Asian Americans make up around 5% of the U.S. population. Yet the number of Asian Americans in leadership positions is very low—comprising just 2% percent of college presidents, less than 1% of board members, and only around 0.3% of corporate officers.
Stereotypically, Asians are considered hard-working and successful. So why are there so few Asian American leaders? Here are a few reasons that may contribute to this disparate representation.
Many Asian Americans are raised with traditional values and cultural expectations. These include traits such as humility, deference to authority, diligence, and sacrifice. And while these characteristics help build success, they run counter to the demands and expectations of leadership.
Leaders in the United States typically possess motivation, drive, and a strong sense of self-worth. They achieve leadership positions through self-promotion, networking, and risk-taking—actions that go against the grain of traditional Asian values.
The United States actively fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunity, but Asian Americans don’t typically benefit from the push for equality. Most Americans are conscious of minority perceptions for African Americans, Hispanics, and women—but since Asians are perceived as successful, little effort is made to address the race-related issues they face.
This perception of Asian Americans as more successful than other groups can lead to resentment among the majority. Additionally, cultural divides create a subtle bias that views Asian American men as softer and less able to handle leadership responsibilities, and Asian American women as submissive and docile.
Rapid advancements in technology and communication have made the world smaller and more connected. Countries must now compete on a global level—and the rising influence of Asian countries on world markets place Asian Americans in positions that are uniquely suited to lead the future.
naisA Global is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization dedicated to helping talented young Asian professionals unlock their potential and become great leaders.