Are we there yet? Hello Design's David Lai on the lack of Asian American mentors

Every week, we ask industry insiders across all job levels and titles to share personal stories about equality, diversity and inclusion in adland. We know we're not there yet, but we want to document the highs and lows as the industry slowly transforms for the better.

David Lai
CEO and creative director
Hello Design

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe there’s still a problem.

There is still a profound lack of Asian American mentors in our industry. Even 20 years after launching our business, I wish there were more people that could offer me perspective and advice.

Growing up, I was the stereotypical Asian American who was good at math and science, and who went to an Ivy League school on a path to become a doctor. I was lucky enough to spend a year in Japan during that time, and I discovered that what I really wanted to do was something more creative and design focused. There weren’t many established companies doing the work I wanted to do, so I brought together some of my college friends (who happen to also be Asian American, and today are three of the four partners at Hello), not knowing where the path would lead us. My hope is that our success helps ensure this path won't be so off beaten for others.

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Crazy Rich Asians. It took guts to look at the long game and make a cultural statement by getting a movie so far outside the norm onto the big screen. I have mad respect for the risk they took, knowing it could have failed. I am sure they faced a lot of pressure and obstacles that others may never understand, but it's that dedication that moves things forward for all of us, regardless of what industry we are in. I can only dream that my creative contributions may in some small way do the same for others.

What else needs to be done to get there?

We were initially hesitant to become a certified MBE and to be designated as a minority-owned business, because it has always been important to us to win business based on the merit of our thinking and our work. I hope that one day diversity in business is no longer a designation, but a reflection of the changing makeup of the population. Clients and agencies alike can benefit from diverse leadership and different points of view. If we embrace this, our business, the ideas that drive it and the work will just keep getting better.

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