The Emotional Side of Inclusion

By Elliot Lum

I only started to embrace the emotional side of inclusion after the pandemic started. Intellectually, I understood what this word meant. I've written about the topic in multiple large scale studies that were published by the ANA Educational Foundation: The Diversity Disconnect: Charting Future Pathways to Inclusive Growth and My Voice Matters: Linking Inclusion to Business Growth.

This qualitative and quantitative approach to studying inclusion enhanced my rational understanding of what it meant to be inclusive. Emotionally, however, I only began to truly understand this word after the Asian hate came out into the public domain in 2020. I was emotionally riveted when I read the NY Times article, "Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety." It became clear to me that I had to take action.

As such, I reached out to various people who would talk with me as a way to learn more thoroughly about the root causes of what was happening. Why was there so much hate? Where did all this hate stem from? Was I going to be attacked on the street like many others?

During this time, I believed that marketers had a role to play in this narrative as they shape public perception with their messages. I began to ask myself, what could we do to paint a different picture, that we as a community, are included in the larger community?

However, the big question became: Would others who were similarly affected by what was happening show up to talk about it?

In fact, many did. I started the conversation with 20 marketing executives who identified as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) — and met several times debating on the direction we should take as a group. However, with no budget or no agency, we could debate all we wanted but struggled to take real action.

The act of just meeting, however, was the necessary catalyst we needed to form the invaluable bonds of a fellowship that enabled us to talk about race in a much more open, inclusive way. What started out as a group of about 20 AAPI marketing executives turned into a community of close to 300 AAPI senior level marketers today in 2022.

In building this group, I met with each marketing executive to welcome them into this community. The process was deliberate and intentional to bring them into a space where everyone could feel like they belonged. Nobody had to pretend. They could be themselves because they were among peers who looked like them and came from similar backgrounds.

In a culture that prizes being "heads down" with the goal of achieving individual success, I looked to model a norm where we would welcome all interests to drive community gain. From advocating for greater representation for Asian artists to driving AAPI voting registration to building anti-bullying campaigns to support AAPI youth, we could all care about different interests while still having the common bond as marketers.

What I learned through supporting this group is that inclusion is about supporting every person's interests and where everyone in the group has a voice, where the group's future is based on collective dialogue.

Given the diversity of Asian cultures, we have made sure to be inclusive of all cultures from East Asian to Southeast Asian to South Asian — and make certain no one group is seen as dominant. For that reason, we named the group 108 Asian Marketers and More.

The number "108" is symbolic with its roots both in Hinduism and Buddhism; its meaning reflects connection, unity, and completion. While the center of gravity is the marketing community (as we have now exceeded 108 marketers in our group), we welcome others who are part of the marketing ecosystem, such as agencies and marketers.

For now, the group serves as an industry resource group for connection and community with an eye toward turning it into a nonprofit that accelerates AAPI visibility through the power of marketing.

The ANA word of the year "inclusion" has given me an opportunity to pause and reflect as my journey to understand, practice, and embrace inclusion is still not over. It's an ongoing process where I learn every day how to include others in what I do and how I show up with those who I have the privilege to work with at the ANA — and with the members that we serve.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

This post was originally published at MediaVillage here. Don't forget to read ANA 2022 Marketing Word of the Year: Inclusion.

Elliot Lum is currently EVP of community and growth at the Advertising Education Foundation (AEF).