For Raytheon Technologies, AAPI inclusion is a matter of respect

The year was 1999. Cheryl Biagini had just started a job as an electrical engineer at what is now Raytheon Missiles & Defense, and she had lots of ideas on how to improve the onboarding process.

Only she didn’t dare bring them up – not even in a meeting with a senior leader who wanted exactly that kind of feedback. The reason: Her parents, both born in India, had taught her to show unflinching respect to authority – even when that meant suppressing her own opinions.

“For Asian American Pacific Islanders, there’s a common thread of showing respect to your elders,” said Biagini, now an associate director for an advanced technology program. “In the corporate environment, that translates into having respect for our leaders. You’re not going to voice a contradictory opinion.”

Today, Biagini is the chair of Raytheon Technologies’ newly reorganized group for Asian American Pacific Islander employees. She’s no longer keeping her opinions to herself – and she wants the group’s members to know they shouldn’t either.

Showing AAPI employees how to keep cultural values from impeding professional progress is among many initiatives she’d like the group to take on. Other priorities include:

  • Increasing representation of AAPI employees in senior leadership roles – a goal consistent with Raytheon Technologies’ overall effort to double the representation of people of color in executive ranks by 2030.
  • Helping AAPI employees build their professional networks through in-person and virtual events.
  • Educating employees and leaders on unconscious bias.
  • Using the results of a companywide employee survey to identify and address unique needs of AAPI employees.

“We want our approach to be data-based,” Biagini said. “If there’s some way we can find out what some of those pain points are for our members, it helps us understand them and serve them better.”

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Such initiatives have helped Biagini in her own career. At a leadership development session for AAPI employees, she recalled, she took part in an exercise where the participants listed traits valued in their cultures, then made a separate list of traits considered favorable in the corporate world.

When they put them side-by-side, Biagini said, “we had our epiphanies and our a-ha moments.” One of those revelations, she said, was that withholding ideas and opinions sometimes comes across as passive or uninterested.

“We realized we were operating in the corporate world as we were at home,” she said, “and that we might be misperceived in a negative way, even though we were just being respectful.”

That leadership session has stuck with Biagini throughout the years. Inspired by what she learned, she took a leadership role in the AAPI employee resource group, and she developed a comprehensive welcome program for new hires – one that included the ideas she’d once held back.

“I would have never thought to do something like that until that class taught me it’s OK to operate that way,” she said. “That’s the same kind of awareness we hope to provide our members to help them thrive.”