Employee Resource Groups – Why East and Southeast Asian groups and leaders need to be represented in the workplace

Many companies and places of work are no strangers to Diversity and Inclusion policies, as well as the increased use of employee led groups. Read on to find out, “what are Employee Resource Groups?”, why they are beneficial for the leadership development of ESEA people and workplaces as a whole, as aswell as the considerations to make these spaces a safe and sustainable place for growth, employee happiness and retention.

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In the 21st century, diversity and inclusion groups are becoming more desirable in organisations of all sizes as they bring both the organisation and the employees a range of benefits. In the UK, 66% of the workforce is made up of ethnic minorities (GOV.uk) and as a result, Employee Resource Groups are being introduced in organisations to support diverse employee groups. A report conducted by Sir John Parker (of the Parker Review Committee) investigates the representation of ethnic minorities in director positions, or similar in FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 organisations. It was found that in the FTSE 100, there are 1,056 director positions, and 164 of these positions are held by a director from a minority ethnic group. This is a 32% increase from 2020 as only 124 positions were filled by an ethnic group member. In FTSE 250, there are a total of 1,849 director positions with 178 positions being held by a director from a minority ethnic group. The number of ethnic minorities in director positions is seen to be increasing, which is a huge win for our greater society!

The most recent Parker Review (2022) states that by increasing the number of ethnic minorities in director positions, there will be a “growth in the number of directors from minority ethnic groups in the most influential roles around the Boardroom table”. Alongside these statics, we only need to look to the wider societal events in the UK and around the world to historically marginalised groups to understand why diversity and inclusion efforts need to not only be in place, but be sustained and data driven, in an impactful way.

How can organisations and places of work support their employees and impact the wider societal change? At Asian Leadership Collective, we believe this all starts by promoting diversity at all levels of recruitment, through to talent management, and succession planning processes with an overall goal to create a system that focuses on recruiting and retaining diverse talent. These processes executed by both the business and management levels should be accompanied by programmes (i.e. Employee Resource Groups) that are available to everyone in the company, allowing employees from diverse backgrounds to be supported; creating a company culture where everyone will be encouraged and helped to reach their maximum potential.

So what are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)?

Whilst there are a varying degrees of business alignment and responsibilities from workplace to workplace, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are typically focused on fostering or strengthening community, offering support, and assisting with personal and professional growth at work. An ERG is a type of diversity group which is typically led by volunteers who are employees of the company. These employees come together based on commonalities such as their background or demographics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) as well as allies of these particular groups. ERGs tend to structure and host initiatives which align to the wider company goals and objectives; supporting the company in their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programming.

Why join an Employee Resource Group?

Employee Resource Groups exist to offer support to colleagues by providing a growing community where members can share a common identity and sense of belonging with others; delivers a space for others to meet new people in their community.

There are a number of opportunities in joining an Employee Resource Group:

  • Acts as a support network for both professional and individual development in the workplace as they offer resources that align with organisational missions, values, goals, and practices
  • Provides tangible resources and subject matter expertise for leadership, decision makers regarding colleague/community issues, needs, and policies
  • Encourages a respectful and inclusive company culture and reinforce the importance of intersectional equity
  • Develops and nurture future leaders and increase employee engagement
  • Reverse mentoring and sponsorship opportunities for ERG members and senior members of the workplace
  • Provides minorities with representation and equal opportunities

“In my experience, East and Southeast Asian people are either usually left out of many DEI conversations or come under the banner of “Asian” in BAME which includes South Asian communities; both leading to erasure or a monolith reflection of these diverse and intersectional groups. Employee Resource Groups are and should be an integral part of the workplace, not only for awareness building but to be a part of initiatives that feed into business objectives for success. More East and Southeast Asian grassroots community organisations over the past few years to combat many of the aggressions and violence experienced by this community all over the world. I believe our workplaces need to reflect this movement in society, it is no longer acceptable for companies to ignore, or “tick box” their way through DEI programming.”

Anna Chan, Asian Leadership Collective Founder and Director

Why should East and Southeast Asian people get involved with Employee Resource Groups?

ERGs involvement and/or leadership from the East and Southeast community can help to support what has been identified as 3 integral areas of growth opportunities as described in literature (Gee et al. 2015; Gee, Peck. 2018) on leadership for East and Southeast Asian communities:

  • To build self aware and understand the workplace environment
  • Be able to navigate and progress to be able to lead
  • Battling the bias and structures present in the workplace

These groups can provide a safe space for East and Southeast Asian people to build on their strengths and identify their weaknesses; practice in leading a committees of their peers.

Many ERGs of varying causes tend to work together on larger initiatives, which allows for the opportunity to build inclusive leadership, challenge bias (in themselves and others), and work together towards common understanding and goals. Having this opportunity to work in the wider business context as part of an ERG allows East and Southeast Asian people access to the same resources, executive level sponsorships, and form part of the DEI initiatives for the whole company. It also allows for the wider community of colleagues who identify with the ESEA community to be represented.

