After four years of college, I’ve been to my share of job fairs. During long hours of waiting on queues to talk to job recruiters, you can’t help but overhear a few things. I’ve heard enough elevator pitches to fill a congressional filibuster, some good, some bad, and others where I silently shook my head and asked myself, what in god’s name was the kid talking about? Many times, I see Asian American kids walking in, handing the recruiter a resume, being told to apply online, and walking away from the recruiter without making so much as an attempt at raising rapport; rinse and repeat. Well if all we had to was apply online, why would the companies pay money to have a sandwich board rep stand and talk to applicants? The diminutive Asian American stereotype is particularly guilty, especially when the job recruiter isn’t instantly blown away by their GPA – the Asian American recruit ends up looking like a one trick pony. This is a problem that seems much less prevalent among the youth of main-stream America. Can the cultural divide between the American and traditional Asian upbringing, be so wide that it blows back on their livelihood? We might be on to something here.
Take, if you will, the standard Asian work mentality. For those unfamiliar with this routine, it goes something like this: 1. Work hard 2. Keep your head down 3. Pick up your check. Repeat this process enough and you’ll get what’s due. That’s the mantra that Asian American kids are taught growing up. In a complete meritocracy, this holds true, but the United States is by no means a complete meritocracy: The one who screams the loudest here is often the one who ends up with the turkey leg.
From a very young age, Asian kids are taught that grades are the gospel. They worship them from the day they start elementary school to the day they ship off to the Ivy Leagues. What they’re not taught, however is the importance of speaking out. By age thirteen we have a generation of shy introverts who can barely muster the courage to look an adult in the eye. It’s not the kid’s fault. And although people naturally jump towards blaming the parents, it’s not their fault either. Like a divorce with irreconcilable differences, no one’s to blame here. However, there’s no denying that the issue exists. When the issue becomes so obvious on the national scale, ignoring it is the equivalent to pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Being an academically focused introvert is by no means a bad thing. However if you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, that one-dimensional focus may end up costing you. The values of one society, which can play a key part to success in one culture, do not always translate into success in another. When immigrants arrive in the United States, they impart their old values onto their offspring. In many cases, these values have served Asian Americans well as a whole. But there have been less amicable consequences.
While 5% of Americans identify themselves as Asian, less than 2% of the executive roles in fortune 500 companies note themselves to be of Asian descent (According to a 2011 report from Work-life policy). This statistic is somewhat lopsided considering that Asian Americans have the greatest percentage of degree-holders who have attained a bachelor’s degree or better. What traditional values may do is land young Asian Americans a job. It’ll ensure they have a stable living as a high end wage earner, but what it won’t do is impart the tricks of the trade that will push them into upper management.
Let’s look at the converse example, if an American businessman were to try to succeed in a traditional Chinese business structure, he would face the roadblocks of a bureaucracy strictly based on seniority and ranking. The informal day to day banter between employer and employee would be taboo and his likely attempts to express his discomfort, which would have almost certainly manifested themselves by this point, would be disregarded as the ramblings of an “upstart.”
The key phrase here is adapt or die. Features of different cultures that carry over, can and often do bring a fresh set of perspectives to the table; that’s the beauty of a globalized industry. But we can’t afford to ignore the differences that chafe when different value systems collide. For some, this may mean going against deep-set convictions that were engrained from a very young age. For others this may not be a problem at all. What we need to take away from this is: although there exists differences in values that stem from diverse upbringings, we still need to recognize what’s needed to succeed in a new environment with a different set of rules, and adapt accordingly. To do anything less is insanity.