Among the many devastating effects of the ongoing pandemic is a disheartening rise in harassment and attacks on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
The nonprofit organization Stop AAPI Hate — which tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against the AAPI community in the U.S. — saw an increase in reports from 3,795 to 6,603 during March 2021 alone.
The healing of racial wounds begins with honest and often uncomfortable conversations. Nicsa’s Diversity Project North America fostered such a dialogue during a recent event focusing on the AAPI community’s experience within the asset management industry. Nicsa and Diversity Project North America members can access the replay here.
“The AAPI community is very diverse, so by no means can we speak on behalf of all AAPI,” cautioned York Lo, Head of Institutional and Retirement Product Development at John Hancock. “But myself and the panelists agree that we are bringing our unique experiences and our authentic selves to the conversation.”
Lo moderated the panel, which also featured industry leaders from American Century and Northern Trust Global Advisors, Inc.
Addressing the AAPI Leadership Gap
Panelists agreed that across industries, AAPI professionals are relatively well represented in terms of independent, analytical roles. But the same cannot be said about the executive level.
“The asset management industry is so diverse — there’s so much intelligence, academia, personality — but when you’re talking about that proverbial glass ceiling, yes, it absolutely exists for the AAPI community,” said Alice Fang, President and CEO at Northern Trust Global Advisors, Inc. “Society has this view of Asians as the model minority — we’re hard-working, intelligent, independent, and prosperous. But nowhere in that description do we hear anything about leadership.”
Wayne Park, SVP, Personal Financial Solutions at American Century, spoke to finding and using one’s voice.
“You want to have merit, of course, but not wait for that merit to speak for itself,” he said. “Letting those with decision-making power know of your ambition and what you would like to pursue is important. Don’t ask for permission; ask with persuasion authentic to who you are. And do it with conviction. You have to believe your own argument.”
Fang recommended nurturing a sense of curiosity about what other people in the industry do for a living and the challenges they face.
“It’s about getting out of your comfort zone,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Asian or otherwise — we all get stuck in our comfort zones. It’s human nature. Taking chances is critical.”
As recent events increase the visibility of AAPI discrimination, Park said it’s important that the community move beyond simple coping.
“The word ‘coping’ assumes you’re yielding, at that’s a change we have to make,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to quickly cope. Yes, it’s important. Yes, you need to process it. But you shouldn’t have to accept it.”
Fang agreed. “That’s why this conversation is important,” she said. “When you have the time to reflect, that’s when you realize you’ve endured more than you think.”
She said that the discrimination she’s experienced within the AAPI community tends to be subtle in terms of being treated dismissively or even excluded by people. Part of the solution, she said, involves standing up and saying, ‘I belong.’
“One way to do that is to pay it forward — be a mentor, be a voice, be a leader, and create pathways for individuals at different stages of their careers,” Fang said.
Industrywide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Efforts
“From our firm’s perspective, DE&I is really top-down and bottom-up in terms of a practice,” Fang said. “And it is very much about practicing. Our corporate culture ensures that we really engage at all levels of the organization through things like employee resource groups across the global footprint.”
The company also embeds DE&I in its investment practices, such as working with minority-owned brokerages and suppliers. Recruitment is also critical.
“Part of diversity the workforce is ensuring that people know there are careers in this industry that are accessible to them. To that end, we work with many organizations in our communities to drive DE&I from the start.”
Parks said he’s excited about the recent developments in DE&I at his firm, such as the appointment of a new head of talent and diversity.
“The next evolution for American Century and all of us is to take the good energy that has been awakened during the past few years and go beyond discussion and engagement — channeling that, deliberately, into the outcome you want. The outcomes is fairly straightforward — that each person feels like they can contribute, perform based on their abilities, and be recognized without the structural limitations of race, gender, sexual orientation, and age.”