Carissa Begonia is a Filipina-American who left a safe corporate job to start her own business. Until I met her, the only examples I had of entrepreneurs or people following their passions were completely unrelatable for me. Because they were almost all white folks who didn’t have the same immigrant, survival-based, play-it-safe mentality that defined my world.
With Carissa, I’d finally found someone who faced similar cultural barriers and self-doubts, whose story I resonated with, who was believable and relatable because we had similar backgrounds. Today, she is a sought-after speaker, coach and DEI consultant who’s been recognized by TIME Magazine (among others) for her impact, e.g. co-founding AARISE.
To me, Carissa is a role model for breaking what I call the “model minority bamboo mold”. In this episode of Changing Lenses, she shares with us how she did it, and how she’s supporting BIPOC folks today to follow their dreams too.
Contact me and find JEDI resources at: https://www.changinglenses.ca/
Full transcript here.
In this episode, we talk about:
About Carissa Begonia:
Carissa is a first generation Filipina-American daughter of immigrants. After nearly 15 years as a successful intrapreneur and head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Zappos, Carissa decided to follow her own light and seek out sparks in others. She is a leadership and business coach specializing in helping BIPOC leaders and entrepreneurs pursue meaningful careers, build their own values-driven businesses, and design a life of purpose.
Whether it’s dancing on the beach, hiking with friends, or supporting schoolchildren in the Philippines through her non-profit, Green Mango International, Carissa continues to value the connectedness and inner peace found in simply doing good. She also co-founded AARISE ( Asian American Racialized Identity and Social Empowerment) for AAPIs, a program and community focused on justice and liberation for all.
Find Carissa on:
AARISE (Instagram): https://www.instagram.com/aarisecommunity/
Conscious Exchange: https://www.consciousxchange.com/
If you enjoy the podcast and want deeper ways to Change your Lens in work and business, check out the free resources on my website, changinglenses.ca. I also offer workshops and keynote speeches on JEDI topics like Decolonizing Corporate Workplaces, recruiting more inclusively, anti-Asian racism, and many more. How can I support your JEDI journey? Contact me at changinglenses.ca.
Please note: the transcripts attempt to stay true to the essence of each conversation, while maintaining clarity and readability. As a result, certain "filler" words, and nuances of tone, emotion and emphasis will be missing.
If you're able, you're strongly encouraged to listen to the audio podcast. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors, and may contain errors.
Rosie: This episode of Changing Lenses is for Asian women, BIPOC folks, children of immigrants – all of us racialized people who’ve never dared to dream because we were never told we could, or taught how to do it in ways that jived with our culture and values. And of course – even if we did dare to dream, there were so many obstacles designed to keep us back and make us quit.
Today, we’re going to hear from an Asian-American woman who went against the grain, and by doing so, found her true self.
I don’t know about you, but growing up, all the examples I saw of business and career success were of white folks. Mostly white men; and gradually, more white women. And I learned how to be a leader and manager from them. I believed everything they said about what it took to reach the C-suite, become a high performer, and make a lot of money.
But during every training, mentoring or coaching session, there was always a part of me that said – NO. That doesn’t feel right. That’s not me. That’s not my culture. That’s not how I think. But if I want success, I guess this is what I have to do. I have to be something different from who I am, from my culture and my personality.
So when I met Carissa Begonia, a Filipina-American, daughter of immigrants, former EDI Director at Zappos, and now an entrepreneur coaching BIPOC folks to become entrepreneurs themselves – I was so happy. Happy to finally meet an example of someone who was breaking the bamboo mold placed upon Asians by pursuing her dreams, but in a way that I, as an Asian-Canadian immigrant, could relate to.
As Carissa says,
Carissa: I am a leadership coach, business coach, helping other folks, particularly BIPOC folks also start their own things and develop their own businesses. And that's what I take the most pride and excitement in is helping folks to just pursue what's something that's meaningful and purposeful for them because I think we're all better off if we start to do that. And then how do I actually operationalize that? Because like it can be really confusing or scary, especially as daughter of immigrants, you know, to do that, especially when you don't see a lot of folks doing it. I certainly didn't have it in my family, like entrepreneurs in my family. So it was oftentimes being someone who was the first, the only, or the other in spaces, whether that was in corporate or even as an entrepreneur.
