Asian Americans in the tech industry are filing lawsuits alleging their companies have unfairly denied them leadership roles over their race.
Jayakumar, who is originally from Singapore, claims that despite her qualifications and experience, she faced racial bias and was denied opportunities for growth and advancement at Meta. According to court documents, Jayakumar’s supervisor excluded her from projects and marginalized her by “layering” her under less experienced employees.
Despite positive feedback and a history of being a team player, Jayakumar was told she lacked seniority and collaboration skills, impeding her chances of promotion.
“After I had endured enough and filed an internal complaint about this repeated discriminatory behaviour, I was mysteriously the only person laid off from my youth policy team,” she later wrote in a LinkedIn post.
Jayakumar is now seeking policy changes from Meta that include monitoring the rate of promotion for Asian American employees and training managers on stereotypes about Asian Americans.
Least likely to be promoted: Despite being among the most-hired racial group for high-tech jobs, several studies have found that Asian Americans face significant obstacles in advancing to management and executive positions in Silicon Valley.
Asian Americans make up a significant portion of the workforce in major Fortune 500 companies, such as HP, Intel, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn, representing 27% of employees, according to a 2015 study by Ascend
. However, their representation as organizational leaders and executives in these companies is less than 15%. In contrast, white employees represented 62% of professionals and 80% of executives in these firms.
Promoted without increase: Ben Huynh, a Vietnamese American, said he did not receive a pay increase after being promoted to a management position at software company Coda in May 2022.
After he voiced his concerns to human resources, he reportedly felt marginalized and isolated. Three months later, he was informed that his team would be disbanded and he would be demoted. He was laid off in November of the same year during what the company claimed to be a “reorganization.”
“There’s a shift because people are seeing that they have to take action or things will not change,” Huynh told USA Today. “If we want to see something change, we have to do something about it.”
How stereotypes harm Asians: Previous studies have highlighted that individuals who viewed Asians as highly competent tended to admire and envy them, while those who saw Asians as lacking in social skills displayed greater hostility and fear.
In 2005, another study revealed that individuals holding stereotypical views of Asians were less inclined to interact with or seek to learn more about them. Researchers proposed that the perceived “unfairly high” levels of competence possessed by Asians may threaten individuals, leading to the use of the stereotype that Asians lack social skills as a justification for discrimination.
Offending white execs: Andre Wong, a Chinese American who played a key role in Lumentum’s product development and market expansion, was fired just months after raising concerns from his co-workers during the company’s “Courageous Conversation” on race.
Wong participated in the event by connecting with frustrated Asian American colleagues who felt overlooked for leadership roles and promotions. Together, they established the Asian Employee Resource Group, which uncovered a significant disparity in demographics. The group reported that while Asians constituted 60% of Lumentum’s U.S. workforce, less than 15% of senior executives were Asian while the majority were white.
During the group’s “coming out” event where Wong shared his experiences, ERG leaders faced reprimands for supposedly making “white people feel bad.” Wong recounted that he later faced instances of derogatory comments from white executives.
Wong was later given a “glass cliff” assignment — a role with little chance of success and sets up one for failure. While he was assured that a promotion to senior vice president would follow, he was instead terminated in December.
He is now pursuing a $20 million lawsuit against Lumentum, with the intention of allocating a substantial portion of any potential award to combat anti-Asian discrimination.