In “For Asian American Lawyers, Good Mentorship Is Crucial,” a Law360 Guest Column published on August 16, Paul, Weiss partners Jeannie Rhee, Lawrence Wee, and Jennifer Wu discussed the importance of mentorships and common setbacks and stereotypes faced by Asian American lawyers. Wee and Wu are both AABANY members. Wee is a co-chair of AABANY’s Corporate Law Committee and a former AABANY Board Director, while Wu is a co-chair of the AABANY’s Women’s Committee. Rhee, Wee, and Wu stated that finding good mentors is vital for professional development and career advancement, but also took care to note that the mentor-mentee relationship is two-sided. The authors recommended that mentees find ways to anticipate their mentors’ needs and assist them, while also encouraging mentors to be good listeners and step into their mentees’ shoes. While they maintained that these relationships can help young lawyers learn to manage some challenges associated with being an Asian American in the legal profession, they also recommended that Asian American lawyers should seek out a range of mentors, whether they share the same cultural background or not.
As mentors, Rhee, Wee, and Wu encouraged younger lawyers to take risks, speak up during meetings and challenging cases, and actively seek out promotions and leadership opportunities, especially since Asian Americans can be seen as risk-averse and face obstacles such as the bamboo ceiling. The authors also cautioned young Asian American lawyers, warning them that they will encounter stereotypes and that not everyone would acknowledge that they are minorities. However, they urged young Asian American lawyers to be their best, most authentic selves and to engage in positive, open communication about race-related issues. They also encouraged Asian American lawyers to become active in affinity groups and seek out organizations dedicated to the Asian American community and the career advancement of Asian American lawyers. The link to the full article is here.
On August 4, 2020, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) hosted a book talk on CUNY Professor Margaret Chin’s new book, Stuck – Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder. Moderated by Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director and Chair of AABANY’s Issues Committee, the virtual webinar received over 300 registrations from legal and non-legal professionals. Conversation centered around the book’s subject — invisible challenges Asian Americans face when it comes to upward corporate mobility.
Professor Margaret Chin began the panel by articulating the difficulty that Asian American professionals face in moving from mid-level management to the C-suites. Chin has discovered two critical factors that explain why. The first is that Asian Americans are hidden from the research. Only in the past five years has research been done on the corporate mobility challenges facing the Asian American professionals, demonstrating not only the invisibility of Asian Americans in racial discussions but a lack of awareness of the “bamboo ceiling.” The second is trust. Through her interviews with corporate executives, Chin discerned trust as a leading factor in who is and who isn’t promoted. Trust, however, also opens the door for implicit bias. Oftentimes, those who are seen as part of the “in-group” or white are seen as more trustworthy, leaving racial minorities at a disadvantage.
A Q&A session followed the talk, during which Chris, as moderator, posed questions sent via chat to Professor Chin. One audience member asked Professor Chin what inspired her to write this book. Her answer recounted a class reunion where she realized that while many Asian Americans are admitted to Ivy League and top tier universities, there was no research on their career paths post-education. This reveals the false assumption that once an Asian American achieves an elite education, their career is set. Another question asked Professor Chin for solutions to the lack of upward mobility faced by Asian professionals. To this, she discussed how through her interviews with Asian executives, she discovered the importance of early career resources such as college career offices, formal corporate programs, and other similar programs. These have proven to be particularly helpful to non-white professionals who often do not have strong networks or resources at their disposal. Nonetheless, these are not the only solutions, leading Professor Chin to reiterate the need for more research on the “bamboo ceiling” in order to drive change.
Thank you to Professor Margaret Chin for her time and insight and Chris Kwok for moderating. Congratulations to Professor Chin on her book, which was released on August 11. We encourage anyone interested in this hot topic to purchase the book, which is available here. For those looking to continue this important discussion, please email Chris Kwok at firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in his book club which will gather together readers of the book for further conversations about the book’s findings and conclusions.
On July 22nd, GAPABA and NAPABA co-hosted a webinar panel entitled “Women’s Leadership Network: Pathbreakers,” which AABANY was proud to co-sponsor. The event, moderated by GAPABA President Angela Hsu and Hannah Kim, Chief Legal Officer of Energizer Holdings, featured six panelists who discussed the complexities of being an Asian American woman in the legal field, sharing personal anecdotes and advice with those wishing to break the so-called “bamboo ceiling” and “glass ceiling.”
The panelists included Amy Chua, author and Professor of Law at Yale Law School; Hon. Neomi Rao, a judge in the D.C. Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals; Marie Oh Huber, SVP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel & Secretary at eBay; Hon. Lorna Schofield, a United States District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York; Jessie K. Liu, Former United States Attorney in D.C.; and Selena Loh LaCroix, Vice Chair & Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry.
