July 9, 2022

Asian Women Aren’t Underrepresented In Tech, “They’re Stuck”

Sexual harassment, bullying, and racist stereotyping are common in the technology industry, creating a culture that drives underrepresented employees out of their jobs. This is something we’ve known for a while due to the extensive studies and investigations.

A 2017 survey of more than 2,000 people who left tech jobs in the last three years found that 1 in 10 women in tech experience unwanted sexual attention, and nearly 1 in 4 people of color face stereotyping.

The same year the study was published, Qichen Zhang quit her job at Google.

Reflecting on her experiences, she told the Guardian that she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The technical specialist was in the middle of the office at Google when a white male colleague began joking with her about her hiring.

“He said, ‘It must’ve been really easy for you to get your job because you’re an Asian woman and people assume you’re good at math,’” Zhang recalled in the interview. “It was absolutely stunning. I remember me just emotionally shutting down.”

The conversation was one of many instances where Zhang said she felt isolated as a woman of color working for the technology giant, and a few months later, feeling like there was no future for her at Google, she quit, she told the Guardian.

But she wasn’t and still isn’t the only Asian woman to feel this.

The problems are ongoing despite Big Tech’s promises to make a robust change.

While Asian women are better represented in the industry than other women of color, that doesn’t protect them from facing challenges, Joan Williams, a feminist scholar and professor at the University of California, Hastings School of the Law, told NBC Asian America. 

“Asian American women reported many of the worst experiences,” she said. “Asian Americans aren’t underrepresented [in tech]. They’re stuck. And they’re underrepresented in leadership positions.” 

For Pinning Down the Jellyfish: The Workplace Experiences of Women of Color in Tech, Williams and colleagues surveyed over 200 women in tech across racial demographics from 2019 to 2020. The women shared anecdotes about the bias they often experienced and how it affects the way they move in their work environment. 

East Asian women, for example, were 42 percent more likely than white women to report being demeaned and disrespected, stereotyped, left out of the loop, and treated like they were invisible.

South Asian women reported they were pitted against one another in the workplace and encountered the “forever foreigner” stereotype, where their competency and language skills were questioned. 

“One might well think that women of Asian descent would benefit from the stereotype that Asians are good at science. They don’t. Particularly salient for East and South Asian women was that they had to put in extra work to prove themselves in order to receive the same recognition as their peers, and to be seen as a good team player,” the report states. 

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Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.