BAE DENNIS YU
JOHN: ~Okay. I'm so sorry, dude. Uh, I, I forgot cause I, I got, I pressed record on zoom and then I thought I just, I just forgot about it. I'm so sorry. Okay. Okay. Uh,~
~yeah, that was great. Um, welcome to the show, Dennis. So for guests, I, I actually, we just recorded like 10 minutes. Uh, I forgot to press record. So we're starting over. So, uh, this is, this is, this is, this is round two. This is all about leaning into imperfections. Uh, ~[00:00:00] Dennis. Welcome to the show. Welcome to big Asian energy.
DENNIS: are you doing? Good to see you again, John. ~Uh, ~very nice to be here. ~Uh, ~no, this is great. ~I think that the best thing about this is that, ~so obviously John and I had various conversations before this recording and I've always enjoyed talking to John, so I don't mind this as take two or take 45, 30
JOHN: So for the listeners who don't know who you are and what you do yet, can you give a quick rundown ~of that, ~of what you do in your own words?
DENNIS: Sure. ~Um, ~so my name is Dennis Yau Yu. I am based in the Bay [00:00:30] Area. ~Uh, ~we recently moved up to the Bay two years ago from Los Angeles, where I spent majority of my life.
~Um, ~I was born in Taiwan. I came here with my mother when I was about 12 years old. ~Sort of ~typical immigrant story. ~Uh, ~and we can definitely dig into that later on. And,~ uh, you know, ~I have spent majority of my career in retail, commerce and technology.
JOHN: That's awesome. And right now I understand ~you're~ one of your big projects is this otherness group.
Can you tell me a [00:01:00] little bit about what this is that you're currently starting up or leading? Sure.
DENNIS: ~Um, ~Yeah, it's,~ uh,~ it really came about organically, I would say,~ and,~ and I think,~ um,~ it stemmed from, various points. One is my aspiration and intent and interest in helping people within, Our community,~ uh,~ specifically in Asian American community or Asian Canadian ~community~ communities or API APIs,~ um, ~based on my own sort of life experience.
~Um, ~and also my career experience, which is quite different. [00:01:30] And so when we use the word other, a lot of times, I think a lot of people can't relate to that. ~Uh, ~just being the other in the room or get other, however you want to use it. Oftentimes it's not, we think of it as. Something negative. ~Um, ~the way I've seen it, surely we can't deny that being other in the room is a positive thing, but I will say from my own experience, being the other in various points of my life in different situations actually have really helped me cultivate [00:02:00] and understand myself a lot better and also understand what kind of unique propositional strengths I can bring to the table, whether it's at work or just personal lives.
And I hope Those types of mindset or reframing could help other people think about things the wrong way. ~Uh, ~think about things a different way,~ uh,~ that can really,~ uh,~ from a positive standpoint.
JOHN: Love it. ~And that you would just,~ how would you describe what you're doing? Is it like a training program? Is it a organization?
~What is ~
DENNIS: ~Yeah,~ so good question,~ uh,~ without going into my [00:02:30] sort of USC MBA, like framework of mindset, I'm going to give you something right now. ~Um, ~and one is ~what, what, ~what reason is because I think ~it's something,~ it's more of a vision, it's an all star, it's a movement, so it can go different ways. And two is there are some things I'm working on right now.
I will talk a little bit, probably in ~a later. Uh, ~later stage ~one thing,~ once things are a little bit more formalized, but I would say what it is right now, essentially, it's something that I talk about, whether it's,~ uh, on podcast, ~on podcast such as this one [00:03:00] or external speaking engagement or workshops I do to really, the angle is to inspire other people to get inspired themselves.
~Um, ~that's a very sort of high level thing. And what does that look like on the very tactical level of business? Sort of model level is right now. It's content, right? It's content creation. It's a community gathering and it could be something else later, whether it could be more of a learning courses or Workshops and so on but We will see But [00:03:30] right now I am, ~you know, ~leaving it out to the world and you know Get into the wild and ~see ~see how the audience or ~how to see the ~see how the community
JOHN: reacts That's great.
So it sounds like right now you're doing a lot of corporate speaking and training around teaching people what it is to be an other. Now ~this is, ~this is an interesting term because you and I have talked about it and I've heard about it, especially in spaces where we talk about diversity. We talk about, especially in corporate spaces,~ um,~ how would you, [00:04:00] in your own words, explain what it means to be an other?
Because that's not something that we oftentimes identify ourselves. We don't wake up in the morning being like, Hey, I'm a lawyer and hi, I'm an accountant and hi, I'm an other. What does being an
DENNIS: other mean? The other, I think at the very sort of specific term or technical term, a lot of times we describe somebody as being the other.
Maybe due to their background, maybe due to their [00:04:30] experience, maybe due to the way they look, or maybe due to their race, age, and gender, ~and on and on ~and on, right? But the way I ~kind of ~look at it is, obviously, just being an Asian American, growing in America, going through different types of neighborhoods and different types of experiences, the other is a type of feeling that In a bigger sense, so it's bigger than Asian American community. I will say it's anytime you feel like you're the only one that really stands out. And somehow, because of you [00:05:00] being so unique in that situation, the environment. That you're being negatively impacted. So it's more of a field. And I think a lot of people, it definitely would resonate ~for, ~for a lot of people, whether you're Asian American or black or Hispanic or different ages, those situations do come about, but at the very core level,~ um,~ and for the conversation we're talking about is, it's true, like for Asian Americans, whether you're.
~Uh, ~in a corporate situation where you're the only executive in the room, or you're the only [00:05:30] female ~in,~ in the board or on the board, or if you are in the industry, that's the majority. White male or just white. ~Like, ~what does that mean for you? And how do you use that to ~sort of ~stand up, to stand out among the crowd?
~Um, ~and make sure that you're being recognized. You're being promoted that ~you are, yeah,~ you are shining at. You know ~what,~ with what you have the most
JOHN: got it right. So like when we're thinking about an environment and I'm sure this is something that's relatable to a lot of people, especially if you're listening to a [00:06:00] show like big Asian energy is when you're looking around a room, it could be a classroom.
