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      May 10, 2022

      Connections through culture: The origin story of an Employee Resource Group

      Hear from the co-founders of the Asian American and Pacific Islander network at Continental.

      As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world, a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes developed in which many Asian Americans experienced acts of physical violence and verbal harassment. Among the dismay of these societal events came a blossom of positivity within Continental. Stemming from organic conversations around culture and support, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) was formed to represent a network for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) at Continental.

      In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Chris Egner and Lisa Thomas, co-founders of the Continental AAPI network, share their personal experiences from the AAPI community and discuss the role this network plays at Continental.

      Please tell us about your roles with Continental:

      Chris: I am a corporate attorney at Continental Tire the Americas in Fort Mill, South Carolina. My global responsibilities include risk assessment and case evaluation for complex product liability, asbestos, toxic tort, and automotive systems matters. I provide general legal advice, contract drafting/negotiation, and Non-Production Material (NPM) Purchasing support. I am also a legal advisor to Human Relations, including responding to claims of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and conduct compliance training.

      In addition to co-founding the AAPI ERG with Lisa Thomas, I am also a member of the Diversity Council for Continental Tire and DE&I Advisory Group Member.

      Lisa: I originally joined Continental as an HR Business Partner for the Passenger and Light Truck US business, and I have since then worked with many other areas within Tires including Truck Tires, BestDrive, and Business Area central functions. I am currently responsible for leading HR for Replacement Tires the Americas markets. My focus areas have been in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusions (DEI) as well as Future Work and Ownership.

      I also represent the Continental Tire organization within our North America Diversity Council.

      What would you like to share about your AAPI heritage?

      Chris: I was born in Singapore and I am half Malaysian and Chinese. I came to the U.S. (Florida) at a very young age and assimilated to American culture. As the years progress, I have found I am embracing my Asian culture all the more. A quote from Marcus Garvey really stands out to me; he said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”     

      Lisa: My parents are both first-generation immigrants. My father is from Germany and my mother is from South Korea. My personal racial identity is a blend of both. Growing up in a household with two different cultures, I have an appreciation and great interest in learning about different backgrounds, communities, and lifestyles.

      Both of my parents are non-native English speakers. I remember sitting on the floor of the kitchen with my mother in the evenings, and we would go over the words she circled in the newspaper that she wanted to better understand. “What is another word for this one? What is a word that is similar to this one? Why are they different?” Experiences like this helped me develop curiosity and empathy. This is a gift my mother gave me by bringing me into her process of learning.

      My AAPI identity has grown and changed as a part of my own personal journey. Growing up in a suburb of Kansas City, I was one of the only Asian kids in my school and there were not many families who we could relate to culturally. As a kid, you want to be just like your friends but as I got older, I found that I was increasingly proud of my heritage and the perspectives my parents helped me grow over the years.

      What events led up to the formation of Continental’s AAPI Employee Resource Group?

      Lisa: Our first conversations were about the support that was needed in the organization in response to increased anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. At the time, anti-Asian rhetoric was front and center, such as labeling the coronavirus the “Kung Flu” and daily reports of unprovoked attacks on Asian Americans. It was one of the first times that many of us felt fear for our own safety and that of our friends and family members. To have the support of colleagues in the company and a safe space to talk made a big impact.

      While we still touch on important current events and offer support to one another, perhaps the best part of the ERG for me personally is being able to celebrate our heritage and relate to one another. Whether it’s a recommendation on who has the best bubble tea, or sharing our childhood memories of Chinese New Year, it has been an amazing experience to meet other AAPI colleagues and form new networks and friendships.

      What is the mission of the Continental AAPI ERG?

      Chris: The AAPI ERG’s mission is to create and foster positive and relevant exchange for Continental professionals in support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

      I find it easier to quote some of our AAPI members on what the AAPI Network means to them, “The AAPI ERG can create better awareness of (similar but different) Asian culture, values, and history so that everyone can have a better understanding of each culture and individual instead of grouping all Asians to one stereotype.”

      What events have you facilitated so far?

      Chris: One of my favorite AAPI ERG events to date was the “Conversation with Katie (Phang)”. Katie now has her very own show on MSNBC called “The Katie Phang Show.” Having worked together with her on other allyship programs, I knew she would be a great fit for Continental’s DE&I and the AAPI ERG’s mission.

      What is your best advice for other people who want to be better allies?

      Lisa: A great place to start being an ally to others is to grow your own understanding and education. There are so many resources out there: Read articles, watch documentaries, attend a Continental ERG meeting with a group you would like to know more about. Then, most importantly, take what you learn and share it with your friends, kids, and partners. In other words, grow more allies.

      Do you have any suggestions for resources that share education on AAPI heritage or culture?

      Chris: A current show I would recommend is Pachinko on Apple TV. Some past shows and movies include Asian Americans on PBS and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both The Joy Luck Club and Crazy Rich Asians are available as movies and novels. Some culinary shows I recommend are Flavourful Origins, Chef’s Table, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I truly believe you can learn a lot about someone’s culture through their food and these shows depict that very well.

      I encourage everyone to join an ERG, even if you do not necessarily feel as though you “belong” to that particular group or culture, rather to learn more about someone else - someone you work with at Continental. Be an ally!

      This article was written by our employees.

      Lisa Thomas

      Head of HR, Replacement Tires the Americas Markets

      Chris Egner

      Corporate Counsel