A recent Pew research study found that Asian Americans recorded the fastest rate of population growth among all ethnic and racial groups in the U.S. between 2000 and 2019, growing 81 percent during that time. By 2060, the community is projected to triple its 2000 population size.
These statistics should catch the attention of any entrepreneur and business leader. Leaders should strive to fully understand the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community if they hope to enjoy the full benefits of diversity in the workplace -- and authentically connect with a growing customer case.
I've recently conducted several listening sessions with AAPI professionals across multiple industries. These sessions create spaces for people to reflect with one another on common challenges, obstacles and hopes. A theme that has emerged across these sessions is the pervasiveness of common myths about the AAPI community.
Here are some of those myths, and how to go beyond them.
Myth: The AAPI community is a monolith.
There's a common and inaccurate perception that AAPI people are all alike, when, in fact, the community is a diverse grouping of people from approximately 50 ethnic groups. Each group has its own unique languages, cultural traditions and experiences. They also face harm in different ways. In the U.S., for example, East Asians have been the target of hate crimes and discrimination in the Covid pandemic era, while South Asians were targeted following September 11.
In the workplace, AAPI professionals are often burdened with the expectation to represent not only their particular ethnic group, but the AAPI community as a whole. This disconnect is often reflected in the one-dimensional ways companies talk to their AAPI customers.
Take the time to learn about the diversity of AAPI experiences. Appreciate and celebrate the variety of cultures represented in the community. This will allow you to more authentically connect to your AAPI worker and customer base.
Myth: Asian Americans are the 'model minority' and don't face any challenges.
The "model minority" myth is considered a microaggression -- an action, rooted in bias, that lands with harm on someone with a marginalized identity. The myth is that Asian Americans are uniformly prosperous and don't experience the challenges of other marginalized groups. Not only is this inaccurate (AAPI people, in fact, face the largest income inequality gap of all ethnic groups in the U.S.), it pits the AAPI community against other racial minority groups as a means of dividing communities of color. It also negates the discrimination, bias and harm that AAPI people do experience, and that denial inhibits progress against those injustices.
Expand your awareness and education of the AAPI experience. It will help mitigate against this bias -- and keep it from showing up as a microaggression.
Myth: AAPI people don't make good leaders
The Western definition of a strong leader -- someone who's outspoken, charismatic, and speaks perfect English -- is a one-size-fits-all, outdated concept. And it often pushes out AAPI professionals who would make excellent leaders, but don't fit this mold.
Truly effective leaders do often share similar traits, and research is showing that these include high emotional intelligence, clear communication (not perfect English), and the ability to authentically connect with people.
When looking for people in your company to promote or bring into leadership roles, make sure to check yourself for potential biases that could be impacting your search. Acknowledge that the Western "good leader" stereotype is limiting, and expand your frame of who a strong leader could be.
Another theme surfaced across the multiple AAPI listening sessions I've conducted: Hope. Younger generations, in particular, spoke of not only an emerging kindness across cultures, but of increased awareness, advocacy, and action. By dispelling these common myths about the AAPI community, you can contribute to this hope, too.