May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Capital One focuses on this aspect of workplace diversity with professional development initiatives within its Origins API corporate resource group.
David Kang, senior vice president and chief of data insights at Capital One is one of the group’s leaders. For Kang, a first-generation American whose parents are Chinese, creating initiatives is personal. Kang’s parents immigrated to the US in the 1970s to earn a degree.
“They barely had anything in their pockets and were poster children for the American dream,” Kang said. “My brother and I embraced that.”
At the same time, it was ingrained in Kang and his brother to keep their heads down and “to act as American as possible, and that came down to being as white as possible.”
Kang experienced a shift in mindset that he said was due in no small part to working for a Fortune 100 bank “that truly embraces diversity, encourages inclusion and creates a sense of belonging.” This has enabled Kang to more fully recognize his heritage as an indelible part of himself.
Celebrating diversity in safe spaces
By virtue of his senior leadership position, Kang said he felt the need to set an example for the bank’s Asian population. Capital One has several groups of corporate resources where people with shared identities and their allies can come together and celebrate in a safe space. They will also be given resources focused on growth and development specific to the opportunities and challenges faced by people of their particular affinity, Kang said.
For example, as an executive sponsor of Origin’s development pillar, Kang is tasked with helping to source and create curricula and deliver programs that address the opportunities and challenges facing the Asian population in the US.
Better yet, when you look at diversity and inclusion in an Asian context, they make up a disproportionate percentage of the employee population at a Fortune 100 company,” as well as at elite universities, Kang said.
There is also a “bamboo ceiling” for Asians, who Kang says are underrepresented in the executive ranks of Fortune 100 companies. “There is a very nuanced statement of opportunity in terms of what creating a more diverse and inclusive environment means when we speak to the Asian population.”
In addition to focusing on how well you do your job, and how productive and skilled you are, Asian workers need to get good at “influencing others who are not on your team to lead, communicate, represent and advocate,” Kang said. “In my own background, these were not areas that I felt were natural to me, and when I interact with Asian employees, they are not natural to them.”
Origins has programming focused on these topics, especially for the Asian middle-manager population, which Kang noted is the ceiling in terms of upward mobility for Asian-American workers.
For example, there is a coaching program that supports potential employees and works to develop leadership skills through training and coaching, Kang said. There is also a small group of executive sponsors who guide staff on communication skills.
Strategies to Cultivate a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
Promoting diversity, equality and inclusion is a two-way street,” Kang said. Given the talent shortage — particularly for engineers, developers and data scientists — these measures “require us to be relevant beyond the U.S. population,” he said. “There are far too many opportunities in technology for us to just be an American company,” so Capital One is thinking about recruiting global talent.
It also requires business leaders to have empathy. Although Kang was born in the US and took his ability to speak English as a first language for granted, because of his parents’ background, he said he tries to put himself in the shoes of people with a language barrier.
“A lot of our employees are immigrants and deal with things like visas, which I don’t think about,” Kang said. He noted that it is important for business leaders to “make space to understand their stories and their hopes and aspirations outside of work and spend some time in their shoes to create a sense of belonging. That’s one of those understated things that really keeps people motivated and loyal to work for an organization.”
Kang said he coaches Capital One employees, and Asian tech employees in particular, to “don’t feel handicapped by being Asian and not speaking English as your first language: Those limitations are internal. The more you can own who you are and not trying to be the person you think you should be, you will appear in a more relaxed and genuine way.”
In turn, “people will want to take care of you,” and that will foster company loyalty, he said.
Capital One’s staff has the opportunity to be more visible and empowered, and Origins is committed to ensuring awareness and awareness of the possibility increases, Kang said.
Origins has been with Capital One for 20 years now and has 8,600 members worldwide. Surveys are conducted to ensure that the programming provided to the group is relevant.
As for measuring outcomes, “Capital One as a whole looks very closely at what has happened in both representation and mobility among all of our underrepresented groups,” Kang said. “This remains a marathon, not a sprint, and we feel good at every mile marker.”