In honor of AAPI heritage month, we invited Pacific Islander and Asian employees to reflect on the intersection of their identities with their careers as legal professionals.
Rosanne Mah, Counsel
Growing up as a Chinese American female with little money, I was familiar with a world full of inequalities based on gender, race, and social status. However, my father, an immigrant to the United States who struggled to support my mother and three children, emphasized the importance that life’s possibilities were found in education and responsibility to one’s community. With that lesson, I strive to adopt a learning mindset with every task (big or small) as an opportunity to grow, and to provide the best representation for my clients.
My advice for fellow Pacific Islanders and/or Asians in the legal field is to speak up and never feel afraid or embarrassed to share or express your opinions.
Catherine Conroy, Law Apprentice/ Legal Support Manager
Growing up Chinese, the way I learned to give and get praise was very different from the way it works in mainstream American culture. If my Auntie or Uncle (not my literal aunt or uncle) started telling me how smart I was in school, or how good my piano was, I was supposed to interrupt them with “no no no, definitely not.” It was just the polite, correct thing to do. (And while it was my Aunties’ and Uncles’ job to dish out the praise, my mom was actually beating me to saying, “not her, no way!”)
Another way to escape the compliment is to treat it like a hot potato and throw it away from you as fast as you can. “No no, it’s really all thanks to so-and-so. They did all the heavy lifting; I didn’t do any of it.”
If this sounds familiar to you and you grew up in a similar culture, you may have found this doesn’t translate so well to workplaces in the United States. Deny your own merits, and for some reason you don’t always get a bunch of people rushing in to argue with you and insist you’re actually pretty great. So what should you try instead?
Tips for succeeding in U.S. workplaces, from a mixed race Chinese person:
- Write an essay explaining how it’s your cultural differences that make it difficult for you to toot your own horn or admit your own accomplishments, and then try to leave it where your boss can see it. (Maybe on the company website?)
- More seriously—give yourself permission to try advocating for yourself, even if it doesn’t feel comfortable at first. I know I didn’t grow up getting to see adults in my life sing their own praises with confidence, and that’s OK.
- Recognize that your own cultural habits on how to give and get praise are worthy too. Sometimes, comfort with doing work behind the scenes can truly be an asset. And if you instinctually rush to praise others, that can be great for the health of a team.
- Don’t be afraid to wield your values to shape your workplace culture for the better. When I’m looking to hire, if I see someone who isn’t nailing their self-presentation, I check to see if there are other promising strengths first instead of moving on right away—do they have a track record of growth over time, curiosity and drive for teaching themselves new skills? I do it because I know firsthand that self-presentation is a learnable skill too.
The things you received growing up, especially the things that make you different, are a gift. If something isn’t working for you, you can leave it behind. But if there’s something you know is good, bring it with you wherever you go—including the workplace.