Skip to main content
A forum for students and alumni of the Asian American UVA Community
Asian Culture

How do you avoid getting “pigeon-holed” as an Asian American?

How do you avoid getting “pigeon-holed” as an Asian American? (e.g. due to your “cultural background”)  – Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Asian Americans are commonly stereotyped as geeky, good in science/math, quiet and pliant.  Consequently, Asian Americans might be “pigeon-holed” to low level technical staff jobs with little chance of advancing into management.  Assuming that a low level technical staff job is not your aspiration, how can you prevent this possible outcome?

To avoid getting “pigeon-holed”, you must take proactive control of your career.  You want to get yourself noticed for your capabilities and personality rather than the stereotype.  The difficult first step is to figure out your end-of-career target.  Ideally, you want to identify the position you “ultimately” want and the “step positions” needed to get there.  If you cannot identify the “ultimate” job then at the minimum, you want to identify the types of experiences you want and what you like and don’t like.  If you can clearly see where you want to go and where you don’t want to go, you will be able to push back against your supervisor if you are being pigeon holed.  

To help you identify your career preference, take an honest look at yourself on your strengths and weaknesses.  Look around within and without the company on what’s available and discover what you like and dislike.  Make a habit of networking with your friends and associates.  Find out what they do, what they like and why.  Decide what you can do well and what you can’t and match them against your ambition.  Are they consistent?  This effort is hard work but absolutely must be done.  If you don’t do this self examination, you might find yourself drifting into the pigeon holes.

You must be the primary advocate for your career and actively manage it.  Share your plan with your supervisor.  Assuming you do your job well and can handle a stretch, don’t be afraid to request different assignments and challenges.   This is not a time to be shy.  If despite your best efforts, you find yourself drifting into a stereotypical pigeon hole, then maybe it is time to leave for another company,

For my career I wanted to get into supply/logistics and trading management.  Over time I discovered what job functional area I liked and didn’t like.  This knowledge allowed me to advocate for certain target positions.  With a personal career framework in place, I evaluated the jobs that were offered to me during the course of my career, some of which I declined.  To be sure, most people have careers they couldn’t have predicted when they started.  I certainly didn’t and that was part of the adventure.