Asian-Americans and the Workplace

I was upset to find out that Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, the Asian stars of Hawaii Five-0, have quit the show after being refused equal pay to their white counterparts by CBS. CBS’ response was that they were “extremely generous and proactive in their renegotiation talks” and that it is sad to see them go. (Read more details here.) Um… no.

I love the remake of Hawaii Five-0. I was proud to see fellow Asians as part of the main cast, so I was very disappointed when I read the articles about them leaving. It sparked lots of emotions in me about being a working Asian-American in America.

It’s hard to find Asian faces in Hollywood. One thing that pisses me off about Hollywood is when they give a white person an Asian character – Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange… you get the point. The argument that is made frequently is that these white actors have the fanbase to get people to go to the movies. My response? Bullshit. A good movie is a good movie, and there are other ways to drive people to watch your movie – look at Moonlight.

So not only are many Asian roles given to non-Asian actors, but they aren’t even given the pay they deserve?! Come on! Why were Daniel and Grace refused equal pay to their white counterparts? Some speculate that maybe CBS felt like they were part of the supporting cast and not the main cast, but that can’t be it – they’ve appeared in the same number of episodes and have their own big story arcs. It should also be noted that Daniel and Grace played notable TV characters on other shows before joining Hawaii Five-0, while the two lead white actors did not. Is it just me, or the lack of a good explanation infuriating?

Maybe it’s not all Hollywood’s fault. Maybe there’s some inherent trait in Asians that also makes it harder for ourselves to be seen as deserving of opportunities, as equals. I, like many Asians, were brought up to be humble, to not contradict authority, and to not make a scene even if you disagree. Believe me – I’ve tried to disagree in an open manner with every member of my family before, and man OH MAN, all it did was cause chaos. Even today, I know very well the certain lines that I cannot cross when speaking to any of my family members.

Going into the corporate workforce, I have heard multiple times that you should always be ready to talk about your accomplishments to managers and executive leadership because you never know what opportunities might come. That is not what my upbringing has taught me – people shouldn’t go around tooting their own horn. Humblebragging is an art form, and I admire anybody who can do it effortlessly because I’m still learning how to master it.

As a newbie in the workforce, there are so many situations coming at you that you need to learn on the fly how to handle them. The biggest obstacle for me in navigating the workplace was and still is to overcome that Asian “be humble, stay humble, be thankful, don’t be greedy” mentality.

Advice to my younger self that is going into the workforce, and things that I am working on:

  1. Read Strategize to Win by Carla A. Harris: it’ll help you get in the right mindset for your career.
  2. Speak up at every opportunity: it’ll take you longer to get where you want to be if you stay shy and humble. Overcome your cultural tendencies because as much as it differentiates you from everybody else, it can also very much hinder you.
  3. Build and maintain connections: another thing that I’ve heard many times since graduation is that new jobs and roles come from your network, not through online job portals.


Let me know your story about being in the workforce! What hardships did you face?

feature photo by Headway on Unsplash

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