Kaleidoscope of Inequality
As a woman and a minority, my judgement and competence are constantly questioned. People are often condescending towards me; they treat me less professionally; and some even place me at a lower class of humanity because of the way I look. I am not alone, of course. I am sure women, especially women of color have experiences some or more of what I have gone through:
A coach once told me constantly that I would never know enough to lead teams compared to him.
The head of human resources told me that all the women who worked under her were incompetent and did not have enough education, constantly verbally condescending to her female team.
A woman who advocates for the community told me that my pregnancy was the cause of the department’s financial woes and asked me if the next person replacing me would possibly be pregnant.
I am constantly sexually harassed while working.
I was verbally and physically abused for being Asian.
My childhood neighbors and classmates always told me to go back to China.
My childhood nickname was chink.
My parents told me I could never do martial arts because it was only for boys.
As a child refugee from Vietnam, I never thought that my birthplace, my skin color, my gender, my culture, and my social class would be a target. As someone who faced many adversaries, I want to share with you what I learned.
Start with you.
The constant discrimination and racist comments made me hide my gender, my identity, my language, and my culture. I was led to believe I couldn’t do certain things because of my sex and my race. I wasn’t promoted in certain jobs because I wasn’t brave enough to ask or defend my worth. I had to get a lot more education and credentials to prove myself to others. I had to work a lot harder than everyone else, so I could be the “same”. I have let things go that I shouldn’t. I have quietly agreed to actions and comments that are demeaning and downright sexual harassment.
But I realized I had to use my voice and actions to change things that were unfair, and I had to face systems that were set up against people like me. When a supervisor would make condescending remarks, I would question and speak up. I would demand someone else to review my work. When I was harassed, I reported it and made it public. I would surround myself with friends and colleagues who would be my ally. I would actively recruit and educate people who would support me as who I am. At one technology company, I used my skills to build an anonymous reporting system for workplace harassment. Every moment and situation whether it is a micro-transgression or not, we must react appropriately.
As you become braver and more successful share it. I had had the worst discriminating cases by female supervisors because they felt I was a threat to their job. You have to ask yourself are your words and action exacerbating prejudice and discrimination? I have to check myself constantly. We as women have to support each other. We have to lift each other up. We have to defend each other.
Educate your home.
We are not born with racism or gender bias. It starts with the people closest to us. We learn it from our parents, our family, our friends, and our community. Start the conversation at home with your children and your significant other. Your diversity and inclusion workshop starts with your children. Then address the fears, hate, and prejudice of your family, your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, and the strangers you meet. Meet them where they are. Not everyone will support you, but the key is building a bridge and having an ongoing conversation. I actively work to become the bridge to help my family, other immigrants and refugees, friends, co-workers and all the people around me to understand what equality means.
Grow your community.
I use my profession in technology to encourage young girls into STEM careers through mentoring programs, workshops, and school events. I use my immigrant background to mentor refugees and help them share their stories. Take a moment to see the opportunity around you. Support the relationships and businesses that are owned by minorities and women. Look into your company, organization, schools, and community; use your voice and success to lift people up. If you are a leader, make more diverse leaders. If you are not a leader, become one. Mentor, volunteer, and share any amount of time to do sincere outreach. This can be something personal to you, something you are passionate about.
We also must also change the policies, laws, and systems that continue to discriminate and oppress minorities and our gender. We do that first by supporting and/or voting representatives in the local, state, and federal level who support and fight for equality. More women and minorities should run for office. Recruit your allies from all walks of life. Build a safety net and support system that continue to foster equality in our community.
Every seed we plant must grow a diverse forest. We must make it part of our life's mission. We must dedicate our time and energy to build new bridges between communities. This is how we build inclusion and success, together.