It could be an office. It could be, ~you know, ~an interview. It could be an audition. And you're looking around the room and you're ~going, ~going, Hey, wait a second. I am the only blank of this group. ~You know, ~I'm the only visible minority, Asian American. I'm the only woman, man, trans, whatever it is that in that moment you recognize.
~So the. Of~ the other is essentially what it sounds like how it affects us and [00:06:30] how that might even Interfere with our sense of belonging our sense of progress Promotions job opportunities. Is that kind of the focus of what it is that you talk about? ~Yeah ~
DENNIS: ~all I will say definitely I'll All ~
JOHN: ~the above~
DENNIS: If you don't mind, go through a little bit more of a sort of storytelling form in terms of like, where this come about. ~And also like, ~
JOHN: ~how? Yeah,~ how did you get here? Yeah, ~this is ~this is fascinating. ~Because you went to you know, ~my understanding is, ~you know, ~you went to business school, ~you didn't start up going, let me tackle this, this feeling of Right.~
How did your career path lead to this moment here?
DENNIS: Sure. ~Um, ~so like I mentioned, I immigrated here to the [00:07:00] United States specifically to Orange County in LA with my mother at the age of 12. ~Um, ~at that time when I first came here, Orange County at that time. ~So, ~so we're, we actually settled in ~Laguna, ~Laguna,~ uh,~ Miguel, which is,~ uh,~ close to Laguna beach.
It's a ~beautiful, ~beautiful area. ~Uh, ~it's predominantly white. And especially back in the days, it was very, ~you know, ~monoculture,~ uh,~ for sure. ~Um, ~I went to a school where I was one of the two Asian kids at school. And so at that time, [00:07:30] the other Asian kid who happened to be Chinese was tasked to show me around the school,~ um,~ which was great.
Except, ~you know, ~at that time,~ and, and, and, ~and notice,~ like,~ I didn't speak a word of English at that time, so there's another sort of hurdle I had to get over, which is learning the language, and obviously that's a big part of it, but,~ uh,~ and I went through all the things that, ~you know,~ that you can think of, whether it's bullying, whether it's discrimination, all those things, I think ~kids are just, you know, ~kids are just kids.
~Um, ~and so at that time, when you're talking about just being in the environment of being the other,[00:08:00] ~ like,~ that's my, I would say, the first major point of my life experience of feeling the other. ~Um, ~obviously I stood out quite a bit. I was one of the two Asian kids. I didn't speak the language, so I didn't have to.
~Uh, ~do the homework like all the kids,~ uh, you know, ~and high typical sort of jokingly. I was the best at math, ~you know, ~whenever I remember,~ um, you know, ~I finished a math test within five minutes and people are, ~so that was the ~
JOHN: ~only way to you were, you were making, ~you were making my life. ~More, ~more difficult ~than, ~than I think you could have imagined, man.
Everyone just looked at me and thought I was supposed to be good at math. That was terrible at [00:08:30] math. ~Well, ~
DENNIS: that's good. So at least you didn't fit into the stereotype.
JOHN: No, ~I was, ~I was the balance. I was the one who balanced. I dragged the overall GPA down for all of us,~ uh,~ out there. My apologies, guys.
DENNIS: You probably dragged me up.
You probably pulled me up with a, ~so, uh, ~but. Yeah, it was a very interesting experience and being in the environment. I just remember, ~you know, uh, ~going to the library every single day and really have to self taught myself a language by reading a book a day. ~Like ~that was my goal. so that was ~kind of ~the first, like I mentioned, this is ~kind of ~like the first major situation where I feel like I was [00:09:00] the other,~ um,~ Not shortly after, about a year and a half or so, we moved up to St.
Gabriel Valley,~ um,~ and for those that know, St. Gabriel Valley is obviously known for, ~you know, ~a large Asian population in the area,~ uh,~ that includes cities like Monterrey Park, St. Gabriel, Arcadia, and so on. And that's ~kind of ~where I grew up,~ um, which is, ~which is great. I really enjoyed it. ~Uh, ~and I went to school,~ uh,~ majoring in econ at UC Irvine.
~And when I got out of school, um, actually in between,~ so late on in school, I actually got really into hip hop, the music. And at that time,~ um,~ it was, when you think [00:09:30] about Notorious D. I. G., ~you know, ~Oh, classic. 2Pac, the Snoop, and at that time, it was the era of sort of East against the West. So it was really, I would just call it the golden era of hip hop.
~Um, ~I took a really personal interest in hip hop because I think on one end,~ um,~ to me, hip hop is an immigrant story.
Hip hop is about,~ uh,~ it's a genre that should have never been mainstream. It was never meant to be mainstream. It was a music form that was developed in New York on the blocks with some [00:10:00] boombox people break dancing, and then somehow evolve and got commercialized. So to me, that was very similar to immigrant stories where,~ uh, you know, ~We were not supposed to be what we were, but we made our own way.
So there's a lot of sort of the entrepreneurial, ~you know, ~sort of Asian American building your own future type of parallel path that really So I got so interested in it. I started interning, even though I was a finance major, I started interning at a hip hop magazine called the Source magazine [00:10:30] at that time.
And Source magazine at that time was the major media. And I was in the industry,~ uh,~ helping them develop,~ uh,~ different award shows that were shown on TV. ~Um, ~and you can imagine being an Asian American in that environment, in a
JOHN: hip hop environment. ~I mean, ~being an Asian American, being in a hip hop company, like a hip hop focused culture, I'm guessing there wasn't that many Asian coworkers on your team.
DENNIS: No, I don't. I actually just remember maybe one or two [00:11:00] at that time. It was the editor of the magazine that was Asian and that was it. ~But just in terms cultural, you know, ~like the landscape, there weren't too many Asian people. ~Um, ~but I loved it. I loved it because of the music, because of the culture.
And you can imagine me being an Asian. An Asian person within a seat of like tens of thousands of black Americans,~ uh,~ in a war zone. And that's another second part, second point that I remember distinctly,~ uh,~ as being the other. So after that, ~you know, um, ~I, like I mentioned, I worked at Merrill Lynch for a while and that pivoted my career [00:11:30] into retail.
