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Coronavirus Response: Most Organizations Aren’t Proactive in Addressing Discriminatory Behavior Toward Employees of Asian Descent

In May, the U.S. will observe Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which celebrates the contributions and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country.

With that occasion on the horizon, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) surveyed diversity & inclusion (D&I) leaders to determine how business organizations are identifying and addressing discriminatory behavior toward Asian employees prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just-released survey results show that the majority of organizations are choosing to be reactive, preferring to wait for issues to surface rather than acting in anticipation of potential problems or specifically reinforcing their support of Asian employees.

  • Nearly half (47%) of surveyed leaders say their organizations rely on individuals to self-report any problems to HR or D&I. Similarly, allowing issues to surface through employee contacts with managers and supervisors is the strategy favored by 37% of respondents.
  • Significantly smaller percentages of D&I leaders (25%) are choosing to be proactive by leveraging their organizations’ Asian employee groups (ERGs/BRGs) to identify members’ concerns.
  • Just (20%) indicated that their organizations rely on employee resource groups to initiate conversations about discriminatory behavior toward employees of Asian descent.

How is your organization identifying discriminatory behavior toward Asian employees (either on or off the job) and providing a safe space for them to talk about the issue? 

 An all-that-apply response option means total exceeds 100%

 Those and a handful of other active responses may prove to be savvy practices in showing support for Asian employees:

  • Opening new lines of communication, such as web portals or hotlines, to facilitate reporting
  • Providing educational resources on xenophobia
  • Enlisting senior leaders in visible support of Asian employees
  • Partnering with community and professional groups to host conversation forums

The actions companies take now, or don’t take, to reaffirm their respect and regard for their employees of Asian descent could send signals to other diverse employee groups–or into their broader markets–especially among those with commemorative events upcoming. May also brings Cinco de Mayo celebrations and Memorial Day observances, while June is Pride Month for the LGBTQIA community. This is an opportune time for organizations to make choices that send positive messages to all employees.

The survey did ask about companies’ plans for upcoming commemorative events, given stay-at-home mandates in most states. Most respondents said their support and participation for such diversity celebrations would take place virtually this year, though several indicated they are putting all such observances on hold.

Other questions explored strategies organizations are leveraging to ensure continued visibility of women and minorities while they work remotely. This proved another area in which some D&I leaders are engaging ERGs/BRGs in such roles as sponsoring online panels related to the COVID-19 response and continuing established talent and leadership sourcing expectations for groups’ executive sponsors. 

Download the full survey results—due to the current global health and productivity crisis affecting everyone, i4cp is making all related ongoing research publicly available.

We also encourage you to visit for other employer resources including discussion forums, next practices, useful resources, and more.

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.