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A seat at the table: Kiran Ahuja’s journey of championing the underdog

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The Asian American Alliance, Inc. serves as a critical nexus between corporate, civic and governmental entities and the Asian American community in Central Indiana. Through a recent event, “A Seat at the Table,” it hosted a powerful conversation with Kiran Ahuja, the first South Asian and first Asian American woman serving as the director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management. During the event, Director Ahuja shared her personal journey and career experiences with a diverse room of Indy leaders.

Ahuja’s story begins in Georgia, in the wake of the civil rights era, where she navigated the dynamics between Black and white communities. The experience of desegregation efforts in her school district coupled with the lack of an Indian American community and her journey of finding herself undoubtedly shaped her worldview.Ahuja found solace and inspiration at Spelman College, immersing herself in Black history and culture, and identifying as a person of color before her Indian heritage. Influential Black women became her role models—illustrating how to pave a path toward leadership in ways that continually advocate for the underdogs.

Ahuja’s engagement with the Asian American community took a significant turn when she led the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Obama Administration. During that time, she dedicated herself to ensuring the community had a voice at the highest levels of government—and one of her most cherished successes is supporting a pathway for Native Hawaiians to establish a sovereign nation and a formal relationship with the U.S. government.

As Director Ahuja reflected on her trajectory, she provided inspiring reflections to the audience—a room of diverse professionals representing industries across the entire Indy region. Director Ahuja shared that early on in her career, she began asking herself, “How do I address inequities and challenges, support disadvantaged communities, create an equal playing field and ensure everyone has a piece of the pie?” That steadfast mission continues to serve as her guiding light today.

However, as experienced and established as Director Ahuja is, she very passionately cares about people—from the first minute of the event until 30 minutes after it was set to conclude, she had individual conversations with each attendee in the room. She leaned into asking about attendees’ careers and their passions, and she very proudly encouraged individuals to connect with various members of her team. This only further illustrated her remarks about the federal government’s workforce—the 2.2 million people working across the country.

“When I entered this role, I was very concerned because the former administration tried to dissolve the agency. I knew that this agency was filled with incredible and talented people, my former colleagues, and it deeply concerned me that this agency would lose its standing and important role of ensuring a nonpartisan civil service. Furthermore, when I entered this role, there was waning trust in government. I was driven to ensure that across the country, those 2.2 million people were being honored for their dedication to the American public and hired on merit and expertise, not political favor.”

While communities like Indianapolis are creatively addressing challenges in the workforce landscape, Director Ahuja provided a much-needed voice of perspective and innovation.

“I recognize that we’re in the midst of a worker revolution, and we need to be thinking about that,” she shared. “The federal government has the potential to be a model employer that provides a pathway for middle-class families and communities of color to access good benefits, job stability and creating a more innovative and inclusive workforce ecosystem. 85% of federal jobs are located outside of Washington D.C., and in Indiana alone, there are currently 700 open positions. There also happen to be 500 remote positions and 1000 positions that are location-negotiable.”

Director Ahuja’s story served as a testament to the power of resilience, advocacy and a commitment to justice. She is a beacon of inspiration for aspiring leaders, urging them to follow their spirit, advocate for the underdog and embrace the realm of endless possibilities.

“A Seat at the Table” is one way that the Asian American Alliance, Inc. is working to increase awareness of Asian culture and build the leadership skills of Asian Americans in Central Indiana. Explore youth leadership opportunities, programming and more on their website. Asian American Alliance Inc. will celebrate its 25th Anniversary next year. Reach out to Rupal Thanawala, AAAI board president, for more information.  

“A Seat at the Table” is presented by OneAmerica and is just one way that OneAmerica is working to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in Central Indiana. Learn more about OneAmerica’s commitment to DEI on their website.

To learn more about employment opportunities with the Federal Government, please visit USAjobs.gov.

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