Dileshni Jayasinghe grew up swimming around the beautiful islands of her home in Sri Lanka.
From a young age, she actively pursued what she loved and dedicated herself to mastering new skills, even if they scared her. As a kid, this led her to learn to scuba dive and swim competitively. As an adult, she plunged into learning how to code from scratch and pursuing a career in software engineering, despite having grown up without a computer.
We sat down with Dileshni to hear more about her experiences, her work as a Senior Engineering Manager at PagerDuty, and her insightful advice for increasing diversity in tech.
Determination is Key for Growth
Dileshni’s family moved to Toronto, Canada during her last year of high school. While dealing with the challenge of a new culture and country, Dileshni was thrown into her first computer courses — Java and visual basics — with very little computer experience. “I liked it because it was challenging and it wasn’t something I had done before,” she explains. Though she struggled to keep up with the rest of her class, she enjoyed the challenge enough to pursueComputer Science as her college major the following year.
“I felt like it was this puzzle that you can solve and you can do so many cool things with it,” says Dileshni. She did a lot of her learning at university, which she admits was extremely hard, since she had to play catch up. “The first two years I thought about dropping out,” she says. “I wasn’t at the same level as the other kids who grew up learning computer science overnight.”
Through hard work and perseverance, Dileshni learned to give herself the grace to learn at her own pace. “My stubborn streak came out and I said, ‘No, I started this, I want to finish it,’' she says. “And I [ended up] developing really good habits about learning new things and giving myself space to learn on my own.”
Her determination opened the door to dive straight into her career. After gaining ten years of software engineering experience, she was offered an opportunity at PagerDuty, a multi-product platform that helps companies of all sizes proactively manage their digital operations. What first attracted her to the company was the people, who she deemed as inclusive and empathetic. That, along with the opportunity to develop her skills on a deeper level, convinced her to accept the offer.
Stretching Her Skills at PagerDuty
Another thing about PagerDuty that stood out to Dileshni was the opportunity for growth and development. “PagerDuty really encourages me to grow and gives me opportunities to stretch my skills and keep growing in my career” she elaborates. “At other companies, I felt like I had to ask for opportunities and always push to learn something new.” At PagerDuty, she has been learning and growing from day one.
For example, one of her managers offered her the chance to manage a second team of engineers in the Event Management group. “I still remember thinking, ‘Are you sure this is a good idea?,’” she reminisces. “But he believed in me and he gave me this stretch goal and I surprised myself!” After successfully leading multiple teams, she was asked to lead the PagerDuty Process Automation (formerly Rundeck) teams. This was a bigger challenge, because it involved taking on a team from a group recently acquired by the company.
“My manager told me, ‘You're going to have to grow this team, launch a new product, learn how to work with a whole different set of people who are coming from a startup world,;” explains Dileshni. “I thought, ‘Well this is a big challenge, but I'll give it a shot.”
As a woman and person of color, Dileshni emphasizes PagerDuty’s work in creating places “that foster inclusion, well-being, and innovation,” which enables safe spaces to ask questions and have the resources to step into new challenges.
“PagerDuty is a place where people really like to help each other and see each other grow. All my coworkers are people who would say, ‘I'm not sure about this either, but let's work on it together and we'll figure this out.’”
Finding Ways to Support Your Peers
PagerDuty enables a strong community by providing learning and development programs, gender pay equity, generous paid parental leave, and employee resource groups (ERGs).
One of the ERGs is SisterDuty, a group of women, non-binary, agender, genderqueer, and ally Dutonians who regularly get together and give back to the community. PagerDuty also partners with local organizations that provide education for women and non-binary people in tech.
Apart from her strong community at work, Dileshni credits her confidence as a woman in tech to her group of mentors, women who cheered her on when she came back into the workforce after becoming a mother. Much of this support has led her to create initiatives that help bring visibility to women and people of color in tech.
One of these initiatives was a volunteer-based tech talk development platform for diverse professionals. When she spoke to tech event organizers, she noticed the speakers weren’t reflective of Toronto’s true tech community. “We wanted to see more people like us speaking at tech conferences,” explains Dileshni. “So I said, ‘Why don't we start something where we give people a welcoming space to do their first tech talk?”
Over five years, Dileshni and a group of volunteers supported countless women and people of color by giving them a space to practice their tech talks, receive feedback and training, and connect them to monthly events. She hopes to continue making an impact in the tech space by giving diverse professionals in tech new opportunities to grow in their careers and communities.
