The Center for Asian Pacific American Women

Gives AAPI women a Collective  Voice


Corporate America in the mid to late ‘90s held little promise for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. Their talents were not acknowledged and stereotypes and discrimination proliferated, affording them little opportunity to make their way up the corporate ladder or sit at leadership tables.

Motivated to change this situation, Martha Lee, along with 18 other Asian American women, founded the Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI) in 1996. These women called themselves the Warrior Sisters. The goal of APAWLI was to nurture and develop AAPI women to take on leadership roles in the United States. Each year APAWLI’s signature program, its training institute, would select a group of outstanding women to take part in an intensive three-week leadership development training course. The group also completed a community impact project whose goal it was to change the lives of at least 25 people. As well, APAWLI commissioned a research study focusing on challenges and opportunities for AAPI women and worked with the Gallup organization on a report detailing the leadership strengths AAPI women bring to their work.

The 21st Century
In 2006, after extensive discussions and surveys with past fellows, community stakeholders, and the board of directors, APAWLI rebranded itself. Making the decision to expand its scope and programming, it would now include its signature leadership institute as well as one-day conferences and national leadership summits. The collective purpose of these educational gatherings is to reach the broader community and impact more AAPI women across various sectors as well as across the country. The organization’s new name, The Center for Asian Pacific American Women (CAPAW), reflects its expanded scope.

CAPAW is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the enhancement and enrichment of leadership skills for AAPI women through education, networking, and mentorship. For over 20 years, it has provided a variety of professional development programs, from one-day regional conferences to national leadership summits to intensive training institutes, which address the specific needs of AAPI women across the United States. CAPAW’s vision is to develop ethical and compassionate AAPI women to take on leadership roles in the public and private sectors. The organization also provides a space where AAPI women can assemble, listen to each other, be heard, and support one another.

Whole person leadership—leadership that balances one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and lays the foundation for individuals to be effective and influential—is imperative in the 21st century boardroom. One of the ways CAPAWdevelops whole person leadership is through its regional conferences. They introduce participants to trends and forecasts and shed light on challenges and opportunities.

CAPAW convened its most recent regional conference on November 04, 2017 in Houston. Co-chaired by Mandy Kao, Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry, and Vani Rao, the interactive, dialogue driven, one-day conference was held in partnership with Houston Community College. Participants hailed from all sectors, including corporate, nonprofit, government, and academia.
The event was divided into morning and afternoon sessions, each with their own specific focus. The morning plenary discussions centered on the challenges, priorities, opportunities, and forecasts for AAPI women across different sectors. They were followed by a panel discussion, which deliberated on the technology of the future and how AAPI women fit into that future. After the panel discussion, participants had the pleasure of being addressed and entertained by keynote speaker, comedian Esther Goodhart, aka “the Oriental Beauty,” during lunch.

The thought-provoking afternoon sessions featured four concurrent workshops: Leading with Your Whole Brain, Managing Across Generations, Civic and Community Engagement, and Transitioning Careers. A coaching corner and resource center were available throughout the afternoon. The workshops were followed by a marketplace as well as an evening reception.

As with all CAPAW regional conferences, the goal of this year’s conference was for its participants to learn, connect, and discover. It was successful at accomplishing that goal. Through timely discussion and workshops, attendees learned strategies and gained insight that will better serve their organizations, themselves, and their communities. Like other APPI women before them and those who will come after them, they are taking their place among the leaders of corporate America and making a difference.