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Intersectional Experiences

Women in the Workplace: Asian Women

Since 2016, Lean In and McKinsey & Company have conducted Women in the Workplace, the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. Each year, the findings clearly show that there is no single story of women at work. To better capture the diversity of women’s experiences, our 2021 report includes data-driven narratives that highlight the experiences of Asian women, Latinas, Black women, lesbian and bisexual women, and women with disabilites.

Asian women are often unfairly overlooked at work. Even when their overall performance ratings are strong, Asian women are less likely than other groups of women to receive positive feedback on their leadership abilities. They have fewer informal interactions with senior leaders. And they are less likely to be seen and noticed as individuals. More than 1 in 6 Asian women say they are frequently mistaken for someone else of the same race, and because of this, colleagues and managers may overlook their specific contributions.

These biases make it significantly harder for Asian women to advance. They are less likely than women to be promoted even when they receive strong performance feedback: Asian women account for 1 in 15 women in entry-level roles but only 1 in 50 women in the C-suite.

“Compared to my peers, I've had to do more to prove myself and to show that I’m worthy of advancement. I feel like the bar for me is higher when it comes to just getting recognized.” —Southeast Asian woman, VP, children under 10, immigrant

For the many Asian women who work in professions dominated by men, the challenges are even more acute. Asian women who are “double Onlys”—often both the only woman and the only Asian person in the room—have a particularly bad experience. They're more likely to experience microaggressions, to feel that promotions aren't based on objective criteria, and to be unhappy with their company.

On top of all this, Asian women have had to contend with a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our data show that 1 in 4 Asian women—and an even greater share of East Asian women—has been personally impacted by racial trauma in the past year, and some sources suggest this number is much higher.

Despite these challenges, Asian women remain highly motivated. Compared to women overall, they are more likely to ask for promotions and far more likely to want to be a top executive. And when they rise, they lead with purpose. Asian women are significantly more likely than women overall to say they want a top role so they can make a positive impact on the world.

The narrative is based on data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s 2021 Women in the Workplace study. While it sheds light on some of the distinct experiences of Asian women, it is by no means comprehensive. Women face multiple and intersecting biases due to many aspects of their identity.

Asian women refers to women who self-identify as East Asian, South Asian, or Southeast Asian.

For more data and insights on women’s experiences at work, read the full Women in the Workplace 2021 report. To learn how your company can empower employees to take meaningful action as allies, explore Lean In’s new Allyship at Work program.