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Asians Are Subject to Employment Discrimination Too


Although when we think of discrimination in the workplace, we tend to focus on groups such as African-Americans and Latinos, discrimination against Asians is present as well, though it generally is more subtle.

A novel published late last year called "The Partner Track", by Amy Wan, describes the efforts of Ingrid Yung, a young Asian-American woman (known as a "two-fer", a minority and a female) to achieve partnership in a prestigious Washington law firm. Having toiled in the transactional trenches for eight years, structuring complex deals for major corporations, she is on the brink of becoming the firm's first minority, female partner. At the firm's summer outing, three white, male lawyers perform a rap parody, replete with the N-word, while wearing fake gold teeth and cornrows. After video footage of this performance goes viral online, creating a PR disaster, the firm conscripts Ingrid for damage control, due to her twofer status. The dual stresses of running a demanding deal and playing the model minority thrust Ingrid into a maelstrom of race, class and sexual politics. Throw in a messy workplace romance with a fellow senior associate and her partnership bid is in trouble.

In a recent Washington Post article (, Amy Wan was quoted as stating that in the annals of American employment discrimination, "quiet" and "hardworking" may not seem like the worst way to be characterized, but such seemingly benign stereotypes, much like the term "model minority," mask a less benign truth backed by reams of research: members of the country's most highly educated racial group are among the least likely to make it to the top in corporate America.

Asian Americans fare as poorly as other minority groups when it comes to the top jobs at the nation's 500 largest companies. Only eight of those companies are led by Asian Americans, and only 2.6 percent of the seats on the corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies are held by Asian Americans, according to research by Diversity­ Inc. and the think tank Catalyst. One in five Asian Americans surveyed by Pew said "they have personally been treated unfairly in the past year because they are Asian," and one in 10 have been called an offensive name.

According to Lei Lai, an assistant professor at Tulane University, Asian Americans have the lowest probability to be promoted to managerial positions among all racial minorities; they have a lower ratio of managers to professionals, compared with whites; they deal with perceptions that they lack social skills; and some face discrimination because of accents.

Wan states that "subconsciously, there is still a perception that the Asian American in the room is really smart, is a really hard worker and sometimes even is a good people person but - this is a big 'but' - is probably a better sort of technical or behind-the-scenes thinker and not a leader."

The "bamboo ceiling", as it is called, is something that is present in corporate American, and we all need to be sensitive to unconscious racial stereotypes that affect the workplace.

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