Cigna on Acceptance and Respect: Third Annual Day of Understanding

Originally published at Cigna ranked No. 33 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


Candid conversations about complex topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion – especially in the workplace – may feel uncomfortable. But creating safe spaces for authentic and compassionate dialogue leads to acceptance and respect and is more important now than ever. These conversations help build greater cross-cultural awareness and understanding. They also contribute to a sense of belonging and help create an inclusive environment where people feel respected and valued for their unique contributions.

Cigna recently participated in CEO Action’s third annual Day of Understanding, as part of our ongoing inspiring inclusive conversation. This year it focused on acceptance and respect through the perspective of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

“Our continued participation in the Day of Understanding demonstrates our commitment to the important work of CEO Action For Diversity and Inclusion. These conversations are intended to cultivate a trusting environment where all ideas are welcome, and where employees feel comfortable and empowered to have discussions about our differences,” said Cheryl Wade, senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Event speakers included Patrick Graham, head of strategy and CEO of Cigna Asia-Pacific, Dr. Shanta Kanukollu, a licensed clinical psychologist, Kelly Ha, campaign manager at the #IAmNotAVirus campaign, and Richard Lui, journalist and anchor at MSNBC and NBC News.

Here’s some of what was shared.


Support and dialogue in the workplace

“When we talk about the workplace, we talk about bringing our whole self to work, this means our whole authentic self,” said Ha. “Not just the good, but also the negative experiences that come with being who we are. Movements create a safe environment where individuals feel comfortable and also validated in their experiences – a community not just a place of employment. These are not just awareness campaigns, but also empowerment groups for those in the community.”

“Our history is everybody’s story, regardless of our color of skin,” added Lui. “And so when we talk about this moment, it’s important that we put in the affectations that this group is here and has been here. And I’m talking about the AAPI community, now is the time to do the big things. This is the moment to raise the flag high, do the things that are uncomfortable – if you feel uncomfortable participating in these movements, you probably are doing the right thing.”


Making a difference

“I think the biggest misconception is that people treat members of the Asian humanity as a monolith, which is incredibly incorrect,” said Ha. “This has been an issue, because this amplifies a myriad that all Asians are the same. The reality is we are all different, we have different experiences, and we have different traditions.”

Dr. Kanukollu asked about the model minority myth. “We know that Asian-Americans have been, amongst other stereotypes, referred to as a “model minority,” a group seen to attain success across academic, economic, cultural domains. But in reality, we know that the label is based on and perpetuates stereotypes, and can have lasting implications. How has this concept impacted you in your life, and how have you navigated the assumptions that come with it?”

“Please don’t ever call anybody who is AAPI a model minority. Don’t use it. Don’t bring it up. Don’t think about it. It’s wrong.” Said Lui. “So model, what is model?”

He went on to say, “Just start with deconstructing what’s good… where are the benefits for this AAPI community? Where are they in the mid and high-level of organizations and in the Fortune 500? Where are the benefits when it comes to being accepted? Where are the benefits when it comes to not having to face violence as we are right now? And then, for our African-American, Latino-American brothers and sisters, you know, saying that we have to reach for this brass ring, and whoever gets it first gets to be at the top of the mountain, how ridiculous is that?”

Ha added, “With a newer generation, I think we are more likely to utilize the art of storytelling and sharing our experiences. With tools like social media, these voices and stories can be shared all across the globe. I think we are beginning to break down the stereotype that the AAPI community is the silent minority.”


The impact of discrimination and stereotypes on mental health

“In recent months, I along with countless others, have watched in horror at episodes of anti-Asian violence in several countries,” said Graham. “People who use the coronavirus as justification for such acts of violence have no place in any tolerant society, and we need to stand up against such reprehensible acts. The past year has accelerated the need for action and meaningful societal change. It is important we continue to nurture an environment of empathy and inclusion, both at work and at home. I believe that we can only grow stronger from listening to and learning from different perspectives and experiences.”

Dr. Kanukollu asked, “As a psychologist, I’d be remiss not to ask about the mental health impact of discrimination and stereotyping on an individual or on a community. How do you think acceptance and respect are factors when it comes to mental health?”

“The lack of acceptance in racism takes a huge toll on the AAPI community,” said Ha. “It pushes members to have these feelings of guilt and self-blame for being who they are. It’s also a constant feeling of anxiety. I think it’s important to talk about how the Asian community is also the least likely to seek mental health services. It’s the feeling of shame and weakness involved and looked down upon when we seek these services.”


Learn more about Cigna’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts here.

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