Rosie: So if you’re a Black, Indigenous or Racialized person who doesn’t have a lot of examples in your life of people who look like you doing what you want to do – take a listen to Carissa’s story. She tells us about her journey from corporate employee, to EDI leader, to entrepreneur, coach, and she-EO.
And if you’re a white ally, or Equity Diversity and Inclusion supporter, and you want to know what you can do to make change happen – Carissa reveals the big question that EDI advocates need to ask themselves, as well as what we need more of in future EDI work.
If you’d like to connect with Carissa, you can find her on LinkedIn under her full name, Carissa Begonia. You’ll also find all her contact details in our podcast shownotes at Changinglenses.ca.
But first – a quick intro and land acknowledgment.
[intro music plays]
Rosie:Welcome to Changing Lenses. You’re invited to step into the lives of people on the front lines of discrimination, racism, and exclusion; to see the world through their eyes; and to hear their personal story of their fight for social justice.
I’m your host, Rosie Yeung, a Chinese-Canadian, immigrant, cis-straight female with invisible disabilities, and I’m passionate about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
Do you also want to see social change happen? Then please join me in Changing Lenses.
Each episode is hosted on colonized land that was taken from many Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I seek Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Turtle Island, and I call upon us all to decolonize our thinking, not just our systems. Learn more on my website, changinglenses.ca.
Now please, enjoy the episode.
[intro music ends]
Rosie: Hi Carissa. Welcome to the Changing Lenses Podcast. Thank you so much for being a guest here today.
Carissa: Of course. Thanks so much for inviting me onto your show, Rosie. I'm excited.
Rosie: I love seeing your smiling face. I'm glad that we're doing a video recording as well, so other people can see your smiling face. And I have like 1,000,001 questions I want to ask you because for people who are listening and probably don't know. I first met Carissa when I was sort of in transition myself and picking what can I do with my life and, you know, how can I get more socially active and involved?
And then here I met this wonderful, smart Filipina woman, making it and doing it, like as an entrepreneur. I'm like what? Asian American women can do that? That's allowed somehow? So we're going to dig into that whole story and how you're an inspiration, not just for me, but for many, many people. But before we do that, I do want to make a psychological safety commitment to you, Carissa, and to our listeners because, you know, as we talk about race and gender and all sorts of wonderful stuff, things might be sensitive and, you know, certainly wanting you to feel comfortable, to be real and to be vulnerable and to be your whole self.
So I want to commit to you and to our listeners that this is a safe space. And I invite you to keep me accountable, to being respectful and non-judgmental, and to let me know if I pronounce something wrong, or I'm saying something that's making you uncomfortable, or it's not a really appropriate thing to say. So that's my commitment to you.
Carissa: Wonderful. Thank you so much for offering that and for protecting that. And it's always really humbling to hear when folks are like, oh, you've inspired me to do this and then whatever. And it's kind of funny to be like, what? So thank you.
I appreciate that. And just hearing it and getting more comfortable listening to that kind of, um, Hey, like what you were doing, people are watching. So thank you. I was like, oh, okay. Sounds good. I will keep doing it then.
Rosie: Good. Yeah. Please keep doing whatever it is you're doing because it's working. And because, so core to a lot of inclusion as well, I think is identity. So I want to give you the opportunity to say whatever you want to say about yourself as a, you know, who are you Carissa for the people listening to you for the first time today?
