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How to Grow and Advance AAPI Talent

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month. In recent years, organizations have increased their focus on recruiting diverse talent. Once that goal is achieved, how do you retain AAPI employees and how do you help them grow and advance inside the company?

It starts by understanding the culture of those that you’ve hired and giving them opportunities for growth within your organization, whether that be providing mentors or training. You want to retain the diversity that you’ve already recruited and expand them into leadership positions.

How might leadership development programs bridge AAPI-held cultural values and the dominant majority culture?

Many leaders wonder why some of  their AAPI employees may hold back on contributing in meetings without understanding their deeply held values. While I do not speak on behalf of all AAPI, I’ve often stayed quiet to show respect to the most senior person in the room. Bridging cultural differences means incorporating all others’ cultural values, the way they were raised, the environments they grew up in, and developing an understanding and empathy. Inclusive  leaders make room to hear and encourage other voices to share their views. It’s OK to bounce ideas off of other team members. Ask “How are you seeing things differently?” to signal you are open to a different perspective.

Even sorting and reviewing your employee data through the lens of the various Asian American Pacific Islanders previously included as one group into multiple groups will assist in achieving a better understanding of a specific culture. For example, someone who has traveled the world, grew up and worked in several countries, and speaks several languages might feel very differently from a person that was born and raised primarily in the United States and their grandparents were also born here. Both may self-identify as AAPI, but their experiences and challenges at work may be vastly different. Listening to frequently encountered challenges and struggles can allow you to tailor your solutions to accelerate momentum. 

How can talent development play a role in growing AAPI leaders? 

Organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion can create opportunities for bringing an equity lens to professional leadership development and talent succession conversations. Are all groups equitably participating in professional development programs? If not, what’s the barrier to equitable inclusion? Check planned dates to avoid conflicts with cultural or religious holidays.  Have supervisors nominate their team members in addition to seeking self-nominations for special leadership development opportunities.

When leadership hears that someone is a super star with a proven track record as a high performer, they might ask who is in their peer cohort with similar track records. Compare and contrast where you potentially see their careers in the next 3-5 years? Check for equity in access to stretch opportunities to consistently demonstrate their potential? If they are not getting access, why not?  For example, recognize high performers ready for next-level leadership roles, identify the skills they need to demonstrate or grow, and ask, “How can we help?” More importantly, identify a senior leader who will be held accountable to confirm the high potentials receive those opportunities before the next promotion-cycle.

By providing your AAPI employees with equitable access to stretch opportunities to assist with special, high visibility projects or with equitable access to leadership mentoring, and strategy rooms for input on decision-making, you are more likely to showcase their talents for next-level opportunities. With inclusive leadership and developing their skills, you can be a huge ally. Additionally, developing a system that doesn’t allow high-performing minorities to be looked over for leadership opportunities and promotions can help in recognizing and developing talent. 

The important thing to remember is that every culture is different. It’s important for everyone to feel appreciated, safe, and that they belong. We all tend to be happier and perform better when we have that sense of safety and belonging. 

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