How to Challenge Microaggressions Against Asians in the Workplace

Despite the belief that Asian Americans have somehow “made it” in our society and are “immune” to racism, research from Columbia University professors discovered widespread prejudice and discrimination continue to take a toll on their standard of living, self-esteem and psychological well-being. As the United States celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s essential to recognize the Asian community’s experience in the workplace and work to improve it.

According to an article on USA Today, more than 1 in 3 Asian and Asian American professionals say they have experienced racial prejudice at their current or former companies. The rates are similar for members of the East, South and Southeast Asian groups. Most of these prejudices are masked in microaggressions.

Microaggressions are a popular form of racism many people of color (POC) experience, particularly in the workplace. It’s characterized by verbal and nonverbal slights or stereotypes that intentionally or unintentionally communicate hostile, derogatory or harmful messages to specific individuals or groups.

To bring awareness and create a better work environment for all people, here are a few forms of microaggressions against the Asian community that marketing and advertising agencies could challenge.

Giving Asian workers heavier workloads

The misconception that Asians are quiet and submissive, as well as overachievers, allows many managers to take advantage. This form of thinking leads to microaggressive behavior in which companies overlook Asian workers for leadership positions and label them as not assertive or confident enough. This frame of thinking leads to the following form of microaggression, the “model minority” myth.

Embracing the ‘model minority’ myth

The “model minority” stereotype is an idea that perpetuates the stereotype that Asians are successful because they are hardworking, disciplined, and obedient. While it may seem like a compliment, it actually creates unrealistic expectations and ignores the challenges and barriers many Asians have faced in their career. According to an article in the New York Presbyterian, the root of this idea was created to pit races against each other, where one group feels as though they have more privilege.

Treating Asian American coworkers like foreigners

Specific to Asian Americans, the perpetual foreigner stereotype sends a message that they’re not “true” Americans and immediately positions them as outsiders. This ultimately leads to individuals being excluded from professional development opportunities, social time and networking events. It doesn’t make it easy or comfortable for them to show up to work as their authentic selves.

Ultimately, companies need to take action to combat microaggressions and promote a culture of diversity and inclusivity. This is especially important in the marketing and Ad world because understanding different communities is vital to the content and creativity we produce.

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