Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A message to our members by Meow Yee, AWLN President

Dear AWLN Member,

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the U.S. The fifth month of the year was chosen to mark two important milestones in Asian Pacific American history: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants and the completion of the nation's transcontinental railroad.

Our main article, "The State of Asian America," presents data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics on the population's demographic profile, educational attainment, business ownership and income distribution. Included are biographical sketches of Secretary of Commerce Gary Faye Locke, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a trio that comprises the most Asian Americans of any presidential Cabinet in U.S. history.

Check out "A Corporate Rock Star by Any Other Name...," which features highlights from "View from the Top: CEO Indra Nooyi's Perspective," the sold-out April 14th appearance at the Asia Society of the PepsiCo leader, one of the highest-ranking Asian American women in the business world. I hope you find especially insightful the India-born executive's responses during the question-and-answer session with the audience. You can view and listen to the entire 80-minute event at

Meow Yee
President, AWLN

Have you registered?  Don’t miss the 2009 Annual Working Mother Media Women of Color Conference & AWLN Break out session

July 21 & 22, 2009, in New York City

Logo for the 2009 Working Mother Media Conference

In the past six years we have highlighted the some of the most important issues in the workplace for multicultural women: the changing face of business, strategic alliances and unity, trust, authenticity. This year we are bringing together high-achieving, high potential Asian, African- American, Latina, Caucasian, and Native American women from across Corporate America.

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> Manage difficult people - up and down the organization
> Face conflict and gain courage

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A Corporate Rock Star by Any Other Name...

By Lily H. Li

"Do not define yourselves by your mom's job."
"Let's live within our means from 15 years ago."
"As long as any of us don't let our net worth define the self worth, I think it'll be fine."

Such advice was offered during "View from the Top: CEO Indra Nooyi's Perspective," a wide-ranging interview of the PepsiCo Inc. C-suite executive by Vishakha N. Desai in a sold-out April 14th appearance at the Asia Society.

Nooyi talked about leading a major company--whose market capitalization would make PepsiCo the world's 37th largest republic--amid contracting economies worldwide, rising protectionism and widespread public disenchantment. Throughout the 80-minute event, her quips evoked laughter from her audience, and she gestured expressively with her hands.

When Nooyi took the helm of this $45 billion diversified beverage and food concern on Oct. 1, 2006, she scored a number of historic firsts: The India-born leader became the first female chief executive and the first CEO of color at PepsiCo as well as the first female chief executive of color and the first South Asian female CEO of a Fortune 100 company. On the second front, Nooyi joined Andrea Jung of Avon Products Inc. as the second woman of color and the second Asian-American woman to run a Fortune 500 company.

Indra Nooyi

Leadership Style

Introduced by Desai, the society's president and a "fellow" prominent Indian-American woman, as a corporate rock star, Forbes magazine's fourth most-powerful woman in the world, a truly global visionary business leader and one of the highest-ranking Asian-American women in corporate America, Nooyi observed, "The very role of a CEO... has to change... It's just superhuman behavior is what's expected, and many of us are learning new skills which we didn't have before. But rock star doesn't hold for any CEO."

In a discussion about her leadership style, she explained, "I just look at people in PepsiCo as part of the PepsiCo family, so to me they're all part of my family. And I'm the matriarch of the family, so their problems are my problems." Asked if her cultural background has ever been a hindrance for her, Nooyi acknowledged, "Perhaps I take too many of the problems home and it sits with me all the time and sometimes it's sleepless nights... I worry about everybody and every issue, especially the 27 members of the executive committee... I cannot depersonalize them from the job itself."

In the Q&A segment with attendees, My Luu, who introduced herself as president of the alumni association of Yale University, from whose School of Management Nooyi attained her master's degree in public and private management, queried, "What advice would you give to those in the room who have an interest in playing a larger leadership role within their own organization, whether it's a corporation, a nonprofit, government entity, etc.?"

Nooyi replied, "If I look back at my career and think back as to what got me here, I think every time there was a difficult assignment, I put my hand up for it... But the only way you're going to move forward is taking on the unpopular assignment, putting in the hours, going into areas that are not your areas of responsibility but showing that you can contribute. And it's a commitment of a lot of personal time... But that's what it takes to work your way up," Nooyi declared with heartfelt feeling. "This is not a straight line. This is not something where you punch your ticket in every job, you're going to get there... Don't start off saying, 'I want to be CEO. Therefore, what jobs do I do?' Just say, 'How do I do the job I'm doing now better than it's ever been done before?' If you start that way, you'll be CEO pretty fast."

