BY MARGARET M. CHIN

Interviews with more than 100 Asian Americans for my 2020 book STUCK: Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the top of the Corporate Ladder highlighted a key workplace experience for many of the U.S.-born or raised Asian American salaried workers with whom I spoke. They had no problem getting entry-level jobs but had a difficult time moving up past the mid-career level, especially into the C-suites. In my book, I cite research showing that while Asian Americans constitute 12% of professionals, their representation in Wall Street executives is less than 5%. And that although they are the largest minority group in leading law firms, they have the lowest partner-to-associate ratio compared to any other ethnic or racial group. I trace these patterns to stereotypes that prevent Asian Americans from being promoted to the highest levels and to a lack of robust affirmative action programs in the corporate world. 

New data from the 2023 Momentive/AAPI Data Diversity in American Life survey align with many of the themes in my book. Moreover, the survey reveals nuances between men and women and among the various Asian American ethnic groups. Although the types of structural discrimination faced by Black and Asian American groups differ, the data also show some important commonalities between Black and Asian American groups when it comes to views about leadership and workplace resources.

In the survey, conducted from February 21 through 28, 2023, only 26% of Asian Americans strongly agreed with the statement “There are others like me in leadership positions at my workplace.”  This reflects the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in leadership versus their proportion in the general workforce. Asian American women were even less likely to see themselves at the top than Asian American men. Only 21% of Asian American women versus 31% of Asian American men strongly agreed with the statement. Asian American women face intersectional discrimination with prejudices born of being a woman and Asian American. Stereotypes associated with Asian American women paint them as demure, acquiescent, and sometimes sexualized too – none of which are perceived as leadership traits – hampering Asian American women’s trajectory up the career ladder.

A significant proportion of Asian American respondents also said they lack support in the workplace. Only 26% of Asian Americans strongly agreed with the statement “I have support to take on leadership opportunities at work.” When the answers were broken out by regional groups, 37% of South Asians versus 27% of Southeast Asians and 21% of East Asians strongly agreed. This data reflects varying English language abilities, availability of networks, mentors, and sponsors and of course different needs across the Asian regional groups. One also observes that compared with younger Asian Americans, older Asian Americans are less likely to strongly agree. The same is true for Asian American women versus men.  

A unique strength of the survey is the ability to observe workplace experiences across racial groups (data were collected from Black, Asian American, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander respondents). Black and Asian American respondents were more like each other than to Whites and Latinos in their answers to three important questions. First, 31% of those identifying as “Black or African American” and 30% of those identifying as “Asian or Asian American” answered “yes” to “At your workplace have others ever made assumptions about the type of work you do based on your race or ethnicity?” In comparison, only 10% of those identifying as White said “yes” and 22% of those identifying as “Latino or Hispanics” said “yes.” While Black salaried workers and Asian American salaried workers, are not stereotyped similarly, both groups are discriminated against, seen as one dimensional, seen as only talented in specific industries and thus viewed as only deserving of jobs in certain types of work. 

The percentage of Black and Asian American respondents who answered “yes” to, “At your workplace, have you ever felt excluded from discussions about diversity and inclusion?” was 24% and 20% respectively. To compare, 17% of White and 18% of Hispanic or Latinos answered “yes.” This is consistent with a study that found that Black people in the workplace did not feel belonging nor trust. My own research suggests that the model minority myth and perpetual foreigner image led to similar feelings among Asian Americans, and moreover, they were often left out of affirmative action, DEI and pipeline programs. Both group’s talents are often seen as threats, and thus both have a difficult time in becoming trusted insiders.

Finally, a higher percentage of Black and Asian American respondents answered “yes” (13% and 16%, respectively) to “At your workplace, are you part of any employee-led groups based on your racial or ethnic background?” versus 6% and 10% for those identifying as White and Latino, respectively. These two last points highlight how Black and Asian American respondents have established spaces for connecting, building community, and professional growth, and I would suggest perhaps for organizing. Employee resource groups may be a critical source of support and may also be an area where more support could be provided to Latino workers.

These similarities highlight the need to build racial solidarity in order to address issues of discrimination in the workplace.

 

Methodology: This Momentive poll was conducted online February 21-28, 2023 among a total sample of 19,686 adults ages 18 and over, including 2,363 Asian or Asian Americans and 239 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders living in the United States. Respondents for these surveys were selected from more than two million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day.  Momentive used a third-party panel provider to obtain additional samples with quotas for Asian or Asian American and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander respondents. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is plus or minus 1.0 and for the following subgroups: +/- 3.0 percentage points for Asian or American American, and +/- 6.0 for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, citizenship status, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over. Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.


Margaret M. Chin is a Professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center and author of STUCK, Sewing Women, and co-author (with Syed Ali) of the forthcoming The Peer Effect: How Your Peers Shape Who You Are and Who You Will Become