May 17, 2023

Asian Americans Most Likely To Join ERGs, But Still Feel Excluded From DEI Initiatives

Asian American professionals are more likely to join Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) than their colleagues but feel excluded from workplace DEI initiatives, according to new research by AAPI Data and Momentive.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, people of Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage often encounter similar challenges that hinder their career growth and well-being. To address these concerns, many turn to ERGs as a source of support, connection, and advocacy within their organizations.

AAPI Data and Momentive found that 16% of Asian American workers, 18% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI), and Native American/Alaskan Native workers (18%) workers participated in ERGs based on their racial or ethnic background.

In contrast, the participation rates were lower for Black (13%), Hispanic/Latino (10%), and white (6%) workers.

Among the motivations for joining ERGs, 54% cited connecting with like-minded individuals, 44% sought professional growth and networking opportunities, and 39% aimed to raise awareness and inclusivity within their organizations.

1 in 4 Asian American and Pacific Islander workers have felt excluded from DEI conversations in their workplaces. 

“What we also saw was the uptick in the anti-Asian violence and anti-Asian hate; these ERGs have also provided a venue for people to make sense of what was happening even outside of work,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, told NBC News.

“I mean, first of all, microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace, but outside the workplace as well.”

Despite the higher participation rates in ERGs among AAPI professionals, feelings of exclusion from discussions about diversity and inclusion persist. Approximately 1 in 4 Asian American and Pacific Islander workers have felt excluded from DEI conversations in their workplaces. 

Invisible challenges

While highly visible acts of violence against Asian Americans often make headlines, Asian Americans’ challenges at work are often made invisible.

McKinsey reports that Asian Americans often confront stereotypes and misconceptions that contribute to their underrepresentation in leadership positions, even in fields where they are overrepresented.

Despite being the most likely to be hired into high-tech jobs, Asian Americans are the least likely to be promoted to Silicon Valley’s management and executive levels.

For example, the notion of being perpetual foreigners hinders their inclusion and advancement in the workplace. At the same time, the model minority stereotype makes it easy to assume Asian Americans are already doing well at work and therefore don’t need support.

Read: Asian Women Aren’t Underrepresented In Tech, “They’re Stuck”

According to the AAPI Data and Momentive report, only 26% of Asian American workers strongly agree that they are represented in leadership roles or feel supported in pursuing such opportunities. 

“In terms of feeling unsupported and unrepresented, Asian Americans are very off the charts in a bad way,” Ramakrishnan told NBC News.

“I think it’s important to see that there’s a lot of improvement needed in how corporations provide leadership opportunities and also effectively communicate with their Asian American workers.”

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)