~Um, ~I started working for the denim company based in Virginia. So once again, yeah, talking about being the other, I grew up in Los Angeles. ~A company,~ a denim company in Norfolk, Virginia, which is a Southern part of Virginia, relocated me from L. A. to Virginia. And that was this whole story by itself, ~but at that time, Virginia,~ that part of Virginia,~ um,~ was known for Confederate flags, pickup
DENNIS: right. it was your typical sort of Southern [00:12:00] culture. When I went there,~ um,~ The downtown of Norfolk probably had ~like ~10 to 20 retail, and that was called the hotspot. And what people did on Fridays, instead of going to clubs at K Town, or Sunset, or Hollywood Boulevard, people used to go to,~ uh, you know, ~they'd go to Applebee's.
And ~so, ~thinking about somebody who just came out in the 20s, and for me it was quite a bit of culture shock. ~Um, ~once again, that's another point of being the other, there was a very big moment. I remember when racism was [00:12:30] so rampant, ~you know, ~like that, that the whole mindset, there was one time when I walked into the room, I remember my manager asked me, Hey, Dennis, do you know Kung Fu?
~Oh, wow. No, ~this is a black American ~that ~that asked me the question. And I was shocked. And when I looked around the room, my coworkers were shocked, but he asked the question in a so innocent yet naive and ignorant way. I responded by telling him, I said, no, I don't. And he actually came back and said, why not?[00:13:00]
Oh man. ~That's another,~ that was the environment that I spent my next two years
JOHN: ~in. there, there was, ~there was a kind of cultural. Ignorance is what it sounds like. ~It wasn't necessarily,~ and I think this is important to note, is that it didn't sound like what he was saying was deliberately antagonistic.
~Like, ~he wasn't trying to put you down, it didn't feel like. But, I think a lot of people, when we talk about the idea of what Asian based racism experience, and I use that word carefully, because I think even the word racism carries a lot of meaning and power. And, [00:13:30] what we're really pointing out, and oftentimes we say these as microaggressions, is that While the intention behind it may not be to put you down, it's still creating an experience.
It's still creating an effect. And the effect is that, hey, you look like this group of people, and I'm going to assume that you have all these same traits as opposed to, ~you know, ~somebody else who doesn't look like that. But, ~you know, ~I wouldn't make the same assumptions about.
DENNIS: No, that's absolutely true.
And [00:14:00] going back to your point of him not being antagonistic, I think that's absolutely right. Otherwise, he wouldn't ask me, why not? He wouldn't follow up ~with a, ~with a why not question, right? ~So, um, ~it's the same situation. Once again, that's why I believe representation matters ~so, ~so much. And that's why I also believe when people talk about training of being anti racist, I understand how difficult that is.
Until you actually immerse yourself in that environment. And when we talk about stepping into other people's shoes, ~it's not enough to just talk about it. Like you, you can't,~ [00:14:30] you won't be able to understand how that group of community feels until you actually live there. And until you actually ate the same kind of food, until you actually interact with the same kind of people, then you can truly say,~ well,~ I'm being really empathetic.
~Like in, in sense mm-hmm. and in, in,~ in a complex issue like racism. I think that's, unfortunately ~that's,~ that is one way of dealing with it and unfortunately it's not the easiest way, but that's how we can relate to other people. ~Got it. Um, ~I'm sure at this point, My former manager knows, yeah, not all Asian people know [00:15:00] Kung Fu and there's a reason why, I think it's all learning moments for everyone and funny enough, I wish I had no Kung Fu. ~Like that's probably, that's part of my ~
JOHN: ~fault.~ I actually didn't want to learn Kung Fu when I was a kid. ~Yeah. I think I took some, my, ~my mom sent me off Taekwondo classes and I took some judo classes and I really enjoyed it.
And I think ~it's, it's, ~it's something I also enjoy because it's part of my culture. But it's the assumptions that I think could make me feel,~ well, I mean, ~just because I look like this doesn't mean I'm good at math or I know Kung Fu. ~Yeah.~ I hope I'm not letting down any of my ancestors down right now. ~Um, okay.~
~This is great. Okay. So you went to, well, no, that's great. ~Then, okay, so you [00:15:30] went from this company, the jeans company, and then my understanding is that later on you went to work for Shopify, right? And that's where you started,~ um, or, ~or led. certain group ~that that's the next part, right? Right. No. ~
DENNIS: ~Um, so ~yes.
~Um, ~I think I've always had this desire. I've always had this in a passion to learn about cultures. And as I mentioned, obviously moving around different neighborhoods, being involved in cultures like that was a big part of me. And that's just personal interest. So I've always been pretty sensitive in terms of, ~You know, ~delving [00:16:00] into what does it mean to be Asian American and what does it mean to be Asian American at work?
And what does it mean to be a leader who is of Asian descent, right?
JOHN: to hear more about these three questions because they're great questions. Let's start with that last one What does it mean to be an Asian American? leader or the second one, what does it mean to be an Asian American at work?
I've never thought of this before. ~I just am. I don't, ~I don't think, I don't wake up and be like, I'm going to put on my Asian American clothes, ~you know? ~
DENNIS: ~Right. ~No, absolutely. I think that's how a lot of people feel as well. ~Right. ~But I think it's more so [00:16:30] on ~how do you. Like, ~what is your identity? How does your identity intersect with what you do on a day to day basis?
~Um, ~we spend majority of the time working in an office than sometimes spending with our family. ~Um, ~your identity is who you are. And I think compared to ~like ~10 years ago, now we have more discussion in terms of how do you bring yourself to work? That's another hot topic. ~I would say like, I, I, you know, ~I would just say ~I'm.~
~You know, ~I have certain takes and perspectives about what do you bring to work and what do not, but from an identity standpoint, I think as a good [00:17:00] leader and as somebody who is perhaps even an entrepreneur, ~it's very important to. You know, ~best asset is your employees and way that you actually work the best with your employees is to identify like on an individual basis, what they're good at, what they're not good at, who they are, what motivates them and so on.
