starting point.
- Provide avenues to foster inter-community and inter-racial dialogue and create space for voluntary discussions.
- Implement trainings to intervene if someone witnesses Anti-Asian American harassment (here’s a guide on bystander intervention).
- Create ERG groups for AAPI communities and offer to connect them with local affinity groups, leaders, communities that might be helpful.
If you are looking for any additional resources on the history of the AAPI community or insight on how to support AAPI employees, colleagues, and peers, visit:
- Harvard Business Review: What Your Asian Employees Need Right Now
- Business Insider: How Managers can Support their Asian Peers through the Troubling Increase in Anti-Asian Violence
- PBS News Hour: The Long History of Racism Against Asian Americans in the U.S.
- CNN Business: The Asian Disadvantage (That’s Being Ignored)
- GoFundMe’s Full List of Verified Fundraisers for Asian-American Businesses, Educators, Non-Profits, and Community Groups