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Anna Chan

Why we need diverse leadership in organisations and companies to challenge prejudice and harmful narratives.

Despite the promise of a fresh start and symbol of new hope against the backdrop of 2020, the first few months of 2021 has been one of despair and pain for many, including the East and South Asian community.

February 12th marked the start of the Spring Festival (also known as Lunar New Year) a celebration and holiday that many East and South East Asian countries and their diaspora celebrate across the globe. It is a time of togetherness and joy, welcoming in the new year according to the lunisolar calendar. This year was going to be different for many families and those who celebrated due to the pandemic, unfortunately this period gained another blow as harmful and traumatic incidents occur.

A slew of violent attacks and incidents against Asian Americans were shared on social media with many of these being against elders of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. As these attacks were happening, none were covered by any large media outlets.

Many in the community amplified the awareness of these attacks, using social media to share their sentiments:

"What's so enraging about these attacks on Asian elders is how, in my experience, my older relatives minimize their pain, opinions, and the space they occupy in order to unburden others. They mind their own business while trying to survive. Targeting them feels especially cruel." - Eugene Lee Yang

"The skyrocketing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans continues to grow, despite our repeated pleas for help. The crimes ignored and even excused. Remember Vincent Chin. #EnoughisEnough". - Daniel Dae Kim

What about the UK?

Whilst these most recent incidents took place in the US, the East and South East Asian (ESEA) community in the UK looked on and reflected on what was happening a lot closer to home.

"Hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed but too often these attacks are ignored & underreported. This is not limited to the US; in the UK attacks against East & Southeast Asians have increased 300% during the pandemic. Please share & raise awareness #EnoughIsEnough" - Gemma Chan

Social media accounts such as Dearasianyouthlondon and Paperboylondon created posts to bring awareness to the rise in reported hate crimes, all leading to up to the incident where a lecturer in Southampton was attacked.

Whilst anti-Asian sentiment and racism against the ESEA community is nothing new in the UK, the background of the pandemic and a "new normal" has bought the community together.

Grassroot movements such as End the Virus of Racism, Besea.n lead the way to having the first ever debate in parliament regarding ESEA racism in the UK: Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Whilst Racism Unmasked Edinburgh worked with Boohoo and Depop to remove the term "oriental" from their websites as a search terms, a word use to other and fetishise ESEA communities and culture.

These strong movements have brought the community together and highlighted the need for equal representation of our ESEA communities especially in senior roles of leadership, to reflect the diversity of our communities.

Asian Leadership Collective (ALC) takes these ideas and focuses on keeping those in positions of power accountable. The mission? To increase diverse ESEA representation within organisations, amplifying leaders and addressing barriers to entry into senior and executive roles.

Taking a top down approach to organisations to combat prejudice and unconscious bias in processes and systems meant to benefit the majority and act as barriers to entry for other groups.

The importance of data and allyship

Whilst the FTSE 100, shows a lot of opportunity for change, many reports use BAME categories which, in itself can be very limiting for the ESEA community; being lumped into "Asian".

“If businesses are already lacking in racially diverse leader and diverse role models (which most are) it can be even more difficult for [underrepresented ethnic minority] employees to progress in their careers” - CIPD, 2017.

One of the key projects for ALC will be data collection to build a deeper understanding of what these systematic barriers are and how to champion better solutions and allyship for the ESEA community; amplifying our stories and lived experiences, alongside our skills and capabilities.

These values very much echo those of a recent BTS Radio UK blog by Lorraine Ocloo - Will BTS ever get a seat at the table? By having organisations which are representative of our diverse talents and experiences, it will allow for barriers to be broken down and true acceptance.

"Diversity gives you access to a greater range of talent, not just the talent that belongs to a particular world-view or ethnicity or some other restricting definition." Forbes, 2018

Asian Leadership Collective co authored and contributed to the "Response to the Call for Evidence on Ethnic Disparities and Inequality in the UK", this highlighted "altogether ESEA people only fill 0.27% of the most powerful positions in the UK, which is far below the proportion of ESEA people in this country".

Asian Leadership Collective has also proactively engaged with well known establishments such as a high-street supermarket and the 2nd largest consumer publishing house to discuss recent inappropriate and harmful campaigns towards the ESEA community. Both issues are currently being escalated to internal teams within their businesses.

Working together with organisations is key to making lasting change, what the past year has shown is that unity and active allyship is needed.

How can you help the ESEA community ?

  • Support ESEA businesses: your local takeaways, restaurants, shops, small businesses.

  • Support all types of ESEA organisations, including grassroot organisations. Many are volunteering their time for free with their services and expertise.

  • Amplify our stories: champion the voices of those in the community, both their joy and their lived experiences.

  • Call in those close to you and those you work with against unconscious bias.

  • Challenge processes which might be contributing to harmful narratives - for example, celebrating important festivals as a "nice to have" and ignoring the issue of anti-Asian sentiment against this community.

Thank you to Anna Chan and ALC for this piece. We hope that it has provided some much needed clarity on what has been happening, and informed our readers on what help and initiatives are out there.

If this has inspired you to write about your experiences please drop us a message @BTSRadioUK at Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or you can alternatively email us at or (blog editor). All confidentiality will be maintained and can be anonymised if you wish.

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