Narrowing The AAPI Leadership Gap

Narrowing The AAPI Leadership Gap


From Member Ankit Vahia, Executive Strategy Director, North America Health & Wellness, Grey Group

As Asian American or Pacific Islander, has your experience in this industry impacted your career journey? If so, how?  

As an immigrant and coming from a management consulting background, I definitely had a clear perspective on what sort of environment I was looking for from a growth and diversity perspective. Ad agencies are without a doubt a step above in that respect. So I would say yes, one of the reasons I was drawn to the agency world was that there is a greater commitment to diversity and inclusion, that combined with the ability to do some real culture-defining work made it the perfect career path for me.

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?

Don’t be afraid to be the first to raise your hand to challenge the established norms around leadership roles.  Make it a true meritocracy. Until Asians having equal representation and access to leadership positions is the rule, rather than the exception – don’t hesitate to make a conscious decision towards hiring Asian American leadership talent. Also consider investing in executive and leadership training, especially for immigrants. All too often skills are never the issue, but the innate and unspoken cultural understanding of office and industry dynamics are not apparent to those who were not born or raised in the US. This gap can feel like a disadvantage, or point of anxiety for many as they look to grow their career and networks. 

Has your organization taken any steps to better support Asians in the workforce?

Grey has created an internal-facing safe-space called InteGREYted which is an employee-led D&I resource group. We have created opportunities internally for Asian Americans to be able to discuss the range of urgent issues affecting the Asian American community, such as violence and discrimination.  This is a critical step to ensure greater support and dialogue. Ultimately, platforms for colleagues to connect and engage promote a sense of safety and belonging, which has unfortunately been all too scarce the challenging past year.

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 Nielson, close to 300% since 2000. How does this forecast impact how brands should be showing up?

Brands need to make an effort to really understanding the cultural and behavioral triggers and fine-tune the brand strategy. Also, there is a significant need to move away from the usual generic approaches to target customer identification and segmentation. Consider widening the scope. It will require a greater investment for those involved, but the pay-off could be significantly greater.