AT&T’s Sarita Rao on Celebrating the Courageous Voices of the AAPI Community

Originally published at about.att.com. Sarita Rao is the SVP of Integrated and Partner Solutions at AT&T. AT&T is a Hall of Fame company.

 

Joy in the face of adversity is an act of courage. This has never been more apparent than over the past two years throughout the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Their joy and courage make recognizing AAPI Heritage Month more vital now than ever. AT&T is taking the opportunity to joyfully celebrate and honor the diversity and cultural richness within the Asian diaspora through our theme “Voices of Courage,” giving visibility and space for each individual story and the hint of courage within each journey to shine.

Being part of the AAPI community is meaningful in different ways for everyone — after all, the Asian diaspora is not a monolith — 22 million Asian Americans can trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, “each with unique histories, cultures, languages and other characteristics.” Our experiences are indeed unique, and the way we identify ourselves and relate to our community is dynamic.

In my case, my parents were immigrants from India who demonstrated the power of hard work and persistence. They were entrepreneurs, pursuing the American Dream by starting their own business as a stone supplier and fabricator. My mom handled the day-to-day business, and she was often underestimated by customers, employees and competitors, who questioned if this small Indian woman with a heavy accent could get the job done. My mother not only proved herself by growing the business, but she also passed on her passion and perseverance to her children. My sister now runs the company, which has grown into a multi-million-dollar firm that is one of the most prestigious in the Chicago real estate market, and my sister is often recognized as an influential voice across the industry.

Moments like these, we are reminded of the progress and advancements made, as well as the work left to achieve. At AT&T, we understand how imperative it is to support and uplift the communities where we work and live — not just during heritage months or special occasions, but year-round.

As of 2020, Asian American and Pacific Islanders make up 7.7% of AT&T’s U.S. workforce and just over 11% of AT&T’s management, meaning that across our enterprise Asian employees are driving innovation and making an impact in communities across the nation. It is also critical for all employees to have dedicated spaces to engage and feel supported. Our employee groups (EGs) are a perfect example of the way we’re creating meaningful space and impacting local communities through our employees.

At AT&T there are five AAPI-focused EGs, which includes two employee networks, Asian Pacific Women’s Organization (APWO), encouraging and facilitating the engagement, education and sharing amongst AT&T women of Asia Pacific; and PULSE of India, bringing AT&T employees from India’s diverse cultural backgrounds to a common platform to develop leaders and build collaborative relationships.

One of the employee groups close to my heart, is OASIS, the Organization for Asian Indians. I’ve had the honor of being an advisor for the OASIS EG for several years, and the power our employees was on full display in early 2021, when a second wave of the COVID-19 virus devastated much of India. Oasis and other EGs quickly mobilized support as part of an AT&T India Task force, raising more than $265,000 in just a few weeks for employees and communities in India who were hardest hit. It was truly a grassroots operation where everyone pitched in and understood the rapidly changing environment. It is during these difficult times, when you are so distant from your homeland, that there is tremendous comfort in knowing you can still help through the wide-reaching network of AT&T.

“We are in this together.” That statement was made to me by a team member during the ongoing pandemic, and it has become one of my favorite phrases. It is also a meaningful sentiment that is reflected by the leadership of our AAPI Employee Resource Groups. Hear more from our AT&T employees as we kick off AAPI Heritage Month:

  • Judith Villacruz-Brandt, The Filipino American Communications Employees of AT&T (FACES) National President: “Having the ability to share our AAPI culture within and outside the company is important. It’s human nature to want to share something personal about yourself as a way to learn how we tick — what makes us passionate! Having the ability to portray your true-self openly at work gives us all a sense of pride.”
  • Abhijit Railkar, The Organization for Asian Indians (OASIS) National President: “Our nation has become a petri dish of various cultures. We learn from this very diversity, grow to be a better nation and develop a unique culture for our future generations. While celebrating all Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, this month-long AAPI celebrations help embrace this uniqueness and provide a learning opportunity for those not in the know.”
  • Victor Kwong, InspirASIAN National President (representation of Asian & Pacific Islanders employed by AT&T): “AAPI Month is a time to celebrate the great work of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for their contributions to the history, culture and achievements of the United States. [inspirASIAN] invokes inspiration from celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, increasing cultural awareness, and developing inspiring leaders.”

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