Challenge The “Isms” – AAPI Month Q&A with Senna Bayasgalan

From Senna Bayasgalan, Board Member Asians In Advertising & Director Marketing, CORDIA

We would love to learn more about your background and origin story. As Asian American or Pacific Islander, has your experience in this industry impacted your career journey? If so, how?

I’m originally from Mongolia and grew up mostly in South Korea before moving to the US in 2009. Before I turned 30 years old, I moved 34 times across 5 different countries. I’ve been storytelling, branding, and marketing myself ever since I can remember to create meaningful connections and build strong relationships. Also, when you move many times as I did, you realize that you’re not “Mongolian enough” when you’re in your home country, but then you’re “too foreign” when you live outside of it. I know how it feels to not belong anywhere. So, I approach everything with a human-first mindset and operate from a place of empathy, whether it’s understanding your team or clients.


In the last two decades, Asian American population grew 81% and by 2023 Asian Americans’ purchasing power is expected to be $1.3 trillion according to Nielsen, close to 300% since 2000. How does this forecast impact how brands should be showing up? 

Representation matters. As Asian Americans become more vocal and economically powerful, the need for brands and marketers to amplify authentic Asian American voices and stories in their campaigns to influence societal attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors is more important than ever. Advertisers and marketers have enormous power to influence culture and trends. Supporting Asian American community through inclusion, authentic brand representation, and allyship is not only good for business but also, it’s the right thing to do.

Companies can also support and co-create with Asian American communities. For example, Asians In Advertising partnered with pocstock to present the Asian Creator Spotlight Series, amplifying Asian artists across multiple disciplines for more representation and more positive depictions in the mainstream media. We also partnered with Adweek for a brand new series, AAPI Creative Spotlight, for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. For each day in May, Adweek will celebrate a different visionary who is impacting the industry with their unique approach to creativity. Asians are paying attention to these companies and brands showing up for their community.


Under 10% of marketers in the U.S. identify as Asian, making this panel of leaders even more impressive. What is your advice to the industry to narrow the gap and create more leadership opportunities for Asians?

The model minority myth, which involves Asian Americans being stereotyped as wealthy, hard-working, and successful, hurts Asian Americans because this myth hides the economic realities. Income inequality in the U.S. is rising most rapidly among Asians, and there are large disparities within the group.

There's also a bamboo ceiling -- the ceiling Asian Americans face in the workplace where racial and ethnic inequalities prevent upward mobility. Asians make up 15% to 25% of the enrollment in elite MBA programs, yet a 2017 study by McKinsey shows that while Asians make up 13% of the U.S. professional workforce, they are only 7% of leadership in Fortune 100 companies and only 3% of CEOs of the Fortune 500.

To narrow the gap, make diversity a leadership priority and treat it as an opportunity to attract talented innovative people instead of doing the bare minimum to avoid getting into trouble. We miss something critical when we’re focused on the number of people or a diversity checkbox approach, and that’s whether we’re creating the right spaces and resources for people to explore, connect, and build capacity to improve climates of bias, harassment, and inequity.

Also, don’t think racism, sexism, and ableism are binary. Challenge these “isms” by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes to redistribute power in a more equitable manner. We can’t create space for others to change and grow if we don’t ground our actions in the outcomes we’re trying to achieve.


What are companies doing to better understand and reach the very diverse micro-groups within the AAPI identity? How will they be held accountable and how should success be measured?

It’s important to realize that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith. They consist of more than 50 ethnic groups with different cultures, histories, religions, and languages in the United States. The diversity of AAPI heritage and experience is too vast to simplify under one label. If companies want to better understand, reach, and connect with these diverse groups of people, they will have to uplift individual voices and people who differ from mainstream stories and celebrate the individual human experience.


How can we create more inclusive and mindful spaces for those who identify as AAPI within our organizations?

Take tangible action to fight structural discrimination and commit to ensuring robust AAPI representation in your organization, including in leadership positions (Asian Americans are among the least likely to be promoted to management positions) as well as in your lists of clients and vendors. Companies need to ensure that they’re supporting AAPI employees at all levels of seniority, not just those in higher-earning positions.

For example, on an organizational level, you can make anti-racism and racial equity a priority. Identify and implement best practices, provide resources (like training, budget, and time), and require accountability from everyone. On a personal level, you can take personal accountability for inclusivity. Be more mindful and educate yourself instead of asking people from minority groups to educate you. Work within your spheres of influence and cultivate cultural humility.


Given the significant rise in hate crimes toward the individual in the AAPI community, what can the industry do to protect the community? 

Our industry has the enormous power to influence popular culture. What people see in advertising and marketing campaigns can raise awareness about the AAPI community. Now more than ever, the industry needs to push for more representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in ads, campaigns, and media, step up the inclusion, and co-create with the community. It should also demonstrate broader solidarity by elevating AAPI leaders and supporting AAPI organizations, businesses, and social efforts.