That Time I Freaked Out at HR | Charlene Kwon Coaching

That Time I Freaked Out at HR

Today I’m going to recount something that happened last year in May, which is Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

I had just returned to work full-time in April after a 12-week maternity leave with my daughter. I was tired, emotionally spent, but also ready to have those quiet hours in the office to read and write.

The company I was working for had recently hired a new person in HR to handle things like diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI, in the corporate vernacular). She wasn’t our specific DEI person, but she was hired to do things like schedule events celebrating different cultures and hold DEI training for managers. This is all pretty typical DEI stuff, but our company was woefully behind in making these things a regular occurrence.

Anyway, in May, I was sitting in my office, having just dropped my son and daughter at daycare, and I was excited to see that there was a link on our company’s internal webpage announcing that it was Asian Pacific American Heritage month. When I clicked on the link I expected some articles on Asian Pacific American history and our cultural contributions to the US.

That is NOT what I saw.

The page the link went to was a huge infographic detailing how much money Asian people made and how much they liked to spend money.

It’s still unbelievable to me that HR thought that this was an appropriate thing to post.

I remember turning red, sitting in my office. I thought about how this would look if it were Jewish Heritage Month. I thought about how this perpetuated the stereotype that has led to so many Asian women being featured in ads, that Asian women are smart, employed in high-paying professions, while also wanting to spend money on luxury fashion and makeup.

You might be thinking, what’s so offensive here? That’s what HR and the VP of diversity must have wondered when I sent an email to HR copying every higher-up I knew who cared about DEI.

It’s offensive to think that the cultural contributions of Asian Pacific Americans lies in capitalistic endeavors alone. It’s offensive because it perpetuates the notion that all Asians in America are “model minorities” and should thus be “accepted” and assimilated into white culture. It’s damaging to other racial and ethnic groups who make less money on the dollar (this still includes many Asian people, by the way). It’s offensive, because we have contributed a great deal to American culture and society and we have been reduced to numbers on a page.

I thought about how I had just left my kids at daycare so that I could earn a salary that would both cover the cost of daycare and would also ensure that I would not get left behind in the workforce. I wasn’t at work so that I could make money so that I could gleefully contribute to the machinations of late-stage capitalism.

The person in HR who had posted the link immediately emailed me back without copying the same people I had copied. To them, she wrote a separate email explaining that “we will have a one-on-one conversation.”

In the email to me, she asked if we could speak, in person. Fueled by the momentum of the moment, I printed out a copy of the page and grabbed it from the printer on my way to HR.

She apologized, immediately. She had pulled the page from the “Best Diversity Practices” website, the standard for DEI material for HR departments all over the country. She had even run it by the VP of diversity and he had given it the thumbs up.

She said that they had already pulled the link that they had planned for Pride Month, which was (unbelievably) and infographic about the earning and spending power of LBGTQ people in the United States.

I asked her to think harder about these links before posting them. To really think if these were the ways that we wanted to be celebrated. This was the least she could do as the HR representative for all things diversity in the company.

She agreed. Within the day, there was a new link to a video detailing the long history of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. She had me look at it first before posting it on the website.

I had spoken up. The link was changed. A few more people learned that it’s inappropriate to reduce an entire culture’s contribution to a monetary value.

Then why did I feel like I wanted to throw up?

I’ll continue this story in another post. For now, I’d love to hear any stories where people have stereotyped you as someone with lots of cash to burn and how that made you feel.

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