Employee Spotlight: “AAPI Heritage Month Is Important To Me Because I Believe Representation Matters”

By Jason Adams, T-Mobile StoriesMay 21, 2021

In recognition of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI), we ask Communications & Community Engagement senior specialist Melissa Jividan to tell us why her personal experience of being an Asian American at T-Mobile is one of the many reasons she loves promoting the brand on the company’s Careers social channels.

T-Mobile employee talks about what Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month means to her

Fate, as they say, works in mysterious ways. “I got recruited off of LinkedIn after I had graduated college in Hawaii,” says senior specialist Melissa Jividan. Six years later, Jividan now runs the Careers social channel, which — as fate would have it — includes the company’s brand LinkedIn page. “It's one of those full circle things,” she notes with a laugh.

A Seattle-area native who returned to the region when the wireless provider came calling, Jividan was first brought aboard at T-Mobile as a social media specialist in customer care, and has since moved onto executive social on the Communications & Community Engagement team in addition to her responsibilities of sharing important employee stories. She has become a unique lens through which others can see what those in leadership and in positions of all levels across the company are saying about working for the Un-carrier. Which makes us wonder, what’s her story?

 Jividan was brought up multi-ethnic to a White father and a mother who had emigrated from Thailand.

“With me being multiple ethnicities, I don’t come across as obviously Asian,” she says, which offers her a unique view into ugly conversations others would not be privy to. “I get to see what people are seeing and saying. They get very surprised when I say, ‘Hey, I’m Asian too. And what you said is not appropriate, and here’s why.’”

She then adds: “I’m my own ally, in a sense.”

In recognition of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI), we talk with Jividan about her personal experience with Asian hate (and love), the importance of the Asia Pacific & Allies Network Employee Resource Group she’s part of at T-Mobile and about the career path that has led her to running the company’s Careers social channel — and where destiny may take her next.

Hear why Melissa says AAPI Heritage Month is an important reminder that representation matters.

Overseeing the Careers social channel — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — can you walk us through what a typical day is like?

Generally speaking, I am planning out what content looks like for the Careers channel — everything from creating my own content, like memes or short videos, to working with others such as a Tik Tok creator that we’re currently partnering with. If I’m not creating and planning the content, I’m shaping what the view of the channel looks like. And then I focus on how we can tell the stories of our employees that would make people who don’t work at T-Mobile want to work here. And luckily, it’s pretty easy, because many of the employees here have such incredible stories. Being able to share their stories and have them explain why they love T-Mobile, I think that’s the most surefire way to get someone to want to work here.

How important is showcasing inclusivity on the social handles you currently oversee?

I think it’s extremely important. You see more and more in media that representation matters. Just seeing someone that looks like you doing something that you previously thought you couldn’t do has had a huge impact on me and on people I know. And I think that’s important to showcase at the workplace as well. If you were to describe a position, you might immediately think of a certain kind of person. So knowing that you can be any gender or race in those roles, just knowing that it’s possible is really helpful. Because it drops that barrier of thinking, “Oh, I can’t do it because of this.” Well, this person did it, so of course you can do it. I think it’s cool, that just by sharing someone’s story, you’re able to see what your own potential is.

May is, of course, Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Can you tell us what it means to you, and how your own heritage is reflected in honoring the AAPI community?

I’m multi-ethnic, and my mom is from Thailand. So I’m half Thai and half mixed White — French and Scottish. So half-mixed Caucasian. My mom came to America from Thailand when she was 19 or 20. Growing up, I watched her struggle to work twice as hard to prove she was just good as anybody else. She’s been in America for 50 years, and I still watch her have some struggles with people who, if they don’t understand her accent very well, they visibly treat her different. So witnessing that had an effect on me. It taught me that being different doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person. It just means that you come from somewhere else. And even if you didn't have an accent, those things shouldn’t matter. Your character is what matters.

Melissa and her mom, Poonim, who emigrated to the U.S. from Thailand 50 years ago.

You’d mentioned that sometimes you very literally have to be your own ally. How important — and this comes up a lot at T-Mobile and the programs that we attend — is allyship from others?

