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By Ellen McGirt
March 6, 2019

Yesterday kicked off the Equal Pay Day season, the extra days of the year that certain subsets of women have to work to make the same amount of money as non-Hispanic white men. It’s a terrific way to make a point about the persistent gender pay gap in the U.S. This year, the day for all women falls on April 2.

But that number doesn’t tell the full story.

In 2019, AAPI women (Asian American and Pacific Islander) would have had to work two extra months to reach parity with white men. But because the date is typically the earliest individual Equal Pay Day – Latina Equal Pay Day falls on November 20, this year – in a way, it feels like progress.

In fact, it’s misleading.

The population of AAPI workers is highly diverse in terms of, well, everything – ethnicity, immigration experience, language, education, and the barriers they face at work.

According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, some Asian women – Indian, Taiwanese, Sri Lankan, and Chinese – actually out-earn their white male peers. But the vast majority do not. Lowest on the list you’ll find Thai, Cambodian, Nepalese, Laotian, Hmong, and Burmese-American women, who all hover at or below 60 cents for every white, male dollar.

In no instances do any of these women earn as much as their male AAPI peers.

One thing that would immediately help would be to count AAPI workers correctly in government, workplace, and other research-driven surveys. Most surveys include the AAPI workforce as one aggregated “Asian” lump.

“The ‘model minority’ myth, which views AAPIs as a monolith and assumes that all AAPIs have socioeconomic stability, makes it harder for us to fight the wage gap for the AAPI women who need it the most,” said The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum in a statement. “The ‘model minority’ myth furthers the idea that these communities don’t need additional resources or support. Those in power, who buy into the myth, have responded by gutting, underfunding, or ignoring lifesaving programs that support us.”

And many corporate diversity reports don’t count them at all and simply fold them into the “white” number.

Last year, Buck Gee and Denise Peck, two former Silicon Valley executives, examined government-mandated workplace demographic records for the report, “The Illusion of Asian Success” published by Ascend, a non-profit leadership organization for Pan-Asian professionals.

Because AAPI workers aren’t always identified in corporate diversity reports, it conceals the barriers they’re facing at work.

Here’s the real deal: Across all sectors, Asian American professionals in the U.S. were more likely to be hired as individual contributors, but less likely to be promoted into management roles than any other race. “[C]ompanies have not done an adequate job of identifying and developing Asian American talent,” they say.

The reasons are complex. Because AAPIs are well represented in the workforce and outpace other demographics in terms of income and education, they’re not seen as an underrepresented group. And you can learn more about the ugly and persistent “model minority” myth here.

But it’s all a powerful reminder that you can’t manage – or advocate for – what you don’t measure, right?

We’ll be back on this topic on April 2. I hear we’ll be wearing red.


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