How does culture and identity find a place in the modern workplace?

May 12, 2022

In this episode of Here to Help, Chris is joined by Victoria Liu, Senior Product Strategist at Indeed to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM), a celebration of all Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders.

In the episode, they discuss the Asian Network Inclusion Resource Group's (IRG) theme of “Passport through Asia” this year and highlight underrepresented minorities within the Asian community. They also discuss the power of intersectionality at work, what it takes to be a true ally and the importance of understanding and empathy when shaping and sharing a business or product vision.

- Hello everyone. I am Chris Hyams CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next episode of Here to Help. At Indeed, our mission is to help people get jobs. This is what gets us out bed in the morning and what keeps us going all day. And what powers that mission is our people. Here to Help is a look at how experience, strength, and hope inspires people to want to help others. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; month in which we recognize the enumerable contributions, vibrant cultures, and rich heritage of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, also known as AA and NHPI. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the first Japanese immigration to the United States on May 7th, 1843, and also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10th, 1869; as the majority of the workers who laid those tracks were Chinese immigrants. This community has played an essential role in writing the American story, from serving our country in uniform, advocating for civil rights, starting new businesses, and winning Olympic medals. The contributions of the AA and NHPI community touch the lives of Americans every day. My guest today is Victoria Liu, Senior Product Strategist, here at Indeed, and regional co-chair of the Asian Network Inclusion Resource Group. Victoria, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thank you. I'm super excited to be here.

- Fantastic, well, let's kick this off the way that we always start. How are you doing today?

- Yeah, I'm doing good. First of all, Chris, I wanted to thank you for that amazing introduction of our almost 200-year history here in America for our Heritage Month, and just being such an amazing ally to Asian Network the last few years. I know we're kind of both wearing our, or you're wearing your Asian Network shirt. I'm wearing a fundraiser shirt for AAPI that we had last year. And yeah, I think I still remember when Here to Help started, over two years ago, and every week I would diligently tune in or watch the recording, and I would think how amazing it would be if someday I were given the opportunity to be a guest speaker. And yeah, here I am right now. But in all honesty, I've just been so inspired by those who have kind of shared their stories, knowledge and vulnerability through these conversations before me. And I hope to just be a stepping stone and kind of pave the way for someone else to do the same.

- Well, thank you for that. And thanks again for joining me. So we're talking today, as I said in the intro at the beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, or AAPIHM. Tell me a little bit about why this month is important to you.

- Yeah, so like you stated in the definition earlier, this is a month-long celebration of our collective experiences, cultures, tradition, history. And growing up, I never saw people who looked like me kind of celebrated in this way. So it's a really exciting time kind of experiencing this as adult, and being able to actually shape what that looks like through Asian Network. And our theme this year is, Passport through Asia. So we really want to showcase how Asians are not a monolith by highlighting underrepresented minorities within the Asian communities. So this could be non-male identifying folks, disabled individuals, or any other unique barriers or intersectionality certain groups of Asians may face. We have some super exciting programming planned for the next few weeks here to show the depth and breadth of who we are as Asians. So we have a Meditation Healing Hour for Asian women. We're going to have a BollyX Dance Class. We have a philanthropic food drive. We're going to have a Model Minority discussion. And this year we're having each Asian Network Zone champion a less well-known Asian country. And we also plan to serve some tasty Asian food at the Indeed offices for lunch every week. And we'll be having our first in-person happy hours since the pandemic started. So that'll be May 19th. So we're super excited about that. And I just want to acknowledge, in addition to AAPIHM, May is also Small Business Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. So we're excited to have you back later this month to host a fireside chat around internet gaming and mental health. And this will be in collaboration with our Asian Network, Access, and Parents and Caregivers Inclusion Resource groups.

- Fantastic, well, it's definitely going to be exciting to be able to have folks back in-person. We still have a lot of folks who are remote, but the last, we've talked quite a bit about this last two-plus years, our IRG membership has grown considerably and really has been this amazing connective tissue holding folks together while we've all been remote, but it's really exciting timing-wise to be able to get back for those who are coming back to offices to be able to celebrate; especially food is such an important part of almost any one of the celebrations that we have. And so to be able to do that, not as a Zoom cooking class like we have in the last couple years, is really nice. So I'd love to go back a little bit and talk about kind of how you got here. You grew up in the Midwest of the US, but spent time traveling back and forth to visit your family in China. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like?

