Urmil Shah: ‘The universe is ready and waiting to support those who dare to dream big’

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, the Dallas Regional Chamber caught up with Urmil Shah, Chairman of the Asian Chamber of Texas and Senior Software Engineer at Texas Instruments, to get his perspective on AAPI influences and representation in the Dallas Region.

Urmil Shah, Chairman of the Asian Chamber of Texas and Senior Software Engineer at Texas Instruments

Shah has more than 15 years’ experience in design and architecture of scalable enterprise applications and process improvement for security, quality, and test cost reductions. He serves on the DRC Board of Directors and has previously served on the Boards of Directors for the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Dallas Indian Chamber of Commerce.

What Asian American and Pacific Islander figures have had the biggest influence on your life? Why do you look up to them?

The journey from M. Y. Lee’s role in constructing the transcontinental railroad and the immense struggles faced during the 1800s, to Yuji Ichioka’s revolutionary phrasing of the term “Asian American,” represents a remarkable progression toward celebrating civil liberties and a society that values diversity. As a child, I gazed at the stars in awe, wondering what mysteries lay beyond our world. Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-born American astronaut and aerospace engineer, shattered glass ceilings and soared to new heights as the first woman of Indian origin to venture into space in 1997 and again in 2003. Despite her humble origins in a small town in India, Chawla earned her bachelor’s degree before moving to the United States to pursue her master’s and Ph.D. Her indomitable spirit propelled her to become a part of NASA, proving that one’s race, gender, and background should never impede aspirations. Chawla’s unwavering determination has blazed a trail for countless individuals to chase their dreams relentlessly and never give up hope. Her story serves as a poignant reminder that the universe is ready and waiting to support those who dare to dream big, no matter how impossible it may seem.

What are the biggest challenges facing the AAPI community? What can employers do to hep their AAPI leaders excel professionally?

The AAPI community has been facing significant challenges that include discrimination, stereotyping, lack of representation in leadership positions, and the harmful model minority myth. The recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges. The numbers are alarming as nearly 11,000 hate crime incidents against Asians have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Shockingly, 74% of AAPI women have experienced racism or discrimination by strangers in the last year alone. This is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed at all levels of society.

As we mark the anniversary of the horrific shooting in Atlanta, it is a sobering reminder that the very fabric of our society is built on trust, acceptance, and how we treat each other. It is imperative that we prioritize creating a safe and supportive environment for everyone to promote growth and well-being of families, businesses, and society.

Employers have a crucial role to play in empowering their AAPI leaders to excel professionally.

Professional Growth:

  • Only one in four C-suite executives is a woman and only one in 50 is an AAPI woman. Even when high-performing AAPI women are less likely than other groups of women to receive positive feedback on our leadership abilities.
  • Leaders have to be proactive, starting with assigning mentors to new employees and providing leadership training and access to industry conferences and networking events. This will help develop their skills and provide them with opportunities for career advancement.
    • To address this issue, the Asian Chamber is planning to start a NextGen program for Asian professionals for all businesses and their employee resource groups. It will be a platform to provide the members with resources and opportunities to create a thriving ecosystem of successful AAPI businesses, including networking, mentorship, and education.
    • Excellent programs like Leadership Dallas and Leadership America will empower the individuals with the tools and skillset for the C-suite
  • Employers can encourage the formation of AAPI employee resource groups (ERGs) to provide a supportive network for AAPI employees. ERGs can help AAPI employees connect with each other, share experiences, and provide mentorship opportunities.

Bias and Cultural Awareness:

  • Provide Cultural Awareness Training: Employers should invest in providing cultural awareness training to their staff to increase their understanding of AAPI culture, history, and customs. This will help create a more inclusive work environment for AAPI employees.
  • Address Bias in the Workplace: Employers should work to eliminate bias in the workplace, including unconscious bias, microaggressions, and discrimination. They can provide training on identifying and addressing these issues, create policies and procedures to address bias and discrimination, and hold employees accountable for their actions.
  • Support AAPI Causes and Organizations: Employers can show their support for the AAPI community by donating to AAPI organizations and causes, participating in AAPI heritage month events, and highlighting AAPI leaders in their organization. This can help create a sense of community and support for AAPI employees.

Overall, employers can help their AAPI leaders excel professionally by creating an inclusive workplace culture, addressing discrimination and bias, providing professional development opportunities, addressing the model minority myth, and supporting AAPI causes and organizations.

Please share some Dallas Region-based AAPI-serving organizations you support. Why do you support them?

Dallas-Fort Worth has a rich and culturally vibrant Asian community. There are many fantastic organizations serving the community, including:

  • Asian Chamber of Texas is an umbrella organization representing more than 20+ South Asian countries serving since last four decades.
  • Japan America Society is a gateway to Japan, guiding individuals and businesses every step of the way with anything related to Japan.
  • US China Chamber of Commerce active and vibrant Chinese community in DFW.
  • Indian Classical Music Circle bringing the rich culture of Indian classical music to the community since last 40 years.
  • Dallas Filipino Lions Club dedicated community helping year-round with promoting businesses, health and vision care clinics, feeding the homeless and advocating and educating in all walks of life.

These organizations are essential resources for the AAPI community in the Dallas Region, and they provide valuable services to support and uplift the community. Supporting these organizations can help ensure that the AAPI community in the Dallas Region has access to the resources and support they need to thrive.

What would be the title of your autobiography? Why?

“Breaking Barriers: In the Land of Opportunity”

The title “Breaking Barriers” reflects the challenges and obstacles that you may have faced as an Asian, particularly if you had to navigate biases and stereotypes related to your race or gender. The subtitle highlights the transition and growth you have experienced in your career, and how you have been able to excel in your field despite potential challenges. Overall, this title celebrates your accomplishments and emphasizes the importance of persistence, resilience, and breaking down barriers in achieving success.