A conversation with C-suite leader Lisa Chang on the second episode of ‘Fueling Equity’

“Fueling Equity,” Southern Company Gas’ new webcast series designed to amplify the company’s commitment to address important social issues, has returned to feature CEO Kim Greene’s conversation with Lisa Chang, the global chief people officer for The Coca-Cola Co.

In the latest installment, Greene’s discussion with Chang covers stereotyping and recent incidents of violence against Asian- Americans, as well has handling family life and how to support Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. Chang, whose parents emigrated from Taiwan, began the conversation by discussing her family background. “As an immigrant family,” Chang said, she learned from her parents the value of hard work and education, and that everybody should be treated fairly and consistently without putting labels on them.

Chang oversees Coca-Cola’s talent and people strategies, culture, and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Before joining Coca-Cola, she served as senior vice president and chief human resources officer for investment management firm AMB Group LLC in Atlanta. She has held human resources roles at Equifax, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and The Weather Channel Companies. Chang also serves on the board of Catalyst, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion.

During her discussion with Greene, Chang related how in an earlier job, her CEO told her, “You need to speak up more.” The executive said the company wasn’t getting the benefit of Chang’s knowledge and capabilities because she wasn’t contributing to conversations. Part of her lack of speaking up was cultural. From her upbringing, she was being respectful of others with more experience and believed she should speak only to add to what those with more experience were saying. However, she learned that it wasn’t for herself to decide if what she had to say was adding value; that is for others to decide, based on her speaking up to contribute her knowledge.

The conversation in “Fueling Equity” turned to the difficult subject of the recent rise in violence directed against Asian- Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chang said sharing the unpleasant stories is important to raise awareness and make the issue more personal. When Coca-Cola employees could hear first-hand about how co-workers had incidents happen to them, the personal dimension makes it possible for colleagues to ask how such incidents could occur. She said checking in with people to see how they are doing is helpful, as is encouraging people to get the support they need. Talking about the violent incidents shines a light on hatred toward Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, which lets people in AAPI communities speak up, Chang said, knowing that people are finally listening.

The conversation later turned to stereotyping. Chang explained that although being called a “model minority” is meant to be a “compliment,” the label actually doesn’t help Asian-American communities because it gives a false sense of equalization. She referenced “a tale of two cities,” with families like Chang’s that were fortunate to have access to education that helped them reach professional success and there are others, working in very low-wage jobs just to make ends meet.

Asian-Americans have heritage from many different countries, each with different cultures and values. Even so, “we all get clumped into one group as being Asian,” Chang said, and “automatically assumed to be affiliated with China when most of us aren’t Chinese or haven’t been to China.” She suggests that people take interest in which specific communities Asian- Americans are from.

These issues have an impact not only outside the home, but inside as well. While growing up, Chang said, she lived a traditional Asian life in the home with Asian foods. Outside the home, her family worked to assimilate and present themselves as a typical American family because that is what they believed they needed to do to be accepted. With her children now, Chang says “we actually tried to do the opposite, which is we have encouraged them to learn and embrace the history and the culture. ...That’s what makes you special; that’s the diversity you bring to the school, the company, the friend network, everything. You’ve got these really different experiences that make you interesting.” Chang says her kids “are probably more Taiwanese” than she was growing up because she’s introduced foods and culture to them.

Future episodes of “Fueling Equity” will feature interviews with more leaders, aimed at highlighting, educating and communicating Southern Company Gas’ effort to foster a more equitable future for its employees, customers and the communities it serves.