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How does the media portrayal of Asians affect you in the work place?


How does the media portrayal of Asians affect you in the work place?



Dear Anonymous

There’s a lot of recent media reporting about Asian-Americans being subjected to harassment and outright hate.  Historically, there’s been very little media portrayal of Asians.  And what little there were, they were usually highly stereotyped images.  Today, negative portrayals continue, but to be fair, there are also increasing amount of fair and even sympathetic portrayals as well.  Just to be visible as part of the American landscape is progress.

People react differently to these portrayals.  Some choose to only believe the negative and discount the positive.  Some choose to only look at the “positives”, but that too could be a problem for those Asian that do not fit that image.  We clearly have a challenge to be viewed neutrally just as individuals.

In general, Asians probably still have a hurdle to overcome in the workplace.  The typical stereotype of the Asian is the “nerdy foreigner”.  We “know” nerdy people are school smart and have no social skills.  Look at the characters in “The Big Bang Theory”.  We all have a good laugh at their awkwardness.  There are no way nerds can lead.  Since Asians look foreign too, they also can’t be fully trusted.  What mysterious throughs go through their minds?  On top of this, Asian women might be stereotyped as meek and submissive.  If you’ve never met an Asian, there’s no reason not to believe it, right?  You have to overcome overt or more much more likely institutional or unintentional/subliminal racism.  Workplace racism is illegal so you may have the law on your side, though in real life, outright racism is uncommon (or disguised) and most instances may be very hard to prove.

I have worked in a US government agency and at international businesses.  I have experienced probably more subtle forms of racism over my career.  I was also aware of the need to market myself and be visible to management.  I tended not to shoot from the hip, and would voice my views and opinions only after careful and analytical consideration.  This personal preference fit some of the Asian stereotype and might have been construed as timidity or social awkwardness.  I was well aware of the stereotype trap and worked to overcome them.  With work experience, I formed strong cogent opinions about our business and how the world and organizations worked.  I had coaching on what language to use to sound more assertive.  This gave me the framework for spontaneous (but coherent) opinions and assertiveness in group interactions.  I was very fortunate to have had a number of excellent and supportive managers.  Bottomline though was that it was still up to me to take the initiative and work it.  Remember, the only person really responsible for your career is you.  I enjoyed a solid career with mostly interesting and rewarding positions and ending up being a senior manager of a major international operation.

I believe that organizational culture is crucial.  The impact of culture is obvious.  If the boss is a closed minded racist, then no amount of positive media portrayal is going to improve the workplace.

I suspect that the geographic breath of your business matters too. If your company is an internationally oriented company, then it will have to cater to its diverse workforce, customers and business partners.  It will, by necessity, be more aware of and tuned to different cultural and business norms.  It will probably be more responsive to public opinion and media portrayals.  An Asian-American might get better recognition in such an organization if the company has Asian business connections.  The danger is that as an Asian American, you might be linked only to Asia and be excluded from non-Asian businesses.