I am pleased to be accepting the Women of Color (WoC) Technology Rising Star Award by the WoC Magazine and would like to give thanks to my family, significant other, friends, colleagues, mentors, and bosses who have supported me throughout my leadership journey. I wouldn't be standing where I am today without their unwavering support. I am so honored to be adding more Khmer representation to the STEM fields. Representation truly matters especially for inspiring, diverse future leaders. I dedicate this award to everyone who has contributed to my path of success. I am truly grateful and hope that I can continue paving the way toward increasing Southeast Asian representation in the Corporate world.
Humbled and Honored,
November of 2019 was when I had officially made up my mind about starting my very own podcast. I had been toying with this idea for months but didn't have the courage to actually do it. For one, I didn't think I was the best public speaker. Secondly, it takes time for me to gather my thoughts. Also, I had never envisioned myself in this role before. However, I was inspired by up and coming popular Asian podcasters, like Asian Boss Girl and Rock the Boat, to finally step up my game and just go for it. These incredibly intelligent and intentionally thoughtful Asian women were the ones who empowered me to speak up and tap into my creative side. I had a hard time finding more Southeast Asian podcasters to listen to so this had also solidified my decision to start one up. This is why representation matters!
In 2018, I started listening to podcasts to break the boredom of solo business traveling. I would travel nearly every 2 months domestically or internationally and love filling my time with new learnings and expanding my knowledge base while waiting in line for security or at my gate at the airport or en route to my destination by air. My favorite podcast genres were all over the place. I would listen to murder mysteries, girl talks, business topics, conspiracy theories, and so many others that I found entertaining. Finally, I discovered that I really found a lot of value listening to "Life Journal" type genres, specifically Asian women and their life experiences. By the way, when I find a podcast that I really like, I will listen to all of the episodes in a marathon then would be hungry for more. The problem is that there are very limited podcasts with Asian representation, or maybe there are a lot out there but just hard to find? This sparked my interest to do more research and learn all of the best practices of starting my very own podcast. Google was my best friend, and I read up on various articles, watched YouTube videos, and read through Amazon reviews for the best, most affordable equipment. It was actually a big learning curve, but once I started learning the basics, it became much easier and more manageable.
Ok, so, why did my first podcast fail?! You probably didn't even know that I had a failed podcast prior to the 2 Khmerican Sisters. We all have to start from somewhere. For me, I have always learned things the hard way. The key takeaway from failure is to always learn from your experiences and do better the next time around. "Fail Fast to Learn Faster" is one of my life mottos.
3 Reasons Why My First Podcast Failed
1) Mixing Friends & Business and Not Being Fully Aligned
The major reason why my first podcast failed is that I mixed friends and business. I had asked 2 of my closest friends to co-host with me thinking that It wouldn’t be as scary if I had someone else to do this with, to build something great together if we were all dedicated and passionate about what we were doing. However, it doesn't matter how long you have known someone, you will ALWAYS learn something new about someone, because people will change throughout the course of their lives, or they might not have shared a certain part of themselves to you before. Everything went well for three months, and we were having a great time, until it came down to sharing our perspectives on the current environment of racial injustice and inequity issues. It had never crossed my mind that a topic like this would test the strength and validity of our friendship and podcast. For decades, we had always gotten along. I saw the BLM movement as a human rights issue, while they saw things in a different light. I understand that 2020 has been an unprecedented year and uncovered so many problematic issues within our system, e.g. racial injustices and inequities impacting our Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, xenophobia against Asians around the world due to COVID-19, inequities and under-resourcing within our healthcare and educational system, etc.
With everything that's been happening, I believe these current events are critical and have forced us to finally talk about these deep-rooted issues but is unfortunately dividing us further as a nation. And, in my case, even in friendships. The three of us have never been hardcore into politics, and this was the first time we had a huge disagreement and refused to hear each other out. This was the first time I had even learned about their political views. I wish we had better communication and empathy toward one another when faced with this difficult and controversial topic that impacts all of us. Right now, I feel that it is more important than ever to be listening and open to understanding one another. If you and your co-hosts are not willing to face discomfort and have open and frank conversations about important topics, then having a podcast together is a recipe for disaster. The biggest lesson learned from this experience is to avoid bringing friends into your passion project if you guys are not aligned on your mission, vision and purpose.
