Your Heritage for a Professional Edge — Page 2 of 2

For all these reasons, U.S. employers make a conscious effort to recruit Asian Americans who can help them tap into this rich and energetic sector of economic activity — for customers, for employees, for investors, for suppliers and for business partners. They look to Asian Americans to bring not only the required professional qualifications but also the additional cultural and social insights that can make them effective liaisons to both the overseas and domestic Asian populations.

Sure, some employers still see Asians through the distorting lens of stereotypes and imagine professional, cultural, social shortcomings, but the demands of the new globalized marketplace have made astute employers see something else in your Asian heritage — a valuable tool in wooing customers, dealing with overseas and domestic investors and suppliers, relating to Asians in recruiting and management situations, and providing a fresh perspective in making strategic business decisions.

This gives you a potentially valuable advantage in entering and advancing in the business and professional worlds. But that advantage comes at a price. Until you are willing to pay it, the advantage will remain entirely potential. Here are the 5 rules for turning the potential advantage of your Asian heritage into a boost to put your career on the fast track.

1. Make your Asian heritage a plus, not a minus.

Your heritage is an extra that you bring to your position, not an alternative to the responsibilities expected of someone in your position. The advantages offered by your Asian heritage are very real in the eyes of most employers, but they are only valuable when embodied in someone who fully assumes the usual duties. A bad professional isn’t worth much, regardless of her cultural heritage. The time may come when your cultural assets may be called upon to a degree justifying relieving you of some or all of your other responsibilities, but until then, make your core duties your first priority.

2. Embrace your heritage.

Ethnicity is a two-edged sword. Embraced with genuine pride, it is an excellent way to show your authenticity, integrity and comfort with your identity. But remember that there is no way to claim your heritage only halfway. It is an all or nothing proposition. That doesn’t mean you must make a fetish of your heritage or practice every custom. But you do not want to express any reservation about your heritage or distance yourself from it to any degree, as, for example, by referring to members of your ethnic group as “they” or sneering at some of your traditional customs. A half-hearted attitude toward your heritage will expose you as a perjson lacking in personal integrity, not to mention, in the hoped-for advantages of an employee able to help bridge the gap with a critically important market.

3. Learn your heritage.

The fact that you are of Asian ancestry doesn’t automatically make you knowledgeable in Asian culture and society. In fact, many Asian Americans have had little exposure to them while growing up. Often whatever knowledge they acquire comes from reading, taking courses, attending conferences, cultivating contacts and traveling. When your employer calls on you to draw on your fund of Asian cultural assets, you want to be sure there is something there or both you and your employer will end up severely disappointed.

4. Take an interest in how your Asian heritage can benefit your firm.

More likely than not, your boss will avoid putting you on the spot by asking you to assume some task or project that may benefit from your heritage. Instead, she may prefer to watch and see how much interest you show in applying your heritage to your job. After all, that is precisely the way you can show the kind of initiative expected of gung-ho, fast-track professionals. Of course, you want to be careful not to intrude ethnicity into some aspect of the operation that may not welcome it. The key is to learn about the area, so you can judge whether your cultural input would be helpful.

5. Remember that others have heritages.

Because we Asians are racially distinct from the majority of Americans, it is sometimes difficult to avoid dealing with our heritages and it is easy to assume that White Americans don’t have their own unique heritages. In fact, various caucasian American groups have been cultivating an awareness of their own unique heritages. Irish Americans, German Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Jewish Americans all have unique customs observed to varying degrees. If you want to be appreciated for what you bring to the party, be sensitive and receptive to the heritages of your colleagues. Prev

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