And a lot of times that's all driven by that derives from the identity or the culture they grew up in. So going back to your question, what does it mean to be an Asian at work? I think it depends. ~Right. ~Depends on your role. ~Like, ~what [00:17:30] are you a people leader? Are you a CEO? Are you a individual contributor?
What can you bring to the table, even from your identity? Not to always say,~ well,~ we have to stand up against other people. But I think a lot of times from a cultural standpoint is. The best organizations are diverse, period, like that's, I can talk a little bit about my own experience of building a diverse team on my team that's high performing, but ~I,~ so that was hard evidence for me, a validation, but if we say if that is [00:18:00] true, then what kind of safe space or ~what kind of, um,~ what kind of environment you want ~Uh, ~a leader is building that allows that ~to sort of, to, to, ~to flourish, ~you know, ~within their organization.
JOHN: ~Uh, sure. Yeah. So, I mean, when I, ~when I think about the other coming back to that part of this ~and, ~and what it means for me to be an Asian American at work, I just realized it's interesting because I never thought about it. And what I mean by that is that, yes, I know what it feels like to be the other, ~you know, ~there's times where I have been in meetings or events and I'm like,~ Hmm,~ okay, I'm the only person here.
But [00:18:30] beyond that, I never really think about how that might actually affect me. Can ~you, you know, ~maybe paint that picture a little bit in terms of what does that actually mean for our Asian employees? Why should they worry or care or think about the fact that they're different? No, that's
DENNIS: a good question.
I think,~ um,~ A lot of times ~it's, ~it's two way street. It's not only just how we feel and what we bring to the table, but also being aware of how we're being seen and how we're being represented. [00:19:00] So I think one example that I can provide is. Not so much in Silicon Valley because in Silicon Valley we have a big Asian American population in tech But if I was in Los Angeles anywhere else and when somebody asked me, what do you do Dennis?
And I tell them I work in tech. The first reaction oftentimes is are you an engineer? Or are you a product manager, right? So the immediate reaction of that is the perception. If you're Asian, you're probably an engineer in tech, but the funny thing is, I've always been on the [00:19:30] business and revenue side of it, but there's not a lot, ~even until this,~ even until these days, when I talk to my buddy, ~who's a,~ who are in sales organizations, there's not too many of us out there.
But what does that mean? It doesn't mean that we're bad at influencing. We're bad at closing deals. It's just not a lot of us out there. ~So, ~look at it from the other perspective is, when you go into a meeting room and of the people that don't know you yet at work, what are people thinking in their head?
~And, ~and this is just psychological, [00:20:00] sort 101. People take the shortest cut. ~To pattern match, ~to pattern match and pattern recognize who you are, they make,~ uh,~ they basically make perception of who you are. So the question is, when you walk in a room before you introduce yourself, what's other people's perception of you as an Asian person in that room, in whatever specific industry?
~You know, ~are they looking at you as a leadership material? Are they looking at you as,~ well,~ maybe John is the VP of sales here. And that's a very different types of [00:20:30] conversation. That's going to influence the other people, whether they can help you, sponsor you, mentor you, or even look at your different lights.
Because what they can't imagine, what they can't see. They're just not gonna do
JOHN: ~right. ~I remember a study that was done. ~Um, ~that I think there's around 20 2011 or something like that, where they took a look at perceptions of leadership amongst the differences between how people view Caucasians and Asian Americans.
And they found that basically they identified Asian people as being,[00:21:00] ~ I,~ I think. Was highly competent. So they're seen as highly competent and highly capable. Whereas they saw the white person in the testing as being what they call charismatic leadership. So they're typically seen as masculine, charismatic in control of his or her destiny.
And as a result, Asian people often get slotted into, or, ~you know, ~I would even say trained to go into positions of middle management. [00:21:30] Where you're maybe like as you said, maybe you're ~you know,~ somebody who's managing numbers You're somebody who's managing the programming maybe something like a lower management great number twos But not seen as somebody who's meant for number one.
DENNIS: ~Um that~ those Reports are definitely true and still valid at this point I remember there was a recent report that came out, even in technology, for example, ~you know, ~in tech companies,~ um,~ and I don't want to name specific companies because the numbers may fluctuate, may be wrong, but overall, in [00:22:00] general, in tech,~ uh,~ Asian Americans are well represented in a sense of probably around 40 percent with these engineering rules,~ uh,~ and also product~ rules.~
Yeah, that's massive. But when you look at leadership position, when we talk about executive leadership, that's VP and C levels, that number will go down to even, ~you know, ~anywhere between two to 4%, I would say. And obviously the higher you get at CEO level, that's 2%. You look at it from that number standpoint, and also just overall,[00:22:30] ~you know, um, ~we, Asian Americans represent 6 percent of the working force, but at the C level, we're about 2%.
~So we highly under, under,~ yeah, we're under index and you can say, interesting. There's a lot of different, ~you know, ~variables of reasons that come into that. But I would just tell you this,~ um,~ that was a big issue for me because going back to your questions of Shopify. So when I first started Shopify,~ um,~ it's a Canadian company and what I recognized.
And the culture there was, it was pretty high touch [00:23:00] and high care. There's a lot of great people there,~ uh, right. ~Different resources of ERG group and so on.
JOHN: ~Um, ~what's an ERG group for,~ um,~ can you explain that? Oh yeah. So ERG,
DENNIS: ~uh, ~is an acronym that stands for employee resource group. So oftentimes different companies as companies will have ERGs for.
Women for LBGTQ, for Asian, black,~ and,~ and it just depends on like how big and, ~you know, ~how big organization and how much the resources are,~ uh, the main goal. So, so ~
JOHN: ~go ahead. I was just going to ask you exactly what you're answering, which is, and~ when you were [00:23:30] at ~Adobe for, sorry, not Adobe, uh,~ Shopify, for example,~ uh,~ you were running,~ uh, the, ~the Asian ERG, is that correct?