- Yeah, I think it was a absolutely life-changing experience in a positive way. My dad actually came here to the US in the early '90s to do his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. I was born at the U of M Hospital. And funny enough, I ended up going back to Ann Arbor for my undergrad business degree. So I grew up in a city called Troy, Michigan. It's in the suburbs of Metro Detroit. There's a high concentration of Asian Americans there. So I felt like growing up kind of both cultures, like growing up in this kind of Asian American heavy suburb, as well as my experiences in China. They kind of felt homogenous in isolation, but because I had both experiences, they were just very different from each other. So I kind of just grew up with this mentality of like, "Oh, I get to kind of take the best of both worlds." So I've been back to China a total of five times. So when I was six, eight, 12, 19 and 22. I probably would've gone again, maybe in my mid 20s, but sadly I have not been able to do that, and see my friends and family there due to the pandemic and how strict the quarantining rules are. But, yeah, I think from my, the five times that I did go back, it was always a bit of a culture shock. When I arrived, I would have to brush up on my rusty mandarin in order to communicate with my family there, who don't know any English. Get used to using squatting toilets. And then my stomach would have to kind of build up immunity and toughen up so that I could enjoy the kind of authentic street food that you would find at the night markets. But I think what surprised me was just my own resilience and grit. Like, every time I was able to adapt and adjust every time. And to give more kind of backstory on my dad's side of the family, he's actually from the rural country side of China, and everyone on his side of the family is a sweet potato farmer. So I kind of loved that growing up, 'cause every time I would go back, I could play with pigs, chickens, rabbits, other farm animals. And his family actually lives in a cave with no running water or electricity. They would wash their clothes on wash boards in a stream nearby. My uncles would take my siblings and I on these tractor rides through the fields for fun. And I think even just as a child at a young age, I embraced this kind of really simplistic lifestyle where I was just surrounded by the beauty of mountains and nature. But I think back, and it's not always positive memories. So I actually did a 23andMe DNA test and I found out I'm 98.5% Chinese. So basically purebred, Chinese ethnically, except every time I went back to China, I would always stick out as a foreigner based on how I dressed, or my mannerisms, or my American accent. And I just remember feeling exclusion at a young age for not being accepted by the country where my family of origin is from. So I think much of my life, especially as a teenager and even a young adult, it was this constant kind of night and day struggle of, on one hand, wanting to be more Caucasian, such as dye my hair blonde, wearing colored contacts, avoiding the sun to fit into America, but at the same time, leaning into my Asian heritage more to kind of preserve the culture, traditions, the language of all the kind of generations before me.

- So it's not atypical story for an immigrant family, kind of straddling these two cultures. How did that mix of experiences shape your identity as you were growing up?

