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Labor Law: Businesses need to re-examine commitment to diversity and inclusion
Labor Law

Labor Law: Businesses need to re-examine commitment to diversity and inclusion

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RTD Metro Business law columnist, Karen Michael.

Discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, and President Joe Biden and others are speaking out.

This year, there have been some widely reported acts of violence, including an attack on an 84-year-old man who was struck to the ground and later died in San Francisco. Another incident occurred days later when several others were shoved to the ground in Oakland, Calif., causing volunteers to begin escorting elderly Asians around the community. In New York, a man slashed the face of a 61-year-old Filipino American while on the New York subway.

Many are calling these acts of violence hate crimes. In January, Biden issued a memo condemning racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including condemning acts of bullying, harassment and hate crimes against that community. He also ordered guidance be issued for cultural competency, among other things, and for agencies to take steps to prevent further racism.

California announced a $1.4 million commitment to combating hate crimes targeting Asian Americans.

The Stop AAPI Hate organization has been tracking hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and has received reports of thousands of complaints and incidents. Hate crimes against their community in New York, for example, was up almost 2000% in 2020.

The group, which conducted a survey last summer of about 1,000 youths, said many experienced verbal harassment, shunning, online bullying and even being coughed at, spit on or otherwise assaulted.

Of the verbal harassment, 60% involved blaming Chinese as the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, including assuming that Asian Americans are infected themselves or were the source of the disease; 25% of the harassment involved disparaging Chinese dietary habits, such as asking them about eating bats or dogs, and for shaming them for their dietary habits, according to the report.

Discrimination and misinformation about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is not a new phenomenon. According to a July 2018 Pew Research Center report, “Asians displaced blacks as the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the U.S. While Asians overall rank as the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the U.S., it is not a status shared by all Asians.”

And now, companies like accounting and consulting firm KPMG US are speaking out about and condemning the violence toward the community. Chairman and CEO Paul Knopp posted a LinkedIn message condemning the violence and specifically reiterated KPMG’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. He said the firm will “continue to speak up against acts of intolerance and racism against Pan-Asians and all people, and ensure we continue to foster an inclusive, safe environment for everyone.”

Many organizations have been re-examining their commitment to diversity and inclusion, developing specific programs and measurements for accountability. In doing so, they must consider not just race, gender and national origin, but all forms of marginalization, including people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.

All organizations should send a message against any form of stereotyping, bullying, harassment or discrimination and ensure all managers reaffirm their commitment to these important strategic initiatives and expectations.

This conversation also presents a good opportunity to remind employees specifically about the organization’s commitment to equality and fairness toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islander employees and customers.

Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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