Martha Ha has never met a challenge she didn’t push past, from competing in dozens of triathlons to becoming a single mother by choice and achieving a third-degree black belt in martial arts. Most recently, she was recognized by the Asia Society as a fearless voice for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
As Vice President, Chief Counsel and the Co-Chair of the Asian Impact at Medtronic (AIM) diversity network, she reinforces the company’s commitment to racial equity and social justice every day, landing her a coveted spot on the Asia Society’s APA Drivers of Diversity – Class of 2022 list.
In her nearly six years at Medtronic, Ha has lived the company’s commitment to foster a culture where all employees belong, are respected and feel valued for who they are and the life experiences they contribute.
And she knows that inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) are crucial to accelerating life-changing innovation.
“Making decisions in groups where everyone looks, thinks and acts like you is the death of creativity and innovation,” she said.
Nothing is impossible
She attributes her success to tenacity and grit, qualities that came from two sources: Her parents and martial arts.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Ha and her family moved to the United States when she was a baby. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. With two daughters in tow, Ha’s parents bounced from attic to attic, house-sitting to have a roof over their heads.
She remembers her mother, with no car, pulling her and her sister in a sled through the snow to get scraps of meat from the butcher when they could afford little else. The sled tipped over and the meat, wrapped in white paper, fell out.
“My mom was searching with bare hands through the snow to find it. But she had to get my sister and I back home since we were so cold. So, she ran us home and went back to find those scraps, and she finally did. That’s just what you did,” Ha said. “I learned that nothing is impossible. I learned about honor, I learned about perseverance and resilience.”
Three decades into a successful legal career, Ha is proud of what she’s accomplished but cautions against the Model Minority myth that says all Asian Americans are high earning and well educated.
“When people don’t understand it, they think it’s a positive thing, and it’s not. I’ve been in meetings in past jobs where there is a discussion about diversity programs and people have actually said, ‘I don’t want to hear about the Asians, they don’t have a problem,’” Ha said. “So, we become invisible.”
Stepping into the light
Ha was shaken as violence against Asian Americans rose during the pandemic. She worked with AIM to drive awareness and education, and help Asian employees use their voices.
“I do believe that every crisis or dark time is an opportunity to do something good,” she said. “There’s got to be something positive that comes out of such dark times.”
Last year during AAPI Heritage Month, AIM focused on taking a stand (#TakeAStand). This year, the group is “Stepping into the Light,” acknowledging that for too long the challenges Asian communities face have been hidden in the dark.
The group is not only recognizing the long history of discrimination and barriers many Asians have and continue to experience but also sharing information, education and strategies both inside and outside of Medtronic on how to overcome those barriers so the AAPI community has opportunities to thrive.
“Let’s not lose this momentum. We have hundreds of years to unwind and unpack, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Ha said. “I still find it hard to speak up for myself sometimes, but if you can’t speak up for yourself, speak up for someone else. As long as someone’s speaking up, it gives people the chance to learn, and the chance to change.”