As an immigrant from India, Manu Singh had to fight her way up the corporate ladder. Now a media executive in New York City, Singh thinks differences in culture hold Asian women back in the American workplace.
“Some of it is our cultural baggage,” said Singh, 48. “We expect to be rewarded for our hard work. We believe in meritocracy. But meritocracy is in the eye of the beholder.”
April 5 marks Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Equal Pay Day, highlighting pay inequities. According to the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Asian American women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by White, non-Hispanic men. Certain ethnic groups experience much wider wage gaps. Nepali and Bagladeshi women experience the greatest wage gaps at 48 cents per dollar.
“Our wages touch every aspect of our lives. It impacts our ability to access health care and make decisions about if, when and how we start and support a family,” Sung Yeon Choimorrow, NAPAWF’s executive director, said in a statement. “And when we examine wages using disaggregated data, we find that it upends the dangerous ‘model minority’ myth and the false idea that all Asian Americans are high-achieving immigrants and from financially prosperous communities.”
This year’s findings include part-time and seasonal workers, in addition to full-time workers. Asian American women are the primary breadwinners for their families living in multigenerational households, Choimorrow said.
“AANHPI women’s work is undervalued and underpaid. From retail and restaurant workers to personal care and service work, AANHPI women are overrepresented in some of the most poorly paid jobs in the country without access to paid medical or family leave,” Choimorrow said.
There is a distinct cultural divide when Asian women enter the American workforce, Singh said. She recalls her father telling her to be deferential to her supervisor.
“Listen to him, he is the boss,” Singh recalls her father saying to her.
That immigrant cultural behavior may hold some Asian women from leadership roles, Singh said. That passes on to even second-generation children as they take cues from immigrant parents, she added.