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The Mythical Rise of Asian Americans

NEW YORK – The Pew Center’s recent report “The Rise of Asian Americans,” which shows that Asians, not Latinos, comprise the largest group of immigrant arrivals in the United States, took many people by surprise. The data also show that Asian Americans have the highest education and per capita income. Together with low reported discrimination, the report paints a portrait of American success. On the face of these findings, now already three years old, Asian Americans should expect to have a bigger voice in American politics and, indeed, in American society.

In fact, Asian Americans remain a relatively rare sight in leadership positions, even in the corporate world, where one would assume that their education and ambition would be most beneficial. If hard work was all it took to rise into the upper echelons of power in corporate America, one would expect to see many Asian American faces at the top, perhaps especially in financial services, accounting, technology, and health care.

Study after study shows the reverse to be true. For example, research conducted by Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics shows that just 30 Fortune 100 companies had Asian-Pacific Islander representation on their boards in 2011. Twenty-nine API directors held 32 of 1,211 total board seats, and two of the 100 CEOs were of API descent.

Asia Society’s own research of Asian-Pacific American employees finds that just 42% believe that there are APA role models at their companies, and only 48% believe that APAs are amply represented in key positions at their companies. And, in the comprehensive National Asian American Survey 9% of respondents reported being unfairly denied a job or fired, and 12.9% alleged that they had been unfairly denied a promotion at work.