This alienation is felt in the work place as well, with just 49 percent of APA employees in our survey saying that they feel a sense of belonging at their companies. The perception that these employees are “great workers, but not leaders,” or that they have “problems communicating or showing assertiveness,” is pervasive.
In many ways, Asian Americans are caught in a no-win situation. When their behavior aligns with preconceptions (shy and non-assertive), this is used to justify not promoting them or engaging them on important projects. On the other hand, when Asian Americans exhibit leadership behavior similar to those of others, they are perceived as overly aggressive. As Asian Americans become a majority native-born community in the next few decades, challenging these perceptions will become increasingly important.
The model minority myth perpetuated by the Pew research is misleading. At its core, it contains a highly objectionable assumption that other minorities do not work hard enough to succeed. In addition, as others have eloquently argued, the topline numbers and statistics hide wide variance within the Asian American community itself.
Finally, insistence on holding up Asian Americans’ “success” often serves as an excuse to overlook the very real challenges that they face.
If corporate America and the US more generally are to realize the full potential of all US citizens, we can no longer use Asian Americans to cling to the idea that it is an unalloyed meritocracy. If anything, their experience points to the need for profound change in the US workplace and corporate culture.
Vishakha Desai is president and CEO of the Asia Society.
Copyright: Project Syndicate