Carissa: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, I am a, I guess you would say second generation immigrant, daughter of Filipinos. I probably for a very long time, have identified as a pretty strong career woman and now I'm starting to embrace a lot of more creative endeavors starting with my pursuit as an entrepreneur. So I, um, climbed the corporate ladder. Very much identified as, you know, corporate women of color succeeding in the corporate world. And then recently, or in the last three years had left corporate America. I spent time as a Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Zappos at one point. And kind of took this idea that I've always been intrepreneurial and finally came into a place where I just was confident enough that I can figure something out on my own and decided to do that. So now I'm an entrepreneur. I am a leadership coach, business coach, helping other folks, particularly BIPOC folks also start their own things and develop their own businesses. And that's what I take the most pride and excitement in is helping folks to just pursue what's something that's meaningful and purposeful for them because I think we're all better off if we start to do that. And then how do I actually operationalize that? Because like it can be really confusing or scary, especially as daughter of immigrants, you know, to do that, especially when you don't see a lot of folks doing it. I certainly didn't have it in my family, like entrepreneurs in my family. So it was oftentimes being someone who was the first, the only, or the other in spaces, whether that was in corporate or even as an entrepreneur. It's basically the way I have to explain myself. It's like, I see gaps and I solve for them.
Rosie: Okay I want to ask you to elaborate a bit on that. Those gaps pieces, because I, as a racialized woman, I also see gaps and like, that's what I really felt when I found you is like. Wow, here would be a business coach who can understand probably a lot more of my mentality, my background, my context that I'm coming from than frankly, a lot of white people, right, that I see that are "Oh, here's how you sell. Here's how you market." And there's always an inherent thing for me that's like. I don't know that, that will work for me. I think that might work for you. And that might work for, you know, other typical white executive sales type things, but there's some nuances there. And I had trouble explaining that with a person I really respect. A white female HR colleague about how coaching, well, if you're a good coach, it shouldn't make a difference what your race is, because it's all about the person you're coaching. It's all about helping them and you're trying to take yourself out of it. And I couldn't quite articulate to them why it was still important and why there was a difference. So maybe you can help me here. Like what are those gaps that you see? Why is it important to you? How are you seeing it play out that it makes a difference that you are a BIPOC woman coach versus a white coach?
Carissa: You know, that's an interesting debate and like statement. It kind of for me, feels a little bit like I don't see color, right. And a little bit lends itself to me, that kind of statement in the sense that like, we all have some level of bias, right? We all have a comfortability with folks who have more similarities to us, whether that is race, gender, other personalities, experience even, right. Our job is to pull it out of a person but, it's all starts with relationships, right? Like if I don't feel connected to you. If I don't feel comfortable with you. I'm not going to tell you or give you all the straight answers. Especially if we're not relating to one another then it's going to be hard to make that impact as a coach and to receive even the advice or the coaching as the coachee, right. So I think also in the industry, it is very white. And so again, it comes from a space of sure, you can support whoever you want, but if there are more people that looked like me. Would I have at least an option to choose folks that have more commonality or similarities to me. Right now, there's not much of a choice.
Rosie: Yeah, I think this is part of the benefit of having more racialized folks in the space is that, so often we self doubt, right? In self doubt we end up questioning ourselves like, well, this is what I think. And then, you know, someone telling me, no, that's not how it is.
And they're like, Oh, maybe I'm wrong. But then the more you talk to other people with similar experiences, it does affirm and it does validate. Like, yeah, there is something there and then you start realizing how systemic and how pervasive it is as well
Carissa: I think the point is, are there more options in our choices? And right now in the industry, I think it's pretty limited. And that's why for me, it's really exciting to be as a coach, as a business coach, to be able to develop more Asian coaches and consultants, or, you know, Asian BIPOC coaches and consultants, because again, give me the options or the other choices. And what I've experienced for particularly as an Asian American entrepreneur. And having also hired mostly white coaches in my journey of entrepreneurship is that I also experience like a disconnect, you know, tactically could tell me how to do this, right. I learned a lot operationally about how do I create a successful business from being mentored by these coaches, but one example for instance, in terms of where I was really struggling was this idea of just, just go all in, right? Like, you know, if you didn't have another job or if you can quit, like this would take off and maybe. Yeah. And I do have that experience. Yes. Cause I hundred percent went into my business when I got furloughed from my last consultancy, but I think being told that at the time was, there's a couple of things that happened for me. One was my money mindset was very much associated with how my parents operated. They both worked two jobs when I was growing up. So for some time I was kind of modeling them. Like I have to grind in order to be successful. I have to. So this kind of what felt like flighty at the time, this response of like, Oh, you know, you don't have to work that hard, self care and all this. I was like, what are you talking about, you know. My immigrant parents didn't talk about self care or have self care. And like, that's like a privilege and a benefit or whatnot. And now I think differently about that, but I think, I was very resistant to that in the beginning when some of my white coaches were just like, dive in, head first. You don't have to have another job. And don't worry about, the money will just come and no, no. I didn't see that, like, you know, because I didn't see that growing up. I saw quite the opposite. So it was really hard for me to believe it. And I think it's still hard to believe for folks who haven't done it. But I think when I'm sharing, that's where my mindset was with my Asian clients. I think there's more trust because they're like, oh, she gets it. She knows where I'm coming from. She came from the same background and she still was able to develop a mindset that's different and that's more abundant, right. And I think that just comfort in saying, Oh, we do come from a similar place and you can still overcome it. I think allows you to see that as an actual viable option, right. And an actual outcome.