The event was split into two sections: extracurricular development, and career changes and advice. During the first part of the event, the panelists discussed how they felt they had found success as Asian American women in typically white, male-dominated fields. All six panelists agreed that cultivating deep, lasting relationships was one of the most important keys to success. Others added that not allowing yourself to get discouraged was vital, especially because minorities often find their leadership abilities and competency questioned.
“There will always be assumptions based on our appearance and backgrounds, but the way to get around this is perseverance,” Liu said. Chua added that because of these assumptions, the playing field is not level; she admitted that she was forced to out-work and out-prepare her colleagues, and learning how to acknowledge the existence of stereotypes (such as the Model Minority Myth), while not focusing on them.
The panelists also discussed how they ended up in their current positions and in the legal field more generally. While each story was unique, they all shared a common theme – to get to the high-ranking positions they currently hold or have previously held, they had to begin at the lowest point on the totem pole and work their way up. Having a mentor that pushed them to work harder and guided them through their career choices made a big difference.
“I firmly believe that you can’t do it alone; things don’t happen without help. And I believe that the road is littered with hard-working smart people, but there are other qualities you need to have: taking initiative and asking someone to be your mentor can go a long way,” Judge Schofield advised. While Huber agreed that the best relationships arise organically, she noted the need for organizational and structural change to allow minorities a greater chance to form relationships; “otherwise,” she said, “people are going to be left out.”
One of the most inspiring pieces of advice shared by the panelists was how they reacted to controversy and criticism. Chua admitted to writing provocative pieces even when her own mother warned against it, and found three main ways to maintain her sanity: riding it out, standing her ground, and rejecting bitterness and pettiness.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Asian American women get shoved under the bus disproportionately because of the Model Minority Myth,” Chua shared. “But it is vital to be generous and optimistic regardless.”
The second section of the discussion focused more specifically on switching careers and taking risks professionally. Many of the panelists switched from the private to the public sector, and though the motivations to make this switch varied from person to person, they all noted that the choice is based both on the context of where you are in life and in your mindset.
Judge Schofield shared that the decision for her to leave the corporate world took a great deal of time, thought, and courage, but when the opportunity arose, she was very glad she took it.
Lacroix added that “as scary as it was to take the plunge, I haven’t looked back since.” She explained that “sometimes your corporation and your own personal integrity might diverge — if it gets very far from each other the discomfort level can get really hard. Trust your own instincts and values, because that’s all you have at the end of the day. If that’s something that diverges from your corporation, do not be afraid to make that choice. You’re the only one who can build and maintain that integrity.”
On taking risks, Liu added that nearly every job has some degree of risk associated with it. She noted that her personal philosophy is to say ‘yes’ to opportunities whenever they arise and see where it goes from there, because you never know if or when it may come again.
Ultimately, the panelists all shared that while blazing the trail as Asian American women – often facing harsh assumptions and negative stereotypes – was difficult, it was also extremely rewarding. Judge Schofield advised the audience that “people are going to notice you’re different so you might as well do something with that. Embrace that you’re different and do it with confidence.”
AABANY is honored to have been a co-sponsor for the event, and we would like to thank GAPABA for putting together a wonderful panel, as well as all the speakers for their sage advice and inspiring stories.
In an interview with Bloomberg last week, former AABANY President Andy Hahn examined the obstacles that face Asian Americans in the law, from high attrition rates and underrepresentation to pervasive stereotypes and biases. On the heels of Justice Goodwin Liu’s study, “A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law,” the interview explored Andy Hahn’s own experiences, from his time as an army lawyer to his tenures as president of both AABANY and NAPABA, and how those roles have made Andy intimately familiar with the challenges of Asian Americans in the law. Despite large growth since the 1990s, the Asian American legal community faces gross underrepresentation today, from clerkships and judgeships to partner and management roles. This has led Andy to his own “crusade” to galvanize Asian Americans into participating in the law. Follow the link in the title to read the full article published in Bloomberg Law.
Andy’s work as a leader in the legal profession has not gone unnoticed, as the New York Law Journal recently honored him with the 2017 Distinguished Leadership Award. To read the press release congratulating him for this achievement, click here.
Watch this episode of CUNY TV’s Asian American Life, featuring Helen Wan talking about The Partner Track with comments on breaking the bamboo ceiling by AABANY President Clara Ohr, AABANY Executive Director Yang Chen, and Ona Wang, Partner, Baker Hostetler.
A Northern Virginia native’s novel about Asian Americans in the corporate world touches a nerve.
Helen Wan, AABANY member and author of the novel The Partner Track, has been featured in a Washington Post profile published on February 13. Congratulations to Helen! To read the article, follow the link in the title.
Jonathan Li, Hofstra Law Student, NAPALSA (National Asian Pacific American Law Students Association) Northeast Regional Director and President of the Inter-APALSA Council, writes on the NAPALSA website about the issues confronting Asian Americans in the workplace and what law students need to do to overcome them. Click on the link in the title to read what he has to say.