Eliminate hate: Addressing Anti-Asian racism
by: a curious public servant | | Share
Whilst Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to honour the culture and achievements of the Asian community in Canada and around the world, one cannot ignore the significant rise of anti-Asian racism that has been coupled with the COVID 19 Pandemic.
According to the data in the latest Hate Crimes Juristat provided by Statistics Canada, media outlets and police reports show that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, hundreds of anti-Asian incidents have been reported across seven provinces. In Vancouver specifically, the Police Board has reported that anti-Asian hate crime incidents have increased by 878 percent compared to 2019. The Ottawa Police Service reported a 600% increase in hate crimes against people of Asian descent, while Montreal’s Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) reported 5 times more, and the Toronto Police Service, 51% more. As of September 2021, Project 1907, has reported 2265 incidents of anti-Asian racism in Canada. Canada continues to report a higher number of anti-Asian racism incidents per capita than the United States by over 100%.
“The disturbing reality is that the Asian community has been blamed for the Covid 19 pandemic. This was the backdrop that led to the creation of the Network of Asian Federal Employees (NAFE) in the federal public service.”
The disturbing reality is that the Asian community has been blamed for the Covid 19 pandemic. This was the backdrop that led to the creation of the Network of Asian Federal Employees (NAFE) in the federal public service.
The time to act is now
In honour of Asian History Month, the Living Digital team sat down with Iwan Chan . Aside from leading an extensive portfolio as the Director General of the Corporate Secretariat at Environment and Climate Change Canada, Iwan is also one of the founding members of NAFE. A lighthearted, engaging, and charismatic public servant, Iwan highlighted the goals and objectives of the NAFE:
“NAFE not only creates a safe and supportive space for Asian public servants by maintaining a network for sharing information, resources and lived experience, we also address issues faced by Asian public servants at a regional and national level while promoting allyship,” Iwan says. One of the ways NAFE does this is by analyzing employment equity demographic data to have a better understanding of where Asian employees are within the Government of Canada and working with senior management to keep them informed.
“The idea that the lived experience of marginalized employees can inform decision-making can make such a big difference to improve the experiences of employees is a major step in the right direction.”
This is pretty cool stuff if you ask me, and it is indicative of the evolving nature of our workforce. The idea that the lived experience of marginalized employees can inform decision-making can make such a big difference to improve the experiences of employees is a major step in the right direction. My colleague and I asked Iwan to elaborate.
“Let’s take the return to the office as an example. We recently conducted a survey to get an idea on thoughts regarding return to office. Folks are reluctant to return to the workplace for several reasons, but one that particularly stood out was fear of using public transportation and experiencing racism.”
Iwan explained that results for the survey were shared with Assistant Deputy Ministers to keep them apprised of the feelings amongst employees and ensure that these issues are considered while ‘return to office’ conversations take place.
Diversity Breeds Diversity
NAFE is playing an integral role with regards to employment equity. The Employment Equity Act is currently under review and the NAFE is one of the interveners. According to Iwan they are “providing feedback about what the next iteration of the Employment Equity Act should be. Right now, we're confined within these four categories, which are women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous persons, and visible minorities.” Over time, we’ve come to recognize that these 4 categories are too restrictive. For example, we now know that there is need to also consider gender, sexual identities, and intersectionality.
Iwan continues: “Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become buzz words in the public service, and I am not attempting to minimize their importance. However, it goes beyond clicking a visible minority box in a questionnaire. What are we doing with these numbers? We are addressing the ‘Diversity’ part. But what about ‘Inclusion’?”.
“We might look at our teams and notice that we might have colleagues of varying ethnic origins. However, how many of them are represented at the management level?”
This gives us a lot to think about. We might look at our teams and notice that we might have colleagues of varying ethnic origins. However, how many of them are represented at the management level? This is the ‘Inclusion’ aspect Iwan is alluding to: does everyone feel they belong where they are, as they are?
