Originally written and posted on prsany.org
5 Questions With Patrice Tanaka
Chief Joy Officer
Joyful Planet LLC
1. The last few years have helped normalize mental health in the workplace. As an influential and experienced communications leader, how do you foster mental well-being at work and with your team?
I’m a big believer in bringing your “whole self to work.” That’s what I’ve always done and encouraged others to do when I had my own PR agencies. If people can be who they really are and NOT just their “purely professional,” guarded self it will help ground and center them to better engage with others in a more compassionate, human way.
Of course, you can’t just legislate employees, bringing their whole self to work. You must create a welcoming “workplace community” with practices and policies that invite them to do this. It is why we created an open office at my first, employee-owned, PR agency, PT&Co., with a living room in the middle of the office, an eat-in kitchen and lunchroom, and a meditation room, which we encouraged employees to use in whatever way they wished, e.g., take a nap, a time out, pray, do yoga and yes, even meditate. There were no desks or computers in this room – only big floor pillows.
At PT&Co., we were also committed to making the transition from weekend to work week as stress-free as possible, so employees didn’t get that terrible feeling in the pit of their stomachs Sunday night. We offered flexible start- and end-work times, casual dress every day, telecommuting, and ability to take time off to tend to personal needs with the agreement that employees complete their work.
We also tried to support employees wherever possible, for example, we probably offered the PR industry’s “first” maternity benefits policy in 1991 with up to three months paid leave – one month for every year you worked at the agency. Later, when we could afford it, we offered six weeks “parental bonding leave” for mothers and fathers who didn’t need the six-week “medical leave” part of the benefit.
We also hired coaches to come in and work one-on-one with employees and teams and we created fun time to relax with colleagues during the workday. Every Wednesday at 5 p.m. we announced over the office PA system, “Margaritas are now being served on the Fiesta Deck.”
By working to address the needs of employees, we enjoyed one of the lowest, turnover rates in the industry at 10 percent. And PT&Co. was routinely ranked among the “best places to work” in the PR industry.
2. Amid a rise in anti-Asian racism combined with growing attention to social justice, how has your role and the communications profession changed in the last two years?
I grew up in Hawaii where Asians are in a majority, so I had the luxury of not having to think about my ethnicity. And even when I moved to New York City in my early twenties I still didn’t view myself primarily through the lens of being an Asian American or even a minority. I was, frankly, just single-mindedly focused on my PR career and starting/building three agencies.
Even when I proposed that the PR Museum organize its “first-ever” Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration in March 2020, it was more about “fairness” that AAPIs should be recognized along with other diverse communities that the Museum regularly celebrated during the year. George Floyd’s murder happened two days before that first AAPI HM celebration and immediately following our event, our 17 AAPI panelists participated in an #AAPIs stand with #BLM social media campaign.
Although I was aware of rising anti-Asian hate and violence it was not until the Atlanta Spa Shootings in March 2021 that I realized Asians and, Asian women, were being targeted and killed. It was a punch to the gut. I wrote about my first-hand experience of walking the mean streets of the Upper East Side in the aftermath of those murders and not feeling safe for the first time after having lived in New York City for more than 40 years. Worse yet, the people I engaged with on a frequent, sometimes daily basis, didn’t even acknowledge the horrific shootings. I was shocked and felt isolated in my grief.
The Atlanta Spa Shootings have made me much more vocal both “in-person” and “online” about anti-Asian hate and violence. Like many AAPIs, since then I’ve been relentlessly focused on making our community “more visible” so that hate and violence against us are more visible, too. I’m gratified to see many other AAPIs engaged in this effort, too.
I’ve always been a vocal advocate of diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism and was asked to serve as Co-Chair of the Diversity Action Alliance in March 2020, which is a PR industry-wide coalition comprised of 15 influential organizations committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in the PR profession. I see my role as an Asian American in diversity conversations to make sure discussions don’t get reduced to a focus only on Black, Brown, and White communities.
I am heartened by the heightened awareness and focus on the AAPI community by many organizations in all sectors. I believe that communications professionals have a huge role to play in helping their organizations stay focused for the long term on the important work of DEIA.
