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 Feature Article
Wednesday September 27

It's called the 'Pao effect' — Asian women in tech are fighting deep-rooted discrimination

SAN FRANCISCO — Sysamone Phaphon felt lucky when, after quitting her job in health care to start a tech company, she was approached by an investor at a pitch competition.

It was only after the investor lured her on a business trip to New York that she realized the offer to help her raise money was a ruse to sleep with her. 

Phaphon says it's an all too common experience for Asian women to get sexually harassed in the tech industry, part of routine discrimination that hampers their careers.

"I wasn’t the only woman at the pitch competition," says Phaphon, founder of FilmHero, a Web app for independent filmmakers. "I was the one he hit on because I was Asian."

By most measures, Asians and Asian Americans are well represented in tech, with 41% of jobs in Silicon Valley's top companies. Though Asian women hold fewer of those jobs than Asian men, they're employed in far greater numbers than other women of color, leading some to assume they do not face the same levels of discrimination as African Americans and Latinas.

Yet research from Joan C. Williams, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, shows that Asian women report experiencing as much bias, and sometimes more, than other women do. And Asian women are the demographic group that is the least represented in the executive suite relative to their percentage in the workforce, according to a study of major San Francisco Bay Area tech companies by the nonprofit Ascend Foundation.

"Asian women face a double whammy of racial and gender discrimination,” says Bo Ren, who worked as a product manager at Facebook and Tumblr.

Fighting to crack that leadened combination of glass ceiling and bamboo ceiling is the subject of Ellen Pao's new tell-all memoir out Tuesday. 

Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change details the legal battle against her former venture capital firm that captivated Silicon Valley and brought attention to discrimination against women, in particular Asian women. Pao accused Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of not promoting her because of her gender and retaliating against her for complaining. She lost on all counts.

In Reset, Pao recalls going to work for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' John Doerr as his chief of staff. He picked her, she says, because he liked the idea of a "Tiger Mom-raised" woman. He had two chiefs of staff, the other one a man who focused mostly on investing, while she was asked to help with email, speeches, even babysitting his daughter and other "less desirable work." "There are certain things I am just more comfortable asking a woman to do," Pao recalls Doerr telling her.

"Some of us lose and some of us win," Pao writes to women in Reset. "What's important is that we're telling our stories and standing up for ourselves and for each other."

That's what some women have been doing since Pao filed her lawsuit in 2012, putting their careers on the line to call out companies and individuals that engaged in discrimination — and got away with it. In Silicon Valley, it's called the "Pao effect."

Software engineer Tracy Chou pressured some of technology’s most powerful companies to release annual demographic reports on their workforces, revealing just how few women and people of color they employ.

Female entrepreneurs, many of them Asian, stepped forward to expose the predatory behavior of tech investors who sexually harassed women, leading to those investors’ resignations and promises from the tech industry to reform. 

Phaphon says the example set by Pao and others gave her the courage to tell her story. "Only if we are willing to speak up will we be able to change the stereotypes," Phaphon says.

Typecast as meek, compliant and domestic, Asian women working in the tech industry say they are frequently pressured into traditionally feminine roles. They get stuck with office housework such as organizing team lunches and with grunt work such as fixing software bugs. 

With fewer "stretch" assignments that advance their careers, they say they encounter more bias on performance reviews and get overlooked for promotions and pay raises. When they assert or promote themselves, they say they're penalized. 

It's not just in big tech companies that Asian women face challenges. When pitching investors, Asian women entrepreneurs say they're told they speak too softly or that they should bring on a male co-founder. They are mistaken for other Asian women. And, they say, they get propositioned all the time.

Beatrice Kim sued her former employer BetterWorks and its then chief executive officer Kris Duggan in July, claiming he assaulted her in a sexually suggestive manner during a company retreat and permitted a hostile work environment in which vulgar remarks were made about women. After the lawsuit was filed, Duggan said he would step down as CEO to take the role of president.

In 2015, Chia Hong, a Taiwanese product manager, sued Facebook, saying her opinions were belittled or ignored in meetings, she was told she looked differently and talked differently than other team members and her boss had her organize parties and serve drinks to male colleagues. Hong dropped her case.

A former software engineer at Twitter, Tina Huang says when she complained the promotion process at the social media company was stacked against women, she was placed on administrative leave. Huang, ‎who's co-founder and chief technology officer of venture-funded tech startup Transposit, sued Twitter and in November is seeking class action status for the other female engineers she says were passed over.

"The story we tell ourselves is that Asian Americans are hardworking and industrious, meek and great at math, conforming, apolitical and, thus, upwardly mobile — but only up to a point," says Tina Lee, founder and CEO of, which trains women with kids for tech jobs. "We make great worker bees but we're not leadership material. This is doubly true for API (Asian-Pacific Islander) women."