How to Bring Diversity to Your Team
“Diversity in tech is important because you get so many different perspectives from people,” says Dileshni. “If you have a diverse group that you're working with, you see how their careers are growing, and it gives you a vision for your own future.”
We asked Dileshni for three pieces of advice in creating places of diversity in the tech field:
- Listen to your team. Diverse perspectives are important. “Don’t just hire people from different backgrounds, but give them the space to share their ideas and feedback,” advises Dileshni. She recommends keeping it personal. “I prefer one-on-one conversations, not surveys. You have to find unique ways to communicate, ways that make sense for your team.”
- Be aware of your own bias. “We all have different biases, right? If you're lucky, someone will point it out,” she says. “You should thank them for it because it takes a lot of courage for someone to share that with you.” Being aware of your biases allows you to see how they affect people, and what work you can do to address them. “They're not sharing it as a negative thing. It's because they want you to understand that bias and how it might be affecting them,” Dileshni continues. “Communicating and setting expectations with your team is important. Let them know that it's okay for them to come to you about these things and give you feedback.”
- Create equity within your company and your team. “Managers have the ability to push for pay and promotion equity, and recognize the work that underrepresented folks do to hold teams together,” says Dileshni. “Recognize the work they do to create inclusive places of work and always look for ways to improve the work culture.”
To find out more about Dileshni’s work at PagerDuty or to discover similar opportunities, check out their job listings here.
May has arrived, which means Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is in full action. While we should be celebrating diverse identities all year round, now is the perfect occasion to learn, support, and celebrate the many cultural backgrounds, histories, and experiences that make up Asian American and Pacific Islander identities.
Looking for ideas to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month at work?
We asked some of our partner companies what they’re doing to honor the occasion at work — Keep reading to see what they said!
Support organizations working to solve issues affecting the AAPI community — EnerSys
“EnerSys® is proud to support organizations across the world that are working to solve critical issues affecting local communities. In our partnership with the Its Time Foundation, whose mission is to deliver renewable power solutions to remote Pacific Island schools that transforms educational outcomes and reduces carbon emissions, EnerSys-supplied equipment is being used to install new solar equipment at schools in Fiji. Many Pacific Island schools struggle with limited and unreliable generators as their only source of electricity which makes it challenging to provide students with a modern education. These Cabinets & FLEXpower integrated inverter systems from EnerSys provide reliable, cleaner and greener power to schools so they can operate their internet for longer, and redirect school funding from buying generator-fuel to buying computers and other educational resources.”
Learn more about EnerSys here.
Spotlight an AAPI community member — CDW
“CDW will celebrate the heritage, culture and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States during the month of May. Our Pan Asian Council (PAC) Business Resource Group (BRG) will be hosting coworker virtual events with the theme ‘Persevering Through Change’ and celebrating the AAPI community at CDW through coworker spotlights.
Hear from two members of our PAC BRG on the #LifeAtCDW blog.”
Learn more about CDW here.
Discuss current issues affecting the AAPI community — Dassault Systèmes
“We believe people are our number one asset and we want everyone to feel empowered to bring their whole selves to work every day. As we continue our internal Inclusion Series, to help commemorate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, we are planning to have the co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and Executive Director of the AAPI Equity alliance, virtually discuss with our employees the current climate with the pandemic and how it has affected the AAPI Community. Stop APPI Hate tracks and responds to incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.”
Learn more about Dassault Systems here.
Explore Asian identity across diverse topics — PwC
“Throughout Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, PwCers will have the opportunity to connect and gain a better understanding of the experiences, challenges, and contributions of the Asian community. The firm will host events exploring Asian identity across several topics, including Asian representation in entertainment, the role of food in Asian culture and traditions, and leveraging empathy to continue fostering an inclusive mindset. The firm will also highlight causes and organizations supporting the civil and human rights of the Asian community, such as The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and The ACLU Foundation.”
Learn more about PwC here.
Host a panel addressing the richness of the Asian diaspora— T. Rowe Price
“To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, T. Rowe Price is hosting a signature event for associates. The event aligns with the cultural theme, Renewing and Rebuilding: Our Communities and Beyond, and will feature John Yang, President and Executive Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice. The moderated panel will discuss implications of the “bamboo” ceiling, anti-Asian hate, and stereotypes on the community. In addition, and equally important, the richness of the Asian diaspora will be highlighted.”
