Narrowing AAPI Leadership Gap Through Cultural Competence

Narrowing AAPI Leadership Gap Through Cultural Competence


From Member Reema Rao-Patel, Strategy Director at Highdive

We would love to learn more about your background and origin story. How was your experience as an Asian in this industry impacted your career journey?

I am a first-generation Indian American. So, I have to constantly balance navigating the industry as a person of color along with being one of the first people in my family to pursue a “non-traditional” path. I have a unique experience in the sense that my parents weren’t insistent that I had to become a doctor or an engineer, as is the cliché yet traditional expectation in many Indian immigrant families. But the core of that desire held true: the hope that your children would have a career that would provide them with financial and professional stability. All of us in this industry know that’s far from true. So I really have to prove every day to my employer, to my parents, and ultimately to myself, that I can be highly successful in advertising. In truth, that means little to no room for failure or high-risk experimentation.

Asian Americans face many barriers to leadership positions. What is your advice to the industry to narrow the gap and create more leadership opportunities for Asians?

I think the paradigm of American leadership needs to shift in order to become more inclusive. Asian cultures are fundamentally different in every way from American culture, so we cannot expect leadership styles to look the same.

For example, career advancement and opportunities in Asian countries are primarily founded on work ethic and the quality of your output; whereas in America, it is much more about being a hand raiser and forging the right relationships. Asians tend to be more direct in their work relationships and create boundaries between work and life; in America, your coworkers are your family. Asians are also raised in collectivist cultures, which can often feel counter to America’s value around individuality – which means we aren’t taught to put our needs above others all the time and can be more passive about career advancement. However, the advertising industry demands that you ask for your own promotions, fight for the right opportunities, and define your own path to leadership.

All this to say, we need to change the KPIs (or at least become more open minded about what else defines success) as it pertains to organizational leadership to narrow the gap. I strongly believe in this perspective in regards to inclusivity of all kinds!

Share an example where progress is being made to support Asians in the workforce?

In my honest opinion, I don’t think we’ve gotten to a point of making progress yet. Most brands have barely scratched the surface on the multicultural business opportunity with the Asian market; so I think it will be some time before we turn inward to consider the wellbeing of the workforce. As cynical as that sounds, I do have hope! Across culture, we’ve finally shone a spotlight on Asians this year — like recognizing Asian American actors, directors, and producers or acknowledging the horrific acts of hate and violence against Asians as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For better or for worse, people are starting to take notice, and I hope that catalyzes positive change in our industry soon.