Claire Tse, diversity, equity and inclusion expert and founder of Tse Solutions, recently spoke with Dr. Vanessa Weaver about the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes and sentiments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. She discussed her experiences as a Chinese-American woman facing racial and gender bias, how organizations can combat such discrimination in the workplace, the nuances that impact how Asian Americans are viewed and the ways one can support one’s Asian-American colleagues. The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.
Dr. Vanessa Weaver: Since March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021, there have been about 6,600 reports of anti-Asian discrimination. And then when you break down those numbers, 65% verbal harassment, 18% shunning, 13% physical assault. And what’s interesting is that when I looked at these reported incidents of anti-Asian hate, 65% of them were reported by Asian women. So it seems like Asian women are taking the lead and ensuring that people know the kind of experiences they’re having in their communities. Is this consistent with what you understand, Claire?
Claire Tse: Yes, this is exactly what’s happening. The reason that a lot of the women are speaking up is because culturally the men and the women have said, “Keep your head down and just keep going forward, regardless of what’s going on.” A lot of us are the matriarchs in the family. We’re saying, “You can disrespect me, you can attack me,” but what happens is that others are actually attacking our elders, who are revered in each of our cultures. We said, “We need to stop this. I can’t be quiet anymore.”
Weaver: When I look at these stories in the media, with the exception of that Atlanta story, most of them show Blacks and Latinos, but particularly Blacks, perpetuating some of this physical harm and assault against Asians. And, of course, my team went out and researched it, and we found that 75% of the incidents of anti-Asian hate are by whites. What’s the private conversation about who’s perpetuating this and why?
Tse: With the groups that I’ve been working with, Blacks are really highlighted because they want to pit us against each other—the model minority, the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). If BIPOC is supposed to really work and focus in on what the Black community is experiencing, how come everyone is getting killed? We don’t want to have the whites bringing it up even though they’re doing most of the hate crimes. It’s just easier minority versus minority.
Weaver: You’ve been very involved in the anti-Asian hate movement. Every time I’m reading something or seeing something on the Internet, I see your name in it. Tell us a little bit about the work you’re doing and what you hope to accomplish.
Tse: Part of what I’m working on with different clients is taking a look at what is really going on, having active listening, checking in with folks, because what happens is then a lot of the AAPI individuals that I’m working with, it’s like, “I’m invisible.” Black Lives Matter was a really big thing, but these Asian-hate crimes, these are one and done. Oh, Atlanta, that’s too bad.
And what happens is then I’m actually working with senior leaders on being an inclusive leader, to really check in with their Asian folks especially. A lot of people are going to the office; some people are not. There’s some isolation, and there’s a lot of depression going on. And with I’m taking care of my family, I’m taking care of work, I’m being overlooked, and I got passed over. I’m working so hard. I gave up all of these events and I’m still not being seen as leadership material. I’m working with them to really identify the skill sets that are there.
Weaver: What I hear you saying is that there’s some real issues impacting Asian and Asian Americans in the workplace, such as equity around advancement and promotion. And oftentimes people assume that Asians have it all together and they’re the preferred, the model minority, the preferred minority, so that they’re getting all the benefits. What you’re stating, and what I know to be fact, is that Asians are underrepresented in senior leadership positions in organizations. Asian women have challenges around getting promoted to senior-level management. So it’s good that this conversation is occurring, because it’s not just about the anti-Asian hate examples we’ve talked about, but it’s also the biases that go on in our workplaces that impact Asian men and women.
So how’s it working out? Are you seeing change occur?
Tse: We’re doing very minimal change honestly. Asian men and women are still asked to work really hard, but they’re not recognized. They’re speaking up and their managers are telling them you need to speak up more. It’s like “I have been speaking up, have you not heard me?” And part of that is also they’re not at the table. They’re not in the decision-making process. That’s why strategic plans are so important, with really executable key performance indicators. Unless you measure it, it’s not going to happen.
Weaver: The stats show that there’s been a significant increase in the number of Asians who have come over here to study, who decided to go back home. Before there was a tendency to want to stay in America, but now the Asians are going back to China, or going back to Japan or going back to Korea, going back to places where they feel respected, appreciated, that they can contribute to the growth of their country, and they’ll be valued as leaders. Through our bias and our challenge around providing equity for our Asian colleagues, we’re suffering in terms of losing a significant element of our talent pool.
Tse: I agree. We’re feeling if I’m not going to be recognized here, I’m going to go to a place where I am going to be recognized, I can have my skills and I can advance. So many companies are working in Asia and the APAC area, and yet they don’t have any Asian representation. The whites are making the decisions, and they’re recognizing that they don’t really know the culture, they don’t know the norms, and they don’t know what the consumer needs are.
Weaver: Having worked in this field for over 30 years, you have an abundance of advice you can give Asians, that you can give the corporations in which they work. What are two or three points of advice you want to share?
Tse: For the AAPI colleagues, I would say that we need to really step up and speak out. Be able to say, this is why we should be recognized, this is how it has been helping the organization. And then this is what I need from you because we haven’t been asking. We’ve been waiting to be advanced.
For people who are non-Asian Pacific Islanders, make the effort to reach out to your colleagues. Find out what’s going on. For the bystander, determine if people are being overlooked. Are people spoken over? Have we not created that space, because people talk over each other here in the United States? And a lot of us who are Asians, we’re waiting for that space to be able to speak up. Give us the space and the grace to allow us to really contribute everything that we can.