Learn more about T. Rowe Price here.
Host a film screening featuring an AAPI director — Splunk
“Splunk’s Pilipinx Employee Resource Group has special programming and activities around the theme of resiliency with the capacity to recover quickly from difficult events in the face of adversity.
Some exciting events we’ve enjoyed are partnering with our Pride ERG to host a screening of The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, posting AAPI history trivia questions in our globally shared #diversity Slack channel, offering a “Not Your Typical History Lesson” workshop, and virtually coming together for our Pil-Am Pyesta fundraiser, raising over $15,000 for Right to Be.”
Learn more about Splunk here.
Learn about traditions, food, and music — SoundCloud
“While Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is primarily a cultural month celebrated in the US, internally at SoundCloud we recognize that Asia is an extraordinarily large region of the world and experiences vary widely. This year we celebrate all those who identify as Asian and Pacific across the US, UK and Europe. Our theme is Voices of Asia and we are bringing real life experiences to SoundClouders with having an internal panel inclusive of discussions around traditions, introducing different cultural foods and partnering with Asian-owned and led music organizations as we curated combined playlists of our artists.”
Learn more about SoundCloud here.
Offer paid volunteer time off— CHG Healthcare
To honor the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community during AAPI Heritage Month, CHG will offer ways our employees can learn about, honor, and support the AAPI community this month and year-round. We’ll also offer eight hours of paid volunteer time off to explore these culturally significant historical sites:
- Topaz Internment and Concentration Camp site and museum, Utah. A monument to the nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned here.
- Morikami Japanese Cultural Arts Museum, Florida. This museum is a center for Japanese arts and culture, housing a Seishin-era tea house, outreach programs, and Japanese traditional festivals.
Learn more about CHG Healthcare here.
Empower students and early career professionals — ServiceNow
“At ServiceNow, we’re proud to be honoring Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and invite all employees to learn about the various cultures within the API community and the experience of being API at ServiceNow. We aim to empower everyone across the company, globally, to— be seen, be heard, and be united. This includes 3 of our early in career co-ops, who are international students that faced challenges when seeking jobs within the United States. See how ServiceNow welcomed and celebrated their unique backgrounds across the company, including our API at ServiceNow Belonging Group.
Explore career opportunities with ServiceNow today.”
Learn more about ServiceNow here.
Host a book club featuring an AAPI author — SeatGeek
“At SeatGeek the AAPI group will be hosting events to highlight and celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Our activities foster learning and enrichment, advocacy and advancement, and community and social connection. Our upcoming events include:
- Cooking Night with Omson kits. Omsom is an Asian-American founded business that makes pan-Asian inspired spice kits.
- Collective Rest session. Also an Asian-American founded business, The Cosmos provides guided reflection and relaxation practices that support participants in times of grief and loss.
- Book club. We're currently reading and discussing See No Stranger, a memoir written by Sikh activist and civil rights lawyer Valarie Kaur.”
Learn more about SeatGeek here.
Amplify Y(our) Voice — Nike, Inc.
“NIKE, Inc.’s Ascend Network will drive intersectional programming for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month – highlighting their five associations: Ascend Middle East & North Africa, Ascend South Asia, Ascend Southeast Asia, Ascend East Asia, Ascend Pacific Islands. The theme, Amplify Y(our) Voice serves as a tribute to the power of representation. Through educational conversations and inspirational moments, the Network will celebrate these diverse cultures, unpack the struggles each community within Ascend faces and acknowledge the collective action needed to continue breaking barriers.”
Learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Nike: https://jobs.nike.com/diversity-and-inclusion.
Learn more about Nike here.
Create unique Zoom backgrounds with quotes from influential Asian leaders — Moody’s
“In observance of Asian/Pacific American Heritage, Moody’s is hosting several events including Mental Health Awareness event co-sponsored by AAPI, Multicultural, Mental Health, Women’s business resource groups, another event focusing on AAPI Heritage and related topics and an employee Communications workshop co-sponsored by AAPI and Generational business resource groups. We will also be sharing newsletters that reflect on Asian Heritage, providing zoom backgrounds and screensavers to our colleagues that highlight quotes from influential/ historic Asian leaders.”
Learn more about Moody’s here.
Provide learning opportunities — Cummins
Learn more about Cummins here.
