This is a topic that I am asked to address more often than any other. Let me go off on a brief Dennis Miller like rant before I share some thoughts.
Being Asian Pacific American (APA) has many challenges. Statistically we are still considered the "other" race. Despite the fact that there more APAs in LA County and now in California than African Americans, the research, the polls, the evidence of public information rarely includes APAs. Add the persistent and pernicious model minority myth (mmm), that promotes all APAs as college bound/college educated, financially well off and without problems, giving the general public a warped and/or uninformed view of our community. The diversity of the pan-Asian community in the US defies any generalization. This mmm undermines the response to the growing needs and suffering that new immigrant and low-income APAs face.
Why is this relevant here and to me? Because it has impacted my ability to mentor and network. It has altered how I have been received and what influence I have been able to exercise. Mind you, I am not complaining. I have no reason to. However, I know that experiences that happen to me everyday remind me how other APAs are impacted in their quest to advance their lives and careers. Believe it or not, I still get the, "where are you from?" or "you speak without an accent" comments. Or worse, the look of indifference, until they find out my title.
Many compliments I have received about my leadership, speaking ability, and career accomplishments have been relative to other APAs. "John is one of the most articulate Asians I have met." "John is one of the leading Asians in his field." Hard to be recognized for one's achievements outside of our appearance. Really is. Whether Latino or female, we can see success in narrow demographic worlds. And there will be those that say, that ever since we started using hyphenated American terms, instead of just Americans, we established this separateness. A little truth to this, but the root causes of hurtful discrimination and prejudice would be present regardless.
For the last few years, APAs constitute the largest non-white population of college graduates from 4 year institutions. More APAs than African Americans and Latinos, a little discussed fact (that may contribute to the mmm), but a game changing reality. What does this mean? You will continue to see disproportionately more APAs in the workplace, in leadership positions, eventually in the corner offices, on corporate boards, in public offices and maybe even on TV. APAs will be a force to reckon with. Everyone will need to mentor, network with, and serve more APAs over time. Networking with APAs is becoming a skill de riguer.
Tensions have been emerging over the last decade at Fortune 500 employers who put a premium on college grads from good schools and therefore have been hiring more APAs. Friction between the APA employees and their managers is caused by not promoting the "most qualified" because of stereotyping and ethnocentrism. Managers are conflicted and APAs are frustrated. Managers do not understand the cultural nuances and APA employees have not fully adapted to their work environments.The most enlightened companies have openly addressed these trends. IBM, Pepsi, Price Waterhouse, Kraft…. have invested in processes to train both sides of the equation. Better prepare APAs and simultaneously educate the managers. They know their companies win in the end.
I have been asked by some of these companies and others, through LEAP, to address this topic, usually focused on "Networking for Asians". The premise is Asians need to network more like Americans. Clearly a faulty objective. I have found all employees and managers need help mentoring and networking without regard to their ethnicity and backgrounds.
A number of times I have done this workshop, Networking for Asians, I have had a majority of non-Asians attend! They thought the workshop was focused on how to network WITH Asians. There is a pent up demand by non-Asians to make their professional relationships with APAs more productive and effective.
I was recently presented with a copy of this book by Yang Liu, a young Chinese girl who lives in Germany. She developed this powerpoint show a few years ago on the differences between the perspectives of east and west. Liu observed first hand these differences in her bi-cultural immersion in Berlin? These slides definitely relate to networking and relationships that you may find amusing and educational:
The tools of mentoring and networking are universal and cross-cultural. Sure there are some cultural differences and there needs to be much greater sensitivity on both sides. This is life. This is adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Always seeking commonalities. Being open to meeting and helping others. Even if they are different, even if they are APAs. Chances are they will be.
Thanks for reading. John