2) Doing Too Much All At Once
Overloading yourself at the beginning is also detrimental to the success of your podcast, especially if it is only a side hobby. We all know that work-life balance is important in our lives. As an overachiever, it is very easy to want to do it all at once and say yes to everything and everyone. So, it's important to set clear boundaries and expectations for yourself, your co-hosts and your guest speakers. Don't be afraid to create your own structure, rules and timeline - whether you want it to be consistent or ad-hoc. March to the beat of your own drums. You may get advice and recommendations coming at you in all sorts of directions; although, people mean well and want you to succeed, know that you don't always have to implement what they tell you to do.
What I have found helpful is to not follow a timeline that is too rigid to allow for changes to occur during the podcast season. Also, you don't need to create an account for all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok. Start with one to give time for learning and juggling different tasks, and if you can manage it simultaneously with podcast planning and production, then go for it. Note that when you start a podcast, you are now filling up your spare time with outlining topics, recording and editing episodes, reaching out to potential guest speakers, writing up the episode descriptions, finding artwork for your episodes, coming up with promo content for your social media platform(s), and many others. There's a lot that happens behind-the-scenes that you may not be aware of until you are actually working through the process. Understand your new battle rhythm first before taking on more.
3) Podcasting Just to Podcast
When you podcast "just to podcast" to randomly talk about topics with no clear direction, purpose or intention behind your messaging, you may not get a high retention rate by . your listeners as you might have hoped for or expected, unless you are a popular influencer or celebrity and listeners know who you are and are genuinely interested in following you. When you start from the ground up and nobody knows who you are, you really need to dive deeper into a series of questions, like what will set your podcast apart from others? What will make your podcast unique? Is there a niche audience you could tap into? There are currently 850,000 podcasts in the world, so how will you get people to listen to yours?
With my first podcast, we had a wide range of different topics from serious to fun; but, because we had so many ideas, we were all over the place with what we wanted to do and would work in silos, not really knowing what we were individually doing and putting out there. It was like having three different podcasts and attempting to merge them all into one podcast, which can look a bit disorganized from an outside perspective. In the long-term, this would not have been a sustainable or successful business model, especially if we wanted to grow this podcast into potentially a side hustle or primary business. My recommendations for building a better strategic plan for your podcast are to define your purpose and objectives, tailor your episode topics to align to your mission and vision, and understand who your targeted "niche" audiences are in order to grow and scale.
Now that I've been producing podcasts for half a year, I'd say the most difficult part of podcasting is taking the time to edit episodes from beginning to end (often multiple times since I'm a perfectionist!) The longer the duration of your episodes, the more time it will take to edit since you will need to listen to and review every word spoken. My main goal is to produce high quality, thoughtful episodes so that I'm delivering the highest value to my listeners, who are giving up their spare time to listen to what I'm sharing with them. I definitely want to make sure that it will be well worth their time. Through my mistakes and failures from my first podcast, I have reflected on these lessons and have come up with ways to improve my second podcast. I needed a month break to detox from it all and then reconnected with my youngest sister, who had pre-recorded an episode on racial equity in education with me during my first podcast but unfortunately wasn't able to release. Now, it's live on the 2 Khmerican Sisters podcast with over 350 plays!
My sister and I agreed that we wanted to start from scratch and build our new listener base from zero. We felt it was the right direction to take so that it could be something we call our own and be proud of. It also felt right to partner with my sister since our mission, vision and purpose aligned, and all of our ideas for our passion project integrated so well together. It's a huge plus that she has similar work ethic and leadership style and is always willing to speak up, be honest and talk together whenever we have disagreements or are faced with a tough issue. I had no idea that she had wanted to create a website geared toward the BIPoC community for awhile now.
