In honor of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month, I wanted to share something my mother passed on to me.
I’ve worked in communications and public relations for the technology industry for almost 20 years. I’ve had to learn new industries, competitors, the intricacies of different technologies and how to interpret engineering language.
In all of these roles – no matter where I was – one thing remained the same. I was often the only Asian woman in the room. Without a roadmap or someone to look up to as an example of what to do I often leaned on my mom because standing in a room full of men who made me doubt myself was scary and intimidating. Always.
Whether it was in person or via webex or phone, nothing is worse than that moment when you say something and all the men in the room pause. Sometimes, they’ve agreed with my recommendations. Sometimes, they shot it down. One time, someone mansplained my idea back to me and then everyone in the room agreed that “that” idea was better than mine.
My mom always had the same advice. Trust yourself. Let your heart work with your mind – the strength of it encompasses not just things I learned in school but things my parents taught me about my family and my Thai heritage and culture.
She said this often. But there were times when I ignored her advice. I didn’t trust myself.
I remember one particular time more than a decade ago that I decided to distance myself from my heritage. I didn’t want to be the Asian woman in the room. I even tried to not be the woman in the room. I tried to be part of the “boy’s club.” I laughed at the inappropriate jokes. I was quiet when they complained about women leaders and used derogatory language.
This made me feel terrible about myself, my work and my life in general. I was going through the motions and no longer enjoyed my work and nor did I like my surroundings. But I kept going. It was my job after all.
A few months later, I was asked to go back to my college and meet with the Asian Students in Alliance (ASIA) club, which I was the former Vice President of, about my career in public relations and communications.
I struggled with this – am I really going to walk into a room full of bright Asian students and tell them that their culture doesn’t belong in the workplace? Am I okay with telling them to not highlight their differences and to not be proud of their culture? Am I really going to tell a room full of beautiful people from different Asian backgrounds – to just try to “blend in?”
No. My mom raised me better than that.
So I took her words and repeated them over and over again. Trust yourself. Believe in you. Let your heart and mind lead you where you need to be because they have the support of all your ancestors, your heritage and your traditions.
That night, I told my mom she’s right. I believe her response was “I know. I’m right about everything. Always. Don’t forget that.”
I am still sometimes the only Asian woman in the room but I’m happy to say that it’s not as often as it used to be. Now, there are more diverse backgrounds, more women, more voices – more of everything. It’s becoming easier to be who you are and love what you represent inside the workplace. This sense of belonging is something I don’t take for granted and will always be thankful for.