To Increase Diversity In The Workplace, Asian-Americans Must First Have Conversations At Home

Diversity is being prioritized all around the country. Major companies like Google, for example, are making engagement and outreach efforts to make their staffs more diverse, while publications like The Huffington Post are carving out designated sections for stories by marginalized people. These efforts have been a long time coming; as Viola Davis pointed out at the 2016 Oscars, diversity and inclusivity should not be treated as a trend, but as an ongoing commitment by higher-ups all around the country.

While it’s important to clarify that diversity is certainly not a trend, it’s just as important to understand exactly why companies are lacking in diversity in the first place. It’s  pretty common knowledge that people of color in the workplace face struggles in attaining senior leadership positions. But aside from mobility issues, are minority groups like Asian Americans even making their way into majority-white occupational fields? And if not, why?

Bloomberg’s opinion columnist Justin Fox compiled some data taken from a 2017 study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He labelled these bar graphs “Jobs White People Do” and “Jobs Asian People Do” to emphasize what I call “the creative gap:” the fact that white people make up most creative fields, while Asian Americans do not.

According to the graphs, creative professions like writing, advertising and producing/directing have some of the highest percentage of white workers. On the other hand, Asian workers make up professions like medicine, computer programmers and scientists.

Let’s unpack the hurdles on the way to more diversity.

To understand the “creative gap,” we must first understand the culture.

In his piece, Fox is at a loss for why Asian Americans aren’t editors, producers or lawyers. He writes:

“As for the racial and ethnic occupational differences in general, I have no sweeping explanations to offer. Obviously discrimination has played a big role, but beyond that it’s a hard-to-sort-out mix of history, culture, geography, education and surely a few other things.”

As an Asian American, I can offer the following perspective: we’re discouraged by our families to pursue the arts. As for why? University of California Riverside’s public policy professor Karthik Ramakrishnan points out that Asian Americans feel pressure to excel both academically and financially because our parents are immigrants. This pressure keeps us from pursuing lower pay, less stable creative jobs, which is the bittersweet reason behind why we continue to perpetuate the “model minority” myth.

So, no, it isn’t that Asian Americans aren’t inherently creative. They are (ahem, how do you do?) Simply put, white people take more chances creatively because they aren’t as likely to be discouraged to.

Asians want to see more of themselves in those majority-white fields.

Russell Peters highlights this unfortunate-turned-hilarious truth in his 2016 special “Almost Famous,” when he makes fun of an Indian guy who dreamt of becoming a musician, but instead became a doctor due to cultural pressure. And if you peruse Reddit threads on conversations about Asian Americans, you’ll find they blatantly desire to see themselves doing the jobs of white people. Reddit user roadtonormalcy writes:

“I was thinking about this recently – I’m deeply upset that there are no Asian American pop artists to lose my wig to. I’m aware that KPOP is a huge thing, but I want more ~english~ bops by Asian artists :(”

The very fact that we don’t hear enough of this desire IRL, but see it hidden on underground Reddit threads – almost as if your typical Asian American is embarrassed to say it out loud in fear of disgracing his or her family and culture – is another reason companies aren’t achieving diversity at higher rates.

To increase diversity, Asian Americans must loudly and proudly pave the way for a new culture.

My generation is the first that’s beginning to see more Asian Americans become figureheads in creative fields. Hayley Kiyoko is revolutionizing music by representing both Asian Americans and the LGBTQ+ community, Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling have their own shows, and Hari Kondabolu and Hasan Minhaj are the self-important, brown, stand-up comedians we’ve been waiting for. 

Not to mention, it looks like there’s hope for Generation Z. My sister and brother-in-law, who are 80’s babies, have a much more ~lax~ attitude toward how they raise their two kids. They anticipate my older nephew will go into the arts, while the younger one might try his hand at pro sports.

Asian Americans, as much as it’s the job of CEOs and COOs to promote us in the workplace, it’s also on us to start having conversations at home. Talk to your parents about your dreams; not their dreams, or the dreams of anyone else. With these combined efforts, I have a feeling the next generation of people of color will take the world by storm.

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