ESEA Heritage Month: 5 ways to support your East and Southeast Asian employees

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September is ESEA Heritage Month, with the aim to celebrate and honour people of ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) heritage and their culture, history and everything in between. ESEA Heritage Month – founded by besea.n (Britain’s East and Southeast Asian Network) – is also a time to pause and reflect on the diverse lived experiences of ESEA people living, studying and working in the UK. Is your organisation supporting and including them? Read on to see how you can…

ESEAs in the UK

Official figures of those who identify as ESEA are difficult to find, but here are some from the 2021 nationwide census, other databases and surveys:

  • 0.7% of the UK population are of Chinese ethnicity. They are the largest ESEA community in the UK, so estimates are that around 1-2% of the population or up to 1.2 million are from other backgrounds and countries, such as Japan, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia
  • In the NHS, Filipino and Malaysian nationals were the second and fifteenth largest minority groups in the NHS with more than 25,000 and more than 2,500 respectively. In addition, 0.6% of staff are of Chinese ethnicity
  • The largest percentages of those under “Other Asian” in official statistics work in distribution, hotels and restaurants (20.3%), banking and finance (23.4%), and public admin, education and health (31.9%)
  • Only 0.27% of ESEA people are in powerful positions at work in the UK
  • Four out of the top 10 non-EU countries where international students come from in the previous academic year are in East and Southeast Asia (China with 143,820, Hong Kong SAR with 16,665, Malaysia with 11,510 and Singapore with 6,580)

The importance of ESEA Heritage Month also stems from the need to uplift and empower ESEA people, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has sadly seen a shocking, exponential rise in Sinophobia across the UK (almost 27% from 2019-2020, according to official police hate crime collected by Voice ESEA) and the rest of the world that has affected not only people of Chinese descent but other ESEA groups too.

5 ways to support your ESEA colleagues

While those working in Diversity & Inclusion roles within organisations have the understandable challenge of creating and implementing strategies and policies across the business that are inclusive of all employees, smaller minority groups such as ESEA people can often be forgotten about and feel underrepresented. However, in this blog post we list five ways you can help support your team members of ESEA heritage and integrate their voices and experiences into your ED&I strategies – not just in September but all year round:

1. Educate

  • ESEA is a term that encompasses a number of countries and peoples, so giving people that overview and chance to learn some of the differences is a good step forward.
  • Educating yourselves and others on the “model minority” myth is crucial to understanding the nuances of racism and segregation that affects not only the ESEA community but other ethnic minority groups as well.
  • Plenty of resources are available (more below) to help further educate all employees on issues that affect ESEA people, in particular those about Sinophobia and anti-Asian hate, or racism in general.

2. Use inclusive language

  • Avoid using the term “oriental” to describe ESEA people, which is deemed dated and has connotations of colonisation and foreignness and as above, educate others on why this is unacceptable.
  • ESEA is now widely used to talk collectively about the East and Southeast Asian communities, though where appropriate for your organisation and employees, specific ethnicities and nationalities should be used. Avoid using “Asian – other” or “other Asian” when collecting data as this is still a broader and ambiguous term.
  • Dates such as “Lunar New Year” should be called this rather than “Chinese New Year”, as other ESEA communities and countries also celebrate this festivity.

3. Signpost

  • Over the last few years a number of non-profit organisations have been founded to help support ESEA people in the UK, some for specific groups or areas, or with expertise in issues such as anti-racism or mental health. These would be great to signpost employees to use should they require external help or support. As mentioned, besea.n is great for networking and events across the UK, while EVR ESEA (End Violence and Racism Against East and Southeast Asian Communities) have helped develop and launch On Your Side, a nationwide reporting and support service for East and Southeast Asian communities experiencing racism and any forms of hate. Voice ESEA aims to amplify the voices of ESEA people across the UK through partnerships, events and data insights.
  • For the benefit of employees who are more comfortable using another language more so than English, translations and interpretations of materials and comms at work can be extremely helpful, showing an awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity within your organisation.
  • If you have an anonymous reporting platform available for employees, signposting them to it as often as possible, from induction training through to regular emails and newsletters, helps everyone know that it’s there to use and what it is for.

4. Empower and encourage

  • While it is never always acceptable to ask colleagues you are not familiar with questions such as “where are you originally from?” – as these can make people feel “othered”, letting all employees know they can share information about themselves is imperative to help foster inclusion and a sense of belonging. Having this embedded in your workplace culture naturally encourages everyone to be happy and open to be their true selves. At Culture Shift we hold regular Shifter Spotlight Sessions where our team members can volunteer to talk to everyone else about any topic that is close to them. This has really helped empower employees who would otherwise not have the freedom to talk about these topics, engage everyone and strengthen bonds. A study by Salesforce shows that employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
  • With the above, inviting employees to share their experiences – anonymously if they wish – to spread awareness of issues or to help show your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is a great way to further empower them. This can be done on other awareness dates that help spotlight minority groups such as Pride Month, South Asian Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Race Equality Week in February started by Race Equality Matters – a non-profit organisation that aims to remove the barriers and provide the solutions to tackle race inequality and inequity within workplaces. This, however, does not mean just highlighting or reaching out to them one time in the year – include them all year round. Research shows that 72% of job seekers value a diverse workforce as an important factor when selecting an employer. And we have seen many social movements over the years start a tidal wave of people voicing their experiences after others do so before them, proving that hearing others speak up encourages people to do the same.
  • Be mindful of burnout and avoid placing the onus on ESEA and other employees from minority groups to lead awareness and education workshops or to share potentially traumatic experiences if they do not express desire to.

5. Provide an anonymous reporting route

  • Among ESEA communities there is a well-known culture and mindset of not wanting to speak up and report incidents, wanting to keep their heads down and not cause trouble. Although hate crimes against ESEA people have risen dramatically over the last couple of years, there is still suspicion that these numbers are not a true reflection because of those reasons, especially since they cannot always remain fully anonymous.
  • Our studies have further highlighted other research showing that people from ESEA backgrounds are less likely to openly report incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment at work, usually due to not wanting confrontation or hassle (58%). 47% of them say they would report anonymously if they had a platform to do so, compared to 26% who have reported something before through traditional routes. All of these statistics are disproportionately higher than some other groups of respondents.
  • Data from a number of our partners have shown an increase in reports made from Chinese and other ESEA staff and students, citing Covid-related racism and other forms of bullying, discrimination and harassment. This shows that the implementation of an anonymous reporting platform like ours and its reputation as a trustworthy and secure service to use has encouraged and empowered more people to come forward and make reports, both anonymously and even named.

Celebrating ESEA Heritage Month

We spoke to Viv Yau, co-founder of besea.n, who said:

“As we head into our third year of celebrations, we’re seeing more and more workplaces highlighting ESEA Heritage Month with talks, panels and office get togethers. It’s been amazing to see! If you are looking to put on your own event or find out what’s on this September head here to find out more.”

To find out more about how anonymous reporting can help your employees – especially those from marginalised backgrounds – speak up to help continue fostering a positive work culture in your organisation, download our Culture Shifters’ Hand-e-book here.

How can we help you?

Reach out to our dedicated team who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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