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AAPI Heritage Month: Nike VP Frank Ha Has ‘Absolutely Felt Invisible at Times’ — How He Helps Others Break Those ‘Career Ceilings’

For AAPI Heritage Month, FN is spotlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander executives, entrepreneurs and designers as part of its ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business.

Just days after the Vietnam War officially came to an end, Frank Ha’s parents left Vietnam for the United States. He was born the day after their arrival.

“My mother often reminds me that I’m the first American thing they owned, and my name is Frank because it was the most American name they could think of,” he said. “As I get older, the gravity of that story gets stronger, and in the past year, I thought about it daily.”

Ha is the VP of North America stores at Nike, where he has held a variety of leadership roles over the course of his 13-year career with the sportswear giant. He is also a husband and father of two.

His concerns — particularly for his family and colleagues — have understandably been amplified over the past 15 months. Since the COVID-19 outbreak touched down in the U.S., an increasing number of Asian Americans have faced incidents of harassment, shunning and even physical assault — largely linked to the proliferation of the novel coronavirus, whose first case can be traced back to the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“Our community has endured so much over the past year,” Ha said. “We’re experiencing a collective pain, and as I’ve shared with our teams internally over the last few months, it’s OK not to be OK. There have been moments where I’ve been at a loss for what to say.”

What he might not be able to put into words Ha has translated into action. For the past few years, he has served as the executive sponsor of the Nike’s Ascend Network & Friends — a resource group for employees with roots in Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands, as well as their allies. The group is just one of eight employee networks at the Beaverton, Ore.-based company collectively known as NikeUNITED, which are employee-formed and -managed, with members from all around the world.

“Asians are very proud of their heritage and values. We grow up with respect, work ethic and sacrifice as the pillars of our success,” he said. “We are not taught that the loudest voice wins or to be openly vocal about our personal challenges. We communicate and showcase leadership in different ways.”

He continued, “Unfortunately, in large corporations, these values can create a perception that everything is fine with our community, as if we don’t experience career ceilings, damaging stereotypes or acts of racism.”

Ha, who did not hesitate to admit that he has “absolutely felt invisible at times” over the course of his professional career, also highlighted the strides that Nike has made in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion across its workforce. According to its annual Impact Report, racial and ethnic minorities now make up 58.1% of all employees, compared with 52.9% in 2015. Specifically, Asian people represent 9.3% of workers — up from 7.7%.

What’s more, the athletic apparel and footwear firm has announced ambitious targets for 2025 as it seeks to promote and advance opportunities for people of color and minorities: Among them, it plans to achieve 35% representation of racial and ethnic minorities in its U.S. corporate workforce, as well as double its investments in professional development for racial and ethnic minorities across the country. It also hosted a three-day VP leadership team meeting late last year to educate leaders about advocacy and allyship.

“I am often reminded of what [Harvard lecturer] Dr. Josephine Kim has said to me about how non-Asians should be more than allies, they should all be accomplices,” Ha said. “An ally supports you when you are in the room. An accomplice speaks on your behalf when you aren’t in the room — and that takes vulnerability, courage and empathy.”

Today, President Joe Biden is expected to sign the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act — a measure that has passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As part of the bill, a new position will be created at the Department of Justice to expedite the review of anti-Asian hate crimes reported at the federal, state or local level. While the legislation is certainly a step in the right direction, many members of the AAPI community believe that more needs to be done.

“Many of the larger, systemic challenges will take time. They are buried in policies, process and legislation that can’t be unraveled overnight,” Ha added. “While we push for change there, the day-to-day experience only gets better when everyone else adopts the true behaviors that foster belonging.”

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