Showing Up and Taking Action

Microsoft Security Senior Product Manager and entrepreneur Lisa Huang-North pulls from her multicultural upbringing to foster community for people who identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander.

I think of myself as a third culture kid -someone who grew up outside of their parents’ culture, especially during their developmental years. In my case, I was born in Taiwan, but my family moved to Singapore when I was ten years old. Moving to Singapore was eye-opening because it’s known as a cultural melting pot due to the British colonial and Malaysian influences — home to a variety of ethnic groups including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan and Eurasian communities. When I turned 18, I moved to the U.S. by myself to study business. So, in a way, I feel like a citizen of the world — that I belong everywhere, but I also belong nowhere.

I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Asia, where Asians were represented as a majority in business, politics, and in every aspect of culture. I grew up feeling very safe and around people who look and sound like me. I never felt different or like an outsider.

After moving to the U.S. and working in Chicago, I relocated to Cape Town, South Africa as an expatriate before starting my first business – a digital marketing agency. It was the 2010s and social media was on the rise. Many of my clients needed to innovate by adopting new digital strategies to stay competitive. That experience sparked my interest in tech, but I realized I had so much more to learn after working with web development agencies to build websites and mobile apps for my clients. So I learned to code, moved back to the U.S. to work for an aerospace startup, and my journey eventually led me to Microsoft.

My work here as a Senior Product Manager overlaps with my passion for both problem solving and fostering community. Working in tech, I’ve found it’s easy to fall back on saying, “Oh, this must be a tech solution. Surely we need to build more software and we will solve the problem.” But with a different perspective, you might say, “No, it’s a human problem.” This is especially true for cybersecurity, where companies leverage software solutions like Azure Active Directory to protect critical systems and sensitive information from digital attacks. But at the end of the day, there are human behaviors at play as well. We need to tap into those human behaviors and say, “How can we solve the problem for our users by helping them be successful?” You need diverse perspectives to get there. You need more people pulling from their personal, lived experiences. And we can only bring our best ideas and creativity to work if we feel safe to be our authentic selves, where we are respected and embraced for who we are. Otherwise, you’ll never have new ideas, and that would be a real loss.

When I joined Microsoft, I found my community through our employee resource groups. The pandemic has been especially hard on communities of color, who are most impacted by structural racism, ethnicity-based discrimination, inequities and much more.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% between 2021-2022, and the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center received over 11,000 hate incidents between March 2020 to 2022. In leading a response to the rising anti-AANHPI hate crimes across the U.S, I had the support of the Asians at Microsoft employee resource group (ERG). We recognized that we needed to acknowledge what was happening and that there were a lot of raw emotions and pain. Our executive sponsors and leaders supported us to share the message: “I see you, I hear you, we are here with you. Take the time you need to process in whatever way works for you.” We’ve also hosted healing circles for people to share their personal stories. So, the first part is just showing up in solidarity. I’m a huge advocate of leading by example and everyone taking action, no matter how small. Even the simple act of showing up can help us connect and create safe spaces. We are creating these spaces so that everyone can process grief and trauma, but also find hope with each other.

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