Liang Zhao
Liang Zhao

It's no secret that many challenges and barriers can stand in the way of success for women in public relations. However, for Asian women, these challenges can be even more pronounced, with many facing significant discrimination and prejudice to a lack of representation and opportunities in the workplace.

One major hurdle many Asian women in public relations face is the stereotype of being submissive or passive. According to the American Psychological Association, Asian women in the US are thought of as faceless, quiet, invisible or sexual objects, in addition to the myth of the “model minority” and the “forever foreigner” stereotypes.

These stereotypes can lead to Asian women being passed over for leadership roles or not being given the same level of respect and recognition as their non-Asian counterparts. To combat this, Asian women must actively seek out leadership opportunities and assert themselves in the workplace. This can include speaking up in meetings, seeking out mentors and sponsors who can help advocate for them, and amplifying wins and successes.

Another challenge Asian women in public relations often face is the lack of representation and diversity in the field. The Race and Ethnicity in Public Relations Report (Source: DAA) found that out of 2,203 executives, less than five percent identified as AAPI, without a single AAPI individual out of 125 agency CEOs and CCOs. This leads to a lack of role models or mentors who can provide guidance and support, which can also make it difficult for Asian women to feel like they belong in the industry.

To increase inclusivity, it is important for Asian women to seek out supportive networks and communities, whether online or in-person, and to actively work towards building a more inclusive and diverse industry. This can include joining professional organizations, engaging with other AAPI women in the industry, advocating for diversity in the hiring process.

Asian women may also face cultural barriers that make it difficult for them to fully integrate into the workplace. The assumption that Asian women do not speak fluent English or are not proficient in English can lead to a lack of challenging assignments or being passed over for promotions because of a perceived lack of language skills. For those with foreign names, it can be particularly challenging, with companies assuming possible employee sponsorship. These barriers can often lead to misunderstandings as well as potentially hindering career advancement.

To reduce the impact of these hurdles, Asian women should be proactive in their career development, speaking up and advocating for themselves in the workplace, and making sure that their voices are heard and their ideas are considered. Additional education or training, networking with industry professionals, and building a strong personal brand will also add benefits for individuals as well as for the collective population. By strategically investing in their own careers, Asian women can increase their chances of success and make it more difficult for discrimination and prejudice to hold them back.

While it is ultimately the responsibility of individuals to advocate for themselves, companies can also play a role in addressing and reducing these barriers. Here are some steps that companies can take to support and empower Asian women in their workforce.

  1. Provide diversity and inclusion training: It is important for all employees to understand and be aware of the experiences and challenges that different groups face in the workplace. Providing diversity and inclusion training can help employees recognize and address biases and microaggressions that may be directed towards Asian women. This training can also help create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace culture for all employees.
  2. Increase representation at all levels: One major hurdle that Asian women face is a lack of representation in leadership positions. Companies can take steps to increase representation of Asian women at all levels of the organization by implementing diversity hiring practices and offering leadership development programs specifically for women of color.
  3. Foster a culture of mentorship and sponsorship: Mentorship and sponsorship can be crucial for career development and advancement, yet Asian women may not have as many opportunities for these types of relationships. Companies can encourage employees to become mentors and sponsors, and also provide structured mentorship programs that pair Asian women with experienced professionals who can provide guidance and support.
  4. Offer flexible work arrangements: Many Asian women may face cultural or family obligations that can make traditional 9-to-5 work schedules difficult to maintain. By offering flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting or flexible hours, companies can make it easier for Asian women to balance their work and personal responsibilities.
  5. Encourage open communication and feedback: It is important for companies to create a culture of open communication and feedback, where employees feel comfortable speaking up and voicing their concerns. This can help Asian women feel more supported and empowered in the workplace, and allow them to advocate for themselves more effectively.

Ultimately, addressing the career hurdles that Asian women face in the workplace requires a multifaceted approach that involves both individual efforts and structural changes. By implementing these strategies, Asian women can overcome the challenges they face in public relations while companies can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for Asian women to succeed and thrive in their careers.


Liang Zhao is CEO and founder of Vansary, a full-service digital events and marketing agency.