I need to be called upon to speak.

Said one experienced, accomplished Asian female professional. I almost broke down in tears. I don’t often get muffled by the distorted self-stories that my coaching clients tell themselves (it’s my job to help them reframe) but this one hit a nerve.  What happened in the socialization, upbringing, acculturation, indoctrination, brainwashing of this young woman that paralyzed her voice?

I should know. I struggle with the same.

I see this type of female-specific disorder of the voice often. It is a spectrum disorder where the consequences are real, varied in intensity, varied in roots, and can be a serious career limiter. Speak up, get punished. Don’t speak up, get overlooked. My black female clients worry their voices will come across angry or threatening. My white female clients worry their voices will come across bossy.  My Asian female clients worry their voices will come across disrespectful and erroneous, and if they speak English with an accent, worry about even using the right words. ESL clients are a separate category of clients I worry about.

I can safely say I have much less experience hearing my male clients “ask for permission” – not in meetings, not in seeking new projects, not in seeking new responsibilities, or promotions.

Ascend just released their latest study on minority representation at Executive and Management levels across the US, and the story for Asian females is bleak. Full report here.

Asian females lag furthest behind in all categories for Executive and Manager representation.  Full stop.

What’s the problem? Skills? Biases? Cultural taboos? Stereotypes?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Read It’s complicated. to learn more about Asian female stereotypes and their intersections.

So what can be done as a start? Three things:

  1. Asian females must build muscle to speak up and must start early! 
    • This is your world too. Your knowledge, team orientation, multicultural dexterity, social intelligence are the ingredients of leadership now.
    • Try Toastmasters, presentation practice, planning your talk points and strategies ahead of time. Say one thing within 15 mins of every meeting.
    • Build up that network. You can do it.
  2. Leaders and Colleagues must get knowledge, sponsor and amplify.
    • Good talent is hard to find.  Learn about Confucianism. Learn about Eastern leadership theory. See the value in these principles for workplace culture.
    • Show curiosity – ask your minority female reports for their opinions.  Assign plum projects.
    • Advocate and champion the ideas of minority females.
    • Mentor. Sponsor. Raise young woman to speak up.
  3. Work with a Coach.
    • It takes a village.
    • Find an experienced coach to serve as a mirror and who can challenge you to reach that vision you have for yourself.

(And my less-professional and final tip is to get angry and channel that energy into positive self-evolution.)