Each month we spotlight one of our member’s stories…
This month we are highlighting several stories for East and Southeast Asian Heritage Month. Anna Chan from Asian Leadership Collective talks about why she’s proud to have started the organisation.
Name: Anna Chan
Company: Asian Leadership Collective
Title: Founder and Director
What motivated you to start the Asian Leadership Collective?
In both my working life and growing up in the North West of the UK, there wasn’t much representation of prominent East Asian, or Southeast Asian (ESEA) people. The longer I worked in marketing and eventually through to tech, I kept asking myself “where is everyone”, when I attended professional panels, events, and looking at organisational charts; especially at senior levels. I wanted to start unpacking what barriers were being faced and understand what was being experienced by ESEA people both in and outside of my workplace.
I started by giving back and bringing more awareness to my community via volunteering as a founder, co-lead and eventually president of an Employee Resource Group for Asian Pacific Islanders, including ESEA people. I then moved into a global role as communications chair, where I enabled 18+ hubs to champion ESEA culture and heritage.
I wanted to ensure that this level of equity and resources were available to more people in the UK, which is why I started Asian Leadership Collective. We’ve worked with some amazing ESEA orgs and businesses within the food, tech, and publishing sector so far, and we’re just getting started!
What does the organisation do?
Asian Leadership Collective is a social enterprise business which champions East Asian and Southeast Asian people in their workplaces. We’ve worked on a number of initiatives which support ESEA people as leaders and combat negative stereotypes which many face in their professions.
We’ve been invited to speak on topics such as introducing who the East and Southeast Asian community are in the UK, how to celebrate Lunar New Year, and the raise in Anti-Asian Hate during the pandemic.
We’ve also consulted with companies in the food and publishing industries. For example we worked with M&S to change their “Chinese New Year” annual campaign to be more inclusive. The following year, M&S transformed their campaign based off the work we had done, from online, print, instore, and communications & PR.
One of our proudest moments was hosting the first year of #ESEAEats anniversary celebrations, a grassroots movement started by myself and award winning podcaster Georgie Ma. This is a celebration of ESEA stories, lived experience and heritage through food; storytelling through the Instagram hashtag. This November is the 2nd anniversary and we can’t wait to celebrate the ever growing and engaged community of #ESEAEats, which is at 11k+ useage! We’re always open to collaborations, partnerships, and donations which allow us to continue our work. Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
You run this outside of your day job – how did you get into it?
For my day job, I currently work for a large US based company as a Solution Engineer in pre-sales, consulting with customers on their marketing tech needs.
I really enjoy problem solving, asking the “why” questions, to understand the customer’s business and then offering solutions to combat challenges people are facing. My background has come from service and implementation led roles, so pre-sales and consulting was the logical next step.
I’ve always enjoyed being creative, from studying media at secondary school and catering; I always drifted towards things that allowed me to be expressive and being able to tell stories. Growing up with typical East Asian cultural expectations, I was encouraged to not take up anything catering/food wise, and to look towards an office based job instead.
Advertising and Brand seemed to be a good combination of business and creativity, so I studied this and competed a year in industry before moving to London to start my first job in an advertising agency.
What are your biggest challenges being from the intersectional identities?
The biggest challenge for me is that because I am a Chinese woman, who is still relatively young (!), if I experience any sort of aggression and/or conflict, I am usually unsure why and have difficulty pinpointing what may be the underlying cause of what had happened. Is it because I am female? Or perceived as inexperienced as I look young, or is it because they see a Chinese face looking back at them?
It can be exhausting to constantly have to read the room and adapt to environments, especially as I am usually the double “only” in the room – only Asian/historically marginalised person, and only woman. It is frustrating when people don’t take into consideration the extra hoops Asian/historically marginalised woman have to jump through just to be seen or valued as their white female counterparts; never mind their male counterparts in the room. I also feel that when people see me, and especially if it’s the first time meeting me, they assume that I will be quiet, stoic, and always agreeable; because Asian women are usually stereotyped as subservient and docile. My Northern upbringing, and being 2nd generation British born ensure that those stereotypes are quickly squashed.
I’d hate for others to have to go through these same negative experiences, especially those who perhaps haven’t had a space where they can be their authentic selves and speak out against those biases and prejudice.
I am incredibly proud of my Northern and Chinese roots, I feel comfortable both embracing and critiquing these intersections that I have. I strongly believe in using my experiences to listen, empathise, and champion others who want to go on this journey of leading and showing up, for themselves and for others.
What tips would you give other people with Asian heritage who want to navigate the corporate ladder?
Find mentors and sponsors; those who have already experienced what it is like in the corporate world and can give you practical tips to navigate the workplace.
Mentors can help coach you through specific scenarios and guide you to build the skills to achieve the goals you are moving towards.
Sponsors should help open up networks and opportunities to resources. Both types of relationships should have a mutual benefit for both parties to grow and learn together!
My top tips for successful mentorships and sponsorships include:
- Ensure you are clear on the ask and the end goal of your time with the people you have approached
- Find some common ground so you can gel with person you have asked to be your mentor/sponsor. This can make it easier to both have learnings from your time together
- Be clear on your vision and values, so that you can be honest with your mentor/sponsor when something isn’t right for you.
I also wish someone had told me earlier in my working life the biases and the aggressions I might face in the workplace being an Asian woman; that this can range from “subtle” racism and sexism, to outright harassment, gaslighting, and being made to feel unsafe. I would be honest in sharing my experiences with others, more from a place of building awareness as opposed to deter them from working in the corporate world. I am a firm believer that knowledge is power, and if you know that this may happen, you can also be equipped with how to better stand your ground. It’s not just your job title, role, or tenure in a place of work that makes you a leader, you can also choose to lead through what you share to uplift others.
Asian Leadership Collective
Asian Leadership Collective is a Community Interest company and social enterprise business. They are the hosts of the annual #ESEAEats campaign, a celebration of East and Southeast Asian storytelling through food.
Sponsor, donation, and collaborate are always welcome. More information here. Get in touch via email.