- I think I just got really good at being adaptable through almost leading like a double life but trying to preserve the best of both cultures. So I would get to wake up every morning and be American at school. So listen to pop music that my friends were listening to, have the choice of what classes I wanted to take, what sports or extracurriculars I wanted to get involved in, kind of chasing the latest fashion trends at the time. But then I would come home from school and kind of be this good textbook Chinese daughter. So, playing the piano, doing my Chinese school homework, working a part-time job as a receptionist, helping my younger siblings with their homework, helping my mom with English, or how to use technology, studying, doing chores. And I think just looking back on all those experiences now, there's times where I like look back and there's certain things that are very hilarious to me, but at the time are just really confusing or upsetting kind of being this first generation immigrant. So I wanted to share kind of two elementary school lunchroom stories here. So the first one is, my mom would pack like garlic chive, dumplings, stinky tofu, black fungus mushrooms in my noodles, like kind of just these Chinese, like classic Chinese foods, but they would have this kind of visual olfactory kind of effect on my predominantly white classmates. And I remember one time just getting so frustrated. I, like, ate my lunch in the bathroom with the stall locked. And then that day I went home and told my mom, "Don't ever bring Chinese food for me for lunch anymore." I just told her I wanted peanut butter jelly sandwiches, or Uncrustables, or Lunchables, just like what everyone else had. And she obliged, but looking back, I'm like, for over a decade, I could have been eating my mom's amazing homemade Chinese food, and instead I'm eating this, like, disgusting version of a charcuterie board for a kid, or like the pizza Lunchables, were, I wouldn't call that pizza, but yeah. So I think that was one story about the food. But also just my mom's inability to read English and kind of comprehend or conversate in English. She has this habit of buying things that are on sale. And at the grocery store, she actually bought strawberry daiquiri and fuzzy navel, this, like, peach cocktail drink. And she thought that it was strawberry and peach juice. So she sends my sister and I to school with these beverages, and we can't open them because we don't have a beer bottle opener. So we are asking the noon aide for help to open what we thought was juice. And then we get sent to the principal's office, and my mom gets called in, she doesn't understand why we're getting sent home. And then when we go home, she opens them for us. And I had a taste of it, in like second grade, and I remember getting mad at her because that was the first time I ever had alcohol, and it was just so bitter. And I told her like, "Mom, this juice is expired. That's why it's on sale. So stop buying things that are on sale." But yeah, I think, just these two stories really illustrate what my childhood was like growing up. And yeah, they're funny now, but I think at the time being like eight years old, you're just like, "What is going on?" But yeah, I don't have any regrets on what my upbringing looked like, and I don't think I would go back to change anything either. 'Cause even if I could, all these experiences shaped who I am today.

- Yeah, time definitely gives a little perspective to things that that could be horrifying as a kid. But yeah, it is part of who you are. Well, so I'd love to jump ahead. In May of 2021, at Indeed, you wrote a very powerful blog post about the increase in violence, xenophobia and racism against the Asian community. And this is something that we've talked about quite a bit on Here to Help before and at Indeed. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to write that post?

- Sure, so somebody from my Asian Network Leadership team, who's on the Employer Brand team, he actually reached out to me to see if I would write the piece. He actually wrote another piece on Inside Indeed the year before in May of 2020. And since the particular acts or incident that I discuss in the article happened to me in the New York City subway, I always think about their motto, which is, "See something, say something." And I think as a person who was kind of the prime target victim of the violence and hate crimes, as an Asian woman, I felt like it was my duty and obligation for me to share my experience of what happened to me since I did have this opportunity and platform that presented itself. It makes me really sad to think or to know that the recent attacks have gotten even more frequent and violent since I moved out of Manhattan almost two years ago. And even though now I live in Seattle, unfortunately, I'm still seeing and experiencing similar situations. And it's partially why I will be moving out of my current neighborhood in the next few weeks, because I just don't feel safe walking around here alone, especially late at night when I have to walk my dog on a daily basis. And it's really horrifying for me to hear racial slurs, like how I should be going back to my home country, when I was born and raised here with the same rights as every single other American citizen. So that's an example of something that's kind of more direct. Another one that I get is, "Where are you from? Michigan. Okay. But where are you really from?" And I know they want me to say China, but I think there's a way to kind of phrase the question, where you could ask, "Oh, what's your ethnic background?" And I think just kind of little microaggressions like that are just so, there's so much just like passive aggressive kind of gaslighting going on when someone makes a remark like that. And I think, sometimes they're not aware of how asking a seemingly innocent question, like, where are you from, could be really triggering and upsetting to a first generation immigrant who was born and raised here, just like the person asking the question, potentially. So I've been thinking long and hard about this, and I don't necessarily have a good answer to this, other than saying, it's really upsetting and exhausting that these types of incidents keep happening in coastal cities, where there is a large Asian presence that has kind of shaped the culture and history of the area.

- Thank you, Victoria, for sharing all of that. So if we back up a little bit, you joined Indeed in may of 2019. Since then, you've taken on new roles, you've grown your career, you've, as you mentioned, transferred offices, and have moved recently into a new role. Can you talk about doing all of that and against this backdrop of uncertainty and tension of the pandemic, and all of the social and societal issues swirling around it. How did you navigate all of that?

