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11 Ways to be an Ally for Asian Professionals and Business Owners
by Brett Farmiloe
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June 22, 2023
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AAPI person sitting talking to client and smiling

What is one way you can be an ally and support Asian professionals and business owners?

To help you become an ally to Asian professionals and business owners, we asked CEOs and business leaders this question for their best pieces of advice. From breaking down the AAPI monolith to championing and empowering emerging Asian leaders, there are several tips that may help you improve as an ally in the future.

Break Down the AAPI Monolith

The AAPI community includes a mosaic of ethnicities and cultural traditions, but many people still view Asians as a monolith. To better support Asian professionals and business owners, allies should stay away from blanket statements and initiatives and recognize that certain groups within the AAPI community have unique needs. For example, one colleague with Chinese heritage may face different challenges than one with a Hawaiian background. They require different support measures that are tailored to their needs. The first step towards this is listening to the experiences of AAPI individuals and making sure you don't automatically conflate their experience with every other Asian professional's experience in the business.

Adam Shlomi, SoFlo Tutors

Demand Better AAPI Representation in Management

Push your organization and those around you to recognize AAPI accomplishments and promote more Asian Americans into their leadership roles. AAPI white-collar workers are the least likely group of people to be promoted into managerial roles, despite being seen as highly successful. Start up an AAPI resource group at your organization or get in touch with local groups that can help you spread awareness through shared stories, support, and community. If you see representation lacking in your company, now is the time to speak up with your managers and colleagues.

John Li, Fig Loans

Take a Moment to Understand The History

As of 2020, approximately 24 million Asians live in the US, ~7.5 percent of the population. While the largest groups are Chinese, Indian, Filipino, and Vietnamese, there are 20+ other Asian origin groups, including Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Cambodian, Burmese, Thai, etc., in the US. Each group (and individual) has their reasonings for fleeing their home country to come to the US and  their unique struggles once getting here. If we all took some time to understand a bit of history (across all ethnic groups, not just AAPI), it would go a long way in building compassion and empathy for each other in this country.

Carolyn Lai Moore, Wildlight LLC

Support Early And Pay in Full

The best way to support Asian Professionals and Business Owners is simple: insist on paying for our products and services in full. The dollars you spend show the truth and depth of your support. Do not expect a discount from your friend or networking buddy; it is our privilege to give it. Be a repeat customer and a vocal supporter more times than when Asians are highlighted in the public conscious. Be an early supporter so you can have the privilege of saying, “I supported them when....”

KJ Roelke, Web Developer & Creative

Walk The Street And Listen to Business Owners

As SBDC Business Advisor, I am empowered to help all small businesses, including AAPI and underserved communities, with government resources and my 25 years of experience running small businesses myself. As a Thai/Chinese Immigrant, I know how hard it is to make a dream come true despite dealing  with discrimination and inequality to be successful.

Chettha Saetia, Chinese Mutual Aid Association

Support The Visibility of AAPI Professionals

You can support AAPI professionals and business owners by helping them obtain visibility. With professionals, actively look for opportunities to mentor, hire, and showcase others' achievements on Linkedin. For AAPI business owners, you can support them by purchasing, showcasing their products on your social networks, and leaving reviews. Using our networks as platforms to spread awareness is vital to being an ally.

Bernice Chao, Zambezi

Check Your Assumptions

Wanting to be an Ally to Asian Americans in the first place is a start, but how do you take the next step? Whatever stereotypes and assumptions you grew up with about AAPIs, throw them out the door and begin with a blank slate. 

Ask your AAPI co-workers  abouttheir favorite restaurant, and schedule a time for a meal one-on-one or in a smaller, intimate group setting. Ask where they grew up (not where they're from) and what inspired them to pursue their current profession. Then ask how you can help amplify their voices or add cultural sensitivity in the workplace. Ask them if they've experienced bias in their careers and how they would  like to see it addressed. Assign them to lead group discussions or manage projects.

When you hear or see AAPIs targeted by violence or hate in the news, empathize and if possible or appropriate, organize your company to issue statements denouncing the acts. It goes a very, very long way.

Bonnie Youn, The RMN Agency

Know The Individual

To generalize and say all Asian Americans are deferential or high achievers is based on racist stereotypes; however, cultural influences may impact the way someone shows up. Being Asian American isn’t being Asian or being American, it is a fusion of both cultures while also factoring in the dimension of the immigrant experience. Get to know the individual and challenge the stereotypes you hold. Be inquisitive and understand what is driving the behavior rather than generalize based on your experience. Accept their strengths and qualities for what they are rather than comparing them to an ideal you have based on your personal experience or what the corporate culture dictates. Asian Americans, and all immigrant populations, bring new perspectives, ideals, and cultures. Rather than  forcing them into a mold let’s embrace them and create something new.

Susan Go, Salesforce

Understand The Culture

The Asian American community is unlike many in the world. It’s a continent made of more than 48 countries, 1200 languages, many religions, and just as many cultures. Making it one of the most unique and diverse lands in the world. It is hard to narrow down an easy way to understand how to serve the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities within our communities unless you listen - I mean really listen. Not just with your ears but with your intentions and presence. to be an ally to anyone, you must seek to understand why they are who they are.

The best way to serve people is to share your world with them. Share your mind, your heart, and your attention. From there, you need to align your actions with your intent. That is the secret to being an ally to any community.

Munt Alhussain, Experiences Not Transactions

Do More Than Check Off a Box

So often, I'll walk into a room and immediately be known by name—that's when I look around and realize I'm clearly the only "Chang." While representation is needed, ticking that box in the diversity checklist isn't enough. We're not used to being given the platform and ability to take up space, so take a moment to step back and allow the AAPI community members to speak up and shine. Just being there is one step, but hearing our voices is another. Even the smallest dose of encouragement can go a long way.

Rachel Chang, Travel & Pop Culture Writer

Champion and Empower Emerging Asian Leaders

As leaders, we must recognize that Asian representation and inclusion are vital at all levels of leadership. We must identify promising, emerging leaders, promote them to decision-makers even when they are not in the room, and intentionally ensure their voices are valued, represented, and heard.

An actionable step is to empower them to join a Mastermind Group or Leadership Council that can serve as a pipeline for Asian leaders and  a platform for them to network, increase their exposure to hidden business opportunities and career advancement, and champion one another. Once leadership potential is recognized, let prospective leaders know what traits and skills stand out most about them, connect them with mentors and sponsors, quash self-limiting beliefs, and further growth and continuous quality improvement pathways. Play to their strengths, offer them a seat at the table, and give them a chance to demonstrate their strategic capabilities—letting them shine!

Hannah Fernandez, SCORE Chicago

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About the author
Brett Farmiloe
Brett Farmiloe is the Founder & CEO of Terkel, a Q&A site that converts insights from small business owners into high-quality articles for brands. Brett Farmiloe Founder & CEO, Terkel.io
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