Rosie: I completely resonate with that. And that's just another example I think of how it really matters, the coach's ability to empathize through lived experience, right, and through background cause I I feel very similar, where I probably did internalize or hear things that maybe my parents weren't exactly saying, but now that I'm older too, I can understand where it's coming from. Like the, it wasn't a, don't pursue your dreams, but fear. Like fear of scarcity, fear of lack of money and that's, why it's so much better to pursue a stable job. It's for security reasons, because they grew up with not very much money. And then as an immigrant, you gotta work your butt off cause you're constantly running behind people who've been here longer and then you're racialized too, and so all sorts of stuff. So I do get now where that motivation would be coming from and then the pressure that creates. What I really feel when I spoke with you before is the sense of freedom. This is actually what I really want to learn from you in a way. And what I think the listeners might really benefit from is. Yes, you pursued your dreams and your passions. Yes, you did kind of a different path or an alternative path, but you weren't just airy fairy. Oh, I'm going to throw this and see if it sticks to the wall or whatever. Like I'm sure it felt like that sometimes. Cause that's how I feel as well. But you had a plan and you had some structure and you were disciplined about how you're doing that, right.
So maybe you can just do a little bit of a walkthrough of your journey, how you went from a, this is what success looks like. This is what I have to be, which is also a bit of model minority. I think that's the other bad side of model minority for us. And then you found your own liberation your own path to do something different from what is considered the norm. How did you go about doing that?
Carissa: Yeah. I think again, this comes a little bit from my own personality that, you know, I'm supposed to be a nurse as a Filipino stereotypically, right. As a daughter of Filipinos, um, I'm very grateful for my parents of letting me figure it out and not dictating what I had to do with my life. Guiding, but not being like, no, you have to change immediately. So I started off my career really as an analyst for a while and a strategist and I was good at it and I was, I kept chasing money. I kept chasing titles and I was successful, but unfulfilled, right. And my last role I was at Saks, I did not love it, and I left without a job. And again, fearing my dad. Being like I'm disappointing dad, be like, why did you, who leaves without a job? And what are you going to do next you know? And so I immediately panicked and like went to get another job. And I got a job like within two weeks at Tommy Hilfiger and I declined the offer. Cause I said to myself, like, it's just going to be more of the same, you know. Higher salary, better title again. And it's like, but it's still the same. Different day, right. And so I declined it. And then I went back home to my parents and I lived there for a few months.
I was like, okay, I got to figure out what I'm going to do with myself. Thankfully my wonderful parents were like, okay, she'll figure it out, right. And then my kind of thought process using my analyst strategy brain was like, okay, stay in retail. But what are some organizations or companies that are aligned with your values? So this pursuit of the strategy, but like what does your heart tell you what to do? And so it's constantly, for me a combination of both. Even how I work with my clients, you know. Like what is intuition saying? What is your heart saying? What is your values and such, what do you want to do. Okay. Let's now strategically think about how that's going to happen fastest, right. So I didn't get to an entrepreneurial kind of space immediately, you know, but it took steps. And so the first step was like, Okay, based on the skillset that someone will hire you, that's your quickest way in. And then from there, you know, a year and a half in I was doing more strategic planning again. I was given responsibility to start a team and then I just found myself really wanting to meet other female entrepreneurs at the company. And I was like, you know what? I don't want to do this analysis stuff anymore. Like, I'm kind of over it. And I'm really curious about moving more into people development and such.
