May is AAPI Heritage Month. This is a starting point resource for employers to actively support and recognize AAPI Heritage in the workplace. Learn how your organization can recognize AAPI Heritage Month.
May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a national observance honoring diverse AAPI communities and the contributions they have made to American life, culture, and the workforce.
If you’re looking to support AAPI communities — and the members of your workforce who are a part of them — this resource offers a great start to learning about what key issues affect this community, how to respond to them, and why advocacy is critical.
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The History of AAPI Heritage Month
Political initiatives to start recognizing AAPI heritage began in 1977 when New York Representative Frank Horton introduced a bill proposing to make the first 10 days of May Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. By 1990, Congress expanded the celebration of AAPI Heritage to a month. It was renamed AAPI Heritage Month in 2009.
Also this month:
- May 21 — World Day for Cultural Diversity
Why AAPI Heritage Month Is Important
Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month is important because the AAPI community has been a cornerstone of American history since the country’s earliest days. For example, Chinese migrant workers built the transcontinental railroad and also established San Francisco’s historic Chinatown.
Today, the AAPI community is one of the largest and fastest-growing populations in the U.S. It nearly doubled between 2000 and 2019 to about 22 million people, or 7% of the total U.S. population, according to 2021 data from the Pew Research Center. By 2060, it’s projected to rise above 46 million.
However, the AAPI community continues to face a lot of inequities and can often be overlooked in terms of representation — for example, in politics and media, as well as in the C-suite. In fact, there is a drop in representation and promotions at senior levels for Asian American employees, according to a 2022 McKinsey report on Asian Americans in the workplace. Asian men have a 6.4% share of the workforce as senior vice presidents, but only a 4.1% share of promotions from that level into the C-suite. Similarly, Asian women make up 2.5% of senior vice presidents, but only get 0.7% of promotions from there. That leadership gap leads to a lack of advocacy for advancement at all levels.
Recognizing AAPI Heritage Month is just one way senior leaders can be more inclusive of AAPI employees. They should also educate themselves about AAPI populations and their respective issues, year round. Developing that understanding can help them address challenges facing these communities as a part of corporate social responsibility, which means identifying areas of biased behavior and having more conversations around ways to foster greater inclusivity.
How AAPI Heritage Month Is Traditionally Celebrated
Traditionally, observing AAPI Heritage Month has offered Americans an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the contributions AAPI community members have made in the U.S.
The Federal Asian Pacific American Council recently announced the 2023 theme for AAPI Heritage Month, which is “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.” It highlights the importance of providing advancement opportunities for AAPI employees, reducing barriers to professional progression, minimizing the AAPI leadership gap, reducing employee turnover, and increasing job satisfaction.
AAPI Heritage Month Employee Considerations
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are an important part of the workforce, but many of them struggle facing the bamboo ceiling, an obstacle marked by unconscious bias, microaggressions, and discrimination.
Feeling like a “perpetual foreigner” at work, AAPI employees report receiving less inclusion and support than their white peers, according to data from McKinsey. Many also fall victim to the “model minority” stereotype, which casts them as submissive and demure. They are seen as hard workers and highly capable employees, but are often passed over for leadership roles.
Also keep in mind that the pandemic brought on an increase in violence towards members of the AAPI community. Advocacy groups such as Stop AAPI Hate have emerged as a result, developing initiatives to combat hate and promote inclusivity.
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How to Recognize AAPI Heritage Month at Work
Invite guest speakers. Use a full-service speakers bureau such as All American Speakers to identify and book advocates and motivational speakers dedicated to AAPI issues. There are many AAPI keynote speakers from industries ranging from entertainment to business who can speak about their experiences overcoming adversity and their expertise in AAPI issues and representation.
Host workshops. Bring in a professional one day to assist employees as they work to improve their communication skills when speaking about AAPI culture, heritage, and issues at work as you build a more inclusive environment.
Choose a TED Talk or documentary to discuss. TED Talks and documentaries are great ways to explore AAPI culture, heritage, and issues that are relevant today. You can start at the beginning of the month and hold a panel discussion toward the end of the month.
Here are a few TED Talks to consider:
- Natnaree (Proud) Ua-Arak’s “AAPI Hate and Discrimination” (2021)
- Canwen Xu’s “I am not your Asian stereotype” (2016)
- Katerina Jeng and Krystie Mak’s “Redefining Asian American Narratives Through Storytelling” (2018)
Here are a few documentaries to consider:
- First Vote (2020; available on Amazon Prime)
- Silent Sacrifice: Stories of Japanese American Incarceration, (2018; available on Amazon Prime)
- Ulam: Main Dish (2018; available on Hulu)
- Pacific Heartbeat (Season 11, 2022; available on Pacific Islands in Communications)
Partner with employee resource groups (ERGs). If you don’t have an ERG dedicated to AAPI employees, consider starting one this month. If an ERG isn’t feasible, consider partnering with a local organization.