- It sounds contradictory, but I think the uncertainty of what was happening actually gave me more clarity for what I wanted out of my life. So I was in Manhattan in March, 2020 when COVID first hit. And that was arguably one of the scariest experiences I've ever faced. And because of just all the uncertainty and lack of control, I felt with the whole situation, I decided to pivot and kind of refocus on the factors in my life that I could influence, such as what my day-to-day role was, or what city I lived in. And I think, generally speaking, my kind of personality type, I actually thrive a little bit on chaos and high pressure situations. So I was self-aware enough at the time to realize that, "Hey, this might be like a really good time for me to push myself and grow professionally and personally for kind of the..." Well, at the time, I didn't know the pandemic was going to last so long, but yeah, looking back like the past two years, I'm really proud of myself for just how much I've accomplished professionally and personally. I think another eyeopening moment was, my partner and I, he also works for Indeed, that's how we met, we temporarily moved back to my parents' house in Michigan for over a year in between New York City and Seattle. And his family is from Toledo, Ohio. So we actually grew up an hour apart. But he's nine years older, so we kind of never crossed paths until Indeed, in Manhattan. And I think for both of us, it was just so great to reconnect and spend more time with our families as adults. And in a way, they almost helped us provide stability in our lives too, as we were kind of navigating these life changes and milestones together. Both of us moved out when we were 18, and went to college, and we never really had the opportunity to be with our families as adults. So that was a really good experience as well. And I think moving from Manhattan, where it's very much go, go, go, there's this rat race kind of mentality, moving back to the Midwest and now to Seattle, having the slower pace of life, living in more kind of residential areas, it helped me, at least, finally hit pause on my life and stop, and kind of reflect on what's important, which I don't think I was able to do well and prioritize in my early to mid 20s.

- So you are now on the Chief of Staff team for our GM and EVP of Enterprise, Maggie Hulce. Can you talk about your experience there and how you help guide the communications and storytelling for the group?

- Sure. So, if you asked me like even one year ago, I think, I never exactly envisioned myself in a Chief of Staff role, but as I was going through the internal mobility process at Indeed, I did a ton of coffee chats with other Chief of Staffs, both at Indeed and outside of Indeed. I realized how good of a fit it could be for me, and I was really excited about the opportunity. So people ask me like, "What's the typical day or week look like?" And I don't have a good answer for them, 'cause I'm like, "Every week, every day, every hour is different," which I personally love since I never get bored, and I'm always learning something new or working on something interesting. And I've just learned so much in the role from working with someone kind of as inspiring and intelligent as Maggie Hulce. So I meet with her every week on Mondays, and I just get so jazzed to do the work because she's just, like, I've just learned so much from her and I'm truly inspired. So yeah, I've had the privilege of learning kind of what her unique communication style is, understanding her abilities to be a effective storyteller. And specifically in my role, I help guide the communications and storytelling for the Enterprise organization by always thinking about the context that we're setting up and how that can be perceived by the audience. So in this role, I had to transition from being kind of a consumer of information to a creator of content. So everything I do, I'm constantly kind of putting myself in the shoes of the audience and asking myself, "Hmm, how will this be received? Is this interesting or worth my time to read or watch this recording? If this is a polarizing or divisive topic, how can we kind of frame it in a more inclusive way?" And it just really excites me to kind of be thinking about this stuff.

- Great, well, let's come back to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You are the regional co-chair of Indeed's Asian Network, America's Inclusion Resource Group. What role have the IRGs played in your own personal story?

- I truly believe it's, like, helped me define my identities in my mid to late 20s here. And when I started working at Indeed, I immediately joined Asian Network and Women at Indeed, because I would look in the mirror and I'm like, "Okay, I'm an Asian woman, I should get involved with these kind of inclusion groups. And I was involved in both of 'em, as a member, for a year in 2019. And then I held local chapter leadership roles for both, starting in January, 2020. So I was the education lead for Asian Network and events lead for Women at Indeed. And after kind of having, trying out like both IRGs and leadership roles, I decided a kind of focus solely on Asian Network. So I became the regional events lead in February of 2021, and I stepped up for the co-chair role in August, 2021. And it's been a wild but fun ride since. And during the summer of 2020, kind of at the peak of the pandemic, I also got diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety. At the time, I was seeking mental health kind of professional, or mental health professional help due to the pandemic. And when I received these kind of diagnoses, I started to tap into my invisible identities more and joined our Access Inclusion Resource Group so that I could find a community who was understanding what I was going through, as well as kind of see what coping mechanisms were out there and what others experiences with ADHD and anxiety were like.

