True AAPI Inclusion Begins with Research

True AAPI Inclusion Begins with Research


From Member Clara Luo, Group Director, BAV Studio Lead, VMLY&R

For those identifying as Asian American or Pacific Islander, has your experience in this industry impacted your career journey? If so, how?  

I had a non-linear path into advertising, first starting my career in banking & financial services, consulting and ultimately landing a job at WPP Team Bank of America. Throughout my life growing up, to college, I was lucky to go to schools that had more representation of the AAPI community. It wasn’t until I started working did I realize the very different perceptions and stereotypes that affect your perceptions.

In one of my first jobs, I was told I was too quiet and didn’t give my opinion enough, therefore being seen as strategic. In reality, I was quiet out of respect for my colleagues and leaders. It was what my immigrant parents have taught me, keep your head down, do a good job, and you’ll achieve greatness. What I realize now is that it’s not only important to do a great job, but also to manage the perceptions of you. That was an important feedback session and realized that if I didn’t interrupt in meetings, I’d come off like I was uninterested.

I realized the importance of advocating for myself, ideas, and also using my voice to raise others in the meeting. It’s something that I’ve continued to work on and ensure others in the next generation continue to feel empowered to speak up and use their voice.

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?

  1. Challenge your definition of what leadership looks like. Let’s remember that senior leadership in our industry is primarily white males. It’s time for us to redefine what leadership can be, and focus on the amazing background and diverse perspectives women and minorities can bring to the C-Suite.
  2. Also, focus on the retention of your middle management. The ‘middle’ of one’s career is where we often see the biggest exits in the industry. We need to continue focusing on more training, leadership coaching, and investment in flexible schedules to ensure retention in our industry especially in middle management.
  3. We need more people in senior leadership positions now to mentor, promote and advocate for more AAPI in executive positions.

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

At VMLY&R, we have an amazing DE&I strategy led by Tasha Gilroy and Suba Nadarajah. There are many facets to this including ERG’s specifically for the AAPI community, called B.East. We also have a Transformation program dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at our company. We’ve begun conversations to understand how specific programs can be refined to include nuances of the AAPI community.

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?

As we think about the past year, consumer’s relationship with brands have shifted. It not only enough to be a trusted, purpose-driven brand, but brands must also be authentic. We’ve seen what happens to brands who jump on bandwagons by being inauthentic.

Brands need to show up and spend time understanding the nuances of the AAPI community.  One of the biggest misconceptions and mistakes I see is often, brands will invest in ‘Pan-Asian’ segments vs taking the time to understand all of the differences. We need to hold brands accountable in true inclusion of AAPI voices and community in their marketing, which begins with investments in research and strategy that is targeted by different segments. Understanding the nuances between different cultures, countries in the AAPI community will be critical moving forward.

I can’t emphasize this enough, but we know when AAPI voices are included at the beginning of a marketing campaign, vs. when we were added in to check off a box. There is nothing more powerful than a real representation of a story from the AAPI community.