Diversity Thought Leadership

Recognizing AAPI Month: Communications Leaders Driving Change

AAPI Month
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Find more resources from PRSA for AAPI Month here.

In the dynamic and fast-paced world of communications, resilience is a key trait for anyone aiming to make a lasting impact. For minority leaders, this resilience has been tested by the unique challenges they face and continue to overcome in the profession.

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we are reflecting on the journey of resilience displayed by notable Asian American leaders in our profession. Their individual career journeys are marked by perseverance, adaptability and an unwavering commitment to excellence. Each has risen to prominent positions, leveraging their diverse perspectives to drive innovation and inclusivity.

Historically, Asian Americans have been underrepresented in leadership roles within communications. Cultural stereotypes, implicit biases and the notion of the model minority have hindered progress. Yet, it is precisely these challenges that have forged their resilience. AAPI leaders have learned to navigate and dismantle these barriers and emerge as pioneers in communications.

Below, we look at the key themes resonating with AAPI leaders today.

Understanding the power of representation

It isn’t a secret that representation matters and seeing fellow Asian Americans in leadership roles provides inspiration and validation.

“For too long, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been missing from the picture,” said Soon Mee Kim, chief DEI officer for the Omnicom Communications Consultancy Network. “We belong in marketing, communications and creative industries. We belong in leadership and in the boardroom. We belong wherever decisions are made when people are involved. We belong here.” 

Dispelling the model minority myth

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of diversity in leadership. Yet this shift should not just be about fulfilling quotas or being the model minority in the workplace. It should be about recognizing the value and impact that diverse leaders bring to the table.

“We want to be seen and heard in all areas of communication.  The only way this will happen is when we, as a community, recognize that our stories and experiences are important and meaningful,” said Bill Imada, chairman and chief connectivity officer at IW Group.

As we celebrate Asian American leaders ascending into leadership roles, we must also acknowledge the work still to be done. True equality means creating an environment where Asian Americans are not just present but are thriving and leading with confidence; it means challenging the status quo and advocating for systemic changes that promote inclusivity at all levels.

Advancing equality to empower the next generation

“We should be using our talent and expertise to communicate that every individual and organization has a responsibility to fight for justice and equality in our country and the world. Good communications can inspire individuals and organizations to take up this charge,” said Patrice Tanaka, chief joy officer, Joyful Planet. “Sometimes public relations professionals only think of themselves as ‘story tellers.’ We shouldn’t limit ourselves to just being story tellers. We can create stories and be ‘story makers’ and ‘community builders.’’’

 To pave the way for the next generation of Asian American leaders, we should continue to foster community, provide mentorship and sponsorship in the workplace, and encourage people to use their voices.

“We’re seeing more and more people in the broader AAPI community use their voices. And, we as communications professionals even more have the charge, the challenge, the opportunity to elevate our voices to help support that next generation of communicators,” said Cynthia Sugiyama, head of communications for diverse segments, representation and inclusion at Wells Fargo.

As we celebrate AAPI Month, let us embrace our role as trailblazers, empowering the next generation to dream big, aim high, and reshape the future of communications with their diverse voices and perspectives.

Sabrina Browne is co-vice chair of PRSA’s DEI Committee and co-lead of PRSA’s Black Voices Affinity Group.

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Sabrina Browne

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