Host a virtual tea tasting — Teachers Pay Teachers
“To honor Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this year, members of Bento, TpT’s employee resource group for AAPI employees + allies, are each making a short video sharing a personal “fun fact” relating to one’s heritage, with trivia to follow.
Bento will also host a virtual tea tasting, where folks will learn about and engage with some of the rich cultures and histories under the AAPI umbrella.
We see this month as not just an opportunity to educate others about AAPI history, but also to foster personal connection by sharing our own stories and cultural practices.”
Learn more about Teachers Pay Teachers here.
Hold in-person meetups to foster connections on a local level — Autodesk
“Autodesk Asian Network (AAN) is celebrating Asian Heritage Month with a series of virtual and in-person events this year! To kick-off the celebration, AAN’s Executive Sponsor, Raji Arasu (Chief Technology Officer) will host a Fireside chat with tech leaders outside of Autodesk. Following the kick-off event we will continue the celebration with Olympic Champion Kristi Yamaguchi as our keynote speaker, and a number of in-person meetups to engage and inspire employees on a local level.”
Learn more about Autodesk here.
Celebrate Asians globally — Skedulo
“As a growing company with a global presence, Skedulo is excited to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month throughout the month of May. We are launching an internal dialogue campaign around AA/API identity and its impact and influence on colleagues across our offices that span four continents. We are also inviting guest speaker Helen Ma, President of Project by Project to chat about their work, the history behind AAPI Heritage month, the continued issues with Anti-Asian hate, dispelling the model minority myth, and how others can be an ally. Another point of engagement are interactive sessions to learn about and practice Tai chi. Our hope is to amplify AA/API voices from across the globe, educate our colleagues about this month, and create inclusive learning opportunities.”
Learn more about Skedulo here.
Support physical and mental health organizations for local Asian communities — PagerDuty
“For Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, PagerDuty’s AP/I employee resource group Illuminate aims to recognize and uplift the unique experiences of the Asian community. We will kick off the month with a company-wide activity where employees can learn more about the rich history and diverse cultures within the A/PI community. Internal employees will share their unique stories on a company-wide panel and through social media posts. Throughout the month, we will be highlighting resources and organizations supporting physical and mental health for our local Asian communities.”
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
Address the lack of Asian leadership — Yelp
“Asians in tech aren’t underrepresented. Yet, among leadership ranks, the numbers remain disproportionately low. This month, we’re bringing visibility to this disparity by hosting a panel with a few of our Asian leaders within Yelp on their respective journeys. We wrap up our Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrations with a virtual concert featuring up-and-coming AAPI artists.”Learn more about Yelp here.
Kick off an anti-Asian violence campaign — Equinix
"At Equinix, we all stand together shoulder to shoulder, amplifying the voices and stories of our Asian and Pacific Islander colleagues by continuing to learn about API cultural heritage. All are welcome to join on the interASIANconnect Employee Resource group to gain understanding, celebrate and promote awareness API culture.
Last February, Equinix kicked off an anti-Asian Violence campaign and matched employee donations by 2:1. These proceeds went towards COVID relief efforts, benefitting two Asian countries—India and the Philippines. We have raised over $16,000 to date; a true reflection of how our community has come together during this time."
Learn more about Equinix here.
Throw a virtual trivia party — 1Password
“As part of recognizing AAPI Heritage month in the U.S. and Asian Heritage Month in Canada, 1Password will be hosting an Anti Racism at Work webinar to deepen our anti-bias learning. To celebrate along with our Asian American and Pacific Islander friends and colleagues, we’re also throwing a virtual trivia party hosted by Bar None games, giving us a chance to strengthen our diverse culture and community together.”
Learn more about 1Password here.
Honor Asian and Pacific Islander culture through employee events — Elastic
“At Elastic we are working with our ElastAsians, an Asian and Pacific Islander Elastician Resource Group (ERG), which will help to honor "ElastAsians Heritage Month" in celebration of Asian American, Asian and Pacific Islander Month. During this month, we will honor the history and cultural richness of these groups, as well as the countless contributions to popular culture, music, food, dance, science, art, economics, tech, politics, and other fields.
We encourage employees to join the conversation by...
- Using a custom ElastAsians Heritage Month Zoom background
- Participating in Employee events
- Featuring Asian Girls Ignite and others
- ElastAsians Heritage Month Cultural Presentation”
Learn more about Elastic here.