DENNIS: That's correct. ~Uh, ~and the way I came about was having a conversation first, having a conversation with our chief diversity officer,~ uh, sort of ~addressing the question of the leadership,~ the, the, the leadership, very,~ very specifically on leadership development, because of my own experience in, ~you know, ~everything you just talked about, like ~when we, ~when we study what a great leader looks like,~ uh,~ traditionally has been, ~you know, ~people like Jack Welch, Howard Schultz, Bob Ives of the world.
And [00:24:00] don't get me wrong. They're great at what they do. ~Um, ~but there's a lot more. We don't talk about, ~you know, ~Jerry Yang's Yahoo. We don't talk about Sakiya Mandela of Microsoft. We don't talk about, ~you know, ~a lot of other great Asian, dissent CEOs. That's true. ~And, ~and why is that? ~Right? ~Those are all fantastic leaders and I can bet you their career trajectory and personal life trajectory were ~very, ~very different than Jack Welch and Howard Schultz.
~So when I brought it up, the chief diversity, uh, chief diversity, ~
JOHN: ~hold on a second. What, ~what would you suggest,~ um,~ that [00:24:30] difference to be? ~I mean, ~we don't have to specifically talk about Jack Welch or any specific person, but on a whole, what would the trajectory of these two people, both leadership material, clearly one Asian or non Asian, what's the difference?
DENNIS: I think right off the bat. ~So I don't, okay.~ So this is going to be generalizing ~because ~
JOHN: ~totally, totally generalizing, ~
DENNIS: ~but on the general, ~the general sort of scope of somebody who is an immigrant,~ um,~ when you first immigrated here, you may not speak the language. I think language is a huge part of hurdle [00:25:00] of growth, facing of yourself.
Being recognized and being, ~you know, ~promoted whether it's workplace or the way that you're being perceived on a day to day basis, right? Because language is the first form of communication. ~Um, ~and also the way a lot of these folks are, have immigrant descent. ~Like, ~what does that mean in terms of resources?
And also the location that they grew up in. Jack Welch and Bob,~ like,~ they grew up in the United States at a great time. At a time where certain in [00:25:30] the industry were flourishing, they went to the right school, they met the right people, they were in the industry that's growing.
~Mm-hmm. ~Versus somebody who perhaps came from India ~or, ~or China or other countries who have to come here and may not even. have enough resources to go into the Ivy League schools, the top schools. ~So, ~as we know, from a networking perspective, you're basically at a disadvantage, or you grew up in an area that's not as affluent.
Then, ~you know, ~that once again, they educate, whether it's education or network, you're much more on the [00:26:00] disadvantage,~ uh, You know, uh, ~level than other people. So I think those types of trajectories are ~very, ~very different. And obviously ~we're, ~we're generalizing, ~but we don't hear,~ I guess my main point is we don't hear those stories, right?
~Well, ~what I would have loved, ~you know, ~on a personal basis, tell me the story of who, of immigrant who somebody came here, have to overcome the language issue. Tell me somebody who has. Gone from finance to another field and how the transferable skills actually made them special in that sense You know How is that person over [00:26:30] able to overcome?
Being an immigrant or ~some of the ~some of the racist activities and use that as a fuel ~To do what they~ to accomplish what accomplishing now and use that the learning lesson to build a more equitable Workplace on their team I would love to hear that. ~Mm hmm. Yeah, so ~
JOHN: Is it storytelling? ~Like ~that is something that I guess I think of and I go, yeah, ~this,~ the math here doesn't add up, ~you know, I'm not, ~I'm not the best at math, but 6 percent overall population.
~Um, and that's,~ by the way,~ that's,~ that's a big number. was looking at the actual stats the other day and, ~you know, ~I [00:27:00] think in the U. S. we're just talking about Asian residents. It was something like 24 million. It's a big number. ~Yeah. That's, that's the third.~ If we were to put all the Asian people into one state, that's the third largest state in America.
~Right. You know, that's not far from, you know, that's, that's a big number.~ So we only represent 2 percent of top level leaders. The first question I go like at is why is this,~ uh, you know, is this~ a systemic issue and we need better DEI and we need to promote Asian leadership more, more than that, and you mentioned storytelling and narratives, which is getting Asian people to share more [00:27:30] of ~their, ~their journeys, but is that it?
Is there anything else? Yeah,
DENNIS: so absolutely. I~ think that's, I think ~that's the first thing, right? ~I think, I don't think this is a very complex issue. It's a system,~ it's a systematic issue. ~That's not just, it's, ~it would take More than just one sort of solution, but I think storytelling solves the issue of representation and I think you're starting to see that outside the corporate realm in the media entertainment space that started from busy rich Asian ~right like all the way to like the recent release of Parasite.~
~Yeah. Love entire day. Now the studio Shachi. Yeah. Mm-hmm. ~Studios are seeing at whether they're seeing it from the perspective, oh, it's good to do diverse films, or maybe [00:28:00] 80% of what they're betting on is these people are actually bringing dollars at the end of the day, whatever it's gonna be like, I'll take it.
But the fact is we know our capability. Yeah, the corporate workplace and this is also generalizing like we're immigrants that build on hard working. Ideal of, ~mm-hmm. ~, how we should live.~ So a lot of us,~ a lot of us grew up with that teaching. So a lot of times we bring that, if anything else, we bring that to the workplace.
I know we're capable, [00:28:30] I know we can accomplish products. A lot of things in general, what I don't see what's lacking is recognition about work and being able to reward it for the good work ~that we're, ~we're doing. ~So from representation, go ahead. ~
JOHN: Recognition as in. Being recognized by your supervisors or are we even not recognizing our own work and our own brilliance
DENNIS: a little bit, but ~the more,~ more pertinent or more ~sort of ~outcome driven, you would say,~ um,~ would be the former, as you was talking about in terms of, are you, we're not [00:29:00] getting enough recognition.
Yeah. Are you getting those shout outs? Are you being reviewed fairly? Are you being coached and mentored? ~Uh, ~do you have the champion? That's the most important thing is that everybody can talk about. Mentorship's a great championship,~ uh, uh, ~having a sponsor, having a champion, even more important in the corporate environment.
