Navigating the workplace as an Asian American

UConn’s student chapter of Ascend, hosted a virtual panel about the difficulties Asian Americans face in the workforce. Screenshot by author.

UConn’s student chapter of Ascend, the largest non-profit Pan-Asian organization for business professionals in North America, hosted a panel about Asian Americans in the workforce. The panelists, many of whom were UConn alumni, represented companies such as Google, Facebook, and WarnerMedia and were invited to share their experiences with students and offer advice about the intersection of cultural and professional identities in the workplace. 

“A lot of my leadership are completely white,” Tina Tran, an ad innovation and programmatic solutions manager for WarnerMedia, said. “So, I think it has really driven me, as I go through my career, to reach upper levels of leadership, not just for myself, but realizing that there are so few representation and so few voices being heard.”  

Other panelists echoed Tran’s thoughts and shared how certain fields are less representative of Asian and Asian American employees. The Harvard Business Review co-authored a report for the Ascend Foundation in 2017 that studied the racial makeup of the Silicon Valley workforce. Even though Asian Americans were most likely to be hired into high-tech jobs, the study found that this was the least likely racial group to be promoted to Silicon Valley management and executive-level jobs.  

This discrimination, coupled with the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, has created many challenges for Asian Americans. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent in 2020. Tina Tran said that she is pushing for her leadership team to acknowledge the lack of representation in her field and take direct action to better the experiences for Asian Americans in the company.  

“With everything happening with the Asian hate crimes, I find myself, more and more, being the only person in the room to push for these conversations and to push for myself in the way that I want these issues to be expressed about in our space,” Tina Tran said.  

UConn’s student chapter of Ascend, hosted a virtual panel about the difficulties Asian Americans face in the workforce. Screenshot by author.

As one of the only Asian Americans on her team of more than 50 employees, this can become tiresome and other panelists agreed that being a minority often puts you in the spotlight during work events, especially diversity trainings.  

“There is, sometimes, an added pressure to speak up for yourself or there are folks looking to you to see what your opinion is going to be and that can be daunting, especially if you are new to an environment and if you are the minority, racially, there,” Vu Tran, an auditor for the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said. 

Vu Tran said diversity trainings can become tough situations for Asian Americans and other minority groups. Although they are aimed at fostering important conversations regarding race and ethnicity and its intersection with the work environment, they can also create unrealistic expectations for them to speak about their own experiences on behalf of the entire racial category. 

Despite the challenges that Asian people and Asian Americans face in the workplace, the panelists highlighted many advantages as well. 

“Being an Asian or an Asian American really does add a unique and valuable perspective to the workspace,” Ikki Tanaka, a senior associate for HSL Global, said. 

Tanaka said that most of the jobs he has held were for Asian or Asian American companies and they valued input from people who had both an Asian and an American business perspective. According to Kangxiao Li, a senior strategist for Google, if you work for a global company, having an Asian background can provide you with a lot of valuable insight into how the Asian market operates.  

The event concluded by providing attendees the opportunity to join breakout rooms to have more industry-specific conversations. If you are interested in attending similar events in the future and connecting with other Pan-Asian leaders across various industries, visit Ascend UConn’s website or follow them on Instagram. 

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