The Asian American Mainstream Leadership Challenge


By guest columnist, Dr. Hai Ho, Chair MLA and UVAC, KSU Professor

 

According to studies conducted by the PEW Research group, Asian Pacific Americans (APA) have achieved higher income and education than the national average and white Americans. We are the success story of the “American Dream” and are described to be the “Model Minority.” So, is there anything wrong with this picture? On the surface it is flattering, but when examined further an unfavorable phenomenon arises. There are a disproportionately low number of APA leaders in mainstream industries, government, and institutions. While APA comprises almost 6% of the population, the percentage of senior executives and leaders is less than 3%. For example, out of 535 congressmen, only 11 (2%) are APA. Furthermore, the majority of that 3% are Indian Americans, which are the exception to this phenomenon. Hence, the Eastern and Southeastern APAs are heavily underrepresented in mainstream leadership. As a result, there aren’t enough role models for APA young generation to look up to; indeed, this creates a risk of many shying away from our APA heritage and identity.

I was at a University System of Georgia (USG) conference some months ago to attend the presentations of the ten or so vice chancellors, and I noticed that there was equal representation of white and black Americans, yet no APA. After the meeting, I flagged one of the members down and asked why there wasn’t any APA vice chancellors. He was just as surprised as myself about this observation, and after a long conversation, he conceded that there was simply a lack of APA candidates for leadership positions in USG. In other words, there usually wasn’t a pipeline of APA leaders into which they could tap. I believe there is much truth behind this statement, which conveys that the opportunities and willingness by executive stakeholders to place APA in leadership positions are present, but they usually encounter an empty pipeline. Therefore, there must be an effective effort to fill these pipelines to serve industries, government, and institutions.

Whatever the APA community has been doing during the past several decades to build leaders doesn’t appear to have worked. We need to change some paradigms. The two key issues are cultural and political barriers that APAs have not been able to overcome. To begin with, sending our students and working professionals to general mainstream workshops to develop leadership skills has not produced a high rate of success, because this type of training does not address cultural dissonance and incompatibility. Secondly, APA organizations that provide cultural-context leadership training are usually limited in depth because the organizers and facilitators themselves lack the actual mainstream leadership experience and/or exposure to address workplace and political barriers. Therefore, leadership workshops that do not address both the cultural and the political barriers and solutions will have extremely limited success. This key observation has motivated the establishment of the Millennial Leadership Academy (MLA). While there are many leadership programs out there, the MLA uniquely has the key ingredients to make a substantial long-term impact on the achievement of leadership success.

1) Extended hands-on format (versus seminar) and the Leadership Assimilation model to achieve lasting results.

2) Conducted by industry leaders and professional faculty with proven track record in community, government, and commercial sectors.

3) Addresses strengths and shortcomings of Asian American culture – cultural paradigm shift.

4) Covers perspectives and approaches to advance to high leadership levels in organizations by navigating workplace politics, building strategic relationships, and exhibiting executive presence.

The MLA is not just about leadership and professional development, but is a grass-roots movement to modernize our culture to instill the proper principles and mindset in our young generation, so that they can become organic leaders that will help to build stronger workforces and communities. I request those that have any interest in this effort to participate and support this organization.

Dr. Hai Ho, Professor, Kennesaw State University

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