Lynn Dang has a superpower – she is a refugee. At age four, her family spent nine months at the Pulau Bidong Malaysian UNHCR camp after the Vietnam war before receiving humanitarian visas to resettle in Australia. Today, she draws on this experience as a key source of strength and resilience.
“I think that the things you are passionate about and your deep purpose comes from your lived experiences. That drives the impetus for change,” says Dang, the human resources lead at Microsoft Singapore. In her role, she champions diversity and inclusivity through the company’s various policies. “All the skills I learnt growing up as a refugee child are the things that make me successful now in my professional life. I want to lead with empathy, create an inclusive world where everyone can belong, and make things that are invisible, visible,” she adds.
She has memories of running and playing in the mud at the camp with her sisters as their parents tried their best to keep a sense of playfulness and normalcy for them. In Australia, the family lived in public housing. Her parents took English lessons and relied on the help of local volunteers to learn how to navigate a new way of life. “The circumstances people are born into should never limit them,” she says with conviction.
Now, in her professional life, she contributes to building a more diverse team with a focus on inclusive hiring practices and encouraging individuals to embrace their authentic selves instead of “covering” to fit in. “If you don’t have the culture to allow people to be authentic, then you miss out on diversity,” she says.
Dang moved to Singapore last January with her husband and two children to assume her current leadership role at Microsoft Singapore, just before Covid-19 forced the world into an unprecedented lockdown. “It was interesting to play a part in leading the company through a pandemic where there is no crisis management playbook,” she reflects. “But my background as a refugee was helpful as living with ambiguity is something I am familiar with. It made me calm and we could ground down on the facts that we had. I think that is a huge part of the value I brought to the company.”
In July, she received the Microsoft Platinum Club Award, the company’s highest award globally, to recognise individuals who have gone above and beyond. An avid runner and foodie, she is determined to make the best of life in a pandemic. “Our family is grateful to have a home, clean water and the Internet so we can stay connected to family members. We feel safe in Singapore and have access to amazing food all year round,” says Dang, adding that chilli crab has become a family favourite. “I can zoom out and know that in a couple of years, this will all be behind us.”
Through it all, helping refugees remains close to her heart. She is an Australia for UNHCR board member where she focuses on spreading awareness about the plight of refugees and fundraising to help the growing numbers disempowered.
There are currently about 82 million displaced people globally, an unprecedented number in the history of humankind. While this can seem overwhelming, her mantra is that “every action counts”. The first step is awareness. She urges everyone to learn more about the refugee crisis.
“Refugees are just ordinary people in unfortunate circumstances due to war, persecution and, increasingly, climate change. They are facing incredibly tough situations that nobody should have to and despite the odds, they are still fighting for their agency. To me, that is incredibly inspiring.”