~So, um, ~yeah, so those are all the things. So I think that kind of fits into the narrative of storytelling ~is, is, ~is very important~ because that's the first thing we, um,~ if we start telling all these great stories, all these great things that our leaders are doing. Now, [00:29:30] when you walk into the room, or when I walk into the room, ~somebody may, may,~ somebody may just ask me whether I'm, ~you know, ~managing the entire revenue team, ~instead of, ~instead of seeing me as a product or engineer, which is, there's nothing wrong with that.
I'm just, I'm not that smart, ~but that's why I'm on the business side of it. So, ~I think that is the first step in. The second step in, which actually we started working on at Shopify was developing a leadership development program for people who are underrepresented. And at that time, that included black, Latinx and Asians.
And so[00:30:00] ~you create,~ we create a space where it was very interesting because ~people, ~people came in and started talking about the challenges that they face, which a lot of times. ~Um, it's, it's a border,~ it became like a borderline therapy session, but it's very telling of some of the things that people are facing.
They feel ~like ~are unfair,
JOHN: what are they saying?
DENNIS: I think a lot of times, and once again,~ there,~ there, there's some specific sort of, ~you know, ~scenarios I can disclose, but a lot of times it is recognition. It is what you do. [00:30:30] And this could be a little bit more pertinent to like Asian diaspora where.
~Um, ~some people are more introverted and some people don't speak up as much. They put their head down, do their work. And so how do you get recognized? How do you get promoted when that is who you are? What do you need to do? So that conversation go into deeper into, okay, what are some of the tactical or mechanics or some of the stuff that we should be able to do?
~Um, ~give it one example. How do you introduce yourself?[00:31:00] ~What's your, that's,~ that's the first thing. And you'll be surprised that a lot of people, ~you know, ~especially in the early on their career, if they were stuck in the elevator with the CEO, then CEO turned around and say, Hey,~ uh,~ Dennis, what do you do with this company?
I have no idea what to say. Oh my gosh. Or their pitch not succinct enough where to have us on 10 seconds, ~like ~as a CEO, I want to know what you do for my company and what do you do here and how we can work better. It's that. Totally. ~Um, ~yeah. And also given [00:31:30] another scenario, which is a little bit more relevant to today as ~everybody's virtual,~ a lot of people are virtual.
When you're in the big meeting, , ~um, ~with cross-functional leaders, do you make a point to speak up? ~Hmm. You know, ~instead of being faded in the background ~mm-hmm. ~and I think that's very important. And as a leader, for example, are you creating a space or the processes that ~you're, ~you're hearing the feedbacks or the opinions of everyone on your team, or are you the kind of leader that just kinda.
~You know, ~create a space for people [00:32:00] there, as we know, there, there are people that are outspoken than the others. And usually 80%, those are the people that are talking, right? those sort of dynamic and, ~you know, ~back and forth of individual contributor leadership. ~Uh, ~what does that mean by recognizing all these cultural nuances or cultural ~condition~ conditionings that may affect people from, ~you know, ~Asian descent.
JOHN: So what I'm hearing here is. This is something that we got to change systemically ~at a, ~at a corporate level, at a leadership level, [00:32:30] we need to have better systems in place in which. Hard work is not only rewarded, but recognized and being promoted and so that we're not just waiting for the employees themselves to speak up for themselves and that we're actually seeking out to make sure that they're seen and heard.
That's one thing that I'm heard hearing. Something else I'm hearing a lot is the importance of creating systems and structures for mentorship and for employees to see and have people that they can go to resource groups to get more information, understand how to ~sort of ~climb that.[00:33:00] And it sounds like a big one is making sure there's enough education on communication styles.
~You know, ~how do we speak up? So this is all great for those who are running organizations. What about for the rank and file? What about for the rest of us who are just, okay. I'm an employee. I'm an Asian employee. I'm good at what I do. I know this. I've worked my butt off. I went to, ~you know, ~a great school.
I'm good at what I do. I'm still not getting recognized. My company, however, isn't putting the money where their mouth is. They're not putting together ERGs and [00:33:30] they're not putting together resources. And I feel a little bit under recognized, ~kind of ~like you're,~ um,~ the people who've, who sat in your offices.
What do we do?
DENNIS: ~Right. Um, ~I think one thing is to recognize that it's not enough to work hard in the Western environment. ~Um, ~at the end of the day, we need to be, I think it's just table state to work hard. ~It's table state just to be good at your job. But at the end of the day,~ no matter what you're selling, no matter what kind of services you're providing, this is a people business.
You have to be able to build [00:34:00] relationships. You have to be able to build good relations, solid relationships. That's deeper than something a little bit more transactional. ~Um, ~so I think that's one thing to recognize. And the question, this is on an individual basis, is that how do you build relationships and who do you build relationships with?
~Um, ~when it comes to mentorship, I think it's important. ~I, ~I would honestly,~ um,~ admit that I never really have mentored in my life. And, ~you know, um, ~I actually took it from a sense of ~like, ~just a very technical term, like who's my mentor. I think everybody I've met, I ~kind of ~[00:34:30] feel ~like ~is my mentor. I can always ~sort of ~learn something from each person.
~And so~ I think in that sense, mentorship doesn't need to be so official. I think certain things don't need to be so technical. ~But if you could,~ this is something I suggest people that came to me or people that have mentored is that to build what you would call a personal sort of board of directors, ~you know, ~look at yourself as a company, as a board of director,~ um,~ build relationship with four or five people as an example,~ um,~ maybe from a [00:35:00] diverse,~ uh,~ industry, but people ~that actually, That~ you ~are~ have some familiarity with and are vested in your own personal interest as well as your career And have check ins with those people. Almost do it like a cadence of a company, right? ~Um, ~where you're doing quarterly report, except you're doing personal career report. And, ~you know, ~this is a two way relationship, and obviously you want to be able to build it to the extent so you can ask that person to do ~so.~
~Um, ~but it doesn't need to be, I personally don't feel like it doesn't need to be so officially titled as a mentorship. ~So, ~I think that's helpful. ~Um, ~The [00:35:30] other thing is sponsorship in a company. I think once you get to the middle manager and also like director or VP level, ~I think it's good to have that sort of sponsor.~
You're going to need sponsorship in a bigger company. And I think that relationship is a little bit different. ~Um, ~that relationship, if I were to sum it up simply, ~Who's ~who's bringing up your name when you're not in the room? ~Hmm, ~right? ~You're not gonna be I mean ~
JOHN: ~That that would be great ~that would be great to have somebody ~who's~ promoting and selling you and The first question I come to mind says ~like Dennis.~
~How the hell am I supposed to? How do I, how do I build somebody? Like, do I just start finding the next, my next godfather? And like,~ how do I find somebody who will promote me and be a [00:36:00] sponsor for me?