Host a coding session with students and employees to celebrate computer science — Datadog
“Throughout the month of May, Datadogs will be observing and celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Our Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander Employees at Datadog (AMPED) Community Guild will be hosting programming to support our colleagues and communities globally. We’re thrilled to be joined by an external keynote speaker who will lead a discussion on turning hardship into power and how we can support marginalized communities at Datadog. AMPED will be holding a leadership panel in line with the 2022 AAPI Month theme, Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration, where we’ll explore topics such as minority representation, self advocacy, and mentorship in navigating one’s career path. In partnership with South Asian Youth Action (SAYA), an organization that provides resources to underprivileged, low- income high school students in NYC, AMPED will also facilitate our first ever Hour Of Code in our Datadog NYC office! This will be an opportunity for students to be paired with Datadogs for a fun, one-hour coding session to celebrate computer science. Stay tuned on our social media pages for more information on these initiatives, and others to come! #DatadogLife”Learn more about Datadog here.
Provide employees with leadership development opportunities — Northrop Grumman
“Northrop Grumman is celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month!
Northrop Grumman’s AANHPI Employee Resource Group (ERG) is made up of a strong network of employees from around the country. During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and throughout the year, AANHPI ERG provides our employees professional/leadership development, cultural celebrations, community outreach opportunities, discussions on career growth, work/life balance and much more!
“Here at Northrop Grumman, we work on the nation’s hardest problems, which requires a diverse group of thinkers to develop innovative solutions that defines what’s possible. I am humbled to work with our best and brightest scientists and engineers. But what really keeps us here is the culture: inclusivity, community, and respect.”
– Gefferie Yee-Madera, Vice President of Engineering, Strategic Space Systems Division"
Learn more about Northrop Grumman here.
Host an internal fireside chat about Asian representation — Riot Games
“In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Rioters will be celebrating across the organization in our offices all around the world. This year, Riot’s new Asian Pacific Islander (API) employee resource group has planned talks, events, and more for Rioters to participate in throughout the month.
Last year’s celebration culminated in an internal fireside chat to talk about Asian American representation in League of Legends and provided an inside look at K/DA Seraphine. They talked about how her Asian American identity informed her design, lore, and social media presence. You can check the conversation above.”
Learn more about Riot Games here.
Feature content written by API employees — Workiva
“To celebrate this month we’re leveraging our company-wide intranet – a space for all employees to share and celebrate their heritage – to feature content on the history of AAPI month and highlight how employees can support this community. We’ll also continue our monthly blog series authored by members of our Asia-Pacific team which shares everything from local cuisine and the importance of Sakura to celebrations of recent team wins. To foster diversity, inclusion and belonging, we’re encouraging employees to consider joining our Asian Business Employee Resource Group as community members or allies.”Learn more about Workiva here.
Sponsor local festivals and initiatives — Nestlé USA
“Nestlé looks forward to celebrating AAPI Heritage Month with a variety of activities offered to our employees and potential candidates, presented by our Pan Asian Network ERG, including serving as a proud sponsor for the Cleveland Asian Festival. We are also excited to host a conversation with author Jane Hyun, bestselling author of Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, on the art of cultural fluency and how to get the most out of people with diverse backgrounds..”
Learn more about Nestlé USA here.
Host a live cook-along — Invesco
“Invesco is proud to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. Our employee-led Pan-Asian Professionals Network is hosting a month of activities celebrating the cultures, traditions and customs of the community under the theme of Celebrating our Togetherness. Events throughout the month include sharing personal stories, a live cook-along and cultural trivia game-show style events.”
Learn more about Invesco here.
Host a habit-building challenge — SoftwareONE
“To drive more awareness and education surrounding Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, SoftwareOne North America, along with its cross-functional employee diversity equity and inclusion committee – ‘Mosaic’ – will host a 21-day racial equity and habit building challenge. This program is part of a series of learning opportunities intended to assist employees with becoming more engaged, compassionate and constructive in our continued quest for racial equity by providing educational resources, highlighting influential figures, and promoting employee stories. We’ll wrap this program with an internal round table discussion on the AAPI experience and how best to celebrate critical contributions to equity year-round.?
Learn more about SoftwareONE here.
Breaking down the term AAPI, how it came to be, and the controversy behind it.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the contributions that the AAPI community has had in the United States and the world!
But, who exactly are we celebrating? And how do we know we're using the term AAPI correctly?
