Ying Kong: Young, gifted and Asian? Take heart

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Your identity, culture and value systems are the key to your success. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Your identity, culture and value systems are the key to your success. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

Learning to operate in NZ culture key to dissolving racism, writes Ying Kong, Auckland marketing and social media strategist.

Young, Asian and unemployed? Know thyself. Struggling to find employment or even land an interview and find yourself or your friends blaming racist attitudes of New Zealand employers? Think again.

Blaming racism relinquishes self- accountability, and changing the attitudes of the people around you can be an impossible task that could leave you suffering a lifetime of frustrations.

A simpler and more effective solution is in knowing yourself and understanding your environment.

Your identity, culture and value systems are the key to your success. Being self-aware and confident in your own beliefs and abilities, and learning how to manage who you are within the realities of New Zealand society, are fundamental to overcoming the hurdles you face in the job market.

The fact cannot be ignored that racism is prevalent in New Zealand society, but it's not surprising that it exists. It is human nature to want structure and familiarity in our lives. Our mind is conditioned to seek out and rely on stability as it is a comfortable and safe place. Dealing with change is often hard and doesn't come naturally to everyone.

As New Zealand's changing identity becomes more obvious, racism can be seen as the normal reaction to reluctance to move beyond what many have considered a "traditional" New Zealand identity. Take, for example, the many heartland New Zealanders who have barely got used to the recognition of Maori as tangata whenua and now are being asked to extend a similar sort of understanding to the growing Asian communities.

Fear and resistance is a natural response and for a person's attitude to change takes time.

It seems that the proportion of people with racist attitudes towards Asians in New Zealand has declined in the past decade. Perceptions of Asians reached a low point about 1996 because of the scaremongering tactics of New Zealand First that focused on the "Asian Invasion", views which were reinforced by the media. However, a survey conducted by Asia:NZ this year showed that 83 per cent of New Zealanders agreed Asian people contributed significantly to New Zealand society and 78 per cent agreed Asian immigrants brought a valuable cultural diversity to New Zealand.

While this is a positive step forward, it still begs the question why so many talented Asians are struggling to get jobs in New Zealand.

As the population in New Zealand (especially Auckland) becomes less European there remains a lingering cloud of angst and frustration among the Asian community of feeling unwelcome in the country they call home. In particular, a conversation that has risen to the surface recently is the issue of the "bamboo door".

A term coined by Chinese young professionals' network Future Dragonz, the bamboo door is regarded as an obstacle to a young Asian professional's career mobility at entry or intermediate level within the mainstream workforce in the Western world. This barrier may act as a visible or invisible force hindering confidence, success and leadership development in any given industry.

The bamboo door discussion centres on Asians being locked out of interviews because they were judged on their name or country of origin rather than their skill set. Dig a little deeper and we find that the roadblocks are occurring at recruitment agencies or when reading CVs.

While in many Asian countries displaying the right set of qualifications and skills on paper is a common way to be hired, for the majority of jobs which are obtained in New Zealand it is quite different.

Figures suggest about only 30 per cent of jobs are advertised, while the other 70 per cent are found by direct contact and networking. For SMEs the percentage of jobs that gets advertised is even smaller.

The focus needs to be shifted from relying solely on CVs and recruitment agencies to making a name for oneself in the community and industry of your line of work and interest. Expand your network and boost your visibility to meet and form relationships with influential people. In the modern world of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging, it has become much easier to promote oneself.

Instead of tirelessly looking at Seek or Trade Me, try offering yourself as an intern to your favourite company or seek opportunities in community projects. The relationships you build will be invaluable.

For many Asians this can seem like an overwhelming task as it is against many of the fundamental values that our parents raised us to follow. Expressing opinions and/or promoting oneself is often frowned upon and seen as disrespectful. To be successful you must get good grades, work hard, be humble, keep your head down and blend in with the group. This is one of the most common reasons so many talented young Asians become frustrated as they realise that meritocracy comes to an abrupt end after graduation.

Achievements and technical skills are the easiest to identify and measure and tend to be how people evaluate their own performance and worth.

In reality, competency is often ranked second to warmth on the skills employers value for an ideal employee. Warmth can be defined as someone who is friendly, helpful, empathetic, open, kind, sincere and trustworthy.

Unfortunately, even employers with the best of intentions are not immune to the influence of stereotypes and unconscious bias. Surveys have been done that show Asians (and other ethnic minorities such as Jews, as well as career women) are often regarded to be high in competence and low in warmth, explaining why they are often pigeonholed into technical and analytical roles such as accounting and engineering and passed over for roles that involve people interaction or leadership because of an assumed inability to connect with others.

It is not enough to stamp one's feet and claim racism by employers. Asian people must assume the responsibility for dispelling unjust perceptions by understanding and knowing how to influence the way others perceive them. This is only possible if you understand who you are as a person and who you want to be.

Only by having a high level of intelligence will you be able to know if people's perceptions are based on stereotypes or are actually a result of the way you think, behave and interact. If the perception is unjust, understand why and work to influence your potential employer so he/she gets to know (and love) the person behind the face and the name instead of making judgments based on words on a piece of paper.

Read the full article here: http://www.joltchallenge.com/blog/young-asian-and-unemployed-know-thyself-1/.

- NZ Herald

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