I think it’s super important. Truthfully, when the whole aspect of allyship first came up, I wasn’t sure about it. Not that I’m not supportive of allies, clearly, but it sounded like a corporate thing. But since then I’ve managed executive socials for company events like a popular guest-speaker series called Talking with Trailblazers, where they’re always talking about allyship. I’m learning that it is important because no one group can do it all themselves and you really need that cross-promotional, for lack of a better term, allyship in order to make changes and get your messages across. Unfortunately, some people are never going to listen to you because of your gender or your skin color. So having that spokesperson or ally that perhaps looks more like them to advocate for us has a much bigger impact than if I were to just say it myself.

You mentioned Talking with Trailblazers, and there just happened to be the one with actor Daniel Dae Kim and T-Mobile’s EVP of Advanced & Emerging Technologies, John Saw. What did you take from that?

I loved that one. It was probably one of my more favorite Talking with Trailblazers that we’ve had. I think Daniel and John Saw really hit it on the head with this myth of the model minority. They explained where it comes from , how stereotypes hurt multiple ethnicities and how understanding all this can combat prejudice in the future. I really loved that. If someone were to do a Talking with Trailblazers with me, these are the things that I would want to address.

The recent and historic violence and abuse aimed at the AAPI community has generated a deep desire in allies to better support AAPI co-workers. Can you share an instance where someone’s support was impactful to you?  

Actually, yeah, this is a perfect example. The day of the Atlanta attacks, where six of eight of those killed were Asian women, I had a coworker and a friend reach out to me through text message. She didn’t even say, “Hey, I saw it was on the news.” She just said, “Hey, I hope you’re okay today. Let me know if you need anything, I’m here to support you.” And I thought that was really cool. Again, I don’t come across as visibly Asian, and so most people don’t think about it, which is fine. I never expect anyone to know my ethnicity. But for her to see that and think, “Oh, I have people I care about, people that I want to support out in the world that I should check on,” that was really cool.

It is of course incumbent upon people to do their own homework. But I was just curious if you have any resources you’d recommend for folks aiming to support the AAPI community — this month and always?

I appreciate when people ask how to become better at allyship, but I also think it somewhat falls in line with what Ibram X. Kendi had talked about after George Floyd’s murder, where it can’t become our responsibility to teach everyone how to be an ally or to teach the history. I believe it’s important to educate yourself, but if someone seems genuine in their growth then I’m happy to share my knowledge and experiences, too. So it’s a bit of a middle ground.

That said, oddly enough, one place that’s helped me branch out from my own information, is … this is going to sound ridiculous, but … Asian comedians. They’re always talking about their experiences and the impacts that they’ve had in their life and how they are perceived in America, let alone in their ancestors’ cultures. So their standard comedy specials about their experiences have really opened my eyes to not only what other Asians face, but also the shared Asian experience in America. Ali Wong is a huge one for me. She talks a lot about growing up Asian and marrying an Asian of a different ethnicity. That has been a key to me to unlock more information about our history and the things that are going on within our community.

In terms of supporting employees from a company level, and I guess employees supporting each other too, the Asia Pacific & Allies Network Employee Resource Group is a part of T-Mobile’s overall Multicultural Alliance. What has your involvement been like, and what do you think these groups bring to T-Mobile?

I’m involved, and I’ve definitely become more involved over the past year, given everything that’s happened, and I’ve definitely seen a bigger uptick in activity overall. And I think it’s really because it’s helping employees have a voice on various topics.

And that’s one of the things that I’ve always really liked about T-Mobile. For such a big company, people really do listen to the employees and we’re learning along with everybody else. To have a group saying here’s what our community is thinking and feeling about topics that affect us, and to see how T-Mobile is impacting those communities, it’s just nice. It’s one of those things where, again, representation matters. And so here you have this group of people that represent your community, your ethnicity, and they’re helping change the company for the better through their own eyes.

Since you hold the keys to T-Mobile's Careers social media accounts, where do you see your own career headed?

I am fortunate that I get to get a sneak peek into every aspect of the company, which I think a lot of people would love to have. If I want to find stuff out for marketing, I can do that. From engineering, technology, sales, all of those things, I get to have my hand in a little bit of it all so I can speak to their roles and help those employees share their stories. And I’m also a very curious person, so I’ve always really liked being able to know that I can gather information from anywhere.

And then in terms of my own career, I would love to keep telling stories for people. I think it’s the best way to be a positive persuader of things. I don’t exactly know what that looks like, as in terms of, is it a role or a specific position, but I enjoy what I do and I hope I can keep doing it on a bigger scale.