COVID-19’s impact on Asian American workers: Six key insights

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As Asian Americans strive for equity in the workplace, the COVID-19 crisis has created additional challenges. Six insights show how the pandemic has affected this group.

This past year has brought to light some of the harrowing challenges that the Asian American community continues to face and that have often gone ignored or unaddressed.

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we have curated a series of charts based on survey data from McKinsey’s latest Women in the Workplace report, created in partnership with LeanIn.Org, to underscore the current challenges that Asian American workers are experiencing and to chart a path forward to help support them.

Asian Americans faced steep drop-offs in workplace representation at senior levels even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Breaking down the data by Asian American subgroups reveals sharper challenges faced by East and Southeast Asian American employees.
Asian Americans, and particularly Asian American women, have reported a marked increase in domestic responsibilities since the COVID-19 crisis.
Asian Americans feel they have less opportunity to advance in the workplace.

A path forward

Achieving equity in the workplace includes understanding and addressing the challenges that Asian American workers experience. To advance a more nuanced approach to workplace diversity, inclusion, and equity, we have compiled the following actions for organizations to consider:

1. Recognize and diagnose representation challenges along the promotion pipeline.

Asian American representation across tenures will differ for each organization. Collecting disaggregated data by gender and ethnicity can help identify drop-offs during recruitment, promotion, and retention. Since the Asian American experience can vary significantly across subgroups because of historical immigration trends and cultural differences, further disaggregating the data can reveal important insights.

The Asian American experience varies significantly across subgroups because of historical immigration trends and cultural data, so further disaggregating the data can reveal important insights.

2. Mitigate implicit and unconscious bias during promotion and performance evaluations.

Unconscious bias can have a tangible effect on hiring, promotion, and compensation outcomes. Diversity and inclusion trainings for all employees, as well as implicit bias training for evaluators and managers, can serve as a first step to actively correct for potential associations of cultural differences with professional weaknesses.

3. For Asian American leaders and allies alike, foster sponsorship for lower-tenure Asian American employees.

Sponsorship—more so than simply mentorship—involves providing honest coaching, creating career opportunities, and “pounding the table” for earlier-stage employees. Given the lack of representation of Asian American leaders in the workplace already, this responsibility cannot fall solely on their shoulders. Other allies can also lean in and provide sponsorship opportunities to actively help nurture the next generation of Asian American leaders.

4. Expand workplace flexibility and support.

Asian American workers have been feeling the stresses of combined work and household responsibilities since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Workplace benefits such as expanded paid sick leave, concierge services, and childcare support can greatly benefit workers who are balancing professional and home commitments.

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