Lee is the assertive and plain-spoken founder of a tech nonprofit. She says people often comment that she's "unconventional."

"People expect me to be a certain way and I show up another way. I am no more extroverted and loud than many white women I know, but I'm perceived as being unconventional because I'm not the meek Hello Kitty or the cold dragon lady they expect," she says.

Asian and Asian American women tend to get lumped into one highly educated, over-achieving, upwardly mobile category, obscuring the wide range of experiences in the Asian and Asian-American populations, from those who grow up economically disadvantaged to immigrant workers from a variety of different cultures.

From all appearances, entrepreneur and investor Susan Wu is your typical successful, Ivy League-educated Asian-American woman who has advised a who's who of tech companies, including Medium, Twitter and Square. 

What people don't know is that she had an abusive childhood marred by poverty and was shuttled to be with relatives when her mentally ill parents couldn't care for her, she says. 

"As an Asian American woman, I'm either a caricature object of sexual interest, a nerdy engineer, a newly arrived immigrant, a tiger mom or an aggressive dragon lady," Wu says.

Earlier this year, Wu spoke out about sexual harassment in the industry, saying that she was propositioned by Binary Capital investor Justin Caldbeck while she was fundraising in 2010. Many of the women who went public with allegations that they were sexually harassed by Caldbeck were Asian, too.

"I've been working in tech for 25 years and I'm still waiting to be treated as a whole human being as a default, not as an exception," she says.

Even with so many constraints, Asian women are making their mark in tech, from holding management jobs in major tech companies to running their own start-ups and venture funds. And that's lighting the way for others.

Every time Gladys Kong attends a tech conference, someone walks up to her and asks her a marketing or sales question while her male colleagues fields technical questions.

“I either have to wear a sign that I am an engineer or I have to show them I know what I am talking about," says Kong. “Yet I am the one behind building the product.”

Not only that, she's the one leading the company. Kong is CEO of mobile location and data company UberMedia and she's working to crack the stereotypical mold of what qualifies someone to be a leader in tech.

Kong didn't speak much English when she immigrated to the U.S. in high school. She focused on math and science, as she did in Hong Kong, and fell in love with programming. She worked at business incubator Idealab, started her own company and then in 2012 joined UberMedia.

Still not the first one to pipe up in a meeting, Kong says she prefers instead to listen to all ideas before sharing her opinion. But she is spending more time on the speaking circuit, determined to show young Asian women that there's room in the tech world for them, including at the top.

“Looking around you don’t see a lot of Asian women role models,” Kong says. “If I can inspire somebody to step up and do what they want to do, that is awesome to me.”

See original article here.

The views expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Asian Diversity.
Wednesday September 27

Asian-American Caucus, Nancy Pelosi, Others Pressure Congress On Dream Act

Just a week after the Trump administration announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Asian-American members of Congress came together to speak out for Dreamers. 

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) hosted a press conference on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to pass the Dream Act, which would give legal status to undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children. The push comes as DACA is set to officially end in six months and Congress is tasked with finding a solution in the meantime that’d protect nearly 800,000 Dreamers. 

CAPAC Chair Judy Chu ((D-Calif), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ((D-Calif), and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) were among several speakers at the event who touched on why rescinding DACA has huge consequences for the country.

“I was brought to this country when I was almost 8 years old. I cannot imagine any other country where I could have dreamt the dreams that enabled me to become a United States senator,” Hirono said at the event. “There’s a reason they’re called ‘Dreamers.’ Because they want to dream the dreams that I got to dream when I got to this country as an immigrant to this country.”

The legislators were joined by three Asian-American Dreamers, who shared their stories about how DACA provided them with opportunities and why passage of the Dream Act is necessary. Some pointed out that the Act already has strong support among the public, with the majority of Americans supporting Dreamers becoming citizens. Other speakers brought up the impacts that the termination of DACA has on the Asian-American community. 

The majority of DACA recipients hail from Latin American countries. However, a significant amount of dreamers come from Asian countries as well and even more are eligible for the program. South Korea, China, India and the Philippines were among the top ten countries of origin of DACA-eligible populations in 2016. 

But as Hirono pointed out during the press conference, some undocumented Asian-Americans may have been hesitant to expose their status due to previous discriminatory policies targeting the minority group. Referencing the forced imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War, Hirono explained that undocumented Asian-Americans may have a deep mistrust of the government. 

“We know that many, many of them have not stepped forward. Why? Because they may have a greater fear of the government having the information that would enable government to find them,” she explained. “The experience of the totally unjustified discriminatory targeting of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II may cause the Asian community particularly to have these kinds of fears about giving the government information.”

Pelosi, who also touched on the subject of Japanese-American internment, said that many of those imprisoned had had family members who were fighting for the country at the same time. Now, she said, Dreamers are being targeted, regardless of their contributions. Pelosi hopes to pass legislation to protect Dreamers far before the six-month period is up, and certainly before the winter recess.  

