What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Paul Bi: Just because you can’t measure the ROI of something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What’s the ROI of hugging your mom?”. This thought comes from the late Tony Hsieh, former Zappos CEO. While this piece of advice wasn’t directly given to me, it is something that has had a big impact ever since I first learned about it in Tony’s book “Delivering Happiness.” Often times work that we do cannot be easily quantified in define figures…particularly if it’s exploring and innovating in brand new spaces. Return and a level of accountability will always be an important aspect in determining if something was successful or not, but it should absolutely not be the barrier that prevents you from getting started.
Jung Wong: Strive for continuous improvement – there is always room to grow and become better no matter what role you are in. The key to this is self-awareness of your skill gaps, opportunities and being open to advice/help.
Bert Dizon: Be an advocate for yourself!
Throughout my career, I have always operated on the mindset of doing you best in all that you do and promotions and raises will follow. My family instilled the concept that you will ultimately be rewarded by your hard work and perseverance. Keeping your nose to the grindstone was the best way to do your work and your supervisors will reward you appropriately.
While this is absolutely true to a degree, it was not until I met my industry mentor, who also taught me the value advocating for yourself. It was no longer just about expecting talent and worth to be recognized and rewarded but putting yourself out there to advocate and ensure that your talents and efforts are not going unnoticed. Being an advocate for yourself does not mean to be cocky or overconfident. It has a lot to do with building a rapport and level of mutual respect with your management that you can openly and often talk about your successes and goals, but also candidly about your challenges in an effort to steer yourself in the right direction. The best way to advocate for yourself is candidly, as no one is perfect.
Advocating for yourself must also have a high degree of self-reflection and active listening. You cannot put blinders on when it comes to your weakness, nor can you just put a magnifying glass on your strengths. You must be willing to take feedback and make the effort reduce and eliminate deficiencies while continuing to build upon your strengths.
While this is not easy and it requires a manager who operates more in a leadership style, it is important to make that effort to ensure the growth and results you are seeking.
Members of the AAPI community are often viewed as the “model minority” – smart, hardworking, team-players but state that they are not always sought out for leadership roles. What, if any challenges have you faced because of this perception and how have you overcome those challenges?
Paul Bi: The broader implications are that the ‘model minority’ exists but the issue comes down to how it is understood and perceived. Often, the Pan-Asian community is viewed in the context of a monolith and applied in a way that praises the community as whole for the apparent success they experience. However, this is misguided as there’s an ugly history to the term and done in contrast to other underrepresented and marginalized groups acting as wedge to divide communities and bring attention away from the core issues at hand. The reality is having the ‘model minority’ applied in this way ignores the real challenges, biases and discrimination that exist in the community. Additionally, it takes-away from the unique experiences, stories and diversity that the broader Pan-Asian community brings as we represent multiple nationalities, languages and cultures. To address these issues, I was one of the founding members of an employee resource group for Pan-Asians and led the group as the National Co-Chair for several years. Our goal was to bring greater awareness surrounding the inequities being experienced and shift the conversational paradigms back into the hands of the community. From here, we’ve been able to open new lines of dialogue and have real honest conversations with company leaders of what needs to be done to create change. Whether it is my own experience dealing with ‘model minority’ dynamics to colleagues going through ones of their own. Each one is unique in its own right and is important to continue bringing these experiences to the forefront to create the kind of culture change that would benefit everyone.
Jung Wong: The ‘model minority’ persona is what I experienced in my first job out of college. I worked hard, long hours and had exceeded expectations year-over-year but was never a candidate for a leadership role when I applied – most times did not even get an interview. After a few years, I transitioned to a new role and company. It was there that I observed multiple AAPI senior leaders that motivated me to strive for that next step. At that point, I knew I had to own my development to address certain fears/opportunities – taking public speaking courses, conflict resolution training, being a leader within my peer group.
In your opinion, what needs to happen in order to break the corporate glass ceiling and expand the presence of Asian Americans in executive suites?
