Do America’s AAPI Communities Enjoy True Business Equity?

Do America’s AAPI Communities Enjoy True Business Equity?


UCLA Anderson’s Chris Tang recommends corporations rethink their practices

May 26, 2023

Professor Chris Tang
  • UCLA Anderson Distinguished Professor Christopher Tang is a global supply chain expert and founder of the UCLA-NUS Executive MBA program
  • A frequent contributor to several news outlets, Tang has written about the rights of immigrant populations and AAPI equity and diversity
  • Tang believes divisiveness is on the rise in the U.S. and recommends corporations rethink their practices for a more inclusive business environment

Among their many contributions to culture and society, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have proven to be critical drivers of U.S. economic growth. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, as of 2021, more than 40% of all minority-owned employer firms in the country are run by Asian Americans, creating 4.6 million jobs per year and more than 58% of the $1.4 trillion in revenue generated by minority-owned firms in the U.S. But AAPI communities face a growing set of challenges, including the rise in xenophobia and hate crimes, as well as cultural and language barriers that affect many immigrant populations.

Distinguished Professor Christopher S. Tang, UCLA Anderson’s Edward W. Carter Chair in Business Administration and a world-renowned expert in the field of global supply chain management, has been a member of the UCLA Anderson faculty since 1985. In addition to serving as UCLA Anderson’s senior associate dean of global initiatives and faculty director of the Center for Global Management, Tang founded UCLA Anderson’s global executive MBA program in 2003 in conjunction with the business school at the National University of Singapore, where he once served as dean.

Tang is globally renowned for his scholarship and teaching, and often contributes to the opinion pages of major newspapers and magazines — including on the subjects of LGBTQ rights, international trade and AAPI workplace equity. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was the go-to source for journalists covering news of the global supply chain, a topic that became top of mind for so many. For those in the Anderson community, Tang’s impact is felt beyond his research and his time in the classroom: he’s perhaps most influential as a friend and mentor.

Q: What do you wish more people understood when it comes to the AAPI business community?

I don’t think a lot of people appreciate how diverse the AAPI population is. There is a lot of stereotyping about Asians as hard-working, highly educated and successful. It’s true that we have very successful AAPIs. Particularly among those of Indian descent, for example, we see many CEOs.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which eliminated the old system that gave preference to Western Europeans and allowed more skilled workers and their family members to come to the U.S., brought in many highly educated people from Taiwan who went on to found successful companies. But these and other examples represent just one end of the spectrum. What the public tends not to think about is the other end — the more recent immigrants and even the second-generation AAPIs. This includes Pacific Islanders and people from regions such as Nepal and Cambodia that are very poor. For many of them, the poverty has continued. Many are not educated.

The AAPI community has contributed substantially to software development in Silicon Valley. There’s the CEO of Microsoft, the CEO of Google. In hardware, you have the CEO of Broadcom and the founder of Zoom, as two examples. Many U.S. academics are, like myself, of Chinese descent, as are many engineers. But so many others are still trying to make ends meet.

So, when people say of AAPIs, “They’re successful; they don’t need anything,” they’re not taking into account the diversity of the group. And that can work against AAPIs who don’t come from those backgrounds. The other issue is that despite the fact that many AAPIs are successful in business, they tend not to be visible. You don’t see many business leaders of Chinese, Japanese or Korean heritage in the public domain.

Q: What are some of the unique factors affecting the diverse AAPI populations in business?

One reason many AAPIs have been successful as business owners is that they have perceived it to be difficult to move up the corporate ladder. They get stuck after a certain level unless they are able to make it into management. It’s not unlike what women and other minority groups have experienced with the “glass ceiling.” As a result, many AAPIs have pursued the American dream of making it big on their own, and America provides that possibility, which is a good thing. But we also need corporations to rethink their practices and do more to ensure a fair and inclusive environment for everyone.

Recent immigrants who haven’t mastered English, especially, often don’t know of all the benefits they’re entitled to — whether it’s the SNAP food program, health care, financial aid for education or government subsidies for business investment. I would like to see communities be of more help in providing this kind of information so that AAPIs can do a better job taking advantage of what is offered. It’s not only language barriers. In many Asian countries, you are on your own — the government offers nothing. In the United States there are programs that can help, whether it’s Paycheck Protection Program loans or unemployment benefits. But many recent AAPI immigrants are not aware of them, and given that English isn’t something they feel comfortable with, they may not know how to ask.

Q: You’ve been in the U.S. for a little more than four decades. How are things different today from when you arrived?

Unfortunately, the country seems to have become more divisive in recent years, and I think as a community we need to do more to overcome that. We’ve seen political leaders blame COVID-19 and the loss of jobs on China, and it’s important to make it clear that AAPIs who live here have nothing to do with that. They have suffered from the pandemic and economic struggles just like everyone else. Instead, we’ve seen Asian-looking people like myself getting blamed, even if they aren’t from China.

We’ve seen concerns raised recently about Chinese scientists working in academia in the U.S. being potential spies for the Chinese government. Well, I’m sure there are some, but it’s such a small percentage. Many escaped from China, but they don’t want to speak out — for cultural as well as security reasons. They might be concerned about the safety of family or friends who are still there. So they’re getting it from both sides: on the one hand, a backlash from Americans because of their Chinese heritage, and on other hand, a fear of speaking freely without worrying about the consequences.

The bottom line is that Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants are part of our social fabric in the U.S. They want jobs to stay here as well — this is their home.

Q: Do you think AAPI business leaders need to be more vocal on these issues?

Yes. We need more people speaking out against anti-Asian sentiment and highlighting the value of AAPI community members in general. But Asian-Americans also need to do our part — we can’t be passive and expect others to do it for us. Again, there are cultural factors at play. More than most minority communities, AAPIs tend to be reticent to speak out when one of theirs is being mistreated. When they are discriminated against, or not given a promotion or raise they deserve, AAPIs are likelier than people in other cultures to just say, “OK, try harder.” That has to change. We need a united voice in helping the community, and we must engage beyond the AAPI community to ensure that others understand what we are facing.

Q: How have programs you’ve led at UCLA Anderson, including the Center for Global Management and the UCLA-NUS Executive MBA program, helped to address some of these issues?

I founded the global executive MBA program in 2003 because I felt that in the management program, we needed to think not just about the finance side, but also about global issues. I wanted our school to develop programs to prepare students to become global leaders who embrace and appreciate differences. We formed the program in partnership with the National University of Singapore because of its location, which gives students exposure to all of the Southeast Asian countries. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for Asians to come to America and learn that even in the richest country in the world, we have many challenges as well.

Within the Center for Global Management, we have a speaker series in which we invite executives and other leaders to discuss the importance of America’s role as a leader in addressing global issues such as climate change. We also bring in Asian leaders to talk about the challenges as well as opportunities for overcoming some of the obstacles. And we discuss the fact that we are increasingly connected, and need to work together to make America a country that embraces all people.

When we are divisive, it harms everyone. If someone speaks English with an accent, it means they’re from another country, another culture, and that’s an opportunity to learn something new.