Asian Americans feel 'out of place'

Updated: 2013-06-11 14:04

By MICHAEL BARRIS in New York (China Daily)

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Asian Americans feel 'out of place'

Philip A. Berry, far left, founder and president of Philip Berry Associates, introduces the panel for a discussion on leveraging global talent in the marketplace at the 2013 Diversity Leadership Forum on Monday in Manhattan. Michael Barris / China Daily

Despite rising overall job satisfaction, Asian-Pacific Americans often feel out of place in corporate America, underscoring the need for US employers to invest in programs that address the group's "unique cultural heritage", according to a new study by the Asia Society.

In its fourth annual Asian- Pacific Americans Corporate Survey, the nonprofit group which seeks to foster mutual Asian-American understanding, found that 61 percent of Asian-Pacific Americans — a group defined as including both Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans — "feel good about growth and development prospects", up 4 percentage points from a year earlier.

More than 40 percent either feel they don't belong in their company or are indifferent on the issue, according to the study, released on Monday at the New York-based Asia Society's Diversity Leadership Forum. The study surveyed the sentiments of Asian-Pacific American employees at Fortune 500 companies. Less than half of those surveyed said their company offers mentoring, sponsorship and career-coaching programs tailored to their special needs.

Asian-Pacific Americans "bring with them a unique cultural heritage," Mike Kulma, executive director of global leadership initiatives at the Asia Society, said in a statement. "Companies need to dedicate more resources to training and grooming this high-potential group so they can effectively seize leadership opportunities as they grow into their careers."

With the group holding nearly double the US average in both bachelor's and professional degrees, and accounting for 5 percent of the US population, according to the US Census Bureau, "their overall job satisfaction and engagement are critical to the success of US businesses," Kulma said. The director said 50 percent of APAs over age 25 have a bachelor's degree and 20.7 percent have a professional degree.

Companies which show they understand that cultural and religious acceptance drive the group's engagement with their organization "are bound to rise to the top as preferred employers among APAs", Kulma said.

Panelist Subha Barry, the diversity expert and board chair with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, told the forum that given the group's status as the fastest growing group in the US – increasing 46 percent in the last decade — businesses are "likely missing an opportunity" by "not leveraging them more broadly in engaging with customers from similar backgrounds".

Fifty-four percent of APAs say that their companies draw on them to engage APA customers or customers from Asia, according to the report.

The report comes as the US and China both grapple with differing recruiting challenges amid a changing global economic landscape. China is struggling to staunch the flow of young talent out of the country, while the United States, pulling slowly out of a long economic downturn, is trying to regain its competitive edge as increasingly wealthy emerging nations such as China lure executives away with a promise of increased buying power.

Between 1996 and 2011, 2.2 million Chinese university students traveled abroad to study, but just one-third have returned, Chinese government statistics show. To entice young entrepreneurs to return to work in their homeland, China has offered incentives such as subsidized apartments, research money and bonuses. But just 3,300 professionals have accepted the offers, Wang Huiyao, director of a Beijing think tank, the Center for China and Globalization, told the Wall Street Journal in a March article.

Top Chinese universities such as Tsinghua and Peking University in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai, have established incubator programs to help academics collaborate with industry.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to lose competitive edge to other countries. A September survey by the World Economic Forum ranked the US seventh overall in global economic competitiveness, slipping two spots from fifth place in 2011 and dropping for the fourth straight year.

Linda Akutagawa, president and CEO of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics Inc, which strives to develop leaders within Asian and Pacific Islander communities worldwide, told China Daily on the sidelines of the forum that Americans have stumbled by failing to adjust to the realities of today's global marketplace.

"What's unknown to Americans is how competitive Asians are," she said. "It just doesn't come out in the same table-pounding way" that Americans express it.

She said that US should send more students to countries such as China to learn "what's it's like to be in a place where you may not speak the language, and have to figure out, how do you communicate, how do you get along?"

Although US students do study abroad in Europe, "you don't see too many going to Asia", Akutagawa said.

The US would do well to increase the teaching of Mandarin and Chinese culture to elementary school students, as is done in New York, San Francisco and Raleigh, North Carolina, she said.

(China Daily USA 06/11/2013 page1)