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Pet Sins May 2002

Asian woman has more professional opportunities than Asian men

I worked in a software company as part of a team of software engineers. The team consists largely of white men, with a handful of white women, 3 Asian women, and a good number of Asian men.

One of the Asian women, who is Chinese, had very good non-work relations with the white boys - they often played games together at work or after work. She did not attempt to establish as close a relationship with other Asians at work. She was also fond of wearing as little as she could. Sometimes, she would start a day with a skimpy outfit, and had to go home to get changed when it got too cold. Anyway, let's just call this woman X.

The 2nd Asian woman is Chinese, but married. She is friendly, but doesn't make special effort to ingratiate herself with the white crowd. So the white boys don't bother with her.

The 3rd Asian woman on the team also wasn't as popular as the Chinese woman who likes skimpy outfits, although professionally she was much more capable. Perhaps it is because she conducts herself in propriety and does not welcome the flirtations of white boys. Or perhaps she is brown (South Asian), not pale yellow, and does not fit in white boys' geisha fantasies.

The white boys were also not anywhere near as friendly with any of the numerous Chinese men on the team. They had little, if any, social dealings with the men.

Nothing wrong with any of that, of course. People's decisions on who to make friends with may have nothing to do with race. I cannot prove that race had anything with workplace dynamics in this particular case. But I suspect the scenario may sound familiar to many Asians in America.

I did not think much of these racial dynamics until you saw how white boys' personal fondness for this image of the Oriental sex goddess affect professional decisions. Once, our team was giving a side project for "morale" (but actually had impact on our work reviews). We had to split into smaller, self-defined teams reporting to a volunteer "leader" instead of our usual manager. People would volunteer to "lead" a team, and then solicit team members. They would then complete little projects to present to each other.

X wanted to be a team lead, but she apparently didn't feel confident enough to lead on her own, so she got a white boy who led the previous project to "co-lead" her team with her. Each team was supposed to have 7 people, but X's team soon had 9. Other women-led teams (incidentally, all the women team leads were physically attactive) also attracted 8 or 9 people. White men-led teams also had at least 8 people. If some teams had more people than they were supposed to have, other teams had to had fewer people, right? Guess whose team - the team of a Chinese man, Y.

Now Y has much more professional experience than X, is technically more competent, and he could only get 4 people for his team. I was also leading one of the teams. Being an Asian man myself, it was also very hard for me to get people who didn't already know me to join my team, whereas people were willing to join the team of a dolled-up Asian chick they didn't know. I was more fortunate than Y in that I was able to build a strong team of 7 with people whom I had worked with, and whom I respected. I spoke to management about Y's predicament, suggesting that some of the people in over-populated teams should be reassigned to Y's team. But my suggestion was ignored.

As for X's leadership caliber, let's just say her white boyfriend, whom she got to join her team, didn't even know she was the team's lead until after the project was over. And he knew later only because I told him. He always thought the other white guy who co-led the team was the leader, which causes me to wonder how much leadership work X really did for this project.

Here you have 2 people from China, a man and a woman, both with Masters degrees. The man so happens to have more professional experience, technical abilities and leadership qualities. If you ask me whom I'd prefer to work for, I'd prefer the man. But the woman ends up getting more people volunteering to work in her team, and not only that - people are willing to do the leadership and organizing work for her and then let her claim all the credit for being a "leader". Tell me, are they spoiling her or what?

All the people on her team were white boys, by the way. I don't think they chose to operate under her leadership based on her professional qualities. If they made experience, capabilities and focus an issue, more of them would have chosen to go with the Asian guy. I have no doubt that she could have made a passable leader if she tried, but the fact is, more qualified people than she are not given the same opportunities.