“In doing so, we will not only be protecting the Dreamers, we will be protecting the integrity of the country,” she said, thanking the Dreamers at the conference for their patriotism. 

Pelosi previously said that President Donald Trump had promised her he’d sign the Act during a phone call last week. Republicans have been garnering support for the Recognizing America’s Children, or RAC Act. The particular act would apply to only Dreamers who have entered before the age of 16

See original article here.

The views expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Asian Diversity.

Wednesday September 27

How I Became A Proud Young Tamil Woman...

The sun shone through the windows of my elementary school. It was the fourth grade, and lunch time had just rolled around. Hungry, I pulled out a thermos full of last night’s dinner out of my lunch bag. The lunch was rice with an assortment of curries, which wasn’t an uncommon meal for a brown girl like myself to have. However, when I opened the thermos lid, it hit me. An eye watering stench from the spices wafted in the air. I was horrified, and quickly took a few bites before shutting the lid on the thermos, as I feared the class would turn to me in disgust. I felt as though the smell still hovered over me, like a storm cloud. The names they would call me if I had let it open a little longer. I would be known as the girl with the stinky lunch.

Stinky lunches were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to being Tamil.

That’s who I am, a second generation Tamil-Canadian. Born and raised by parents who fled Sri Lanka in a time of crisis, in hopes to begin their life anew. War torn and littered with the bodies of their neighbours, friends and family, my parents leaving their homeland was the only plausible solution for their survival. They brought only the clothes on their backs and the culture that they were taught. For them, adapting to Canada’s culture took them several years, as a part of them still held onto the Sri Lankan culture they grew up in since birth.

I was raised as a Tamil girl.

Yet being raised in Markham, I was also raised as a Canadian girl, something which I identified with more than my Tamil upbringing.  

I found out quickly through school that I wasn’t like the other kids.  

Going to school in Markham, I quickly realized the differences between myself and my classmates. They didn’t go to the temple and wear paavada satais like I did. They didn’t eat meals with their hands at home like I did. They didn’t have a brown complexion like I did. I didn’t fit in because I looked different, because my life at home was different, because I was Tamil. I felt awkward and odd.

I never felt like a true Canadian when I noticed these differences. In my mind, I implemented the idea that to be a true Canadian, I had to leave behind my life Tamil heritage. I would push away anything originating or involving Tamil culture, and in my mind, that’s exactly what I did.

I would let my nose wrinkle in disgust when I ate Tamil food and I would whine to my mom when I had to dress up to go to the temple.

However, no matter how hard I tried to distance myself from my Tamil heritage, it would sneak up on me like a tiger and pounced onto me, knocking me down. My “Tamilness” stuck with me.

I was at a low. All I wanted to be was Canadian, not a Tamil girl, yet I couldn’t distance myself from my Tamil culture. All I really wanted was to fit in, to truly be a Canadian.

Then, the question rang in my head: Why couldn’t I have been born white?

To me, being white meant that you were Canadian, that you were better than everybody else, including and especially being Tamil. Being white meant you fit in and you held a higher importance in society.

My bias and admiration towards the white race entangled me with Linda Corey.

Linda Corey was the it girl, at least in the fifth grade. She had the quality of royalty and superiority. While we were only ten, any one of us would have walked through fire for her.

And that’s exactly what she wanted.

Her russian descent gave her breathtaking ivory skin adorned with a splatter of freckles on her nose. In my eyes, she was the epitome of beauty. Compared to her, I felt like a mud stain in the classroom, with my toffee coloured complexion and my lifeless dark brown eyes

I didn’t know it, but beauty was only skin deep. Behind her green eyes was a mind which held the sole motive to use me to her advantage. Admiring her as I did, I wouldn’t notice- or care- about her mastermind plan.

So began the series of events in which Linda raised her self confidence by pointing out certain “flaws” I had, all while attacking at my self esteem.

Linda would shoo me away when telling secrets to her friends, even though she gave me the illusion that I was a sort of friend to her. Of course, at the time I couldn’t blame her, because I thought she was right. I was not worth telling secrets to, because I was brown. Whenever I had something new, or different than her (like a new manicure), Linda needed to have the same thing.

I guess in her mind, it was so I wouldn’t rise to a different level than her. She always needed to be above me. I just mistook it for her false admiration for me. After all, she was white. She would do no harm and she was always right.

She continued to attack me.

At one point, our conversation during lunch went like this:

“What’s that you’re eating?” she said, clearly disgusted of my lunch.

“It’s just cultural food” I mumbled to her, not knowing how to pronounce it in english. Amma (my mom) gave me rice and curry for lunch for the first time this week.

