CORe Asian Amplification Series - Lee (Debbie) Chan

Updated: May 7, 2021

During this pandemic and over the last year there have been countless attacks directed towards the East and Southeast Asian communities around the world, especially those in the US.


Not long ago there was a horrific shooting in Atlanta which killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. This sickening attack brought the worlds attention and focus on the ongoing crisis of Asian hate crime happening everyday.


Standing in solidarity with our Asian brothers and sisters, we set out to amplify these voices and stories. Asian Amplification📢 is our industry series of Asian stories and journeys.


In our first feature we talk to Lee ( was Debbie) Chan, Policy Research Manager at Which?


Thank you for taking part in this! We are excited to hear and share your story with our CORe readers. Let’s get straight into it, how did you get into the industry and what do you do now?


Lee Chan

I first started out in the industry on a graduate trainee scheme for a well-known polling agency. I just fell into research; I really did not know what a career in research meant and just applied for the scheme when I realised it appealed to my skills and strengths.


Sadly, for my father, it wasn’t law or accountancy. Since then, I have worked in a number of varied organisations in research, insight or stakeholder engagement roles – including a strategic consultancy, local government and most recently, a large not-for-profit. Currently I am working as the Policy Research Manager at Which? and am also a trustee of the Social Research Association (SRA).



As this is the Asian Amplification series, could you share a little on your background and how your ethnicity has shaped/defined you both personally and at work?

Lee Chan's Parents

My parents came from rural Hong Kong, my dad in the late 50s and my mum in the early 60s. They settled in the North East of England and worked primarily in catering: Restaurants and Chinese takeaways. They are Hakka speakers which makes them a minority within a minority, and they left school at 15 or 16.


Like many immigrant parents of that generation, they emphasised getting good grades at school and the pressure to do well was very intense. It was a great burden to have one’s parents’ ambitions and hopes pinned on you, especially when they did not have the capacity to help at all. You are on your own. They also felt it was important that you kept your head down and just got on with things, apply yourself, not get distracted by friends or extra-curricular activities.


Lee Chan at school

This has had a profound effect on the way I approached work in the first part of my career – long hours, just ticking off the tasks and not questioning things, not speaking up, not seeking allies. I feel this is a common story among British Asians of my age – especially women. I have tried hard to change my approach to work, I definitely do not keep myself to myself anymore, I ask questions and challenge. But the work ethic is a tough one to crack, possibly because at the back of my mind, I feel I need to show I am working harder than anyone else.



It sounds like your parents were very hard working and that was something that heavily influenced you! Talking on recent events, there has been an outrageous rise in Asians hate crimes around the world. Can you tell us how these attacks against your community affect you?


It’s really upsetting and distracting. I am always looking over my shoulder, checking in with my dad whose 83 and wondering if my ethnicity is influencing how people react to me. A woman aggressively asked me to stand on the other side of a shop despite us both wearing masks, and it being a busy environment where social distancing was not possible. I have been shaken and angered by what has happened and I have experienced incidences myself. For instance, I was threatened and racially abused by a man with a powerful dog one morning.


But, let me clear – damaging stereotypes, discrimination and abuse of East Asians are nothing new, and anyone from those communities knows this to be true. The recent Racial Disparity Commission retold some well-trodden tropes about Indian and Chinese kids being model students coming from model communities.


This kind of stuff is damaging for many kids at school, and it carries on into the workplace with dire consequences for the affected employees too. I guess the issues faced by East Asians are more in the spotlight now as perpetrators feel they are legitimised and emboldened to act in terrible ways by the belief Chinese people brought Covid 19 to the world. It is far less subtle and can be far more shocking in its violence, so it has come to the attention of a wider audience.


It is deeply saddening to hear how you have been affected, nobody should be made to feel like that. For those reading and wanting to support their Asian colleagues and friends what would you suggest?


In terms of simple stuff – one to one chats are really great as being listened to has great healing power. The East Asian experience is often hidden and reading up on that might be helpful too.


I am more than halfway through a fictionalised biography by Sue Cheung called Chinglish and it is, so far (up to 1985), very similar to my life story. People may be shocked by what she casually describes her childhood to be, but it is very familiar to me and is a fair summation (with added humour) of what life was like growing up in the 70s and 80s in Northern England. More involved allyship is always welcome too.


Is there anything companies can do to help and support their Asian employees?


Lee Chan

Companies should make it a priority to build a culture that is supportive and compassionate – where leadership and managers don’t just simply show affinity to issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, but proactively ask staff how they are, listen to their worries, build their own knowledge of lived experience of marginalised staff and try to help them through making changes that make a difference to that lived experience.


The bed rock of this succeeding is trust and respect. Sometimes, companies go to great lengths to set up talks, forums, online channels and so on but participants are often reticent to participate fully. The trust and respect must be there – companies need to show that concern expressed by staff is taken seriously - not moderated or tone policed - and the support offered is authentic, high quality and given unconditionally.


Following on from this, fostering genuine allyship is very important. I am much more emotionally secure to know I have allies and people who will back me up when I want to raise an issue or make a change – I can sometimes feel socially isolated by discriminatory behaviour or practice. Companies cannot go far wrong encouraging their staff to look out for and lend their voices to others in need. At Which? we are currently celebrating 'Everyone Week’ and have scheduled a panel talk on allyship supported by a moderated group chat and articles in the intranet on allyship. That is a massive step in the right direction for me.


Thank you for all the advice, we are sure this has helped a lot of our readers. Lastly, is there a proverb, tradition or anything from your culture that positively influences you which you could share with us?

I don't have any proverb or tradition that is profound enough to share. I asked my dad but that - on second thoughts - feels inauthentic to pass off as my own original thought. But I would say is that seeing my parents and people in their community work so tirelessly has made me think seriously about self-care.


My mum died at a young age and I think, for what? The pandemic has added further impetus for me to consider what I need to do to keep myself healthy, fully present, and well balanced. Getting more sleep has been key, setting boundaries about weekend work and not seeing drink as a default treat. These things all help with balance and give you the added strength that is necessary to take on life's challenges.


If you would like to be involved in this series or know anyone who would please contact us at team@colourofresearch.org

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