In 2018, Martin Pong was named as one of our EMpower Ethnic Minority Future Leaders. He has set up Oliver Wyman’s first cross-employee network reverse mentoring programme, which has seen senior business leaders come together and discuss workplace discrimination with an intersectional lens. Outside of work, Martin supports Stonewall and Diversity Role Models, raising awareness of LGBT+ people of colour and mentoring ethnic minority youth. After noticing the lack of visible LGBT+ East and South East Asian role models, he uses mentoring as a way to make his unique experiences visible to the next generation, and to senior leaders who may not have considered the intersection of ethnic minority and LGBT+ identities.
In this interview, we speak to Martin here about his identity, representation and the importance of allies.
Matthew Riley: You proudly talk about your identity – why is this is important to you?
Martin Pong: Identity is important because it is closely related to self-esteem. When I see someone in my own image on the front page of a magazine or come across a media discussion about LGBT+ East and South East Asian experiences at Chinese New Year, the recognition of my identity instantly transfers into a stronger and prouder sense of self. This has shown me first-hand how important positive representation of identity is, which is why I share my stories and experiences so openly as an LGBT+ East Asian individual.
MR: As somebody with an intersectional identity, what do you feel organisations can be doing to better support people who identify across multiple minority groups?
MP: Diversity and inclusion is a difficult subject for organisations to tackle and many have broken down the topic into specific gender, LGBT+ and race and ethnicity initiatives to make the task more manageable. However, if the approach becomes too siloed, people with multiple minority identities can find it difficult to identify with any initiatives or networks. For me, as an East Asian LGBT+ person, I’ve found it difficult to connect with the Caucasian LGBT+ narrative or to the straight ethnic minority experience, and very often, I find myself piecing something together from the minority groups that I can partially relate to. To better support their intersectional colleagues, organisations should consider diversity and inclusion more holistically. At Oliver Wyman, our initiatives are always developed from a cross-network perspective, meaning that members from all of our networks are encouraged to collaborate from the beginning. This ensures the intersections between communities are equally represented, and protected characteristics that do not have a formalised employee network, such as age, disability and socioeconomic status, are also included.
MR: We champion allies and advocates at INvolve, across all of our Role Modelling Lists. How important do you think allies are in the drive for inclusion – and what tips would you give to a future colleague to help them be a better ally?
MP: For us to achieve true equality, everyone needs to be involved. Allies are incredibly important as they can use their privilege to support the actions and amplify the voices of minorities. The number one tip I would give to colleagues who want to be better allies is to be active. Take action whenever and however you can, and be as visible as possible. Being an idle supporter creates very little impact, and in some cases can make the situation worst, especially if you do nothing to challenge discrimination when you see it.
MR: You set up the intersectional reverse mentoring programme at Oliver Wyman. Why was this important to you, and do you have any success stories to share?
MP: Story telling is one of the most impactful forms of communication and reverse mentoring uses this to communicate powerfully to senior leaders and management. At Oliver Wyman, we added an intersectional focus to reverse mentoring with the aim of highlighting intersectional experiences within the organisation. Colleagues were empowered to talk candidly about the complexities of navigating the workplace and beyond, especially when multiple minority backgrounds are considered. Since the launch, we have mentored over 100 of our senior leaders in the US, UK and Asia. The success of the scheme has been recognised by our learning and development team too and we have incorporated intersectional reverse mentoring into the official Oliver Wyman training programme for our senior management.
MR: You featured in our EMpower Ethnic Minority Role Model Lists last year, and have engaged with our OUTstanding network, while also engaging with different LGBT+ initiatives. Have you ever felt that you’ve had to ‘choose’ between which part of your identity to lead with?
MP: I have never actively chosen to lead with a specific part of my identity, but of course, I recognise different aspects of myself project in different ways depending on the situation I’m in. I try not to think about it too much and I leave it up to whatever feels most comfortable for the situation I’m in. However, what I have noticed is that because my gay identity is not as visible as my Chinese heritage, I often lean towards speaking with people about my LGBT+ identity first to avoid any misunderstandings about my identity later on.
MR: We all know that representation is crucial. What would you say to somebody who is maybe thinking that becoming a role model isn’t important?
MP: For me growing up as a child in the UK, I never saw myself properly represented in the media. If by the off chance I did see or hear about someone in my own image, it would always be a harmful stereotype or a distasteful caricature. Looking back on my childhood, I definitely went through a short phase of rejecting parts of my identity because I had associated negativity around them. That was what the outside world was telling me; I never saw those characteristics positively represented. It wasn’t until later in life when I was lucky enough to meet other LGBT+ East Asian people that I started to embrace my identity as a whole. Despite having to go through this long process of revisiting and exploring my identity later in life, it has taught me the importance of role models and I believe this is a core part of what diversity and inclusion is. Representation teaches self-love and provides people with a sense of what is possible. Everyone should be able to have that.