How we create space for awareness, connection, and conversation
How do you bring employees around the world together in a way that helps them build genuine, authentic relationships while recognizing and celebrating our commonalities and differences? Our employee community networks help us connect with others who share similar backgrounds, interests, challenges, and goals—but also broaden our awareness and appreciation of cultural differences within each community and across ICF.
Established in 2020, our Asian Employee Community Network is open to all employees who identify as Asian or relate to the global Asian community. The cultural diversity of our members is as broad as the places they call home: Bangladesh, China, Costa Rica, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Korea, Nepal, Philippines, Poland, Scotland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.
“Valuing identity, embracing differences, and acknowledging the contribution of cultures is something we practice and celebrate across our full global operations.” — Ripin Kalra, chair of our Asian Employee Community Network
Creating a space for difficult conversations
Creating a community that celebrates culture while building the trust required for difficult conversations can be challenging—particularly when your membership crosses multiple countries and time zones. Our leaders plan and host a variety of events, including many designed for networking and the sharing of cultural experiences. Monthly tea time, new year celebrations, cooking demonstrations, and movie and book discussions help generate a sense of belonging and camaraderie, but also lay the groundwork for other important dialogues.
“We knew we had to walk before we could run,” says proposal manager Lorelei Penera, who also serves as the network co-chair. “We use an internal social media platform to stay connected but also as an open space for our members to discuss whatever is on their minds.” This has included thoughts, feelings, and perspectives about attacks on Asian Americans. “After the March 2021 shooting in Atlanta, we saw an outpouring from members and our allies with concerns for the Asian community in America,” she adds.
Encouraging cultural pride and understanding
Our employee community networks are grounded in our values that guide how we act and interact as a team. "Our value of ‘challenging assumptions' resonates with me in my role as a network co-chair,” says Lorelei. “I am always happy to see allies attend our events and monthly meetings. We’ve had people mention afterwards that they didn’t know some Asians felt a certain way or had certain experiences. It’s gratifying to know we helped them learn something new.”
As our employee community networks help bring cultural awareness and appreciation across our global team, network members share that they now feel more comfortable about expressing their culture at work. One member shares that ICF is the first organization where she felt comfortable putting up the Lunar New Year decorations in her workspace. Another remarks that being part of an employee community network made him feel okay about taking time off from work to observe Lunar New Year.
Evolving for a more equitable future
“In my more than six years at ICF, I can’t remember a time when we formally celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Month,” Lorelei notes. Though celebrated in pockets throughout the organization in years past, we first formally recognized the month as part of our diversity and inclusion program in 2021.
Employee community network co-chair and senior project manager Bobby Korah recounts an impactful leadership panel featuring our head of corporate development Amira Hossain, digital transformation expert David Yang, and our network executive sponsor Mark Lee. “We had incredible turnout and a really engaging conversation,” he shares.
“This month’s celebration and the year-round programming through the Asian Employee Community Network is important,” Lorelei stresses. “Both elevate a set of company leaders for Asian employees at all stages of their career journeys to look up to and connect with in more tangible and personal ways.”