Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Compassion and Connection for Constant Change, Q&A with Lizza Diaz

By Robert Half on May 24, 2022 at 10:00am

Born in the Philippines within a military family, Lizza Diaz spent her childhood growing up internationally, across cultures, languages and traditions. From her early years abroad to becoming a seasoned executive, she has made it a priority to keep relationships at the heart of her interactions and remains dedicated to connecting with individuals across all life experiences.

Her work at global talent solutions and consulting firm Robert Half as senior director for global Human Resources focuses on establishing business segments, developing scalable organizational processes and delivering change management.

Today, Lizza is moved to the point of tears when conveying her deep gratitude for the relationships built and opportunities created through Robert Half's employee network group, Asian Professionals for Excellence (APEX). As an APEX executive champion, her leadership is integral in supporting its programs, including the “ConversAsians” discussion series, monthly meetings, panel events and educational programs, as well as mentoring network members.

Lizza shared her more than 20 years of experience with the company, and her upbringing too, as part of our ongoing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month celebration. Here’s a recent Q&A with her:

Q: What did you learn from growing up internationally, being immersed in cultures outside of your Filipino heritage?

A: When I was a toddler, my family relocated to San Diego where my father was stationed with the U.S. Navy. Just as I was old enough to start grade school, we moved to Japan where I completed kindergarten through second grade. The rest of my elementary years were spent between Southern California, Northern California, and the Philippines, until we permanently moved stateside when I was in eighth grade.

Being immersed in different areas of the world was enriching because it taught me how to navigate new environments, embrace curiosity and remain rooted in my heritage. It wasn't until later in life that I realized these skills also laid a strong foundation for me professionally.

My role at Robert Half is designed to create systematic approaches when dealing with transition and transformation of goals, processes and technologies. Like relocating five times before age 8, this area of work requires a delicate balance of effective problem solving on-the-go, collaborating across perspectives, and keeping people at the center of it all. These experiences have also reinforced the saying that “change is the only constant.”

Q: Speaking of change, what do you remember about the transition of permanently moving to the United States?

A: Not long after starting middle school in the states, I was asked to be a teacher’s aide for an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. I brought with me a private, Catholic school education and fluency in two languages, English and Tagalog, with exposure to a third, Japanese. Looking back on this experience, I remember having an agility when learning cultural differences and nuances more naturally, and even more quickly, than that of my peers.

I also remember this being the point that feelings of prejudice and racism became personal. While it wasn’t necessarily overt, the reactions of surprise or shock to a young Filipino girl helping teach an ESL class were not lost on me. I remember people expecting me to have an accent or to be the one receiving ESL support; however, the very thing people misinterpreted about me was the reason I was able to help teach English. Interacting with and relating to other multicultural, non-white classmates from different countries is something I had done my whole life.

Q: What has been challenging about having an intersectional identity as a Filipino, female leader in corporate America?

A: Despite hearing remarks from teachers, parents or peers when I was helping in the ESL classroom, I don’t think I fully realized the differences in how my identity was seen in educational institutions and organizations until later in life. I carried this naivety with me until after college when I started my career. As I continued to be promoted at various points in my career journey, I starkly remember noticing there weren’t many managers, directors, senior managers, vice presidents, or CEOs who looked like me, female or of Pan-Asian descent.

What’s challenging about this, and what I struggled with, is that lack of representation can limit aspirations and goals. To females or individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds, not seeing people who look like you at the level you hope to achieve is disappointing. When we do make it to senior leadership or the C-suite, it feels like we then are conditioned to participate in and develop our style so that it conforms to the majority. Corporate structures were not historically designed for women, let alone Asian women, and so we are conditioned to justify, for ourselves and others, why we need to have a seat at the table.

Q: How can we counteract feeling the need to conform? What does it look like for communities and companies to embrace all experiences, backgrounds and perspectives?

A: The Philippines is known as a place where “the East meets the West,” and has strong Western influences. This is still seen through predominantly U.S.-made and sold products and Americanized TV shows. Growing up in this culture, I’ve noticed the tendency for Filipinos to assimilate, as we don’t bring experiences like celebrating the Lunar New Year, observing cherry blossoms in bloom, or having areas like Chinatown or Japantown in major cities. I think a similar tendency can be observed for women to assimilate in the workforce. Because corporate structures have historically been male dominated, there’s a sense of expectation for women to conform to the masculine traits linked with successful careers and effective leadership.

Combating conformity and inequity requires an awareness that systems and traditions in place no longer serve those they were initially designed for. As our communities and workforces change and become diverse in thought, race, sexual identity, apparent or non-apparent disability, and beyond, our structures need to adjust to match the evolving identities of our communities and companies.

For Robert Half and APEX, we focus on amplifying Pan-Asian perspectives, curating healthy experiences, and promoting personal and professional development, mentoring and leadership opportunities for self-identifying Pan-Asian individuals and allies. This mission invites our personal experiences to be inextricably linked to what we want the future of our organization to look like, one with reliance on compassion and connection to facilitate meaningful action.

Q: Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month is one way APEX is helping Robert Half take meaningful action. What does this month mean to you and how have you been celebrating it?

A: AAPI Heritage Month is more than recognizing the Asian experience and honoring its histories and cultures. This month is about celebrating who we are now and the future that we are collectively building, and we have been doing just that. Employees have been dancing bhangra, learning tai chi and sharing favorite Pan-Asian recipes and restaurants. They have been raising awareness of the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association by sharing videos of how we support personal mental health, by raising funds, and by focusing on how allyship is effectuated through community, purpose and coordination.

We celebrate this month in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, with the intention of raising awareness and supporting our people, as our people continue to support our clients, candidates, colleagues and communities.

Read more about our Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration here.

If you’re interested in working for a company that values DEI, we’d love to have you join our team! Robert Half is an Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans. View our current job openings here.

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