DENNIS: Good question. ~That's a,~ it's a two way street, just like a relationship. It's like any sort of relationship, whether it's friendship or more intimate relationship, it's not always easy.
You're going to need to find someone who, if you want to be strategic, you want to find someone within your company. Somebody who perhaps is in the role that you want to get to somebody who has enough authority and credibility within the organization. And I think most importantly, somebody who you can get along with, ~genuine,~ [00:36:30] genuinely get along with, and by building that relationship, isn't just going to that person and say, Hey, would you be my sponsor or champion?
Because on the other hand, this is the sort of the empathetic part that it has to be considered is that in a way, if somebody is bringing your name in a room that you're not in, it's also that person's credibility. That is going to stem from your work and the ability that you're going to be able to deliver.
So that takes time in terms of, it couldn't be just like, Hey Dennis, [00:37:00] today I have a project. Let's just say it was me. It was somebody else that I want to be, ~you know, ~would love to get as my sponsor. I may go to that person instead of ~coffee, ~coffee chat, ask that person. What's your priority? what are you facing as challenges right now?
~You know, uh, ~is there anything that can help? But other than that, take a more proactive approach. Let's just say that person, her name is Jennifer, for example. I say, Jennifer,~ uh, let me,~ I have a little bit of time, ~you know, ~outside of my day to day work, and here is what I think that could [00:37:30] help you do your job better or solve your challenges.
And let me put together some plan. This is what I could do. That's a great way to build that camaraderie right off the bat, because it shows me the one you're motivated ~to. Well, ~second thing you better deliver. So that's another, I think is a very important thing where a lot of people. ~Uh, are not,~ it's funny, it's basic, it's foundational, are not great at it.
But building that trust to be able to say, this is what I'm going to deliver and you deliver it on time. Then you start building from there. And once they're [00:38:00] familiar with your caliber of your work, they're much more confident to be in their room and say, Oh, guess what? Dennis is great at this. He's not in this room, but maybe I can talk to him and take on this project.
Then you take on a better, higher visibility project. You look good. Jennifer looks good
JOHN: and everybody's happy. Got it. I love that. ~That, ~that point that you said about building trust, I think is something we don't really think about very often. ~I mean, ~how do we build trust? Do you have any quick advice around how do we communicate in such a way that [00:38:30] builds trust?
You said, ~you know, like ~make sure whatever you say, do it. Absolutely. Yeah. Anything else? I think
DENNIS: ~so. ~So for me, trust has two elements. One is as simple as. Just do what you said you were going to do. ~Um, going,~ coming back, whether this is sending out an email, whether this is just responding to a text, whether this is just continuing conversation that got cut off or delivering on a project that perhaps may seem.
[00:39:00] Simple. For people who are good leaders, they're very aware and these little things really do matter whether at all levels and once again, like I mentioned, this sounds really simple, but I promise you 80 percent of people don't do this. They just don't, but it's the 20 percent that do the people that recognize it.
They understand they can build that trust. ~Um, ~the second element of building trust to me is time, so it can't be rushed because it's the familiarity each other, what [00:39:30] our motivations are, what our passions are, what we're good at, what we're not good at, so we're all on the same page. ~Um, ~so I think those are the two really components and when it comes to like building trust, ~it's a, ~it's a good start.
JOHN: I love that. Thank you for that. you're building. The otherness group. ~What is, Hmm, let me sort of think about this. How, how do I say this? ~How would you sum up the core message of the otherness group? as a movement. ~What, ~what would you say is ~like, what, ~what is the core of what this is about?
DENNIS: ~Oh boy. This is a, John, this is a billion, like I ~
JOHN: ~don't, we don't want to go into this.~
~Yeah. If you want to take more time to let it, let it brew, we'll move ~
DENNIS: ~on. I will say this, this is a,~ this is ~sort of ~a tagline, which I just ~sort of ~came up with and I've been [00:40:00] using it. I don't know if this sums it up, but. ~You know, ~and this side is a very tech sort of leaning lingo is that to me,~ um,~ Otherness is a feature not a bug.
Going back to what we talk about, ~we often see, ~often see and also think about otherness as something negative. It's not a bug. It's a feature. We lean, we reframe it, we see it that way. ~Throughout my My, my,~ my life where I mentioned, ~you know, ~just different points of being the other, and just having that sort of untraditional sort of career trajectory.
What I often [00:40:30] tell a lot of companies now, a lot of people that come to me is ~like my, ~the feature I've been able to build out of being the other in all these different types of environments and situations is that I come out with very different innovative strategies, whether it's revenue growth. Or it's cost savings that a lot of time other people, perhaps in my peer, are not able to think of.
And that's only because I have had this sort of diverse type of experience. So from an innovation perspective, [00:41:00] that's first and foremost. When you have a very interesting... You need perspective. Nobody thinks about things the way you do. Nobody can solve something like you do. And that in itself is a unique proposition that people will pay you for.
~Um, ~so that's a very sort of business way of looking at things. ~So, ~like I said, ~it's a, ~it's a feature and,
JOHN: and own it. I love it. It's a feature and it's not a bug. It doesn't make you lesser. It makes you better. This is your power. ~Um, ~now ~I, I mean, I've, ~I've [00:41:30] exhausted everything that I've been trying to go through and ask.