And so I saw a gap, I would say, Hey, we don't have a formal DEI office here or position. So I pitched for one. And I got my stuff together with my team of women who helped me kind of put a deck together and such and I pitched it. And they gave it to me. So here I now find myself patting myself on the back being like, awesome Carissa. You are the head of diversity equity inclusion now at Zappos, and then had immediate imposter syndrome. Like, what am I doing? Like, you know. So had gone back and taken some grad courses and such to fill this inadequacy that I was feeling.
But in that time I also became an emotional intelligence coach. My strategy was like very much this belief that, how am I going to even hear someone else's story, someone else's opinion or experience if I don't even know my own, if I'm not really clear on my own awareness of myself and such.
And so the biggest thing I learned in that role, aside from, you know, more equity strategy and such and things to be concerned about was also my own cultural identity, my own understanding of like how, gender identity, race for me, had impacted me. And it kind of took me to the story of when I was nine and my first experience of racism, where I was at Disney World of all places.
Like happiest place on earth, right? not for me. Not for me. Um, that was where racism was like the first time I experienced it. And I had grown up in a white neighborhood, right. And so it was very foreign to me when a little white boy was swimming in the pool. And the little white boy pointed at me and was like, I don't want to swim in a pool with Chinese people. And I was so upset. I remember standing there frozen, like seething though. My like threat response is fight, clearly. And I was mad. There was a lot of rage as a nine year old just hearing that.
And I was like, I don't understand, like, what's wrong with me? Like A) I'm not Chinese. I'm Filipino actually. And then B) like, what's wrong with either. And I just didn't get it. And having my stoic Asian parents, I never talked about this. I actually didn't tell my mother about this story until I don't know, like three years ago or so, because I realized the impact it had on me that I was holding on some of this resentment. And potentially I talked a little bit about this conditioning that I've had about being more assertive maybe, or bold or outspoken is because I think from that story and multiple other aggressions, microaggressions over time saw that I never wanted to be othered again. I never wanted to be different again.
And so there was maybe this overcompensation with this outspokenness and bold personality to say. I can't change what I look like. I can't change my shape of my eyes mostly, right. I look Asian, so I'm going to compensate in other ways. And that probably being with a bolder personality to say like, don't mess with me, right. And again, that served me for some time, but it also didn't feel amazing, right. That was probably the biggest learning I had in that role, in the DEI role. And then, you know, over some time I think combined with, Hey, I know I've been always again, leading new initiatives at organizations and I think that there can be more impact externally. And so I eventually decided that it would be smarter to do my own thing and leave. And try that route of entrepreneurship. I was like, well, what if I try to put all of this effort and all of my hard work and energy into something I actually gave a crap about, what would happen. And that's really just was the question. Like if I'm successful doing this for other people that I'm only sort of interested in? What if I actually was interested and did it for myself? And why not try because you know what, you can always go back. I think there's this idea. It's like, if you leave, you're never, you can never do that again. Or you can't come back. Like, no, you can go back. If this doesn't work, you can always go back.
Rosie: So it sounds like in your entrepreneurial pursuits now that you've got your business coaching side. And I think you're also doing DEI external consulting, so there's sort of these two sides to your business. If you're listening and you're thinking that you want to talk to Carissa further about some of her amazing tips and advice, and maybe like have her help you in whatever your endeavors are, we will have all her contact information. We'll talk about that at the end of the podcast, but right now I want to get into more of the DEI side of things and you know, the stuff that probably employers would also be really interested in hearing because you've seen it from the inside. You've seen from the outside. And I'm really interested. I mean people have been hearing this for at least a year now, we're recording this in 2021. Lots of stuff has happened. We're just coming out of Asian heritage month. Have you seen actual momentum and change for the better? What are you seeing happening in the DEI space now?
