How businesses can create lasting change to advance racial equity for Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders

Companies can do better to protect their AAPI employees.
Companies can do better to protect their AAPI employees.
Image: Oscar Wong via Getty Images
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The year since the murder of George Floyd, which has brought increased scrutiny of the role of companies in advancing racial equity, has been a particularly painful one for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Over the past year, incidents of racism and discrimination targeting the AAPI community in the US have escalated. Such incidents have pervaded our daily lives and have a pronounced impact in our workplaces. Between March 19, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received reports of 6,603 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination; over 32% of these incidents occurred in the workplace or places of business.

It is imperative that the business community steps up to address this issue and advance racial equity. Businesses and companies wield incredible amounts of power and influence and have a responsibility to ensure everyone, including our AAPI community, is afforded the opportunity to thrive at work and feel protected in places of business.

Work is a central part of most of our lives, but for members of our diverse community, work is not guaranteed to be a safe place. The Atlanta area spa shootings, in which six Asian American women were murdered in March, and the April FedEx shooting in Indianapolis, in which four of the victims were Sikh, are just the most public examples of this hate. More commonplace events are prevalent as well—a person in California who reported to our center was told to “go back to your country” by their boss while customers hurled death threats at them for being Asian.

AAPIs, from low-wage workers to the C-suite of international corporations, should feel safe at work. As a coalition working to create systems level change to end hate and racism against the AAPI community, we invite businesses and companies to join the fight to advance racial equity. Here’s how:

  • Prioritize and invest in strategic equity and inclusion efforts. Give thought and care to how your company prioritizes and invests in its DEI initiatives. You shouldn’t just meet your legal obligations of non-discrimination—you should go above and beyond to push for true equity and inclusivity. Each of the practices below can help you build toward this.
  • Assess and change corporate policies. Ensure policies at your company are comprehensive, foster inclusion, and address discrimination at all levels. Encourage supportive, candid conversations among employees; implement regular training to management staff to ensure all employees, vendors, and customers are being treated fairly.
  • Uplift AAPI employees and customers. Take care of and invest in the AAPI community at your company. Support their mental health and provide resources; match gifts to causes they care about; invest in employee training; and adopt other measures to tangibly support AAPIs.
  • Engage in transparent and accountable business practices. Address past harms and missteps in leadership, and establish transparent processes and accountability measures to move forward. Communicate your company’s values and practices around equity to employees of all levels. Continue to evaluate and evolve these practices to drive progress.
  • Partner with community organizations. To best understand their needs, it is critical to connect with and listen to impacted communities.
  • Consider ways to engage customers and consumers. Companies have the power to influence how others think about and address racial equity. It’s important for companies to harness this power to help create systemic and long-lasting change.

The business community has a major responsibility in the advancement of racial equity. While the path ahead is long and there is no official playbook, it is crucial that businesses make continued efforts to demonstrate their commitment to progress.