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Keeping Commitments: Going Beyond APAHM and Mental Health Awareness Months in the Workplace

Kanarys Staff


May is an important month to reflect on the state of DEI in the workplace as we recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. 

On May 4th, Kanarys held a virtual event to discuss the intersectionality of these topics. The webinar, “Keeping Commitments: Going Beyond APAHM and Mental Health Awareness Months in the Workplace” is available here and featured the following panelists:  

  • Tiffany Foo, People & Culture Strategist at El3mental, Formerly at Kapor Capital

  • Carissa Begonia, Business & Leadership Coach at CONSCIOUSXCHANGE, Former Head of DEI at Zappos 

  • Tizita Seifu, Clinical Coordinator for Harmony Community Development

The discussion was moderated by two of Kanarys’ own, Kaila Brooks and Amin Habibnia, and they posed a variety of questions to the panel, ranging from how they deal with overcoming adversity in the workplace to how they approach their own mental health outside of it. 

Here are key highlights from the engaging discussion.

1.) The workplace can be a triggering environment for AAPI employees. Carissa shared that as an Asian American woman, she does not know when she may face triggering experiences in the workplace, and it could happen at any time. For example, a coworker may ask, “Is Asian hate still a thing?”, and this could lead to a distressing conversation. Instead of this question, non-AAPI coworkers could ask “How are you doing as an Asian American person?” 

The panelists shared the importance of understanding one's own bodily cues when these situations arise. Tiffany and Carissa described how important it is for individuals to assess how they are feeling when they are triggered, and recognizing specific emotions is the first step in figuring out how to deal with them. The panelists discussed how individuals can work to self-regulate their emotional intelligence, and that self-awareness is important because sometimes therapy is not accessible.

Workplace leadership should understand that non-AAPI folks may not recognize when something is triggering for AAPI employees. Racialized trauma is carried throughout life, and coworkers need to be aware that racialized folks are probably carrying experiences that they are still trying to process.  The ultimate goal from a leadership standpoint is to create a workplace that is inclusive and safe for all employees to engage in open communication in order to talk through challenges.

2.) Employer benefits should cover as many mental health professionals and services as possible. Tizita explained that when benefits cover a wide range of mental health professionals, this allows employees to seek therapists from a variety of cultural, racial and gender backgrounds, as well as different forms of mental health therapy. Individuals may experience an increased level of comfortability and relatability with a therapist similar to them, and some employees may prefer breathing or movement therapy over talk therapy. Employers need to consider all of this when providing mental health benefits for employees.

Tizita also shared that leadership must set the tone for a workplace culture that values mental health. Also, from an allyship perspective, all employees should be aware of the implications of present-day prejudices, positive bias, and negative bias in the workplace; and, those who experience positive bias should use that advantage to help those who experience negative bias at work. 

Finally, Tizita underscored the importance of employees “checking in” with themselves in order to effectively encourage others to do the same and collectively bring up mental health issues with leadership. Here are a few questions employees should ask themselves:  Are you balancing life and work? Are you keeping a reasonable workload? Are you working at a healthy pace?

3.) Sharing your story is key. Not only is it important for people to maintain internal dialogue with themselves, but there is an added benefit in sharing experiences and feelings with others – if each individual is comfortable. Tiffany has created a project that helps with this. The Storytelling is Healing project allows AAPI folks to share their experiences, culture and history of existing as an AAPI person with others. It is an open-ended platform that allows folks to reclaim their voices and recognizes that doing so is interdependent community work forged by family, history and current circumstances. Tiffany shared that violence against Asian Americans is not new, and it goes back to the origins of Asians in America. She also touched on the hyper-feminization of Asian women, the model minority stereotype that Asian Americans face, and also the stereotype that Asian Americans are not leadership material because they are not assertive enough. The Storytelling is Healing Project empowers Asian Americans to talk about these and many other issues from individual perspectives.

Addressing the importance of inclusion and mental health in the workplace is not a one-size-fits-all approach. This webinar underscored that true change requires companies to rethink their entire organizational systems to create diverse, inclusive and equitable cultures that allow all employees to prosper. 

Kanarys is Your DEI Champion

At Kanarys, we are the diversity, equity, and inclusion people with the data-driven approach. Since 2018, Kanarys has aimed to change the world by creating equitable workplaces where everyone belongs. We guide your organization’s DEI path every step of the way with courage and collaboration. It starts with data, analytics and insights, and continues with recommendations and implementation. 

Our mission, as your partner and champion in the ever-evolving DEI journey: Help you understand what it takes to foster lasting, systemic change today and for tomorrow. Because when you succeed with DEI, your employees can thrive—and so can your organization.

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