How Embracing Innovation Drives Inclusion for Asian American and Pacific Islander Employees

 How Embracing Innovation Drives Inclusion for Asian American and Pacific Islander Employees

API Employees DEIB Diversity & Inclusion

As API Heritage Month comes to an end, here’s how you can continue to build belonging and offer growth opportunities for API employees all year round.

To help Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) employees move beyond the so-called “bamboo ceiling,” companies can build high-trust cultures that allow more employees to innovate and grow.

The theme for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in 2024 is “Advancing Leadership Through Innovation” — a continuation of a series of topics focused on helping API employees break through the “bamboo ceiling” into leadership positions.

A 2023 survey form API Data found that Asian or Asian American employees are least likely to report having support to take on leadership opportunities at work. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander employees were the second least likely compared to other demographic groups. Asian American employees also drop in representation and promotions at senior levels, according to McKinsey.

What experiences can help API employees accelerate their careers? High levels of trust in combination with opportunities to innovate unlock new career paths.

In a market survey of 4,400 employees, Great Place To Work® found that Asian Americans were less likely to have a consistently positive experience at a typical U.S. workplace than if they worked at a high-trust workplace, like the companies that are Great Place To Work Certified™.

At Certified companies, 36% more Asian American employees said that people adapt quickly to change compared with a typical U.S. company. When asked if they feel that promotions are awarded fairly, 40% more Asian American employees  at high-trust workplaces agreed.

At great workplaces, more Asian American employees have the psychological safety to take risks and the opportunities to learn new skills. Compared with typical workplaces, 39% more Asian American employees reported a psychologically and emotionally healthy work environment at great workplaces.

This results in more opportunities for Asian American employees to earn promotions into leadership positions.

ERGs offer access to innovation

The best companies create more opportunities for Asian American employees to participate in innovation and develop new skills through employee resource groups (ERGs).

Great Place To Work studied ERGs as part of The Great Transformation, a three-year research project to unlock the code on diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging. In a report titled “Untapped Energy: The Potential of ERGs,” Great Place To Work found that participants in these groups increased the likelihood employees had opportunities to innovate.

ERG members have an innovation velocity ratio — a measure of the number of innovating employees to non-innovating employees — of 10:2. That means for every 10 ERG participants feeling they are ready to innovate, try new things, and take risks, there are only two employees who report not experiencing such opportunities.

For non-ERG members at the same companies, the ratio drops to 6:2, which represents lower participation in innovation and slower overall agility for the organization.

“ERGs offer a platform for individuals to share and be appreciated for their unique perspectives,” says Aditya Bharadwaj, general counsel at Great Place To Work and leader of APIary, its employee resource group for API employees. 

“Members who participate gain both the confidence to trust their opinions and the skills to communicate them effectively. Both outcomes naturally translate to increased opportunities in leadership roles and incredible value to the business.”  

To take advantage of the highly engaged employees participating in ERGs, employers can look to these groups as talent development partners. ERG activities should have clear ties to business outcomes and ERG leaders should have measurable goals that help them build business acumen, as well as access to resources to help all group participants learn new skills.

Tips for leaders

Here are three ways for companies to help ensure API employees experience the opportunity to innovate and grow:

1. Celebrate people for trying new things — even when they don’t succeed

In high-trust workplaces, 34% more Asian American employees say that their leaders forgive human errors and mistakes compared to Asian American employees at typical U.S. workplaces. When leaders give employees the grace to recover from missteps, they can unlock growth and development.

2. Take a close look at recognition practices

Self-promotion can cut against cultural norms in the API community, and your API employees might struggle to get the recognition they deserve for their hard work.

In high-trust cultures, 86% of Asian American employees feel that managers show appreciation for employees that go above and beyond, compared to just 59% of Asian American employees at typical U.S. workplaces. When these employees feel recognized, they are more likely to give extra effort on the job.

Great Place To Work data shows that for employees of all backgrounds, when managers recognize good work and extra effort they are 22% more likely to report high levels of discretionary effort at their company.

3. Make sure everyone’s voice can be heard with both group and private listening sessions

Another cultural norm common in the API community is “saving face” — the deep value held in many Asian cultures around the importance of preserving prestige and social standing. In practice, this can mean that API employees might be reluctant to share feedback openly or share their opinion about issues in the workplace.

To ensure that you are hearing from all your API employees, make sure to offer multiple channels where they can share feedback, including in private or one-on-one settings. Proactively seek their input and make it clear how their contributions will be used to improve the workplace and the business.

High-trust workplaces also outperform the typical U.S. workplace in this arena. While 52% of Asian American employees at typical workplaces think their leaders authentically seek and respond to their feedback, that climbs to 85% at Certified companies.

Benchmark your workplace

Discover what employees value about working at your company, and how you can boost retention rates and increase productivity and performance with Great Place To Work Certification™.

*Note: In this article, we share data about Asian American employees. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander data from our market study was also collected, but not reported due to the small sample size and high margin of error.

Ted Kitterman Sorida Shum