Here's a look at the history of AAPI Heritage Month, as well as methods that organizations can employ to celebrate their AAPI employees year-round.

With May being Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, many organizations are likely planning to acknowledge and celebrate their AAPI employees. The AAPI community is highly diverse, and its members trace their roots to more than 30 countries, with each having its own unique history and culture.

Paying tribute to the generations of AAPI individuals who have enriched America's businesses is critical across all U.S. industries. As of 2019, there were 22.9 million members of the AAPI community residing in the United States, and by 2050, it's estimated the group will make up 9.7% of the United States population, or roughly 40 million people.

Organizations should take a targeted approach to developing recognition initiatives aimed at highlighting the efforts and accomplishments of their AAPI employees and the AAPI community at large. Leaders need to consider the AAPI community's historical contributions and achievements, as well as some of the group's current challenges, to form a solid plan.

How AAPI Heritage Month came to be

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law proclaiming the first 10 days of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Week. This time frame was chosen to correspond with two significant milestones in AAPI history: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the United States on May 7, 1843 and the contributions of Chinese workers in building of the transcontinental railroad, which was completed on May 10, 1869.

Then, in 1992, under the George H.W. Bush administration, Congress passed a law, which annually designated May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It has been observed nationally ever since.

Pivotal contributions from the AAPI community

Members of the AAPI community have played an important role in shaping U.S. culture and history. For instance, AAPI individuals have advocated for labor law changes, fought in multiple wars and made significant contributions to science and technology, among other accomplishments.

From an economic standpoint, this group has opened numerous businesses, both small and large, including some of our nation's most successful and innovative enterprises. Some inspiring AAPI business leaders include Google CEO Sudar Pichai, former PepsiCo. CEO Indra Nooyi, Adobe Systems CEO Shantanu Narayen and Vera Wang Label Founder Vera Ellen Wang. Several Prominent AAPI individuals have also served in the federal government.

By devising effective appreciation and recognition initiatives for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, businesses can ensure an inclusive culture and keep the positive momentum all year-round.

5 ways to celebrate AAPI employees all year

There are several meaningful actions leaders and organizations can take to show solidarity and provide support for their AAPI employees throughout the year, not just in May. Here are five ideas to consider:

  1. Implement a Business Resource Group. This can promote an inclusive culture and encourage AAPI workers to connect globally with a network of people that share common interests and experiences.
  2. Support local, AAPI-owned businesses. Organizations can offer Asian and Pacific Islander cuisine at the workplace or have meetings at neighboring AAPI restaurants, which often serve as cultural hubs or community gathering places.
  3. Host themed lunch and learns. This is a great way to educate staff members on the diversity and cultures of the AAPI community. Topics can include everything from AAPI business practices and etiquette to AAPI inventions and inventors.
  4. Start a book club. Reading books by AAPI authors can help employees understand authentic AAPI experiences and start meaningful discussions. This is also an activity that can be done virtually. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has a list of recommended books.
  5. Take a virtual tour. Many AAPI museums, landscapes and heritage sites can now be toured online. Employees can visit places such as Kyoto National Museum and the Great Wall of China from the comfort of the office. Consider providing a forum to allow participants to get together and discuss what they have learned.

Business leaders can also ask their employees, through either survey or email, how they want to celebrate their heritage. Overall, the key is to prioritize DE&I initiatives before devising AAPI strategies. This will require targeted focus, proper resources and senior level support.

At ADP, we believe the best ideas thrive in an inclusive environment that values diverse perspectives. That's why we made it the cornerstone of our one-of-a-kind culture.

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