Perception of Asian Americans as a brand

Once in a blue moon, Asian Americans generate a bit of controversial buzz and tagged with the tiger metaphor, whether “tiger moms” (cf. Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back? excerpted from Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2011 and Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer? by Annie Murphy Paul in Time, January 20, 2011) or “paper tigers” (cf. Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends? by Wesley Yang in New York Magazine, May 8, 2011), with its share of critiques, including: Jeff Yang [no relation], Sanden TottenHana Lee, Guria King, Sylvie Kim, Nina Shen Rastogi, Susan Adams.

At the 20th Annual Conference of the Committee of 100 one panel caught my attention, Managing Asian Talent in Global Companies – Confucian Tigers. During that roundtable, it was (rightly) cited that:

Asians are 5% of the population.. yet less than 1/3 of 1% of executive positions.. less than 1% of board positions.. even though Asians are better educated and make more money than any other group in America..

And then the roundtable moderator cited a paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology about what do people perceive of Asian Americans, “the brand of Asian talent,” so to speak. Here’s the perception of some people about Asian Americans:

  • competent
  • consistent
  • conscientious
  • objective
  • well-informed
  • rational
  • self-controlled
  • socially introverted
  • passive
  • emotionally distant
  • reserved

The title of that peer-reviewed paper: Leadership Perceptions as a Function of Race-Occupation Fit: The Case of Asian Americans, was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology [Vol 95(5), Sep 2010, 902-919]. Co-authors are Lynn M. Shore of San Diego State University, Judy Strauss of CSU Long Beach, Ted H. Shore of CSU San Marcos, UCR graduate students Susanna Tram and Paul Whiteley, and Kristine Ikeda-Muromachi of CSU Long Beach. Here’s the methodology used:

The researchers sampled three groups of individuals — 131 business undergraduates from a large business school on the West Coast, and one group of 362 employees and another of 381 employees in the Los Angeles region — and asked them to evaluate an employee. In one experiment participants received identical information about the employee’s expertise as an engineer or salesperson, but some were told the employee was Asian American and others that he was Caucasian American. In a similar experiment, participants assessed the employee’s leadership attributes.

What’s my take? I’m reluctant to write a long essay here, as this blog post is already long. I’ll say this: yes, there are stereotypes and overgeneralization. Yes, there’s a ton of diversity under the “Asian American” group. Yes, there is systemic racism. Yes, there are misperceptions. Yes, there are Asian cultural values (and other cultures too) that impede some people from expanding their cross-cultural capacity to take on a bigger role in a multi-cultural society (or corporation or organization.)

I do think there is way too little airplay on Asian American issues and real life Asian American stories. So the problems persist. An occasional article or roundtable won’t do much to effect change.

One thing that must happen is for Asian Americans to learn the stories of more Asian Americans to represent Asian Americans. And more of those stories have to be told online and not just offline.


12 responses to “Perception of Asian Americans as a brand”

  1. Ed Choy Avatar

    DJ, great stuff, you’re stuff is thoroug! just a random thought, I wonder how the assimilation into “American culture” of first gen parents affects the final outcome of their children’s careers? We’ve talked about role models and mentors, prob a big factor and I would assume parents play a big part in that. Not trying to blame parents, but my observation is that the parents who “dive in” to the culture their kids are growing up seem to have kids who are much more assimilated and tend to hold higher level jobs easier. Just my two cents.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and congrats for being the first to comment.. yes, assimilating is a key factor, you’very made a good observation

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