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Asian Americans Are Not Satisfied

Vivia Chen

June 14, 2012

Asian© Jack Chan - Fotolia.comI don't mean to be ethnocentric. I know I just did two posts on Chinese female lawyers. But the Asia Society just came out with its 2012 corporate survey—and it's loaded with intriguing details.

Based on almost 2,000 responses from Asian Pacific Americans at Fortune 500 or similar companies, the survey examines the attitudes of APA professionals. Here are some of the findings:

APAs feel alienated. Although 83 percent say they "care about the future of their companies, only 49 percent feel they truly belong."

APAs with strong American identities tend to be less satisfied. "The longer APAs are in the U.S., the greater the decline in positive responses across vitually every workplace dimension. APAs who came here as children, and have more of an American identity, view their companies less favorably than those who came in the U.S. later in life."

APAs lack role models and mentors. Only 39 percent have a company mentor/sponsor, "or believe APAs are visible at the company's senior levels." And only 42 percent of APAs report that they have APA role models at work or mentoring programs designed for them.

What's fascinating is the satisfaction gap between Americanized Asians (those who are U.S.–born or came here at an early age) and Asians who immigrated here at a later point in their lives. One reason that Asians with strong American identities are dissatisfied, says the study, is they are much more attuned to cultural nuances and thus more cognizant of biases:

APAs with a strong American identity share the same job and career expectations
as their non–APA counterparts. This identity makes them more aware of the workplace
inequities they face. The result is overall erosion in the optimism and enthusiasm they had
at the start of their career.

Another reason, I think, is that Asian Americans don't think of themselves as "guests" in this country as their parents do. I know that was the case with my own parents who thought of themselves as primarily "Chinese."

The Asia Society study mirrors The American Lawyer's findings about the attitudes of midlevel Asian American associates. In the Am Law study, APAs ranked third in how they assessed their partnership chances (behind Hispanics and Caucasians, but ahead of African Americans); moreover, APAs were less likely to have mentors. In other words, like other Asian American professionals, APA lawyers feel that there are hidden biases that limit their ascent into the upper echelons.

In fact, APA lawyers might find more career frustration than their counterparts in numbers-based professions such as finance, says Jonathan Saw, a senior adviser on the Asia Society study. "Financial services are seen as more meritocratic because it depends on whether you hit your numbers," Saw explains. "But law is more subjective."

Oh dear, I hope that doesn't mean that APAs are better off counting beans.


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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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