Organize an event that allows all employees to interact in a safe space where everyone feels included. This could be a team or company-wide lunch. It could also feature cultural staples, such as AAPI food, music, or films.
Check out AAPI-related exhibitions at museums virtually. At AsianPacificHeritage.gov, the Library of Congress — along with the National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, Smithsonian Institution, and other organizations — is celebrating the month by sharing exhibits and collections online, as well as a calendar of related events. For example, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s virtual exhibit called Bravespace is a compilation of songs and sounds created by Asian American women and non-binary artists for meditative purposes and focus on collective healing.
Start a book club. There is a vast selection of books that recognize AAPI heritage. Choose a book at the start of the month so your team has time to finish it before a month-end discussion. From memoirs to poetry collections, we’ve mined the list of resources below from leading experts in AAPI themes and issues.
Books to Read for AAPI Heritage Month
- “My Unforgotten Seattle,” Ron Chew (2020)
- “Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place,” Neema Avashia (2022)
- “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” Ocean Vuong (2021)
- “Permission to Come Home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans,” Jenny Wang (2022)
- “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning,” Cathy Park Hong (2021)
Podcasts for AAPI Heritage Month
- Asian Americana: storytelling about the role of Asian Americans shaping American culture.
- Escape from Plan A: a conversation about Asian Americans embracing their upbringings and backgrounds in film, culture, and politics.
- That Desi Spark: a podcast about South Asian millennials, discussing education, entertainment, social justice, and dual-identity.
Guest Speakers for AAPI Heritage Month
- Lydia X. Z. Brown is an attorney and disability justice advocate. In addition to Asian American heritage, topics Brown has previously discussed include disabled work culture, leadership, and community building.
- Cynthia Owyoung is a diversity expert and former vice president of inclusion, equity, and belonging at Robinhood. She discusses the importance of AAPI Heritage Month and inclusivity.
- Diana YK Chan, an executive career coach, started Amplifying Asian Stories in May 2021. The annual series of fireside chats and conversations with AAPI leaders and other speaking engagements aims to uplift diverse voices about mental health and empathy and increase AAPI representation.
How Companies Are Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month
- May 4, 2021: Asian Google Network hosted a series of talks called “Celebrate Your Elders,” where senior members of the AAPI community shared stories of resilience.
- May 19, 2021: AT&T presented a mini-documentary on AAPI executive leaders via interviews, voiceovers, and personal footage discussing challenges they face.
- May 2022: LinkedIn Asian Alliance (LIAA) celebrated AAPI Heritage Month 2022 with eight speakers sharing stories about their own Asian American identities.
- May 1, 2023: AT&T’s head of health and wellbeing, Dr. Jeff Tzeng, shares his thoughts on intersectionality being a strength in connecting cultures and communities.
- May 1, 2023: American Express is recognizing AAPI small business owners who were awarded grants from AmEx’s Backing Small initiative in 2022 and have since successfully grown their businesses.
- May 3, 5, 6, and 25, 2023: Food delivery service DoorDash is holding several events in the U.S. and Canada, from volunteering at food banks to an evening with Cecilia Noon, co-owner of Isabella’s Mochi Donut, who will share her story.
- May 10, 2023: PowerToFly, a diversity and recruiting company, hosted a virtual summit on celebrating global Asian and Pacific Islander identities.
- May 11, 2023, at 12pm ET: Women Business Collaborative is hosting a LinkedIn Live event on AAPI Representation in Business featuring Dottie Li, founder and CEO of Transpacific Communications.
- May 16, 2023, at 12pm ET: New Jersey Economic Development Authority is leading an Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month Business Roundtable.
- May 16, 2023, at 5:30pm-7pm PT: PDX Women in Tech, an organization advancing inclusion in the tech industry, is hosting an AAPI Month Happy Hour where digital designer Linda Lee and programs director Tracey Lam will share their stories on how they used their leadership skills to help others reach their goals and potential.
- May 18, 2023, at 3:30pm ET: The U.S. Department of State hosts the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Panel, which features speakers who discuss AAPI contributions to U.S. foreign policy.
- June 28, 2023, at 12pm ET: She+ Geeks Out, a diversity consulting firm, will host a webinar on combating anti-Asian hate in the workplace. CEO Felicia Jadczak will discuss strategies on making the workplace a more inclusive space for the AAPI community.