May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the US. This month serves as a reminder to celebrate the contributions, diverse cultures, and accomplishments of the AAPI community within the United States. It is also a great time to shed light on the persisting challenges faced by individuals from the AAPI community in the workplace. People from AAPI backgrounds encounter discrimination and bias which perpetuates systemic barriers that hinder professional growth and overall well-being.
The AAPI Community and Workplace Challenges:
While the AAPI community represents a significant and diverse portion of the American workforce, AAPI individuals encounter distinctive hurdles within their professional lives.
- The Bamboo Ceiling: AAPI people often confront the “bamboo ceiling”, a combination of individual, cultural, and organizational factors that impede Asian Americans’ career progress inside the workplace. Despite their similar qualifications and educational achievements, AAPI individuals face higher barriers and stereotypes that impede their ability to achieve higher wages and positions.
- The Model Minority Myth: The myth of the model minority is based on harmful stereotypes. It perpetuates the stereotype that AAPI children are geniuses or naturally gifted in concepts like math, science, and music. This myth overlooks the disparities and diverse experiences within the AAPI community and downplays the unique challenges they face in every aspect of their lives and creates barriers around the types of roles AAPI people can fill in the workplace.
- Anti-Asian Bias and Discrimination: Over the last few years, the AAPI community has faced increased anti-Asian bias, discrimination, and violence, particularly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many instances of racially motivated violence and hate crimes have had a profound impact on the AAPI community making it abundantly clear that Anti-Asian hate is an issue everyone should bring attention to.
Employers Should Be Aware of These Facts:
Regardless of the number of AAPI employees within your organization, being aware of potential biases and barriers AAPI individuals face in the workplace is crucial for all employers to understand.
- AAPI Leadership Representation Gap: Despite comprising a significant portion of the population and the workplace within the US, AAPI individuals are underrepresented in executive and managerial positions.
- Wage Disparities: In particular, AAPI women experience a large wage gap, earning less than their white male and female counterparts. On average, AAPI women make 80 cents for every white, non-Hispanic man in the US.
- Rise in Discrimination Cases: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported an upward trend in workplace discrimination and complaints filed by AAPI employees.
- Mental Health Impacts: The cumulative lack of representation or opportunities for leadership roles, high wage disparities, and a rise in anti-Asian discrimination in the workplace affects the mental and overall well-being of AAPI individuals, affecting their job satisfaction and productivity.
- Immigrant Exploitation: Employers could be exploiting immigrant workers unintentionally mistaking their willingness to say yes to work demands as an eager work ethic. This is especially true for first-generation immigrants, who often feel the need to prove themselves in a new country. AAPI individuals also often work extra hours or hold multiple jobs to support people back in their home countries. Additionally, AAPI individuals may lose vacation time by using multiple days for travel to visit family, and some companies put a limit on the amount of consecutive time off, making it difficult for AAPI individuals to spend meaningful time with their loved ones.
A way to celebrate and honor AAPI Heritage Month is to spend time asking ourselves how we can support AAPI people throughout the year. As an individual, this can come in the form of understanding how our own biases manifest in everyday life. As an employer, this can look like assessing the roles and responsibilities AAPI employees carry and working to ensure biases and stereotypes do not hinder their mobility and growth.
Reflection Questions for individuals:
- When was the first time I encountered a stereotype about AAPI individuals or communities? Did it affect the way I understood AAPI people?
- Have I reflected on my own unconscious biases or microaggressions that may inadvertently marginalize or discriminate against AAPI individuals, and how can I work to address and rectify them?
- Are there ways I can combat anti-Asian bias and discrimination in the workplace and beyond?
Reflection Questions for Employers:
- Have we assessed our organization’s leadership representation and identified any disparities or gaps regarding AAPI individuals in top positions? How can we actively work to improve representation and provide equal opportunities for career advancement?
- Are our policies and procedures in place to address and prevent workplace discrimination, harassment, and bias, including those targeting AAPI individuals?
- Have we provided resources and support systems to address the mental health and well-being of our AAPI employees, considering the impact of discrimination and bias on their job satisfaction and overall performance?