May marks the beginning of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI Heritage Month), an annual celebration recognizing the cultural and historical contributions of AAPI individuals to the United States. The AAPI umbrella term includes cultures from the entire Asian continent — including East, Southeast and South Asia — and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
2023’s AAPI month theme is Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity, and as an agency that champions a culture of equity and inclusion, Plan B is highlighting three leaders that have advanced the AAPI community.
The first individual we’re highlighting is Eric Toda. Eric is the Global Head of Social Marketing at Meta and the Head of Meta Prosper – a new program designed to provide training, education resources, and business support to the AAPI small business community.
Growing up in the AAPI community, Eric experienced firsthand racial injustice from classmates who teased him for his eyes and accent, or the Asian lunches he brought. But more than school kids mistreating him, Eric grew up hearing stories about the targeting of his grandfather in a racially motivated attack and the struggles he faced as a Japanese-American. And while these experiences continued to resonate with him as he grew older, it wasn’t until the height of the violent attacks during 2020 and 2021 on the AAPI community that he was moved to take action.
Eric entered the arena by writing a piece called My People Are Dying In Silence — And I’m Here With A Megaphone, which became Adweek’s highest-read op-ed in history. Since then, he has spoken to media channels like NBC News, CBS, FOX, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC, and has spoken twice on the floor of the Senate and once in the White House, and was one of the first 100 executives to sign the StandWithAsianAmericans letter in the Wall Street Journal.
The next individual we’re highlighting has been recognized as a 2022 ADCOLOR leader, 2022 Asian Hustle Network Top 60 Unsung Heros, 2021 Nancy Hill Award Recipient, 2018 Ad Club of NY Women Fellowship, and more. Jessalin Lam has made herself well-known in the advertising and marketing industry for her influence on the AAPI community. Aside from her awards, Lam is on the 3AF NextGen committee where she helped launch their 1st annual AAPU mentorship program in 2021. And she is a co-author, with Bernice Chao, of The Visibility Mindest: How Asian American Leaders Create Opportunities and Push Past Barriers – an essential career guide aiming to help solve the career gap for AAPI and how allies can support it.
Like many other individuals from underrepresented groups, Jessalin Lam’s involvement in AAPI initiatives stemmed from her struggle to receive parity with her white peers in her professions in the advertising and marketing industry. From her journey to find self-love and how the need to create better representation led her to become the confident woman she is today, Jessalin aims to create a DEI impact that her past self would have benefited from.
In contrast to Erica Toda and Jessalin Lam whose work aims to spread awareness of and create a support system for AAPI individuals, the third individual we’d like to highlight is Lily Zheng for their work to Improve DEI initiatives within the companies themselves. Zheng’s official role as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategist and consultant is to work with organizational leaders to turn their positive intentions into positive impact. Her success in doing so is seen in her many awards such as a Forbes D&I Trailblazer, 2021 DEI Influencer, and Top Voice on Racial Equity, and her featured writing and opinions in the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, and NPR.
In an excerpt of an interview with Lily Zheng written by Molly Cohen, there were three recommendations Zheng made when addressing the state of DEI in 2023. The first recommendation was to invest resources toward people processes including hiring and promotion. The next was to leverage quantitative data to create acceptance of DEI challenges. And the last was to understand how tenure-based inequality can impact employee demographics long-term. In that same interview, Zheng says, the reasons these recommendations are important is that “these are often the places where bias can be embedded, where discrimination happens, and places where if things are unequal, that affects employees at scale.”
As the fastest growing racial group in the United States today, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are a community that is and will continue to greatly contribute to and influence American culture. For this reason, Plan B believes it’s important that marketers and advertisers aim to understand the best practices to act as allies to individuals within these communities. Becoming allies begins with making long-lasting efforts to achieve a better understanding of the challenges AAPI communities face as well as the unique perspective they bring to the table.