For years, we have always wanted to figure out a way to give back to our Khmer community and show our Khmerican pride but didn't know how to do so. Social distancing and being at home have given us more time back in our days to focus on doing something we're passionate about. In just a month, the 2 Khmerican Sisters podcast has received over 1,000 plays world-wide and a following of 500+ supporters on Instagram! We have also partnered with several influencers, podcasters and people of color small businesses. This experience has truly caused me to pivot for the better, and it has been nice to celebrate these small wins with my sister and our new platform. We both look forward to what the next few months will bring.
If you are interested in starting your own podcast, I'd like to invite you to attend an upcoming class that I will be volunteering to teach next month to support the Executive Development Institute (EDI) for Multicultural Leaders. It'll only be $25 for a 90-minute session, but I will teach you everything you need to know - the ins and outs of podcast planning, production and execution! 100% of the proceeds will go directly toward supporting this amazing leadership development program for Asians and Hispanics. Click here to find out more!
Thanks so much for reading this entire blog post. Let me know in the comments below on what you thought of this article!
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an Alumni Only event through the EDI Program to engage in a dialogue on racism, privilege, learning and purpose for the API community. Since it was an exclusive event only available to those who had the privilege of going through this program, so I definitely wanted to participate and show up as an ally who is willing to learn and do better as an API. I'm also excited to be able to share this workshop material with you!
During the workshop, we shared stories of our personal heritage and experiences with racism, reflected on the ways in which we claim or disclaim our "Asian-ness", explored our privilege and the role we may play, consciously or unconsciously, in racial disparity and discussed the potential for APIs to ally with other PoCs. The objectives of this workshop were to open up the dialogue on our racial identity, explore Asian American and Black experience and White supremacy, and define our personal commitments to learn and take action as allies. Our facilitator, Monica Lin-Meyer, Class of 2008 of the Leadership Navigation Class, is a People Advisory Services Consultant for Ernst & Young with 20+ years of communication and organizational effectiveness experience (see her full bio below). We had participants who came from immigrant backgrounds and of all API races so the dialogue was rich and diverse. Monica emphasized the importance of being open to learn and honor discomfort and recognizing that our experience is just one data point. Being Asian American does not make us NOT racist. With the expectations set forth, we dived right into the typical EDI introduction by stating our name, heritage and generation around the room, then completed our first breakout group discussion called the:
"I Am Not" vs. "I Am" exercise
This was a great diversity warm-up exercise to lay everything out on the table with the group in terms of implicit biases/stereotypes vs. who we really are as an individual.
Next, we discussed the spectrum of oppression in the Asian American Community and the Black Community.
Some terms to be aware of:
A myth perpetuated by Whites to drive a wedge between Asian Americans and other communities of color
Biased standards of beauty based on skin tone (the whiter, the better)
Racism against Black people by non-Blacks, including people of color
Supporting a movement or struggle, even when you don't know how it feels to be oppressed
Next, the group breakout discussion question was: In what ways could you be perpetuating racism against PoC, especially Black people?
Believe it or not, racism exists within the Asian community that is harming the PoC community. We took some time to reflect and share our personal experiences and stories.
Lastly, we engaged in several different scenarios to discuss and share how we would each respond to each given situation.
Scenario 1: You're at a grocery store and a white woman is yelling at black woman, who is in line ahead of her. "Get in the back of the line. You think you're special because you're Black and Black Lives Matter?"
*Think and reflect. How would you respond to this situation?
Scenario 2: During a work meeting, a senior colleague (white male) makes a joke about an Asian colleague out sick: "What happened to her? Did she eat a bat and get the Kung Flu or something?"
*Think and reflect. How would you respond to this situation?
Scenario 3: You approach the main doors to your apartment, and see a White woman arguing with a Black man, who is holding a food delivery bag in his hand. She says to you: "I'm not letting this man in. He says he's a delivery guy, but he's just some Black guy pretending to be a delivery boy so he can break into the building."
*Think and reflect. How would you respond to this situation?