Carissa: Yeah, I think there is much more openness to trying things that are different and new, right. And I think as consultants too, and even internal DEI folks, asking for what's another solution. What's another way? If we're only looking at unconscious bias training. If we're only looking at, you know, quote unquote, representation and metrics and such, then, you know, we're not doing enough. We're not really pushing the needle.
And I think prior to 2020 conversations around race were limited. And now if you're not talking about that, like, what are you actually doing in DEI, right? And so it does feel a little bit like wild, wild west type of situation. Like what's happening, like, you know, try and innovate.
And I think this is the time for folks to come up with different ideas and pitch them. And so for instance, one of the things that I do that I didn't think was so novel, was this intersection of DEI and EQ, right. When I was at Zappos, I was very adamant that to implement, like people needed the skillset to be able to empathize with folks. The self-awareness, right. A lot of times too, I think in EDI spaces is we're trying to go straight on. We're trying to go straight to what's the tactical systems level solution to fix. So recruiting strategies, HR policies, right? Marketing, communication, best practices and such, and in addition to those tactical systemic solutions, what are also the experiences of you as human. Individual and emotional.
And I don't think a lot of that work is being done. And so when I'm talking a lot of folks who want to be DEI consultants or just be in equity space in general. Like I I'm always asking them, you know, why do you want to do this? This is hard. Like, this is very triggering work. Um, and emotionally laborious work is like, why do you want to do that? And so I want to help people, blah blah blah. I'm like, Yeah, but there's a story behind this, right?
Again, my experience when I was at Zappos and I thought I wanted to help people too. Like I wanted to, like, I thought it was like a great thing to do. And then it was very quickly, I realized that I needed to do a lot of my own personal work and that time was an invitation to do my cultural identity work. And so now when someone asks me why this is important and why I choose to kind of do the strategies I come up with and even the clients I work with or what spaces I find myself in. I can clearly articulate where this has come from, right. I would bring back that story of when I was nine, I bring back some other stories of aggressions and experiences throughout my career and personal life even. And those are the stories that I'm able to like connect with other folks. And they're like, oh yeah. This is why she does this work.
I think we need to dive deeper into why we care about this work. What our personal stories are. So that's that self-awareness building, but also in self-awareness is feeling into, you know, how do I regulate my emotions? How do I articulate my emotions? How do I name what it is, what my experience is and what my feelings are. So that you eventually can start to choose how you respond.
I think a lot of us are just reacting right now. And also what I'm seeing in this topic of diversity and inclusion work is a lot of self-learning right. Kind of a, Hey, let me go read some books and such, but I actually think if anything's going to move, we have to be in dialogue with one another. But it's hard to be in dialogue when we're not able to feel into what we're experiencing. And then also emotionally regulate when we're working with someone or having conversations, someone that is potentially upsetting us or triggering us, right. The conversation shuts down, you know, so having the skillset of being able to emotionally regulate so that you can be in a productive conversation. It probably will be difficult, but you can still remain in that discomfort rather than leaving and shutting it all down or you just shutting down at that time. That's I think something we all have to start to develop so that we can start to work together and make the necessary changes.
Rosie: That's my same philosophy as well about DEI. It can't just be about systems. And I think that's what I hear a lot also from companies is it's, everything has been so binary before, because I think our world has been more simplistic.
So to say like, literally something is black or white. Or it's okay now it's Asian history month. So we're going to call Carissa. Now it's Black history month. Oh, Carissa, do you know anybody who's Black who can come in and do this because you're not Black. And now it's Black history month and it's almost like addressing things separately. My theory is that people almost latch on to dealing with systems because it's then, it's not about them, right. It doesn't hurt my feelings because it's the system that's wrong. It's not because I've done anything racist or bad. But as you already pointed out systems are made up of people. So what does that look like in your work to integrate the EQ side of things or the personal side of things with DEI in general or DEI systems? Like how do you work with your clients in that way.
