Marxe School facilitates discussion about Asian Americans in corporate settings

May Khin and Caryl Anne Francia

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs welcomed Margaret Chin, a sociology professor at Hunter College, to discuss her book for this year’s first installment of the “DEI Fridays” series.

Hosted by associate professor Anna D’Souza, “DEI Fridays” promotes community building and reflection with the goal of improving issues such as equity, inclusion and justice at Baruch. Titled “Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder,” the virtual session was aptly named for the subtitle of Chin’s book, “Stuck.”

After the audience went over community guidelines, the discussion was led by associate professor Angie Beeman, who is affiliated with the Marxe School and the Department of Black and Latino Studies at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.

Chin said Asian Americans are hitting a “bamboo ceiling” that is powerful and unbreakable. She compared it to an invisible glass ceiling for women. 

“Only eight S&P 500 companies had Black CEOs in 2022,” Chin said. “Forty-two had Asian Americans — not too bad. Twenty-two had Hispanic Latino CEOs, and 37 were led by women, but that still meant that over 85% of all S&P 500 companies were led by white men.”

She added that in Silicon Valley, Asian Americans are in the professional levels of the industry, but only 14% of them held executive positions. Chin said the low percentage of Asian Americans moving up to executive positions in corporations are similar for law firms, broadcast media and journalism.

During her research for her book, Chin interviewed over 100 Asian Americans, with many of them saying similar things about not being able to move up to top level positions because of the culture.

“To me, that meant that it wasn’t something individual, but it was actually something structural,” Chin said. “There was nothing that they did wrong individually, but it was definitely a structural problem.”

When Beeman asked her about the term “honorary white,” Chin said that she tries to get away from it.

“What it does is it leaves out Asian Americans,” Chin said. “It now only talks about our racial situation in the U.S. as either Black or white, and what it does is that it makes us even more invisible. As I was mentioning already, the model minority hides the true stories of Asian Americans in the country. It hides the stories of all the different Asian American ethnic groups, so honorary white actually reinforces that.”

Because Asian Americans experience discrimination and racism differently than Black or Latino Americans, the sociology professor said that it should be recognized. 

“When I first interviewed the 100 people in my book, a lot of them said that their parents face discrimination and not themselves,” Chin said, adding that they gave examples “such as people asking them where they are from, even though the people I actually interviewed were all born in the U.S. or they were raised in the U.S.”

She said she chose that demographic for a specific reason because they did not have an accent growing up and attended schools in the United States.

“They were all accustomed to not just doing well in schools — in terms of getting good test grades or getting high grades in school,” Chin said. “They all knew how to get leadership positions in being who they are, but they were still stereotyped in a certain way.”

Chin said Asian Americans thought they didn’t experience racism in a way the Black community did with police brutality and harassment, but she added that “they did face anti-Asian American hate.”

The professor said phrases and questions such as “where do you come from?” and “why is your English so good?” are considered as racist statements to the Asian American community. 

Chin called for people to understand this and integrate the story of Asian Americans into the history of the nation. She also shared advice from an interviewee who moved up in his organization to become a chief officer.

“He basically said that you have to recognize Asian Americans for who they are, whether you yourself see yourself, no matter how Asian American you are,” Chin said. “Because if you don’t name yourself as an Asian American or unique, you don’t bring your whole self to the C-Suite room. You don’t bring all that you can offer to the table.”