Recommended approach to responding to acts of racism:
1. Draw Attention Away
2. Engage an Authority
3. Document What's Happening
4. Speak Up
5. Check in Afterward
Through this workshop experience, I have learned how critical it is to create a safe, non-judgmental space to encourage these types of productive conversations. For us to learn from one another, we need to be open and willing to understand different viewpoints. I'm also committed to continually checking my implicit / unconscious biases and standing up for others and speaking up and out to call out racism, even if it means feeling uncomfortable.
Hope this post has been informative for you. I urge you to take the time to go through these discussion questions, self-reflect and see how you would respond to each of these real-life scenarios. I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspectives so please feel free to comment and/or ask questions.
Thank you for your willingness to learn and be a better ally.
Monica is an executive coach and consultant with EY People Advisory Services. With 20+ years of organizational effectiveness experience, she has worked with companies like Nike, Columbia Sportswear, the Portland Trailblazers, Microsoft, Mercy Corps and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Monica has previously spoken at conferences including Disrupt HR and the Ragan Communicators Conference. She holds a master's degree from the Leadership Institute of Seattle and is currently completing the Hudson Institute executive coach certification program. Monica is a second generation Chinese American from the East Coast who now calls Portland home.
Prior to 2016, I was not aware that a leadership program existed that was built specifically for me as an Asian-American. The overall intent of this program is to strengthen multicultural leaders so that they are prepared to take on management and/or executive roles. For me, I've learned to build more confidence in myself and find my authentic voice. I was also ready to move up the ladder but didn't know how to navigate through the corporate world. After several years of making it known to my boss at that time that I was interested in this program, he finally gave me the approval to proceed. The EDI program was one of the most refreshing, educational and empowering experiences of my life. This 8-month long program involved dedicating one full business day per month to attend a face-to-face workshop concentrating on a monthly theme, like taking risks and conquering fears or public speaking and how to speak up as a minority leader. One of my most memorable moments was going through a team exercise called Personal Branding, where we had asked our peers to tell us one word that described us. Because we are our own worst critic, we don't often realize how we externally appear to others from their point of view. We also spent time giving back to our community and leading a community project as well as engaging in numerous networking events since it was all about building relationships and expanding our connections. I have learned so much more about myself by going outside of my comfort zone and focusing on my leadership growth. Fortunately, my company was able to take care of the tuition, so I would highly suggest asking your employer if they are able to fund this program as a training opportunity. Due to COVID-19, this program has been postponed for 2020; however, it does give you more time to consider applying for 2021!
SO WHAT IS IT? A unique leadership program that develops and empowers authentic, effective and intentional leaders. The curriculum is designed to explore the cultural values of Asian & Pacific Islanders and how culture impacts perceptions and behaviors in the workplace. Gain an understanding of how to remain true to yourself and your core values while getting the results that you want.
WHO SHOULD APPLY?
Emerging leaders committed to:
To learn more, visit the following site:
If you live in the greater Seattle or Portland area, I hope you consider applying! Please feel free to ask any questions below. Also, if you are aware of any multicultural leadership programs out there, please do share!
2016 Alumni of Leadership Discovery Program for APIs
As a Program Management Team Manager during this world-wide pandemic, I was faced with constant new challenges and setbacks each week. I needed to take the time to be intentional and mindful of what I was sharing to my employees, the vision I was setting forth and mindfully checking in with them to see how they were doing on a personal level.
Not being able to meet or see my team face-to-face was a huge challenge. It's difficult to build a connection with someone without having met them before, let alone lead them as a manager. So each week, I took the time to strategize how I was going to lead them through times of crisis. When I started looking for some virtual team building activities, they were few and far between. I wanted ones that were geared toward compassionate leadership, appropriate for this "new world" we are in. With a combination of research and what I've learned from other leaders, I've summarized some fun and thoughtful team icebreakers that you could host with your virtual team.
Team Icebreaker / Check In Questions:
To encourage my full team to participate, I used pollev.com to build interactive live surveys, which is very simple to complete. It also only takes 5-10 minutes of you and your team's time at the start of your meeting and a great way to start your day and warm up / get to know each other better.
Please comment below if you found any of the questions above and tools and strategies useful. Or, better yet, share any helpful team building icebreaker activities that you have found useful that others may not know about!