“Reflecting on my own experiences in my current and previous job, I have noticed a lack of recognition and awareness to East and Southeast Asian cultures, especially in leadership roles. Now that I am finally growing in the professional world, I understand the importance that Employee Resource Groups can bring to both the organisation and the individual in terms of development, sense of belonging, job satisfaction, etc. The company that I currently work for does have a diversity and inclusion group, however there is no specific ERG for ESEA employees. I feel a sort of disconnection here as the representation of ESEA employees is very weak. This has (in my opinion) led to a weak Lunar New Year promotional cycle and poor appreciation of our cultural celebration. As a young East Asian, I believe that more organisations and more ESEA people should be getting involved with creating/participating in ESEA ERGs to improve workplace diversity since we are a minority group that is constantly overlooked and undermined due to factors like unconscious bias. After-all, we are the next generation of leaders.”

Winse Chan, Asian Leadership Collective Volunteer

What to consider when joining and/or creating an Employee Resource Groups?

Whilst there are many benefits and opportunities of being part of an ERG, there are a number of things to consider when joining or creating these initiatives:

  • Time commitment
    • Many ERG positions and their responsibilities come on top of completing your day job. Make sure to be realistic with yourself and communicate with your manager on how much time you might be spending on your ERG involvement
    • Strong considerations for tangible compensation should be provided to ERG leads, especially if employees volunteer in their roles; these might range from financial to promotional recognition
  • Aims and objectives of the group
    • An overall structure should be in place to support ERGs which is lead from a company level; ensuring cohesive alignment to the wider vision and missions of the company
    • Be sure on your groups collective aims, objectives and goals. These should be brainstormed and have the input of the wider committee
  • Supporting your local community outside of the workplace
    • As with any workplace initiatives, these can become siloed from the wider community. Be sure to include groups, organisations, and people who align with your ERGs goals as paid for contributors to the events and work you do.
  • Selfcare and protecting the community
    • ERGs are usually cognisant to world wide events and incidents of their communities. It is important that safeguarding processes and support is provided for ERG members and colleagues. This could include trigger/content warnings, employee care and support (such as helplines, workplace paid for therapy sessions), a separate dedicated content and communication department who deal with sensitive incidents from a company wide perspective

Asian Leadership Collective provide consultancy for DEI and planning, as well as keynote speaking talks on Employee Resource Group experiences.

Are your part of an Employee Resource Group at work? What is your experience? Are you interested in starting Employee Resource Group in your workplace?

Get in touch hello@asianleadership.co.uk. We’d love to hear from you!


Food is something which many communities can agree, can be directly linked to our own identity and culture. Asian Leadership Collective are passionate on showcasing local people from the East and Southeast Asian and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. Alongside Asian Leaders Alliance, we hosted a club house session with moderators and panelists from varying backgrounds, lived experiences, and opinions on food and identity.

We had the pleasure of having some amazing moderators:

Anna Chan: Founder and Director of Asian Leadership Collective

Lisa Vanderschuit: Engineering Program Manager & Co-founder of Asians Employee Resource Group at Shopify

Lori Webb: Founder of International Speaker Collective

Stefanel Tok : Drinks Brand Manager, specialising in Trade Marketing & Creator of Dad’s Chilli Oil

And our fantastic panelists:

Elizabeth Haigh: Owner, founder of Mei Mei and Kaizen House

Hannah Hosanee – Founder of Little Yellow Rice Co heritage food brand. Runs marketing agency Consume Comms

Winnie Sher : Life coach working with British Born Chinese leaders

Mai Ngo: Honouring and celebrating culture through Vietnamese and French recipes via @mmbonappetit

Thank you so much to the amazing people we worked with on this campaign and clubhouse session. Don’t forget to use #foodpridechallenge and #ESEAeats to champion food stories.

Scroll on down to read our summaries and actionable takeaways to support small businesses.

We focused on 3 main topics:

  • Identity and food
  • History of food
  • Food authenticity and Allyship

Keep scrolling for a downloadable transcript of the session to share with others too!

Summary of Identity & Food

The two main themes coming from identity and food were the family and nourishment aspect. Many communities talk about food as a way of showing love, no matter your background or your world view, sharing a meal together at one table seems to be a common theme of bringing people together.

Keeping cultural and identities alive means passing down recipes and dishes t

Key points:

  • Family is a big part of identity and food, honouring and remembering being together.
  • Cooking to share with others and spending time as one – a love language. A way to show you care and love each other.
  • Strong links to nostalgia, specific memories, and joy.
  • Nourishment was another key part of food and identity.
  • Food for medicine, as a comfort and having a healing factor. Memories of travelling when eating or preparing certain types of food, nourishment for the soul.

Summary of History of food

Chinese food has had a long history in the UK, from British Chinese takeaways who catered to generations of locals, to those who would venture to their local Chinatowns to find local and comfort food. This type of food typically reflects Hong Kong cuisine but has seen a shift to more varied Chinese influences from different areas of China.