- So thank you for sharing that. And I know that this is something that a lot of people learn about earlier in childhood, but increasingly more and more people are coming to this realization and actual diagnosis as a young adult and sometimes even later. Can you talk about what that was like for you to, at this stage of your life, get this sort of answer to maybe what might have been a question before about what was going on with you and how you've been responding to it?

- Hmm. Sure. First of all, I want to thank my parents for being amazing human beings who, yeah, I need to thank in eternity for managing my ADHD and anxiety when I was a child; and just lashing out, acting like just a little ball of energy and stress at the same time. And I honestly believe that I'm, like, I'm just glad that I got diagnosed later in life as an adult, because then it's up to me how I want to manage my ADHD and anxiety and learn more. Do I want to go to therapy? Do I want to try different medication? Do I want to read articles, listen to podcasts? I just feel like I can manage it better. And it's up to me how I want to do so, versus I think a lot of times what ends up happening is, getting diagnosed as a kid, you get just kind of labeled sick or special, and then you're kind of forced to take these meds, and you don't have much of a say, it's more up to what your parents and society says you should do. And I think that would've fueled into my insecurities even more, back then. And I'm not sure if I would've ended up where I am today had I gotten diagnosed as a kid and kind of been on different curriculum or given special accommodations. That being said, I think, kids should take advantage of them if they need them. And I've learned a lot about realizing that I'm privileged to kind of be high functioning to the point where people don't necessarily notice right away that I have ADHD or anxiety, but definitely some days it just feels so debilitating. And it's kind of this battle that I constantly fight with myself 24/7 when I'm awake or when I'm asleep, like it's all internal. And thinking back to when I got diagnosed, it was very, very difficult for me to accept this. I reflected on all the times in my life that I screwed up because of my ADHD or anxiety. And I just like felt so much shame and guilt. So I kind of had my like grieving phase, but after that, I decided, how can I be more self-aware of both the positives and areas of improvement for someone with ADHD or anxiety so that I could ultimately be like a better partner, a better friend, a better employee, better family member and contributor to society.

- One of the goals of our Inclusion Resource groups and why inclusion and belonging is a core value at Indeed is to help make a safe space for people to feel like they can be themselves and get the support they need. What do you think employers, in general, can do to better understand how to support employees with the variety of needs that they have?

- Yeah, I have a few thoughts here. But first and foremost, kudos to Indeed, because it is truly the first place that I've worked for, where people are just unapologetic versions of themselves. And it's so refreshing when you don't have to mask who you are or be someone you're not just to fit into the company culture. It sounds super obvious, but I think employers truly need to remove all judgment or potential for retaliation when someone is confiding in you about something that's happening in their personal lives, that could be impacting their work. And I've personally been there before. And I can say that that person, in that moment, they're being super brave, courageous and vulnerable, sometimes they just need someone to listen and empathize, versus kind of immediately jumping to brainstorming solutions right off the bat. And I think sometimes we can lose sight that at the end of the day, we're all just humans trying our best to make things work. So to give some examples, like instead of assuming why someone may be underperforming, take the time to really understand what's going on and how you can lend a helping hand. Instead of judging why someone is speaking, thinking or acting a certain way, be open-minded in accepting that individual for their own kind of unique and creative form of self-expression. I think as an employer, you can offer the options available for resources, but at the end of the day, the individual themselves, they need to be empowered to get the support they need, and they'll know what's best for them if they're kind of open to receiving help at the time. And lastly, I'll just say encourage employees to take time off and actually mean it. I've dealt with kind of unexpected hospitalizations of both my mom and my partner during my time here at Indeed. And both of those times, I didn't take time off because I was working with a new manager and recently took time off before that. And I just felt so guilty, I didn't speak up about what was happening in my personal life, and I just kind of sucked it up and worked through it. And looking back, I regret not taking the time off that I needed, because I believe that my mental health, in the long run, kind of suffered from not doing so.

