“Knowing we’re not alone and having that community makes us all feel a little more seen.” – Rebecca Dale, Associate Director of Design Delivery

When catching up with our API (Asian & Pacific Islanders) employee resource group, we spent most of our time laughing about their inside jokes (“What brand of shrimp chips is your favorite?”). Yet, the conversation with co-chairs Annie Chen (Senior Billing Specialist), Rebecca Dale (Associate Director of Design Delivery), and Joyce Oh (Director, Operational Initiatives) illustrated how deeply rooted the lightheartedness is in their pride for thousands of years of API history. As an ERG, the group creates a warm and inviting space for the company’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities, encouraging each other to share their cultures, values, strengths, and struggles.

A safe space in a time of need

The racism and hate against the API community during the Covid pandemic was a traumatic time for many team members at Industrious. It was also at this time that our API ERG was formed to support our affected colleagues. 

Annie explained, “This was a time when I was reaching out to teammates in New York to make sure they were ok, and this group stemmed from that. I wanted people to have a place to talk where they felt comfortable sharing things like they don’t feel safe when they’re walking home or around the city. It was important to start this group, at that time especially, to give people a safe space to talk about how they’re feeling.”

She elaborated that, within API communities, “it’s hard to talk about emotions and people don’t always feel comfortable talking about feelings” because those conversations are less common in how they grew up. Vulnerability can be even harder in the workplace, Annie noted, because “it’s hard to relate to people that don’t have the same experience or values that you’ve grown up with.”

Founding the ERG gave the API community at Industrious a haven to find support and understanding. “Being able to relate to somebody on that personal level feels like an extension of a personal family,” said Joyce.

Community through shared experiences, meals, and memories

From its starting point, API has remained a safe space for members while also becoming a place for sharing cultural traditions, swapping family recipes, and garnering meaningful relationships. On lighthearted and deeply personal levels, the group finds common threads in their shared experiences. 

Annie noted that “even though we are such separate ethnicities and diversities, there are a lot of common factors that we all share, and this is a place for us to be together, to talk about those things and connect, and to be supportive of each other both as colleagues and friends.”

Rebecca described how, “There are things that people bring up, whether it’s a snack or tradition that I hadn’t even thought about in a long time, but they bring up memories from my childhood.” The group laughs over being able to relate to childhood haircuts, being food-motivated, and the debate over shoes on or off in the house. 

The relatability of their jokes, however, comes from a deeply rooted pride for generations of family traditions. Rebecca described how “being a member has been such a great way to meet people from different departments all over the world that I wouldn’t have gotten to interact with and bond with if I wasn’t part of this [API] family.” Annie agreed, adding that being part of the group has formed deeper connections with colleagues than would be possible in other channels.

API members stay in touch via a Slack channel but their relationships extend beyond the virtual space. “There’s a lot of rich relationships that exist on the side, outside of the main Slack channel, and so the API ERG has been a good way for people to connect and maintain those relationships,” said Joyce. 

She added that being in the ERG “comes up in our working interactions and instantly adds a level of comfort and familiarity to the relationship. There’s an instant kind of kindling there.”

Bonding over food is symbolic for the group. Last year, API shared a recipe book during AAPI Heritage Month, assembling family recipes from across the globe with dishes from South Korea, China, Cambodia, and India. Highlights during the most recent company offsite included showcasing API-inspired snacks and spending in-person time together during a dedicated ERG happy hour. 

“It’s the love and tradition of food that we all share within our families,” said Annie. Whatever the occasion, “it’s cooked with love; it has meaning; it has intent.” Favorite dishes have been passed down through generations often without a written recipe but with a lot of meaning and nostalgia. 

Joyce added that it’s also about “the way in which you eat the food and the community spirit that it’s served with.” In the same way their families connect over shared meals, the ERG community connects over shared experiences.

Growing community and connection

As Rebecca, Annie, and Joyce look to the future, they have exciting plans to continue growing the ERG and provide more opportunities for members to connect. Much of the team is dispersed across the US, so they hope to do a series of virtual events while also looking forward to in-person opportunities including at the annual company offsite.

“We’re excited about the idea of inviting API speakers to do some intimate Q&A with our members,” said Annie. “Sharing how they got to where they are and what personal and professional experiences they’ve had along the way.”

Adding to the notion of educational programming, the team is keen to extend their reach outside of the ERG by collaborating on a microaggressions training for employees at Industrious. Joyce commented, “Sometimes the Asian communication style can be viewed as passive and misinterpreted, and there are other things along those lines that I would want people we work with to be more aware and respectful of.”

Whether social or educational, formally planned or less structured, the group’s priority is bringing API members together in a way that is welcoming and inviting. The ERG “offers a tremendous level of connection that wasn’t there before,” said Joyce. “It’s not about the big, flashy moments. It’s about the small ways in which the company provides people to connect.” 

Whether acting as a haven or playful forum for its members, API is a space where they know others can relate to their experience. It’s only fitting that our conversation with the co-chairs circles back to the theme we started with – food – as they shared a recent dining experience that proved both hilarious and unexpected. And so, we’re left with an outstanding debate: Which brand of shrimp chips is the best?