Another survey on diversity in the workplace was released this week, and while the results are encouraging, it’s clear plenty of work lies ahead. Last year’s social justice protests after the murder of George Floyd surely convinced more U.S. policymakers and business leaders to push for a fairer and more equitable society. But more often than not, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (also often referred to as the AAPI community) have largely been left out of the conversation.
The silence festered during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as one study concluded that Asian Americans have been far more likely to be hospitalized and 49 percent more likely to die compared to whites with similar sociodemographic traits and health conditions — a rate outpacing that of Black and Latino Americans, who also have been stricken and dying at a disturbing rate. Various other studies also found higher death rates among AAPI groups, whether they were South Asians and Chinese residents in New York City or Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos living in California.
“Yet these alarming numbers about Asian Americans and COVID get little attention from mainstream media, academics and public health experts. Thus, resources to prevent and treat COVID are not fully deployed, which results in needless death and suffering,” Amy Yee wrote in Scientific American. “Vulnerable Asians — low-income, elderly, immigrants with limited English, and 1.7 million undocumented who can’t readily access health care — are especially at risk. But they are neglected, sometimes until it’s too late.”
That reality is in addition to the increased reporting of harassment, violence and even mass murder of Asian Americans that have occurred over the past year.
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The silence on the toll the pandemic has taken on the AAPI community is also reflected in how these individuals are faring in workplaces across the U.S.
Depending on the source cited, Asian Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. workforce, but only hold 6 percent of corporate executive roles. “Asian American white-collar professionals are the least likely group to be promoted from individual contributor roles into management,” Buck Gee and Denise Peck wrote in the Harvard Business Review in 2018.
True, much of the data out there suggests that as a demographic, Asian Americans on average earn the highest incomes among all Americans; yet at the same time, the income gap within the wider AAPI community is the highest when compared to any other ethnic or racial group.
Society’s ghosting of this community, whether it’s been the lack of reporting on the impact of the pandemic or slights occurring within many workplaces, is in large part due to the “model minority myth,” which in truth is a racist trope and wedge.
“For this reason, [Asian Americans] are regularly left out of discussions about discrimination in the workplace and overlooked for promotion. In fact, Asians are often excluded in diversity and inclusion plans entirely,” Christopher S. Tang wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last week. “They are rarely mentioned by the media in economic impact reports, even though they have faced the sharpest increase in long-term unemployment. This is not surprising, since there is little understanding that 12 percent of Asian Americans live in poverty and that there is a huge disparity of education and income levels among Asian Americans.”
Some companies are getting the message. In late March, for example, Bank of America announced that a boost to its racial equality commitment will include targets and programs specifically for the AAPI community.
Further, some Asian American business leaders are taking matters into their own hands, whether it’s leading the U.S. response to the COVID-19 tragedy that is now rampant across India or funding a $250 million pledge to combat anti-Asian discrimination.
Such action is only beginning, as the stubborn fact is that while the AAPI community now makes up 7 percent of the U.S. population, to date it has received less than 0.5 percent of funds distributed by philanthropies and charitable foundations. Considering AAPI residents are projected to be the largest group of U.S. immigrants by mid-century, the business community can do better.
Image credit: Jason Leung/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.