Diversity breeds diversity, and this is a core component of the NAFE philosophy. The organization works with various grassroots equity-seeking networks such as the Public Service Pride Network, the Federal Black Employee Caucus, and the Indigenous Federal Employee Network. “We stay mindful of what is happening with our equity seeking colleagues. We promote awareness and allyship in efforts to improve cross-cultural understanding in the workplace,” Iwan adds.
NAFE is also big on mentorship, coaching and career development. “We are developing a post-graduate program directory of students as well as an inventory of bridgeable students. We are also looking at ways to augment retention and advancement of current and future Asian public servants by championing professional development and sponsoring Asian employees,” Iwan says.
Humanity and Unconscious bias
Being a visible minority often means carrying a lot of emotional weight every day. Between the state of race relations the world over, trying to manage the burdens of society, the endless path towards personal and career growth, and an individual’s personal struggles, things can get overwhelming. With this in mind, we asked Iwan how he deals with the burdens and to share some of his sources of strength.
“I believe in the good in people. This is my main source of strength. Within my teams, I heavily stress the importance of looking out for one another and encourage everyone to show vulnerability. In a way, the pandemic has evened the playing field. We get a glimpse into each other's lives a bit through our calls. We have pets, screaming children, elderly parents to look after; we get an insight into each other's lives, and see similarities. We’re all part of the human race at the end of the day,” Iwan says.
We asked Iwan about barriers he might have encountered as a public servant of Asian descent. And unsurprisingly, with 20 years in the public service, he had some interesting points to share:
“There are stereotypes, of Asians being the model minority. Asians are often dubbed as overachievers, quiet and docile in nature, and while we know this is not true, I have been held to that standard.”
“There are stereotypes, of Asians being the model minority. Asians are often dubbed as overachievers, quiet and docile in nature, and while we know this is not true, I have been held to that standard. Many times, I thought to myself, was I selected for my qualifications? Or because I am an Asian man and I check that visible minority box?” he shares.
A lot of selection processes are targeted towards employment equity groups. This is great for many reasons, but there are some who might assume that tokenism was the reason an individual was successful in the process (Note from the writer: This seems like a good spot to place a reminder to be aware of unconscious bias). This might deter people of equity seeking groups from self-identifying, out of fear of being “type cast.” Iwan brings us back to the employment equity questionnaire as a way to counter this issue in the public service. “Everyone should fill out the questionnaire, not just those who identify within those four categories. This will give us a better understanding of what the public service is comprised of,” Iwan says.
Within his directorate, Iwan is doing his part to strive for inclusivity. He certainly practices what he preaches. He talked to us about an initiative he launched within his teamcalled Coffee with Iwan, where he schedules coffee breaks with members of his directorate. His goal is to make a conscious effort to get to know his staff and to have them feel included and heard. “I’m a Director General. But I want to hear from my staff because we can learn from each other,” Iwan shares.
We asked Iwan what Asian Heritage Month means to him. He talked about growing up and feeling like an imposter, as a person of Vietnamese and Chinese heritage, but born in Germany. “Asian Heritage Month allows me to connect with my roots and accept my “Asian-ness.” For years, this is something I have suppressed, in an attempt fit in. Now, it is something I embrace and I am keen on learning about the diversity of other Asian cultures. NAFE allows me to do so,” says Iwan.
“We are having these tough conversations, raising awareness about unconscious biases. And as we make decisions, we should keep these conversations in mind. But what is it important is to identify systematic barriers that might prevent people from being recruited, retained or promoted.”
As a senior public servant, Iwan is optimistic about the future of the public service as a diverse and and inclusive employer. “We are having these tough conversations, raising awareness about unconscious biases. And as we make decisions, we should keep these conversations in mind. But what is it important is to identify systematic barriers that might prevent people from being recruited, retained, or promoted,” Iwan concludes.
It is important that we continue to move in the right direction. Iwan and the team at NAFE are exemplary indications of the progress being made in the public service with regards to D+I. We have a voice, and it is important that we use it to shape our future. Asian Heritage Month may be over, but we should continue to support our equity-seeking colleagues, learn about different cultures and speak out when we need to all year around. Diversity and Inclusion should be our norm, not an initiative or a buzz word. We have work to do. But we are on our way!
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