Why do we see fewer Asian Americans in senior management positions? In the first study on Asian Americans and perceptions of leadership, researchers found that Asians are seen as having less charisma when compared to their white counterparts — a trait that’s often synonymous with leadership in Western societies. Host Michel Martin discusses the findings of this new study with lead author, Thomas Sy, of the University of California, Riverside.
I’m Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, my weekly Can I Just Tell You commentary. That’s in just a few minutes.
But first, you may have heard the phrase model minority used to describe Asian-Americans. That’s because they are popularly perceived to have strong study and work habits, behave with discipline, and willingly adopt American culture. But that stereotype, favorable as it may seem, is not helpful when it comes to being viewed as leaders.
A new study says that Asian-Americans, when compared with white Americans especially, are thought to be lacking in charisma and thus lacking in leadership ability in business and the board room. And these results may help explain why we see a smaller percentage of Asian-Americans in top management than whites, the researchers say.
To learn more about this study and how the results might be used in real life, we’ve called the lead author of the study, Thomas Sy. He’s an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. And he’s with us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Thanks so much for joining us.
Professor THOMAS SY (University of California Riverside): Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So I’m going to ask you to try to explain as simply as you can what was your methodology.
Prof. SY: Sure.
MARTIN: But the basic core question is, is there a stereotype that Asian-Americans are technically competent, but somehow not qualified for the top job?
Prof. SY: That’s a fairly accurate statement.
MARTIN: So how did you go around testing that idea?
Prof. SY: Sure, sure. So we provided them with an evaluation of an employee. This description gives fairly basic information. And all participants get the same type of information. The only thing that we varied was race itself. For our Caucasian counterpart, the description of this employee was John Davis. For our Asian counterpart it was Tung-Sheng Wong. In addition to name, we varied it by providing with demographic information. We literally told them: race, colon, Caucasian or Asian. And a third variable, we actually provide them with a picture. So this picture was either a picture of a Caucasian individual or an Asian individual.
MARTIN: So you surveyed business undergraduates because you were interested in future leaders. But you also surveyed groups of […]