Street foods have become more popular due to many more people having access to travel; trying different cuisines and wanting to find that when they return back to the UK.
Singapore hawker centres are some of the most widely known places for outstanding street food and is an UNESCO world heritage site in its own right. However, there are concerns of the knowledge and experience being passed down to other generations. The concern of food memories and experiences being forgotten has fuelled our panelists to champion recipes which honour the generations which have come before.

Key points:

  • Chinatown, a destination which was a safe haven for many. This used to be the only place where you could get a good mix of local and comfort food.
    British Chinese takeaways cater for the people who want access to it. Hong Kong cuisine used to be the most common Chinese food in the UK however this is diversifying with more variety from different areas of China.
  • We are seeing more champions in fine dining in ESEA food.
  • Street food is becoming more popular and very different from takeaway culture.
  • Hawker centres in Singapore are a popular example of street food and those who are masters of their craft.
  • Worries around preserving ways of cooking and recipes, this history and knowledge is being lost due to the generational gap.
  • Many recipes try to honour traditional ingredients and methods however they are always adapted to the local area. Respect and due diligence are important to many of our panelists.

Summary Food Authenticity and Allyship

Food authenticity and respecting the story of food was widely agreed upon by the panelists. Paid consultancy was recommended for food establishments looking to make food accessible as there can be alot of pressure to get things right. By taking this approach, there would be less risk of appropriation and tokenism, by completing this due diligence on refining the food offering and doing the cuisine justice.

Panelists highlighted needing to strike a balance between authenticity and accessibility, from the ingredients on offer and having access to traditional methods of preparing the food. A strong focus on respecting the cultural significance of dishes and using the beauty of raw ingredients came through on this panel.

Stereotyping and talk of integration into society as young people were shared, not wanting to be othered or outed as “different”. However, our panelists now celebrate their food and identity proudly. Understanding this shift and how communities can work together on making food which is accessible, but still upholds cultural values and stories is a strong bond to bringing about active allyship.

Key points:

  • Keeping authenticity means not dumbing down flavours, but looking at how it is created in the country of origin.
  • The story behind the food is one of the most important things to champion, by completing due diligence on refining the offering and doing it justice.
  • There is a lot of pressure to get the food right. Many customers are not afraid to give her honest opinion.
  • Striking a balance between authenticity and accessibility.
  • It is important for the food industry to take consultancy to ensure cuisine is appreciative and not appropriating.
  • Pay for advice instead of making assumptions and making tokenistic gestures.
  • Stereotypes of ESEA food and people that they will eat anything, used as an insult.
  • Generational differences between communities when immigrating to other countries, earlier generations needed to survive and settle in. Wanting to blend in when younger, being self conscious of being different.
  • Now they are older, food is a celebration of their culture and identity.

Closing summary and key takeaways

As we closed the panel, we went around the room and asked what the key takeaways were from the session. Hope of keeping the conversation around food and togetherness was highlighted by many of the panelists and moderators. The session highlighted the intersectionality of different cultures and showcased a strong all female panel presenting varying perspectives. We all connected through the agreement of the power of food and the need to preserve and honour it’s story as we pass recipes and memories down to the next generation.

Key points

  • Hope for the future of our joint communities and the prospect of sharing food all together.
  • The intersectionality of individuals, cultures, and communities.
  • An all-female panel, showcasing different opinions and representing our different cultures and identities.
  • The opportunity to maintain traditions and pass down the authenticity of food.
  • That we have a universal language through food, being able to start conversations and connections.
  • A strong connection between honouring heritage and telling a story through food.

Actionable takeaways

For workplace services, event planning, food planning, businesses in the food industry:

  • Acknowledge the importance of food consultancy to ensure cuisine is appreciative and not appropriating. Embed this into your processes.
  • Consult and pay for small businesses’ time, those who are already doing the work instead of making assumptions and making tokenistic gestures.
  • The story behind the food is one of the most important things to champion, complete your due diligence on refining the offering and doing it justice.
  • If you have been approached by any community and been called in on appropriating culture, listen to their experiences and concerns. Make a public apology as appropriate and be transparent on how you will be addressing the issue going forward. As part of the apology, acknowledge and take accountability for the hurt you will have cause.
  • Get in touch with Asian Leadership Collective for any details, questions, or future events on leadership in the East and South East Asian community.

Asian Leadership Collective hope that showcasing diverse opinions and lived experience will allow our society to open up conversations from food, to our workplaces, to diversity and inclusion work.

Email us at at hello@asianleadership.co.uk if you are interested in our work, or want us to speak at your events. We work closely with the East and Southeast Asian community to raise awareness, consult, and champion equity amongst our society.

Download the transcript and summaries here

A massive thank you to Lori Webb for creating the transcript and video! We love them!

When sharing this article and any assets, please credit Asian Leadership Collective and Lori Webb.