The Often Unacknowledged Bias Against Asian Americans

I am pleased to share my latest post for the SHRM blog:

May is celebrated as the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month: At times, this celebration seems to get much less attention than months dedicated to other groups of the diverse fabric of workplaces.

Perhaps, this is because, as a group, Asian Americans have been largely successful. For example, while less than 30% of the general population has a bachelor’s degree, approximately 50% of Asian Americans do.

However, because a group, broadly defined, has been successful does not mean that we should ignore bias that may exist against individuals in that group. Indeed, focusing on the success of the “group” may result in ignoring bias against the individuals.

So, while this month we celebrate the achievements of Asian Americans, we need to focus on the bias against them, too. If we don’t eradicate the bias, then individuals will not be as successful as they can be. Here are my top 7:

  1. Not all bias is unconscious. Sometimes the bias is quite conscious. It is sometimes framed as “lack of trust.”
  2. Sometimes the bias is based on stereotypes. The stereotype is that Asians are strong in math and science. This may result in their being discriminated against when it comes to jobs that involve strong interpersonal skills, such as human resources.
  3. At times, the bias is unconscious. While we should not generalize in the name of sensitizing, respect is shown in many Asian cultures different from North American norms. Lack of eye contact, which may be intended as respect, may be seen as dissembling. Saying “no” indirectly may be seen as lacking certitude as opposed to promoting face saving.
  4. Because there may be cultural differences, some employees may be less comfortable with employees of Asian heritage. The “not-like-me bias” may result in exclusion of Asian Americans from social and other opportunities to access decision makers that may affect advancement and other opportunities.
  5. Because Asian Americans are often referred to as the “model minority,” more may be expected of them. When they may fall short of our inflated expectations, they may be seen as failing, even when they actually are meeting “standard” expectations. There is no such thing as a positive stereotype.
  6. Or, because of the “model minority myth,” Asian Americans may not get the help they need. If a group is “so successful,” then why do we need to spend time addressing the real bias that keeps individuals within that group from being successful or even more successful?
  7. And, harassment still exists, such as jokes about the shape of Asian employees’ eyes or mimicking the accent of an employee of Asian ancestry. Just plain ugly.

These are but 7 examples of issues to which we need to keep our eyes and ears open and respond appropriately if we see, learn or become aware of them. As leaders, to see and ignore is to condone. There is no such thing as a passive bystander when it comes to discrimination or harassment if you are a leader.

Now, let us celebrate the many achievements of Asian Americans: Check out the many websites referenced. The contribution is real.

But may we never forget the abject horror of the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II: Never again!