Narrow Pyramid

A Columbia University student, noting that a recent New York Times list of 200 CEOs of public companies included only four women, asked, "Is it the women who don't want to lead? Or is it the men who just stop their way? Or is it neither? Is it both?"

"The path to becoming CEO is not an easy one. It's not an inherited position... It's a position you have to work your way up to," Nooyi explained. "I don't think--personally, this is just my point of view--a CEO position is not attained because you've stepped off the career track to go be Mom and come back, you've stepped off to do something else and come back. Remember: The pyramid gets awfully narrow at the top, and you should have earned your stripes all the way through."

She pointed out, "But the fact of the matter is you haven't had the women in the late 40s, 50s, which is the CEO age, who've made all of these sacrifices in order to singularly focus on being CEO. And I think this next generation coming up you're finding a lot more women who are incredibly capable who want to go for it and what's changing is corporate environments are changing to make it easier for women to be able to balance work and life. Those practices did not exist 20 or 30 years ago, so I think the corporate environment is changing..."

In the next decade, Nooyi projected, "So there's a critical mass of women to move up and women themselves are saying, 'I want to figure out how to use these networks and these safety nets in order to be able to do it all.' So I think all of this coming together, I think 10 years from now you're going to see a completely different face of leadership."

The audience, which disagreed with her modest deprecation of the "corporate rock star" status invoked by Desai, erupted into thunderous applause and gave the PepsiCo chairman and CEO a standing ovation.

The State of Asian America

By Lily H. Li

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which was chosen to coincide with two important milestones in Asian Pacific American history: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to U.S. shores on May 7, 1843, and the contributions of Chinese laborers to the construction of the nation's first transcontinental railroad, completed on May 10, 1869.

The month-long observation is an occasion to celebrate the achievements of Asian Pacific Islanders in America and at the same time reflect on the challenges facing this richly diverse community.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian or Pacific Islander racial category was separated into two categories, one being Asian and the other Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (, in accordance with a 1997 Office of Management and Budget directive.

Diversity in the Cabinet

Barack Obama--himself a historic figure as the first African-American, bi- or multiracial and person of color as U.S. president, not to mention the first black head of state outside of Africa--appointed an unprecedented three Asian Americans to his Cabinet.

A distinguished scientist and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, Steven Chu was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on Inauguration Day to become the country's 12th secretary of energy. Chu is the first Nobel laureate appointed to the Cabinet, which he joined as the second Chinese-American member after former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

Retired U.S. Army General Eric K. Shinseki, sworn in as the seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs, led the Army during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and integrated the pursuit of the Global War on Terrorism. He is the only Japanese American and Asian American to be promoted to the Army's top position and is the first four-star general of Asian descent in the U.S. military.

Secretary of Commerce Gary Faye Locke, the 21st governor of Washington, was the first, and remains the only, Chinese American to serve as governor of a state in U.S. history. The Seattle native is widely praised among his constituents for winning a nationwide competition to secure production of Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner, which created thousands of jobs in Washington, the country's most trade-dependable state.

By the Numbers

In July 2007, an estimated 15.2 million U.S. residents said they were Asian alone or Asian in combination with one or more other races, comprising about 5% of the nation's total population. Similarly, an estimated 1 million U.S. residents said they were Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, either alone or in combination with one or more other races, comprising 0.3% of the total population.

Between 2006 and 2007, the Asian population grew 2.9%, the highest of any race group in that period, and the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander population grew 1.6%. By 2050, a projected 40.6 million U.S. residents will identify themselves as Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races, comprising 9% of the country's total population by that year. Between 2008 and 2050, the population of people who identify themselves as Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races will soar a projected 153%, compared with a 44% increase in the U.S. population as a whole during the same period.

In 2007, 50% of single-race Asians 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher level of education, compared with 28% for all Americans 25 and older, and 20% of single-race Asians 25 and older had a master's, doctoral or professional degree, compared with 10% for all Americans 25 and older. In contrast, 15% of single-race Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree, and 4% of single-race Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 25 and older had obtained a graduate or professional degree.

