Research also shows that there is a career ceiling for Asians—their education and experience gets diluted the further up the corporate ladder they climb. “Asians are quite underrepresented in leadership roles, partly because of stereotyping, biases, and discrimination,” Huang notes.
“Blacks also get simplistically grouped together as one identity when there are many different identities within that umbrella label,” says Korn Ferry senior client partner Darryl Smith. “While I self-identity as an African American, others identify as Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, or by their African country nationality such as Nigerian, Kenyan.”
For diversity and inclusion practitioners, the question then becomes, what does it mean to be a Latinx, Black, or Asian affinity group? “Is that umbrella too broad to grasp the vast differences in identity within each group?” asks Perez. “Are they really addressing the needs of all the subgroups within each group?”
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Far from an identity crisis, Korn Ferry’s Tapia says the trend is more of an identity explosion. “It’s not that people don’t know who they are,” he says. “It’s more that they know precisely who they are, and are claiming their identity in a fierce, life-affirming way.”
This awareness is becoming more evident within the LGBTQ community. The legalization of gay marriage, an expanded definition of gender— Facebook, for example, now offers 50 to 70 gender classifications to choose from when creating a profile—and an overall trend toward equality are putting the LGBTQ community front and center in corporate D&I programs. In recent years, organizations have implemented all-inclusive fertility benefits, generous parental leave, and transgender healthcare, as well as created workforce protections, contributed to corporate social responsibility initiatives, and made other cultural changes.
Still, as a gay Asian American, Wayland Lum has not only been dealing with ethnic stereotypes for much of his career, but also struggling with when and how to let colleagues know of his sexual orientation. An associate principal with Korn Ferry, Lum says that identifying as both Asian and gay can be either “career limiting” or “career advancing” in the largely white, heterosexual domain of corporate America. While Lum says he is comfortable identifying as gay at work—the civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign recognizes Korn Ferry as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality—he understands that isn’t the case for everyone.
“The gay experience in the business world is as diverse as it comes,” says Lum. “Many gay, lesbian, and transgender people don’t feel comfortable being out at work. It still feels too risky for them. It’s 2019. That needs to change.”