Carissa: Yeah, I think also in DEI spaces it's knowing what your skillset is and what your knowledge base is, right. And so, yeah, I don't feel comfortable speaking on behalf of even all Asians, right. And so for me, it's starting to be like, this is what I specialize in. Both from maybe identity standpoint and a functional expertise, right. So I could probably, yeah, I might be really great at like doing more analytical kind of approaches. So like looking at what the representation and seeing what all the metrics are, right. And then kind of questioning why those numbers might be the way they are and then developing some strategies from there. Or I don't have a background in HR, so am I the person who should be talking about HR policy? Probably not. I probably should like have someone else who has spent like some time in this field. Same thing with marketing and communications. Yes. I know enough, but like, I think it's better to ping someone who has been doing this work for some time, right. And so how do we put more resources behind DEI teams so that they can hire different experts from a functional expertise, right. My strategy brain is like, we definitely need more funding in it. And so we can have a truly diverse team to look at it both from an identity standpoint and functional expertise. Everything's it's not as simple and cut and dry.
You know, I too saw the conversations around race last year, especially we're very much like, okay, here are spaces for white folks. Here are spaces for Black folks. And then as an Asian-American, I was like, well, you know, I don't feel comfortable in the white spaces. I don't feel comfortable in Black spaces more because I think they don't want me there because they want to process their own stuff too, like together and it's safety, right. So where I go, right? You know? And I did not see places for like everyone else, you know, to also process what was going on. And so I created a community for Asian Americans more specifically called AARISE, with two partners. AARISE, stands for Asian American Racialized Identity and Social Empowerment.
And the idea there was for it to be a holistic program. A) a space specifically for Asian Americans that was centering social justice, because there might've been some other Asian-American kind of communities out there, but not really ones that were social justice focused. And that's what I want to talk about.
And so I partnered with two other folks, Shengxiao Yu, who is a social justice educator, and Julia Berryman, who is a somatic healer and a creativity coach. And what I brought to the table was more of that emotional intelligence and emotional processing. And so this three-prong approach was to me really important in helping us to, as Asian Americans, to like, think about our own identities and think about what we want to do and how we want to stand up for ourselves and speak up.
And maybe in the roles we play in the workplace start to activate our activism, right. So it's, again, these identifying of gaps, identifying what my strengths are. What do I care about at the time? You know, it was like, I'm identifying as an Asian woman and I don't have a space to talk from this lens, right. And I want to meet other Asians who also want to talk about this.
And so how do we find other folks who look like us so that there is that camaraderie? There is that support system. There is just someone else who can hold space for us and listen and relate to. And so that was the intention really too, of creating these community events just to show that people could find others who wanted to talk about the same things they wanted to talk about.
Rosie: That sounds amazing. I could absolutely see that craving for community and how AARISE could help fill that gap for people. So Carissa I think you've accurately described yourself as a person who looks and sees the gaps and then finds ways to fill them in. In a way that suits your skillset, like aligns with what you can do and are passionate to do. So, as I think about where we're at now in 2021, And where employers or companies are trying to go.
Like, I see so many job postings trying to hire a blah, blah, blah of diversity and inclusion and, you know, wanting strategies, wanting this and that. You've already talked about how we need to address the personal side of stuff, emotional stuff, not just the systems, but what I guess would be your call out to organizations that maybe they've covered the first level. So they've done some unconscious bias training. They've maybe done some awareness. They've heard some talks or watched some information about different types of racism or racism against different groups and discrimination against like genders, et cetera. What's next? Where do you see the gaps, I guess that you think people need to be tackling next.
Carissa: Yeah I mean, A) funding. Like seeing that this is as essential as, you know, your chief marketing officer and your like marketing department, right. There's millions of dollars, especially put into marketing. And so how do you start to see how this is equally as important, if not more important than any of your other verticals?
I think that mindset needs to start shifting, to adequately support the folks who decide to do this work both internally and externally. And like I said, it really is a responsibility of every single person. Right now, I think it's like, oh, give it to the diversity people to handle and think about right.
And it is systemic. Solely one group of people can not fix it for everyone, right. And it's really hard. Like your question is kind of challenging Rosie in that, you can't really prescribe a solution broadly, you know? And so when I say that, A) resourcing is really important, but how do I get leaders to think about this differently, right? And I think that's why I keep returning back to the individual emotional, like connection to this topic and this work because if we feel like we're disconnected from it. You say, Hey, I'm a white male, right. What's my role in this. You have a big role in this, actually, right.