Entrepreneurial Bent

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2008 median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary female workers ( was $753 for Asian Americans, $654 for whites, $554 for African Americans and $501 for Latinas. Steve Hipple, an economist at the Division of Labor Force Statistics, explains that the BLS doesn't publish data on Native Americans because of sampling error. For women, the proportion of workers in management, professional and related occupations last year ( was 46.0% for Asian Americans, 40.6% for whites, 31.3% for African Americans and 23.5% for Hispanics.

In 2007, the median household income for single-race Asians was $66,103, the highest among all race groups and statistically unchanged from that of the prior year. However, median household income varied significantly by Asian group. For Asian Indians, the median income in 2007 was $83,820; for Vietnamese-Americans, it was $54,048; and for single-race Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, it was $55,273.

In 2002, Asian Americans owned 1.1 million businesses, up 24% from 1997 and which generated more than $326 billion in receipts, up 8% from five years earlier. The rate of increase in the number of Asian-owned companies was about twice that of the national average for all businesses. In 2002, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders owned 28,948 businesses, up 49% from 1997 and which generated $4.3 billion in receipts, up 3% from five years earlier. The rate of growth was more than three times the U.S. average.

Community of Contrasts

A Community of Contrasts

Throughout the country, Asian Americans "are starting businesses, creating jobs, and contributing to economic growth," write Karen K. Narasaki and Stewart Kwoh, each president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, respectively, in A Community of Contrasts: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States (

The 2006 report, one of the most comprehensive studies in recent years, compiles data on Asian Americans in the U.S. as well as in the largest communities in New York City, home to more Asian Pacific Islanders than any other metropolis in the nation; California, the state with the largest Asian-American population; and Hawaii, which has the highest per-capita concentration of Asian Pacific Islanders. The 84-page publication provides information on the five emerging Asian-American communities of Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Houston, Las Vegas and Seattle.

Narasaki and Kwoh note, "Yet many [Asian Pacific Islanders] face language barriers and some are among the most disadvantaged Americans." Fox 5 News (WNYW-TV) reporter Ti-Hua Chang's "Community in Crisis: Asian Americans and Poverty" (, which aired on Feb. 22nd on Channel 9 (WWOR-TV), begins with Asians picking through garbage for food at night behind a Chinatown supermarket on East Broadway.

Working but Poor: Asian American Poverty in New York City (, an October 2008 study by the Asian American Federation, reports that in 2006 the city's Asian population had a higher percentage of near-poor people (22%) than non-Hispanic whites (13%), blacks (19.4%) and the general population (19%). An individual is considered near-poor if he or she lives in a family with income above the federal poverty threshold but below twice the federal poverty threshold.

Charity Begins at Home

Chang emphasizes that Asians comprise 12% of New York City's population but receive less than 1% of aid from government or charitable institutions. "Still," he observes, "the Asian community itself and as a whole could be faulted for its charity to its own poor." His report goes on to quote Larry Lee, executive director of the New York Asian Women's Center (, who says, "There was a study done by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which said that blacks give 8% of their disposable income, whites give more than 6%, Hispanics less than 6% and Asians under 4%."

Among the vendors represented on May 3rd at the 30th annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival in New York's Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was the Asian Women Giving Circle, a donor-advised fund of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (, itself a national membership and philanthropic advocacy organization dedicated to bridging philanthropy and Asian-Pacific-American communities. The focus of the circle, a group of Asian-American women pooling resources to invest in Asian-women led, social-change projects in New York City (, is Asian-American women who are using the tools of art to further their social-equity goals.

This year AWGC will distribute $70,000 in funding to 10 local nonprofit, Asian-American women-led projects in New York City. Grant recipients include the Asian American Writers' Workshop ( and New York Asian Women's Center. In its four years of grant making, the circle raised and distributed a total of $270,000 to 30 individual artists and community-based organizations throughout the city. "We decided to make more grants, for slightly smaller amounts, because so many of our grantees are experiencing intense difficulty with fundraising," says AWGC founder Hali Lee. "Given the extraordinary economic circumstances of this year, we tried really hard to raise money in order to make grants at the same level as last year. And we did it!"

Despite miserable rain that Sunday, the festival, organized by the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (, which bills the celebration in New York as the largest pan-Asian community event on the East Coast, drew an estimated 2,000 attendees.