Paul Bi: There needs to be a greater acknowledgement and understanding that the ‘bamboo ceiling’ exists in order to address the problem and create change. Often, these problems are given little weight or flat out ignored. This leads to the further perpetuation of the ‘bamboo ceiling’ as there isn’t a belief that something is wrong, Pan-Asians are advancing, and the community is doing well. However, that is the exact opposite of what’s happening. Extensive research and data already exists identifying the perils of the ‘bamboo ceiling’, the misperceptions behind it and the significant gaps that exist regarding upward mobility and Pan-Asians in leadership roles. So many authentic stories and experiences go untold in the community. There must be a greater adoption of a growth mindset to foster an environment where you can listen and learn from the challenges that affect the community. Recognize that there requires a stronger willingness to open-up, be vulnerable, asking and being asked tough questions and transparent that there still remains a lot to improve on. By not acknowledging the disparities within, issues will continue to be ignored and disproportionately harm efforts on bridging gaps to bringing greater diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging in an organization.
Jung Wong: The first thing that comes to mind is making sure companies are assessing and investing in their AAPI talent. By connecting your AAPI talent with the right mentor/sponsor and other resources to develop their leadership skills early on, you help unlock their full potential. I have been lucky to work for a company that has provided me with positive influencers throughout my career to help me grow personally and professionally – that along with internal and external development trainings have helped me get to where I am today.
As a way to pay-it-forward, I recently took on the role as the National Advancement Program Director within LEAAP – Leading & Empowering Asian & Ally Professionals, which is one of Liberty Mutual’s Employee Resource Groups. Our program purpose is to identify the top talent within the AAPI community and help them get where they want to be via various internal and external training resources.
What do you know now that you wished you knew when you began your career?
Paul Bi: Don’t sweat the small stuff because it really is all small stuff. While simple, it is profound in many ways. Early in my career I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get every little thing perfect. Part of it is driven by model minority dynamics, having to live up to certain standards and perceptions that have been placed on the broader community. And part of it was driven by proving my worth and seeking validation through others. There is a detriment to that as one can get overwhelmed, place too much importance on it and often lose sight of the bigger picture. It was a lesson that took me some time to learn and realize just how potentially harmful focusing on aspects that really wasn’t worth the energy or just out of my control. Instead of sweating the small stuff, I’ve learned to redirect my focus into things that bring more fulfillment and value. It has help me better prioritize, gain new levels of confidence in myself, and create greater balance particularly as life gets busier with its complexities.
Jung Wong: That everybody has a voice at the table… Early on in my career, I was always afraid to speak up and voice my opinion, especially when senior leaders were part of the audience. This was partially driven by how I was raised in a traditional Chinese culture of “keeping your head down”. It wasn’t until I connected with an impactful leader/mentor, that consistently made it a point to ask “What do you think Jung?” in front of a broader group that I felted empowered to express my thoughts.
Bert Dizon: When I first started working in insurance, I looked at the industry for the most part as a job and not a career, it was a means to an end and that one day I would find my career. I had even left the industry a couple of times because of that. I like most had the story of how I fell into a role in claims as opposed to seeking out a role in it. While I was told and I felt that that I do my job well, it was not something that I even considered being long term. I did not see myself being a claims representative for the rest of my life.
While still unsure about claims as my future, I took a job working for a broker. While in that role I found that my knowledge and experience of claims helped me to better understand risk. I also found myself being the person that many of my colleagues came to help them answer claims questions for their customers. When I left there I started working in the TPA world and discovered yet another side to the industry. I began to discover the depth of the industry and the opportunities within in it. I realized that there was a career path in this for me. I began setting goals and developing a trajectory that I would like to see myself go and today I continue on that journey.
If I could go back and talk to myself, I would tell me to embrace the insurance industry, as I do now, as a career and start setting my goals with that mindset. That the world of insurance, while it can be tough, can be very rewarding and provide an outlet to gain and grow knowledge and understanding of something that everyone in the world will need help with at some point in their life.