Attracting and Keeping AAPI Talent to R/GA

5 min readAug 24, 2023

By Dr. Anita Jack-Davies, R/GA (Global DEI Lead)

This past spring Dr. Josephine M. Kim, a university professor at Harvard with expertise in mental health, gave a talk to our agency on psychological safety in the workplace for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) talent. During the talk, she raised the idea that Asian Americans often feel like perpetual outsiders in America, despite being American. Dr. Kim also gave the example of a survey that asked Americans who they considered more “American”, Lucu Liu or Kate Winslet, and more people chose Kate Winslet, even though she is British. But one idea raised by the professor that resonated with me as a Black woman was that of voice. Dr. Kim shared that often, if an Asian American offers up a great idea during a meeting, the comment will be ignored; however, if the same idea is offered up by a white male or a member of the dominant group, the same idea is applauded for its ingenuity. Coincidentally, in 2021, I gave a speech to a group of Black lawyers and when I described this same example as experienced by Black men and women in the workplace, the room erupted in thunderous applause.

So I pause to consider what’s at play here? As an ally to Asian Americans, how can I speak up or offer my support when I witness this happening? I would like to consider the power of voice in terms of who we let speak, who we listen to, who we acknowledge and whose ideas carry weight when we approach the workplace from such varied cultural backgrounds and vantage points.

At R/GA we stress progress over perfection when it comes to DEI. Our goal with this article is to continue discussions around the recruitment and retention of AAPI talent and actions we are taking for the most impact. As of June 2023, our POC staff composition is 39% with 11% identifying as Asian American. We are focused on increasing representation over the long-term with a strategy targeted on sourcing and hiring practices, including key partnerships with the 4A’s, American Advertising Federation and the T. Howard Foundation,. We’re also sourcing talent from the National Asian Pacific Islander Association, along with Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander serving institutions and Asians in Advertising, an AAPI non-profit organization focused on community, career growth and showcasing AAPI industry talent.

The Individual versus the Collective

During the talk, Dr. Kim also discussed the fact that AAPI talent are often raised in cultures that focus on the collective rather than the individual. This runs counter to American culture where the individual is paramount and where we are praised for speaking highly of ourselves in terms of the contributions we make to teams and our focus on the advancement of our individual careers. The thing is, I was raised to believe that “bragging” about myself was bad and that cooperation was more important than working on my own. It is clear to see how the cultural messages and cues that many BIPOC talent are socialized around run counter to the dominant culture of the workplace.

According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company (2021), Asian American workers are often considered workers rather than leaders. Despite high levels of education, the representation of Asian talent dwindles as we go up the corporate ladder to the c-suite. In McKinsey’s Women in the Workplacestudy (2021) which surveyed more than 400 large US companies, only 9% of senior vice president positions were occupied by Asian Americans and only accounted for 5% of promotions from senior vice president to the c-suite. This lack of representation, according to Dr. Kim, threatens the psychological safety of AAPI talent in the workplace. As an agency, we’re creating a plan to not only attract and retain AAPI talent, but to interrupt the trend of increasing attrition by this group. But before we can actively attract, recruit and retain AAPI talent, we must first pay attention to the culture of our workplace.

As I’ve stated in the past, culture change for inclusion is perhaps the biggest obstacle facing agencies involved in this work. Culture change requires planning, time and a commitment to making small but instrumental changes over a specific period of time before wins are secured. One approach we’re using to address culture change at R/GA is through our Business Resource Groups, called Culture Collectives. Specifically, we’re working on a plan to make R/GA the agency of choice for AAPI talent and this will require consultation and extensive discussions. Our recent “Culture Map” sessions provided an opportunity for employees to engage in discussions surrounding cross-cultural relationships. The initiative asked each employee to fill out a personal profile tool developed by Erin Meyer that gauges cognitive, relational and behavioral differences along eight dimensions. The tool was developed by Meyer, a cross-cultural management expert and author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (Public Affairs, 2014). As we stress the idea of progress over perfection with our leaders, we recognize that we do not have all of the answers. What we do have is a plan and a willingness to discuss our pain points openly, so that we’re being transparent about what’s working and areas where we must continue to make inroads. We are continuously having discussions around the following areas to ensure we are understanding the experiences of AAPI communities:

  1. What attracts AAPI talent to R/GA?

2. In what ways can R/GA support AAPI junior talent with mentoring and sponsorship opportunities?

3. How can we partner with AAPI talent to identify barriers to promotions at R/GA?

4. What factors contribute to AAPI talent leaving our agency?

Lastly, there are a number of AAPI organizations and resources we want to highlight that continue to build awareness and elevate the AAPI community we want to support and share:

  • Asians in Advertising
  • Asian American Advertising Federation (3AF)
  • API Equality
  • CAPE
  • The Asian American Foundation (TAAF)
  • PFLAG NY API Project
  • API Queer Women and Transgender Community:


Kim, J. (2023, 05, 23 ). Psychological safety for Asians in the workplace.[PowerPoint slides].

McKinsey & Company, (2022). Asian American Workers: Diverse Outcomes & Hidden Challenges. Retrieved online




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