Now that I’ve experienced half my expected life, there are several things I wish somebody had coached me on earlier. Of course, following this list will not guarantee success in leadership positions, but they are a dozen tangible things you can do to change both your own perceptions and the perceptions of those around you. Asian American women are not usually the first that come to mind when decision-makers think of leaders; it’s not right, but it’s reality. So we need to do a little more to help change perception:
- Dress professionally…always. You never know who you’ll run into — take it from our African American sisters. Especially don’t wear suits where sleeves are too long, which will accentuate a “smaller” presence.
- Don’t nod in agreement too vigorously or continuously. Research shows that women in subordinate positions tend to nod in agreement much more than men (in subordinate or leadership positions) do. Apparently, it reveals “too much” eagerness and can place you, by perception, in a “lower” position among those gathered.
- If you’re older than 40, let your age be known; if younger than that, don’t.
- When the timing is right, don’t be shy about counter-proposing (in such a way as to let the “powers that be” know what you really want).
- Don’t wait to be asked to do something. Make the most of opportunities that materialize. You never know which one will lead to something extraordinary!
- Work on the skill of sharing your accomplishments. It’s a fine line between appearing unduly pompous and disappearing into invisible oblivion!
- Interact with all people with the utmost respect. You never know when a classmate or acquaintance will be your future interviewer, colleague, or boss.
- If you’re an F on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), limit your emotional outbursts or reactions in public settings. If you’re a T, help those Asian American women who are Fs!=)
- Watch how many times you say “I’m sorry” throughout the day. If you are genuinely culpable, then take responsibility boldly, but don’t fall into the habit of apologizing as a way of filling an awkward silence.
- Be mindful of where you sit in a meeting. Sit somewhere where you’ll feel more ownership of the discussion (and not on the fringe) but not always next to the “power” people or those who make the decisions; sitting away from the “power” will provide you with opportunity to articulate your own voice, without it getting swallowed up in the “power’s” persona. (I can’t take credit for this—a fellow AAWOL sister clued me in on this one!)
- Be mindful of how you sit in a meeting. Because I’m usually one of the smallest (physically) in the room, I try to find chairs that will allow me to boost the seat up higher. Of course, that means my feet will dangle freely, but the added height will contribute both to my own sense of confidence and to others’ perceptions of me. Also, try to sit up straight as much of the time as you can. Slouching is never good.
- Keep a check on your motives. Asian integrity dictates that you do things for the good of the whole, the community. It’s a precious value…and it’s a godly value!
Dr. Debbie Gin is Director of AAWOL (Asian American Women On Leadership). She is a Senior Faculty Fellow in Faculty Development at Azusa Pacific University and an Associate Professor in Biblical Studies and Ministry at Haggard Graduate School of Theology. Debbie and her husband live in southern California.