Following the three mass shootings last week in Atlanta that may have been racially motivated and the influx of racist incidents targeting the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community over the past year, business leaders are taking actions to root out hate in the workplace and support AAPI employees.
Ongoing Rise in Hate
Although anti-Asian racism is far from a new development in the United States, it has spiked over past year due to misinformation about the COVID-19 virus. Misleading rhetoric has been so prevalent that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was compelled to release a statement last year that being Asian or Asian American in no way increases a person’s chance of getting or spreading the virus.
A recent report from Stop AAPI Hate tracked the number of racist incidents that occurred against the AAPI community between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021. The study revealed that there were at least 3,795 hate incidents over that time but acknowledged that number is “only a fraction” of the total that likely occurred. Verbal harassment was the most common type of incident at 68 percent, followed by shunning (20 percent) and assault (11 percent).
Additionally, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes targeting Asian people skyrocketed by 150 percent in 16 major U.S. cities last year, even as overall hate crimes decreased. New York had the highest surge of incidents, going from three in 2019 to 28 in 2020.
“The sense of not feeling safe in one’s own community has been difficult,” said Victor Lim, vice president, senior business control specialist for Bank of American and a 26-year-old Asian American who lives in Queens, N.Y. “The amount of violent crime that has happened, especially to our elderly, makes me constantly fear for my own senior parents’ safety.”
Lim added that there were many fears of copycat violence in his own community following the Atlanta shootings. “To know that crimes happened in our own neighborhoods makes nowhere feel truly safe,” he said.
According to the Stop AAPI Hate report, most racist incidents occurred at businesses (35 percent). There are some key actions that companies can take to thwart racism in the workplace. Given the spread of misinformation about Asians and the COVID-19 virus, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) noted that customers and clients may refuse service from AAPI workers and become hostile towards them. Employers should conduct “bystander training,” in which an employee learns how to protect the targeted individual by standing between them and the hostile customer. From there, the hostile person can be distracted so the targeted employee can get to safety.
Internal training is also necessary. An employee may make a crude joke about Asian-Americans and COVID-19, something else that has been common since the pandemic began. APALA noted that managers and other employees alike should immediately make it clear that kind of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
In addition to voicing their concerns publicly, Bank of America’s senior leaders voiced their care and support for the AAPI communities internally, Lim noted. “Senior leaders from all walks of life took time to discuss these events and express sorrow and solidarity,” he said. “Senior Asian teammates reached out to junior Asian professionals. I am proud of the bank for giving space to care for its employees. It inspires strength and helps me feel like truly part of a family and community at the bank. This bond and support have helped me be resilient during this wave of anti-Asian violence.”
Outlook for Universities
Schools and universities have also condemned anti-Asian attacks since the Atlanta shootings. There haven’t been many reports of racist incidents on college campuses, though it is important to note that most students have been taking classes remotely for the past year. To that end, one professor who asked to remain anonymous noted that while her school hasn’t experienced any incidents against AAPI students, senior leaders are concerned about what could happen when schools begin to open back up.
HR professors, advisers and students alike have been proactive in showing support for the AAPI community. Ashley Dugger, SHRM-CP, program chair for human resource management at Western Governors University (WGU) in Salt Lake City, recently spoke with some members of her university’s SHRM Student Chapter about the incident. She noted that they feel heartbroken about these incidents but are encouraged by the conversation that is taking place around these issues.
“They are glad to hear of the increased awareness and acknowledgement that this is real and that discussion is taking place on ways to support those experiencing the bullying and violence,” she said.