May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to an emerging and complex demographic. RPA’s people-led diversity initiative, Represent, seized the moment to host a “Fresh Off the Panel” event with almost 200 folks in attendance.


What is Represent?

 

RPA Represent aims to be the very opposite of a typical corporate-diversity initiative. It’s a change agent, self-directed by Associates who choose their own projects around the subjects of diversity, representation and inclusion, both inside and outside the industry. Launched a year ago, Represent has made waves with its panel discussions, fundraisers and eye-opening educational campaigns.


What is “Fresh Off the Panel”?

 

The goal of this specific talk, Fresh Off the Panel: Rising Up the Ranks as an Asian American, was primarily to shed light on our cultural values and identities, as well as the unique challenges and barriers we face in the landscape of American business. We hoped to inspire the next generation of Asian American talent while also educating the greater professional community to the diverse values we bring to the office as a result of our dynamic culture and upbringing.


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Here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation, led expertly by our moderator, Natalie Kim, founder of the organization We Are Next:


1. Believe in yourself and your career choices

 

Many young Asian Americans face pressure from their parents to pursue certain career paths, such as medicine, law and engineering. And even when parents are supportive, it can be hard to explain what we do in more creative or entrepreneurial fields, and why it’s a viable career choice. Our panelists shared some funny incidents from their own lives in a rather candid start to the conversation. The bottom line being: Believe in yourself and your career choices and your parents will come around.

“I broke up three generations of surgeons before me, and my dad is sometimes probably like, “God dammit!” But they are beautiful human beings and they were very supportive, so I was very lucky” – Jay Kamath, Founder CCO at Haymaker @ghostfacekamath

“For me to explain to my parents that I had left a law firm to essentially build Kim Kardashian’s Shoe of the Month club, it would’ve been too much of a jolt to the system. So I waited to hit some level of success before I broke the news to them, ‘cause mentally I don’t think they can process something so out of the box.” – Richard Jun, Managing Director at BAM Ventures.

“So I entered college as a nursing major, which is typical. My mum’s a nurse and my dad is a physical therapist, so obviously I would be an astronaut, lawyer, or doctor, and it wasn’t until I got an internship at MAIP in New York that I was like. whoa, they actually take me seriously now!” – Cat Samarista, Copywriter at POSSIBLE @catsamarista


2. Work ethic is really important, but being really strategic and knowing where to apply it is more important

 

Much of the reason why Asian Americans disappear at the Executive level center around the cultural values instilled in Asian Americans being at odds with what American business culture values. Jane Hyun, the author of Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, illustrated this by comparing the Asian saying, “The loudest duck gets shot,” to the American adage of, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Completely opposite ideas. Our panelists talked a bit about their Asian cultural values and how that has influenced their leadership styles and contributed to their success.

“The days of working hard and keeping your head down are over. You have to be about ideas. You have to be strategic, but it’s that hustle that will make a difference.” – Jiah Choi, Partner CEO at Anomaly @jiah11

“People in power bring other people up that are equally qualified and who may also look like them, and that’s how the cycle is broken’ – Richard Jun, Managing Director at BAM Ventures

“It’s really about taking the best from our past and what has been instilled in us, applying it strategically and improving upon it.” – Jay Kamath, Founder CCO at Haymaker @ghostfacekamath

“There is value in a quiet leader who is sitting there listening and observing and trying to seek out what’s happening with the quiet ones.” - Jiah Choi, Partner CEO at Anomaly @jiah11


3. Bring your full authentic self to work

 

According to the Center for Talent Innovation, 45% of Asians say they need to compromise their authenticity to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style. Our panelists shared examples in their career when they felt like they had to be someone else or conform to a particular style. There were great tips for anyone feeling similar pressures today.

“It’s all about bringing yourself to the table, your whole self. The more authentic and true you are, the better off you’ll be in the long run.” – Cat Samarista, Copywriter at POSSIBLE @catsamarista

“It’s an awesome time to be different and weird. And if you don’t know what your weird self is, then it is your job to figure it out. But you should be proud of what makes you different ” – Jiah Choi, Partner CEO at Anomaly @jiah11


4. Make real connections that can expose you to different ideas and opportunities

 

Our role as Asian Americans in the diversity efforts in our industries is pretty significant. Our panelists talk about how we can all help lift each other up.

“It’s not just about helping those that look like you, but it’s about helping everyone.” –Jay Kamath, Founder CCO at Haymaker @ghostfacekamath

“People underestimate just networking through your friends. Some of the best opportunities come through your personal network.” – Richard Jun, Managing Director at BAM Ventures

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to junior-level folks to network and connect” – @natalieykim

Lastly, diversity and inclusion are indeed at a premium now for any business, and it is for everyone to partake in with passion.

“Diversity is a premium right now. You have to have the right people of a different mindset with a seat at the table.” – Jiah Choi, Partner CEO at Anomaly @jiah11

This panel discussion was aimed at being a change catalyst in our communities so we can take it back to our personal and professional commitments and help each other Rise Up!

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