That's exactly what we'll be unpacking in this article, along with the history of the term AAPI and how using the term might do more harm than good.
As always, our goal in this series is to empower you to lead and participate in efforts to make your own workplace inclusive and supportive of all talent. DEI is always evolving, and we're here to learn and grow right along with you. If you have other terms you'd like to see us cover after AAPI, leave a note in the comments or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Definition of AAPI
AAPI is an acronym that stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander and is an umbrella term meant to include all peoples with ancestry from the continent of Asia, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. According to the Asian Pacific Institute, the term “Asian American” is meant to represent Americans who have origins in Southeast Asia, the Far East, and the Indian subcontinent.
It’s important to keep in mind that some Asian diasporas, namely people from Central Asia (i.e. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and West Asia (i.e. Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and UAE) may not identify as Asian.
AAPI is a relatively new term coined in hopes of moving towards progress and inclusivity, but it has also earned its fair share of criticism. Alongside it are its more simplified – and equally as controversial – forms: Asian Pacific Islander (API) and Asian Pacific American (APA).
History of AAPI
AAPI finds its roots in a student activism movement of 1968. In a time of social upheaval, graduate students Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka took the opportunity to unite people of Asian descent by naming their student activist group Asian American Political Alliance. Gee and Ichioka’s group was the first to publically use the term “Asian American”.
With inequality and disunity raging, Gee and Ichioka’s broad term managed to unite those of Asian descent under a common goa. As a result, activists were strengthened by a newfound, yet intensely shared identity.
By the 80s, the term had expanded into Asian Pacific Islander (API) by the U.S. Census Bureau, extending the reach of this already broad umbrella term. It wasn’t until 1997 that the terms “Asian” and “Pacific Islander” were split, and the U.S. government finally chose to recognize the distinct differences between the two terms.
Controversy Over AAPI
While it served its purpose for the U.S. Census in the 80s, the term AAPI grouped together two very distinct identities, each with very distinct experiences, and has since garnered criticism from the Native Hawaiin and Pacific Islander (NHPI) community.
Despite it being an attempt at furthering inclusion, NHPI people are concerned that the term has blinded many to the struggles that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders face. By grouping them in with another overarching identity term, many individuals in the community have found that their own experiences and identities have been muted.
NHPI people have also faced unique hardships in the shadow of colonization and oppression in the United States and North America that Asian Americans have not. Because of this, the socio-economic disparities further drive the two apart, with NHPI people falling sorely behind in terms of poverty and health rates. By merging the two groups together, there seems to be an erasure of the specific and pressing needs of the NHPI community.
Many believe that the only way to return to the path of true inclusivity is for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to be fully recognized as two separate groups. Because of this, there is a growing push for the disaggregation of the two identities.
When to use AAPI
When using any inclusive terminology, it’s always important to respect the preferences of those you are referring to. It’s not always inclusive to use an umbrella term like AAPI, especially considering the recent controversy surrounding it. Some may prefer more specific terms, like NHPI, Pacific Islander, Pasifika, or Asian American.
If you’re unsure of how to best refer to someone, just ask!
Self identities change from person to person, so it’s better to ask than assume. It shows the intentionality behind your words, and being intentional is one of the best forms of support for all communities!
Want to learn more about how to uplift those in the AAPI community? Check out our report on Uplifting AAPI Leaders here!
How It Ends Up Hurting Women And Men
The phrase "boys will be boys" makes my blood boil. But I realized when I sat down to write this piece that I didn't know exactly why.
Was it because it's so often used as an excuse for poor behavior?
À la when a little boy punches another little boy on the playground and his mom chuckles, "Boys will be boys!"
Or worse yet, when a Supreme Court nominee is accused of sexual assault, and half of the adult population collectively rolls their eyes and says, "He was just a kid… boys will be boys, after all."
These are the more sinister applications of "boys will be boys" – the ones that reflect our society's tendency to forgive men's bad behavior because we believe it's somehow hardcoded in their DNA.
Don't get me wrong, I hate that we do this. I hate that we're so quick to accept that 50% of the population is simply wired to be aggressive and that therefore we shouldn't expect more of them.
But this isn't why the phrase "boys will be boys" makes my blood boil.
It makes my blood boil because it's society's way of using a cute, seemingly innocuous phrase to remind us all that men and women are inherently different. To reinforce the assumption that boys are wired to be a certain way, and therefore will be that way - no matter what.
