As a social science researcher, I’m curious about people’s lived experiences, complex behaviors, and how leadership potential is determined by perception. I aim to shed light on what worked for Asian women in leadership and understand how they overcame the barriers, what they relied on, and what support they had throughout their career.
As a social science researcher, I’m curious about people’s lived experiences, complex behaviors, and how leadership potential is determined by perception. I aim to shed light on what worked for Asian women in leadership and understand how they overcame the barriers, what they relied on, and what support they had throughout their careers.
My corporate experience
I joined the corporate world decades ago with naïveté and enthusiasm. I viewed the world as open and full of new experiences. With this optimism, I believed that working hard in my job would help me climb each corporate ladder rung with ease and grace. Little did I know that the path to my first managerial role was more like climbing Mount Everest without proper gear. The process was slow, laborious, and not at all what I expected.
I also noticed throughout the early part of my career that women like me (Asian American or a woman of color) were often in administrative roles, and very few held managerial or leadership positions. I navigated many barriers, such as looking younger than my age and coworkers mistaking me for an intern. Because people perceived me as young and inexperienced, I needed to work twice as hard to prove my worth.
After many years and many opportunities to expand my career, I became curious about what it means to be a leader of Asian descent in corporate America. So when I decided to continue my education and specialize in the intersection of identity, leadership, and culture, I prioritized my need to understand the experiences of Asian women leaders in corporate America. But first, I needed to delve into the problem:
Why are there few Asian women in leadership roles?
Why are there few Asian women in leadership roles? What types of barriers exist? As one can imagine, there are many barriers — and not enough answers about overcoming the challenges.
In organizations, Asian women’s talents and skills are underleveraged, underdeveloped, and as a population, underrepresented, especially in the highest levels of corporate leadership. In a report published in 2023 by the Alliance for Board Diversity and Deloitte Consulting, among Fortune 100 companies, Asians represented approximately 5.2% of board-level seats, and Asian women held 1.9% of board-level seats. A 2021 study conducted by Leanin.org and McKinsey showed that Asian women experience a decline in promotion rates from entry-level to the senior manager level.
Another barrier is the idea of what a “leader” is supposed to “look like.” Research shows that the stereotypical image of a senior leader is often of a White man, and the path into corporate leadership seems narrowly focused on someone with characteristics such as “executive presence” or “assertiveness,” to name a few.
Research shows that women of color need more organizational support, such as mentorship and executive sponsorship, that help women gain visibility and access to stretch opportunities. Without the proper support mechanisms and an overhaul of the promotion processes in place, the modern workplace will continue to promote those who fit a stereotypical leader image rather than one that resembles an Asian woman.
Given just some just of the barriers I mentioned above, there is a population of Asian women who have navigated the complexity of corporate environments.
The research focus
As a researcher, I aim to shed light on what worked for Asian women in leadership and understand how they overcame the barriers, what they relied on, and what support they had throughout their careers. My research study (now published in a scientific journal with my co-author, Dr. Debra Kawahara) was to understand the experiences of Asian women in leadership and what helped them to achieve leadership roles in Fortune 100 and multibillion-dollar organizations. I gathered data from women of Asian descent who held leadership roles in multiple companies.
Numerous barriers prohibit people from historically underrepresented communities from contributing fully to the workplace. The findings undercover the many ways that Asian women transcended into leadership propositions in high-profile companies. They navigated the complexity of their organizations while maintaining and honoring the multifaceted aspects of their identities. The following results emerged from the participants’ well-articulated narratives.
First, the evolution of personal values into their leadership style. Second, knowing how to leverage the support and guidance from their community. Third, achieving meaningful results through strategic communication. Fourth, Effective contextual shifting.
Continue reading Finding 1: The Evolution of Personal Values Into Leadership Style
Disclosure: MyAsianVoice is committed to publishing original and third-party content that is relevant and useful to the Asian female. The content posted are strictly the views of the experts’ or contributors’ own and does not reflect the views of MyAsianVoice.
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