“Well it looks weird” she retorted, promptly eating her “white” food out of her thermos. I looked at her with pristine focus as the surety on her face was as plain as day. She was right, what I was eating was weird. She couldn’t have been lying because how else could she hold herself up with such confidence? I felt embarrassed to hold such food, and I slowly clicked the lid onto the container and slipped it into my lunch box. Why did I even bother to bring food like this to school anymore?

But I was too embarrassed to ask Amma (my mom) to stop giving the occasional  rice and curry to me, as I was sure her feelings would get hurt.

All I wanted was redemption from Linda, a sign from her that showed me that I mattered, that I was worth something.

The sign never came.

Why couldn’t I have been born white? I asked myself. Then I would have been just like Linda, perfect and right in every possible way.

Linda moved to a new school in the sixth grade. Yet the damage she did lasted me the rest of elementary school. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I started appreciating my heritage.

During the ninth grade in the month of November, Amma had asked me to volunteer for Maaveerar Naal, a program established to pay tribute to the many Tamil soldiers who lost their lives in the Sri Lankan civil war. I have been going to Maaveerar Naal every year ever since I was five, yet this is the first time I had volunteered. Nevertheless, I knew the story, and why there was an annual gathering at Markham Fair Grounds in November.

This war was fought between the Sri Lankan Military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During this time, over 300,000 Sri Lankans migrated from Sri Lanka to Canada, including my parents. However, many family members of these Tamilian immigrants and refugees decided to stay; They wanted to protect their homeland and pave the way for their families to flee in safety.

I knew that many other Tamil families came to Maaveerar Naal to mourn and pay homage to the Tamils who fought in the war. To be a part of the effort that was engrained in my cultural history, I told my mom that I would volunteer. I thought it would be something I would do for the rest of the night, collect my volunteer hours and go home.

However, going into the tent filled with thousands of Tamil people made me see more to Maaveerar Naal. There was more to it than respecting the soldiers who fought our fight. It was more about remembering the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters lost amidst the battle. These were people who have selflessly engaged themselves in the Sri Lankan civil war for a better tomorrow. They were human beings, just like myself. Seeing the pictures of those who have fallen - lined up against the wall - made me realize that their efforts shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.

Even though I have been going for the past ten years, my eyes opened up for the first time in the tent and I truly saw what was right in front of me. I saw what they fought for. They fought for the safety of their families, the safety for the natives who remained in Sri Lanka and for the safety of countless Tamil immigrants and refugees who stood in Markham Fair Grounds today. I realized right then and there that I should have pride in saying that I am a young Tamil woman.

After volunteering at Markham Fair grounds, I decided to give myself a break of the torturous question “why couldn’t I have been born white?” and started to be more open in reconnecting with my Tamil roots.

I didn’t know where an appropriate place to start, so when Amma asked me to go to York Cinemas to watch a Tamil movie -  rather than whining and complaining like I normally did when she took me to movies -  I kept an open mind and went along.  The movies we saw there, along with Amma’s stories about Tamil culture and religion, inspired me to try and delve deeper into our culture and religion. I started by researching about the scientific reasoning of our customs and traditions, most of which I used to scoff at.

Researching and understanding made me feel closer to my Tamil heritage than I ever had before. I realized then that many second generation Tamil-Canadians like myself felt as though they needed to choose between acting upon Canadian culture, or Tamil culture, and wishing they didn’t have their Tamil heritage in the first place. We don’t want to be“too Tamil”, which is evident because many of us feel embarrassed when we take something as simple as lunch out during school. We also don’t want to be considered “whitewashed” when we don’t know how to pronounce something in Tamil(which has happened to me a fair amount of times!) Like myself, many second generation Tamil-Canadians fought and continue to fight this identity battle within themselves.

There’s a Tamil proverb that reminds me of how Tamil-Canadians should be towards each other. It goes like this: Adampan Kodiyum Thirandal Midukku. Translated, it means that union is strength. Rather than wasting our energy trying to prove how “Tamil” or how “Canadian” we are to each other, we should be more open and forthcoming to each other about the conflicts we face. Such as how we fear losing our Tamil culture our parents have taught us. How we fear that we don’t even fit in and we are constantly being judged. How some days, to avoid all of this confusion, we wish that we could have been born white. Us opening up to each other can finally make us realize that at the end of the day, we all face the same difficulties and it’s okay to struggle. Every time one of us step forward to talk, the bond between each of us strengthens; and with that, the union between young Tamil-Canadians is fortified. We all become stronger - individually and as a group - when we come together.

I stopped asking myself, why couldn’t I have been born white? because I learnt that being Canadian meant so much more than that. Being Canadian didn’t mean you had to be a white person who enjoyed poutine and went to the cottage every other weekend. Being Canadian meant that you had to be kind, and accepting towards others. Being Canadian meant being yourself, and for me, being a young Tamil woman was what being a Canadian was truly all about.

See original article here.

The views expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Asian Diversity.

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