For Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month, it’s interesting to reflect this year’s theme of “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration” and on a question that I used to get a lot — “what are you?”
Growing up, there weren’t that many Asian kids around me, so it was hard always being labeled as an outsider, someone different — a perpetual foreigner. I had trouble being social in elementary school because I didn’t know how to speak English, it was hard to relate to other kids because I didn’t grow up like them and all I wanted was to blend in. Even beyond my formative years, my differences were perceived as negative things instead of as strengths.
A decade ago, I was one of the only Asian faces in a sea of White colleagues (which still hasn’t changed much) and there was a distinct feeling that I had to adapt and become more like my colleagues to keep my job. I felt like I had two personalities — one for work where I was bubbly, overly ambitious and talkative and one for my friends and family where I could be more contemplative, laid back and goofy.
More recently, doing work as the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Lead here at Porter Novelli, I again find myself feeling like “the only” in many ways. More than a decade later, I am still only one of two Asian leaders in the executive leadership team and one of a handful of Asian DEI leaders within the holding company. When trying to implement important DEI programs and initiatives, I struggle because I am a team of one with volunteers who are stretched to the max.
However, these experiences have all come together to help me answer that question about what I really am.
I am a diversity, equity and inclusion professional.
I am an advocate and ally of historically excluded communities.
And what I am most proud of now is that I am a Korean-American woman, sister, daughter, fiancé, who can own her Asian identity.
As I continue to define who, and what I am, I will aim to build a culture where other colleagues — especially those who may feel different or like the one and only — can feel like they can be more of themselves as they build their careers here and beyond.