~Is there anything else that I haven't asked that, um, that you would like to talk about? ~
DENNIS: ~Yeah. Um, I think we covered quite a bit. ~
JOHN: ~Oh man. Jam packed. You were just dropping truth bombs left and right. Yeah. ~
DENNIS: ~Yeah. No,~ I think maybe what would be fun is for me to ask you a question. Yeah. Yeah. ~Like, ~what would you say as you remember?
And don't think too hard on this. ~Um, ~what would be a moment of you in your life feeling like you're the other? And how has that affected, impacted you currently? Oh, that's
JOHN: a beautiful [00:42:00] question. I think that there was always a sense in the back of my head, ~you know, ~ever since I was a kid. And, ~you know, ~call this immigrant trauma, call this, ~you know, ~whatever you want.
But I've always... I've been really keen on the sense of belonging. I think it's because ~when I was, you know, ~when I was growing up, I moved a lot of schools. My parents moved around a lot. I went to three different elementary schools, ~you know, ~four different high schools. And I never really found a community where I felt like I fully belonged.
So to [00:42:30] be very direct, the answer was all the time. ~I joined, you know, ~I joined a fraternity ~when I was in,~ when I was in university. ~And, ~and I want to be clear about this is that I didn't feel like anyone ever excluded me. But I always felt internally like there was a slight distance, like there was a sense that I don't fully belong here and I didn't know how to bridge that gap.
And I remember going to these parties, ~you know, ~at a fraternity, as one do,~ um,~ and I would see all of my friends drinking and ~they're, you know, ~like there is a sense that [00:43:00] like they were comfortable. Being in the room where I felt like I needed to perform. And what I mean by performance, like I felt like I needed to find the right thing to say.
I need to find the right way to be the right swagger, the right attitude, the right vibe to belong. ~But then in. I lost me ~
DENNIS: ~so ~in a jet with a question really quick, cause that's, yeah, of course, that's a lot of people feel the way you do personal life at work as well. ~Right? ~We have this persona ~that we feel like we architect.~
~Yeah, we code switch. Yeah. Um, ~that persona you're talking about to be a [00:43:30] certain way or speak a certain way. Is that from another actual person you've seen, or is that ~some, ~some model or archetype that you have in your head of who you should be?
JOHN: Yeah, great question. ~Um, ~In my own work, I talk about that a lot of Asian American clients that I work with, I see a seven major patterns.
~And, you know, one of these patterns that I talk about is this pattern called the chameleon. So, ~I had a very strong chameleon pattern. And what I mean by that is that to answer your question, it wasn't one. It was whoever I was with. Whoever I was with, I found, and I used to take [00:44:00] pride in this, that I'm like, Oh yeah, I could ~like ~fit in anywhere.
You could throw me into an opera house or you could throw me into, ~you know, ~a rave in the middle of Manhattan and I'll find a way to belong because I got really good at picking up what their language were, picking up their body language, picking up their vibe, picking up their opinions. And I got really good at mirroring that.
And that was a conscious decision for survival. But then later on, it wasn't one person, it was ~every person, ~every person I talked to, every person, every room I was being, and I didn't [00:44:30] realize that in doing so, I was not only sacrificing my own voice, ~but I was not, you know, ~I was the problem. I was not allowing myself to fully take place in that room.
~That's a, ~
DENNIS: that's a very well put,~ um,~ thoughtful answer, right? And how do you think that's impacted what you do now
JOHN: and who you are? There was a long process that I had to go through when I realized what I was doing. ~Um, ~and I had to go through and identify why I didn't feel like I was worthy to be in that room and that self rejection came from essentially, ~you know, ~[00:45:00] when I was growing up and, ~you know, in a, ~in a more traditional upbringing, I was oftentimes told ~like, ~Oh no, don't do this.
Don't do it this way, ~you know, this way. ~And if you're in this room, this is what you should do. And I think I always grew up a little bit scared that I was doing things wrong, that I wasn't speaking the right language, that I wasn't using the right,~ um,~ tonality. So I learned it as a survival mechanism. And when I discovered that my process of discovery was to lean into self ownership.
So now I think I landed in the middle, which is to say I [00:45:30] now can fit in places and that helps in my role as a speaker and a coach and that I'm able to create safer spaces by mirroring the room of others. But when I'm with my friends, I'm just me and for better or for worse, whether you like me or not, I'm just me.
~Uh, ~you can have judgments and that's your responsibility to deal with, ~but you know, ~there's that self ownership that took some time for me to go through, ~you know, ~through therapy and inner work. ~Yeah. ~
DENNIS: ~Yeah. No, that's, that's, uh, ~that's great. Like I think a lot of us also feel the same way. ~Kind of ~what you mentioned is that adaptability [00:46:00] came from the need to survive and once you are owning who you are and ~Express it unapologetic, unapologetically,~ now you're thriving, now you're ready to fly.
~Um, ~for whatever it's worth, John,~ I,~ I find you really charming as is, ~you know, so. Yeah, thank you. It's giving me like big traveling energy instead of big Asian energy. Um, but yeah, thanks for, thanks for allowing me to get right ~
JOHN: ~back at you. ~Thank you for the question. I've never had someone ask me a question before on this show.
So I really appreciate that Dennis if our listeners want to find out more about you. What's the best way to do so?~ so? ~Yep.
DENNIS: ~Uh, ~I think the best way to,~ uh,~ reach out to me will be on LinkedIn. I'm quite active there. ~So, uh, ~you can just on the [00:46:30] search bar down, ~you know, ~type in Dennis Yau, Y A U, Y A U. Uh, ~ Uh, ~you'll be able to find me there.
JOHN: That's great. We're going to also make sure that we put,~ uh,~ the links that you have,~ uh,~ into the show notes. So if you want to learn more about Dennis,~ uh,~ his otherness project and all the incredible work that he is going to put out into making the world. A better, happier place for all of us. ~Uh, ~go check it out.
Thank you once again, so much for your time, Dennis. You've been a rock star. I appreciate you. Thanks for having
DENNIS: me, John.
JOHN: ~Yes, that's it. The stop button.~