What it's like: Being Asian American Pacific Islander in the workplace

Blog | Jul 05, 2022

Reading time: 3 min
We spoke with a panel of Asian American Pacific Islander Billtrust employees to get a closer look at what it’s like being an AAPI in the workplace. Find out what they had to say.

Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. There are many different cultures and experiences that make up this community, and they boast a long and distinguished history in the United States. 

AAPI people continue to face significant challenges. This week, we'll be taking a closer look at some of these issues -- specifically what it’s like to be Asian American Pacific Islander in the workplace. We convened a panel of AAPI Billtrust employees and have gathered highlights of their discussion below.

Test

Meet our panelists

Prajakta Mahajan, headshot image

Payal Mehta, headshot image

Payal Mehta is a Senior Test Automation Engineer, BPN, at Billtrust.

Joe Eng

Billtrust Chief Information Officer, Joseph Eng smiling at camera

Joe Eng is Chief Information Officer at Billtrust.

Prajakta Mahajan

Prajakta Mahajan, headshot image

Prajakta Mahajan is a Software Development Manager at Billtrust.

Nina Zhu

Nina Zho, headshot photo
Nina Zhu is Test Automation Manager at Billtrust.

Kavan Desai

Kavan Desai, headshot image

Kavan Desai is a Senior Director of Corporate Development at Billtrust.

So, what did the panelists share? 

In this installment of our “What’s it Like” panel series, we highlight the perspectives of a diverse group of Asian American Pacific Islander Billtrust employees as they offer candid insights into their workplace experiences. May’s focus for Asian American Pacific Islander month has been, “What it’s like to be an Asian American Pacific Islander in the workplace.” Read on to hear what our panelists have to share about their unique experiences.

Q: In your experience, what does it feel like to be an AAPI in the workplace? And what are some of the challenges that you have faced?

Joe:  

“There are times where you do feel you're kind of alone or you're one of only a few. And that's a little bit sobering when you're in a meeting with others, and you have that sense that you're kind of on your own. And I think that's one of the things that I look forward to in this group is that you can find a place so you don't have that sense of being alone.”

JOE ENG, CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER

Kavan:

”There are challenges. Culturally, coming from an immigrant family, people may not understand some of the things that you do or don't do.”

kavan desai, Senior Director of CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT

Q: So perceptions are a two-way street. What we do is influenced by what we think of ourselves and also by how others perceive us. So how do you think both these aspects have influenced you in the workplace?

Nina:  

“Being AAPI and female – and it's hard to tell on Zoom – but I'm actually a very short person, so I don't come off this very intimidating persona. Often I feel that people have certain expectations of how I should sound, the volume of my voice and my sense of humor. But at the same time, though, I do fit some of the stereotypes. I play ping-pong, and I love it. But I just don't want to be labeled, and I want people to see me as an individual person.”

nina zhu, test automation manager

Prajakta

“As an Asian female, there are stereotypes that people think of when they think of Asian females like being… very reserved in our demeanor and not speaking up and being heads down doing technical coding work. There have been times when I spoke up about an idea, and people were surprised saying, ‘Hey, we didn't expect this coming out of you.“

prajakta mahajasoftware development manager

Q: For someone who's not as familiar with AAPI name pronunciations, what's the best way to learn names and pronunciations without making the individual feel othered?

Prajakta  

Just ask, how do you say your name? And I'm sure anyone would be happy to teach you or walk you through how you say it. Personally, I don't get offended if you say it wrong for the first ten times or a million times. I think where we get offended is when it is justified. When you pronounce it wrong and say, ‘Hey, it's so difficult.’ We understand it's difficult. Just ask and we'll be happy to help you out.”

prajakta mahaja, software development manager

Joe:  

“As we become a global company, we're interacting with a lot more people in different parts of the world. So I've taken it upon myself to say, ‘Can you please help me with pronouncing your name?’ By asking, you're showing you actually care and you want to try.”

Joe Eng, chief information officer

Learn more

Want to learn more about how you can be an ally? Read our recaps of previous “What’s it Like?” panels below.