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Four ways to embrace cultural identity at work: Advice from our AAPI leaders

May 16, 2022
Sherry S.
Sherry S.

Human Capital Consultant

As a member of Fannie Mae’s Asian Employee Resource Group, I had the opportunity to sit down with a panel of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders from across the company to discuss their career journeys and how they embrace their cultural identity, what challenges and advantages they have experienced, and how these experiences have shaped their career choices. Here are four takeaways from their responses to how their cultural identity has been an advantage or posed a challenge in their careers.

Focus on the positive encounters and your goals

Linda Tai, Chief Technology Officer: I started my technology career 20-some years ago and got used to being the only woman, the only Asian in the room. I learned to work on the objectives and focus on the outcomes. If people don’t hear me or people aren’t listening to me, I will ask the question, “Does that make sense? Do you agree with me?” Prompt the team to acknowledge me. I have learned to manage through this instead of being a victim. I focus on the good things, on the positive encounters.

Find a company that practices psychological safety

Devang Doshi, SVP, Single-Family Capital Markets: I think I’d be lying if I said having a diverse leadership team wouldn’t have been helpful earlier in my career. Most of my family lives abroad, so going to see them isn’t a quick weekend trip. That requires some degree of sympathy and empathy in terms of balancing business needs and planning, scheduling, and allowing for flexibility for travel. When you think about a world in which you’re trying to champion psychological safety and people’s identity, you have to design a workplace that can facilitate and encourage cultural identity as opposed to one that directly conflicts with it. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to work at Fannie Mae.

Be a part of a supportive and inclusive team

Thomas Jacob, VP, Capital Markets and Servicing Technology: Personally, in my career, coming from India and working in the U.S., you learn you have some mental blocks that take years to get over. Over time, you get used to all of this. That’s where experience and identity help you to shape up your experience. Companies have gone global in the last 20 – 25 years and have learned and understood the importance of having cultural diversity in companies. The same is true for Fannie Mae. If we need to fulfill our Mission, we need people who can understand the woes and challenges our world is going through. So it’s important we have that diversity within the company.

Proactively get to know your colleagues

Kiran Ramineni, VP, Cloud and Data Architecture: Some of my cultural identity took time for folks to understand. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to explain your experience, and colleagues generally appreciate it. It’s just something new people are trying to figure out. You’ve got to embrace your cultural identity and introduce yourself. Sometimes going the extra mile and opening up for conversation goes a long way. Don’t let that hold you back. You make the first move, and it will go a long way.

Having diverse perspectives not only brings new ideas and new ways to tackle challenges in the workplace, but also leads to better business decisions and outcomes. That’s why it’s so important for you to bring your whole self to your work and incorporate it into your career. At Fannie Mae, we strive to provide a psychologically safe work environment. You are encouraged to be your authentic self, and your success helps us fulfill our Mission to facilitate equitable and sustainable access to homeownership and quality, affordable rental housing.

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