Not all Asian people look the same, and the failure of “Diversity Inclusion”

Within an hour yesterday of arriving at our company’s headquarters in San Francisco, I was chatting with a few of my local colleagues when one of my Amsterdam colleagues walked up to me to hug me, and he said, “I just saw you three weeks ago, and we meet yet again!”

I was so confused. I hadn’t been in the SF office since February when we had our annual sales kickoff. What was he referring to? “No, I haven’t been here since February,” I responded, unsure of what he was referring to.

“Yes, you were here three weeks ago!” this Dutch colleague insisted. “We were working on our side project together.”

And that’s when it hit me. Damnit. He’s mistaking me for another colleague… who is very likely another Asian female.

Our colleague visiting from London knew immediately who he was mistaking me for. He pulled me aside later and said, “(Insert Dutch colleague’s name) thought you were Diana,” he said in a hushed voice.

So, that’s when I decided to post on our company’s Diversity Inclusion Slack channel this message:

“So @jess asked me to be more vocal on this channel given my experiences in general, and so I think now that it’s my first day back at Optimizely SF since February…maybe I can ask this question: Should I be getting used to the fact that as an Asian American woman at this company that I should be confused for other Asian women repeatedly?”

It received a lot of reactions, many of which were other people of color getting mistaken for other people of a similar color. It was just so stupid and senseless. No response from HR was seen, just more outrage from other employees who were not white.

We have a diversity inclusion group at work, which frankly, is more for show and venting than it is for actually solving issues around diversity in the workplace. To make matters worse, it’s only in San Francisco, which is our headquarters. As one of my colleagues said to me when I shared this repeated experience of getting mistaken for other Asian female employees, our company fails to handle diversity management in a productive way that actually effects change. This Slack channel is mainly a steam valve to let people complain together. If our Human Resources team were serious about doing something, they would hire outside professionals to not only come in and do these trainings, but also advise HR on how to handle these issues, as they will constantly come up.

But, that isn’t happening. So, I will continue to be mistaken for other Asian females, and other Asian females will get mistaken for me. Because in a white people world, all people of color look the same to them. We’re not individuals. We’re just a single race duplicated into multiple bodies.


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