Asian American Women Leaders Hold the Power to Break Down Stereotypes, Finds Nielsen and AABDC Study

Understanding barriers to success is critical to overcoming them and progressing forward. And in many cases, collaboration is critical in overcoming barriers once they’re identified. This was the approach that the Asian American Business Development Center (AABDC) took when it sought to understand the role of race, gender, stereotypes and opportunity for Asian American women.

As the AABDC started to explore the topic, the group was surprised to find only one research paper on the challenges that Asian women have in reaching executive status. The paper, published by the Ascend Foundation, found that Asian women have the lowest probability among all demographics of reaching executive status. Surprised to find so little research on the subject, the AABDC, which promotes the development of Asian American entrepreneurs, executives and corporate leaders, enlisted Nielsen in February of this year to help uncover the “why” behind the “what” of the research paper’s key finding in order to help identify strategies to shift the trend in a more positive direction.

Through Nielsen Cares and our Data for Good pro bono program, Nielsen collaborated with AABDC in spring 2019 on a qualitative study of Asian American women in leadership roles. We analyzed findings from guided interviews for trends, and Mariko Carpenter, VP, Strategic Community Alliances, and Idil Cakim, VP, Media Analytics, presented the findings at the AABDC’s Asian American Women Leadership Conference in New York at the Bank of America Tower on May 10.

The Nielsen-AABDC pro bono study was designed to identify commonalities among the fast-growing segment of Asian American women in business and inform organizations that are building opportunities for professional development of Asian American women. Interviews emphasized the impact of race, ethnicity and/or gender stereotypes, mentors and sponsors, employee resource groups (ERGs) and visibility to arrive at several key conclusions:

Successful Asian-American women hold the power to break down racial/ethnic stereotypes

On the path to success, reputation and visibility are key. Many interviewees credited their Asian American, female identity as the source of stereotyping toward quietness, obedience and introversion that would not work well in team management, revenue responsible or executive roles.  These women broke down the stereotypes by creating and sharing metrics for their success. In addition to delivering good work, Asian-American leaders can elevate their profiles by finding paths to share their work and showcase their expertise.

Asian-American women leaders can fill the void of mentors and sponsors

Sponsors are essential in opening new doors. For some of the interviewees, their essential sponsors were not fellow Asian American women but men and women of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, etc. Today, reaching across cultural groups to find sponsors may still be necessary while Asian American women are not yet adequately represented at the top. Successful and seasoned Asian-American women, though, can also pave the way in bringing opportunities to younger generations.

Employee support groups can further careers through professional development

When asked about employee resource groups, the interviewees acknowledged that cultural events and celebrations are not enough. Employee resource groups must listen for the development and training needs of given groups of associates and provide opportunities for growth. By also serving as professional development groups, employee support groups tap not only into culture but can build critical business skills (e.g. networking, negotiation, presentation, finance).