And if right now the common kind of thought is, Hey, let me give it to like someone else to figure this out and like, you just tell me what to do. Then it's going to be slow or it's not going to work. And so that's why I really do again, come back constantly to the EQ. What is our connection to this work? What can we have impact and effect from the role that we sit in either professionally or personally, right. From the skillsets and like the things that we are able to do. So between, I think when you know, what your skillset is, and you know how you can make an impact and then where do you feel you're best suited to support that and deciding to do it, you know. And so maybe not the most like earth shattering response here of like, how do we fix it? Because this is not easy. It's not fast. And I do think it requires everyone to understand how they contribute.
Rosie: I actually, I really appreciate that answer and I think it's entirely appropriate because what I think I'm hearing you say is. Don't look for a solution or even a series of solutions. Like it is very much tailored or unique to your organization, your organizational culture, your people. Where they're at, what their past was, or their context was, what you want to do going forward. I think we're past a lot of already sort of the low hanging fruit, so to speak that you could say, this applies to all organizations, go do this, go do this training or whatever. Now it's I think a lot of that internal inner hard work and for an organization too right. To look within as an organization, which then includes looking at your people. So yeah, I think there isn't really a, well, here's what you need to do next, because you got to figure that out with help, but you really got to figure that out for yourself because it's not going to be the same for everybody. There is no, like you said, there's no prescription. That's really important.
So Carissa, if you don't mind, let's end with a word of encouragement to the Carissa Begonia's of today. If you know, the Carissa Begonia, 23 years old, just graduated, entering the workforce, bright eyed, bushy tailed, you know, full of energy and excitement, racialized woman, you know, gonna encounter whatever she encounters in the workplace and has, you know, the similar baggages and things that, you know, had to deal with. What's one piece of advice or guidance or encouragement that you want to give this young woman
Carissa: Always be curious. To center or believe in your intuition. To dream and pursue your imagination. And to find folks who encourage you to keep going. And that there is no correct or right way to do something or path. And so if the sooner you can learn, understand that and that we're all just honestly making it up as we go along. As smart as you think everyone else is. Yeah we're all figuring it out. And so can you, right. And don't feel like you have to wait for others to give you permission to do it.
Rosie: High five. I love it. That's beautiful. Yeah. And it's true, right? I think It's part of the model minority myth, I think, that also just we're conditioned to think, no, you do have to have it all figured out first. You have to have the degrees. You have to have the certifications. You have to prove that you've been able to do before you do it.
And that's just not the reality. You can do it. You don't have to prove anything. You can do it. Awesome. You can do it too, Carissa. I believe in everything that you're doing. You've already made great waves and I'm curious and expectant to see what's going to happen next.
So thank you for gracing us with your smile, your inspiration, your advice, your very sound thoughtful wisdom. It's been a joy and a privilege to have you. Thank you so much for taking your time to come on the Changing Lenses Podcast.
Carissa: Thank you too, Rosie. And this has been an honor. And thank you for just letting me share this journey of mine. It's been a wild ride. And I see how fun it is now.
And if I can support people in finding that peace, finding that joy in the journey and even in the unknown, sooner than later, than I'm doing my job.
Rosie: Awesome. And if you want more of Carissa's wisdom, please follow her on all the socials. And if you enjoyed this podcast as well, please do subscribe. You can find us on all the major platforms. And we also have a Facebook group if you'd like to ask some questions. It's a private group. Cause I do think it's pretty scary and this lots of trolls out there to, you know, talk smack about DEI. So feel free to sign up for that. So it's a safe place to ask some questions and until next time we look forward to you joining us again for the next podcast episode and I am Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.
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Rosie:Thanks for joining us! I hope we helped to change your lens, and expand your worldview. And if you want to talk about today’s episode with a safe community, or ask me questions directly, please join our Changing Lenses Facebook Group – the link is in the shownotes. This episode was produced and hosted by me, with associate production by William Loo, and post-production by Cue9. Until next time, I’m Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.
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