What my time in America has taught me about diversity

June 30, 2021 | 5 minute read
Erin Sun
Director of SCM Product Marketing, Oracle
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Mission inclusion, Erin Sun

To me, an inclusive culture means everyone is treated with equality and respect, with no bias or stereotyping against an individual’s race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability.

I am a first-generation immigrant, and my story is probably a bit different from most immigrant stories you’ve heard in the past. After I earned my master’s degree from Northwestern University, I was not planning to stay in the United States. The plan was to go back to my comfortable, elite lifestyle back home in Taipei, Taiwan. However, the individualism that the US culture represents enticed me to stay longer.

Not having any job offers, I moved to Silicon Valley after graduating. I took a leap of faith to see where life would take me; and I have never left since. I knew I came to the right place when I went to a street party as part of San Francisco Pride Week. I remember being deeply moved by what I saw: everyone was accepted and expressing themselves freely without judgement. Since then, the emphasis on promoting individuality versus conformity, which is how I was raised, has encouraged me to be more vocal, more assertive, while caring less about what others think.

My first job in Silicon Valley was to market computer sound cards. Without any background in computer science or engineering, I restarted my career from ground zero, asking my brother what a motherboard does and what a hard drive is for. I have to say that this position, and my accumulated work experience since then, proved instrumental in helping me to land my current product marketing role.

Life lessons from my family

Erin Sun, Product Marketing Director, Oracle

My maternal grandmother contributed to my passion for traveling and immersing myself into different cultures. She inspired me to be adventurous and courageous. I began traveling with her when I was a toddler. Throughout the years, she introduced me to cultures and customs from different ethnicities; she taught me to be kind to others who are different from me.

My grandma was born and raised in an affluent family in southwestern China. Like other girls at the time, she was forced to practice the foot-binding tradition to restrict normal foot growth and make her feet as small as possible. Considered an attractive quality for women, the effects of the process were painful and permanent. My grandma’s mother was considered a progressive at the time. She removed the binding from my grandma’s feet at night when no one could find out. And during a time when education was considered nonessential for women, she dressed my grandma as a boy and snuck her to school for education along with her brothers.

After my grandma grew up, she gave up a comfortable life and ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage. Learning about her stories while growing up in the old world, the seed was planted in me at a young age to be an independent woman with the courage and curiosity to explore the world and pursue my own happiness.

Prove those who doubt you wrong

Studying at Northwestern University and living in the Chicago area broadened my experience of diversity: being a minority for the first time in my life, working with people from different cultures and backgrounds, encountering Americans who had never traveled outside of the United States, explaining to friends about Chinese and Taiwanese traditions, and occasionally watching the confusion on people’s faces when my accent came out. Sometimes, these experiences made me feel like an outsider, when all I wanted was to blend in.

During one career consultation, my professor advised me to go back to Taiwan in order to have a better career after graduation. He said because English was not my first language, the job scope might be limited for me in the marketing field here in the US. At the time, I believed that the professor had my best interest in mind. Years later, it occurred to me that he might have had an unconscious bias against me and other foreign students.

Fast forward a few years, I ran into this same professor at an event where he told me that I had surprised him. He was not expecting that I would have done so well for myself in the US. Well, at least he was honest, and I am very pleased that I have proven him wrong.

In my early career in Silicon Valley, I had a boss who told me that instead of looking for career advancement, I should hurry up to find a husband and start a family. I was once told that I would not be able to do product marketing because English is not my first language. When the movie Crazy Rich Asians came out, my boss at the time asked me if I was one of those rich Asians. Many times, I’ve been referred to as the “marketing girl” by male colleagues. After countless times of getting backhanded compliments, such as “your English is very good,” I’ve learned to respond back with, “well, yours is, too.”

The future of workplace diversity

You can probably tell by now why I am passionate about eliminating workplace unconscious bias and stereotyping. Yes, intentions matter, but we must all work together to do better. I must say that Oracle Marketing has provided a platform for me to influence and drive change. My former boss allowed me to practice and invest in diversity and inclusion during recruitment and hiring. My current boss not only gives me the opportunity to excel in product marketing, but also always encourages me to be myself. My colleagues have been supportive being my sounding board. My mentors have always been patient with me and shown me the ropes. Most importantly, the employee resource groups , like Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL), have been the source of my inspiration.

If I had followed the old-world tradition, I would not be where I am today, living in beautiful Mountain View, California with my loving husband and two golden retrievers. If I had followed most of my fellow Asian classmates’ career path, I would’ve been a data analyst, which was considered a safer career choice due to limited language barriers. Had I not spoken up asking for opportunities to give presentations, I would’ve been crunching numbers all day without gaining any visibility.

I am an advocate for an inclusive culture, which I have personally and professionally benefitted from. I am committed to driving an inclusive culture here at Oracle, and I hope my stories may be an encouragement for others. Please don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do; you should never be boxed in.

Illustration: Wes Rowell
Photography: Erin Sun

Erin Sun

Director of SCM Product Marketing, Oracle

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