When this cute little phrase is used to defend cute little activities, I find it's at its most dangerous.
In researching this piece, I came across an article by a mom defending her use of the phrase. In her words:
I'm pretty sure that whoever first said, "Boys will be boys," didn't mean it as an excuse for us to turn the other way when a woman is sexually assaulted….
On the contrary, I'm fairly certain that these words were originally intended in the most innocent of ways.
The truth is, as a mom of two young boys, I see this old adage being a part of my vocabulary for many, many years to come.
"Boys will be boys," is what I say as I watch my sons wrestling wildly on the couch with their Daddy before bedtime, while I try in vain to get them to wind down for the night.
It's what I mutter when I go to do the laundry and a pound of dirt falls out of the pockets of three pairs of scuffed up jeans.
It's what I'll let out in a startled scream on the day that one of my sons inevitably brings some sort of unwelcome critter into the house and asks if he can keep it for a pet.
Even she is aware of the intended innocence of the phrase. But what is innocent about purporting that there is only one acceptable way to be a boy? What is innocent about perpetuating the assumption that there is something inherently masculine about being curious, about wanting to go outside to play and explore?
Would girls not also bring critters home and show up with scuffed up jeans if we didn't admonish them so frequently to "be careful," and dress them in clothes that aren't very good for playing in?
As a girl who grew up playing outside each day after school, digging up worms and climbing trees, I've always resented the idea that my interests were somehow meant for boys. That I was doing something wrong or abnormal.
With "boys will be boys" comes the assumptions that "boys will not be girls" and "girls will not be boys."
Meaning that if a boy displays feminine traits or interests, parents panic and refuse to buy him the Barbie doll he fell in love with at Target.
And that if a girl displays a propensity for pranks, or a love of fighting or competing, then she must be a "tomboy," not merely a girl exploring her interests.
"Boys will be boys" hurts boys and girls because it implies that there's one way to be a boy, and one way to be a girl. Later on, it implies that there's one way to be a man, one way to be a woman, and no overlap in between.
It genders traits, interests, and behaviors that need not be masculine or feminine.
Strong. Assertive. Violent.
Nurturing. Weak. Organized.
We all know which set of words is associated with which gender. But men can be nurturing, and women can be assertive. And men and women can both learn not to be violent.
We use "boys will be boys" as an excuse when something really requires an apology, but no one says "girls will be girls" because it as an implicit expectation that girls will act like "ladies."
If your six-year-old daughter washes her plate after dinner, "girls will be girls!" doesn't really roll off the tongue the same way "boys will be boys" does when your seven-year-old son comes home with his shoes covered in mud and tracks it all through the house.
We expect girls to be kind, conscientious, and well-organized, and we teach them these lessons by chastising them every time they yell too loudly or run too quickly through the house.
We raise our boys and girls differently. We don't think twice when we have a gender-reveal party filled with ballerinas and pink cupcakes. Or when we buy girls dolls and boys legos for their birthdays. Or when we tell our nieces that they're pretty and our nephews that they're funny.
And slowly but surely, we manage to teach boys and girls that there is a right and a wrong way to act. And both groups face backlash when they deviate from prescribed gender stereotypes.
Whether it's a young boy who is teased for wanting to play house, or a girl who is called bossy when she asserts herself on the playground, we are implicitly telling them that there is something wrong with these desires.
We teach young boys confidence and risk-taking, and we reward them for it. And we teach girls conscientiousness and people-pleasing, and we reward them for it too. With straight A's and praise…. right up until they join the workforce.
Then things go a little haywire. When girls join the workforce, a male-dominated and male-built institution that heavily values the male characteristics we've historically dissuaded girls from displaying – assertiveness, confidence, risk-taking – they struggle.
At work, "boys are boys," and they're rewarded for it, and women are left trying to navigate the double bind.
They know that if they don't ask for a promotion like their male peers, they might not get one, but if they do ask… they could be reprimanded.
And then we all scratch our heads, asking ourselves, why don't more women ask for raises? Why don't women speak up in meetings? Why are there so few women relative to men in the C-suite?
Sure, there are biological differences between men and women. But there are very few meaningful ones between prepubescent boys and girls.
We teach children more than we know, and inequality in the workforce starts with "boys will be boys" and a million other "innocent" phrases that perpetuate implicit gender bias.
"Boys will be boys" turns into "men will be men," and that's not good for anyone.