- Clearly one of the things that comes from time and perspective is being able to see things a little differently through the lens of experience. And you've talked a lot about sort of where you are today and where you were growing up. If you had the opportunity, is there anything that you wish you could have said to your younger self from all the things that you've learned since?

- Yeah, so, so much, but I think everything kind of follows like a overarching theme. So for some context, I used to, like very unhealthily, compare myself to my peers professionally and personally on social media. So I would ask myself, how come so and so is getting promoted and I'm not? How come my teammate is getting a higher bonus than I am? How come my friend is getting married or buying a house and I'm not? So just after over a decade of kind of being addicted to social media and stuck in this loop of unhealthy comparisons, I decided to delete all my social media accounts except for LinkedIn, almost two years ago. And I can honestly say I've been a happier person since, just focusing on my own life and not really caring about what others around me are doing. And I would just tell myself like life is... I would tell my younger self that life is not linear. And to me, at least it would be a bit boring if it went kind of exactly how you calculated it and expected it to go. And I've realized through my life too, that sometimes the deviations from kind of the path you intend just like open up this whole new world a possibilities and it allows you to journey beyond what you thought was even kind of possible. So yeah, I would tell my younger self, like, don't try to just like control and orchestrate every aspect of your life. Have faith in spontaneity, serendipity, and take the time to smell the roses. It just creates space for good things to happen and for you to actually be able to appreciate them.

- One of the things that's interesting in your career progression,so you're in an individual contributor role, but you have moved into the strategy and now this Chief of Staff side of the business. What have you learned about leadership, or what kind of perspective have you gained from the roles that you've been playing?

- I just realized how much behind the scenes work goes into everything, how much collaboration is actually happening that people may not even be aware of. So even in my previous role at Indeed on the Sales Effectiveness team, I was working on various strategic and operational initiatives for the US Enterprise Client Success organization. So my team put a lot of work in doing book design, running pilots, conducting analyses, like all these kind of behind the scenes things that were happening that I think day-to-day CS reps weren't even aware of. And I think in my current role, I'm, again, super lucky to be working so closely with Maggie Hulce and her Leadership team. So in my experience, like all the leaders that Indeed are just such passionate, genuine, kind of caring individuals, and they have the best intentions. And I think as a individual contributor, I feel confident that many, if not all decisions that kind of are happening are kind of deliberated in depth, and every solution is given consideration. So I think for myself in my role, whether it's a presentation and external interview or a newsletter, it's made me more empathetic and appreciative of all the hard work that's necessary in order to kind of make it happen successfully.

- Well, as we wrap up, I'll ask the question that I always ask at the very end of these conversations. Which is, looking back over the experience from the pandemic and the world's reaction to it and your experience, is there anything in all of that that has left you with some optimism for the future?

- I think what I realized the last two-plus years is, no matter how good technology gets or how convenient it can make our lives, just the feeling of in-person connection with another human being is irreplaceable. Recently, I've been hearing a lot of stories about my friends or colleagues seeing their friends or family for the first time since the pandemic started. And I really get emotional just thinking about how kind of joyous those reunions must be to feel someone's presence, hear their voice loud and clear, kind of tactically, shake their hand, give them a hug. And I believe that people appreciate and value their time together in person a lot more now compared to kind of taking it for granted before the pandemic. I would see, like before the pandemic, I would see or experience, firsthand, friends or families hanging out together in person at a restaurant or park, but then everyone would just kind of be heads down, looking at their cell phones or electronic devices and just really being distracted and not in the moment with kind of the real lives and the people who were there in person. And I think now that we've had nothing but our electronic devices for the past couple of years, I see people interacting in person now with just more physical presence and engagement. So I really hope that this trend is here to stay and people can continue having this intentional separation of space between their digital and in-person lives.

- Well, Victoria, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation today. It was really amazing and powerful to hear your experience and everything that you bring to your role here. And thank you for everything you do for Indeed and to help people get jobs all over the world.

- Thank you so much for having me, Chris.