I’ve always viewed our role of communicators as being “community builders,” helping organizations not only create a marketplace for their goods and services but going beyond that to guide them in contributing to a healthy, sustainable, global community that will provide the most fertile environment to flourish and thrive.
Taking on the role of “community builder” for our organizations will further strengthen the role of communications as a vital business function.
3. As you look to 2022 and beyond, what are you most excited about at work and life?
I’m excited about the work I do through my consultancy, Joyful Planet LLC, to help individuals and organizations discover and actively “live” or “operationalize” their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, workplaces and communities. Joyful Planet is also my vision of 7.9 billion people, leveraging their talents, expertise and passion in service of other people and our planet.
I love working with groups of diverse students, young professionals, and women to provide them with the “competitive advantage” of clarity about their life and leadership purpose to focus and drive them to accomplish what matters most in their one very brief and precious life.
Here is an example of an inspiring and galvanizing DEI-focused, life purpose statement I helped someone at a PR agency craft: “My purpose in life is to build on the conversation of equity, inclusion and belonging to help create systemic change and the opportunity for everyone, especially diverse people. to achieve our biggest goals and dreams.” To have people inspired and galvanized by their own life purpose and then be able to actively live it is extremely gratifying to me.
I’m in the midst of a project right now, working with the Center for Asian American Women (CAPAW) and their signature Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI) Fellowship Program, to help these young women gain clarity about their life and leadership purpose. This is a full-circle moment for me as I was one of the 18 co-founders of APAWLI in 1995. We decided to start APAWLI because, at that time, the only nationally known Asian American woman leader anyone could point to was Connie Chung, the first Asian American female news anchor on the NBC “Today Show.” We decided then that we needed to seat more AAPI women at every leadership table and so we started APAWLI, which is now part of CAPAW.
I’m also serving as a director or trustee with three non-profits. Each of them is re-evaluating how they can deliver their missions more strongly by grounding it with a renewed focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, and accessibility.
May is an exciting and busy month with two Galas I’m Co-Chairing and/or on the Host Committee of, as well as participating in a number of AAPI Heritage Month events, including the PR Museum’s third annual AAPI Heritage Month Celebration 2022. At the end of May, I’m looking forward to finally, returning home to Hawaii for a visit. Yay!!!
4. Conversely, what is keeping you up at night?
The usual things – the ongoing pandemic/endemic, America’s reckoning with systemic racism, rising anti-Asian hate and violence, the country’s increasing polarization, Putin and his war on Ukraine, among other things.
For the most part, however, I stay focused on actively living my purpose every day – “To choose joy, to be mindful of joy, and to share joy with others.” When I focus on my present actions, the future takes care of itself. Living my purpose helps me to live in a more “inner-directed and driven way” rather than being vulnerable to/buffeted by external events.
5. From nightly rituals to decompressing after a stressful day – or even meeting- what do you do to unwind?
I work from home and when things get a bit stressful, I take a break, make myself a cup of tea, sit and just watch the Hudson with all manner of watercraft plying the river and above, the ever-changing sky. It calms me down. At night, I’ll usually find a great streaming series to binge watch. I’ve discovered so many great Danish, Swedish, French, German, Spanish and Italian series during the past two years of the pandemic. They’re more nuanced, grittier, and satisfying than a lot of American fare driven by our need for quick fixes, happy endings and things neatly wrapped up in hour-long episodes. If anyone has recommendations for a great new foreign series, I’m all ears.
About Patrice Tanaka
Patrice Tanaka is a best-selling author, public speaker on business and life purpose, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of three award-winning, PR & Marketing agencies and the consultancy, Joyful Planet, focused on helping individuals and organizations discover and actively “live” or “operationalize” their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, workplaces and communities. Life and organizational purpose are the subjects of her best-selling books, Beat the Curve and Performance360. Patrice has been honored by PRWeek (Hall of Fame), PRSA Foundation (Paladin Award), PRSA (Paul M. Lund Award for Public Service), New York Women in Communications (Matrix Award), Girl Scouts of Greater New York (“Women of Distinction” Award), Asian Women in Business (Entrepreneurial Leadership Award), University of Hawaii (“Distinguished Alumni Award), among others. Patrice has lived in New York City for most of her adult life but calls Hawaii “home” and is committed to living her life with the “Aloha Spirit.”