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Asian Americans own over 2.9 million businesses in the United States, according to a 2023 report from the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy.
However, Asian American women entrepreneurs often face language barriers and a lack of banking relationships, reports Hello Alice, resulting in limited access to loans and capital. On top of the anti-Asian violence that has risen across the country, these barriers further limit the success of Asian American women entrepreneurs, making it harder for them to get ahead.
The Importance of Asian American Women Entrepreneurs
The rich history of Asian American entrepreneurship in the U.S. includes early immigrant communities that established small businesses as well as prominent Asian American-owned corporations and solopreneurs today.
However, within the narrative of Asian success in the U.S., the unique set of obstacles Asian American women face in the business world is often overlooked.
The challenges they face are two-pronged, rooted in both gender and racial biases. Obstacles often hinge on sexist and racist stereotypes, like the idea that Asian women should be submissive. These expectations hinder their recognition and advancement as business leaders.
Asian Americans of all genders face barriers to career advancement, collectively known as the "bamboo ceiling," a term coined by Jane Hyun in her 2005 book "Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians".
Asian American women, like any group of people who have more than one identity or characteristic that is stigmatized in society, must address the struggles that result from the way their identities intersect.
Overcoming Challenges as an Asian American Woman
Despite a multitude of growing successes, Asian American women entrepreneurs continue to face significant challenges in the business world.
The following section explores three specific hurdles these women encounter: cultural expectations, gender biases, and limited access to resources.
1 | Cultural Expectations
Many Asian American women are burdened by cultural expectations that prioritize conforming to traditional, stereotypical, and binary gender roles for Asian women.
These are common reasons many Asian American women may steer clear of entrepreneurship.
2 | Gender Bias
Asian American women encounter a particular gender bias that is often framed through Asian stereotypes of shyness and submissiveness.
However, limited access to funding, leadership positions, and mentorship and networking opportunities are what prevent Asian American women from leveling up in business spaces. Their absence from C-suite roles can reinforce stereotypes and prevent non-Asians from seeing Asian women as legitimate business leaders.
3 | Discrimination
Every person's experience is unique, and Asian American women tend to experience discrimination based on both their ethnicity and gender.
Discrimination includes stereotyping, unconscious and conscious bias, gaslighting, sexual harassment, and violence, which undermines professional credibility and growth as well as entrepreneurial opportunities.
Influential Asian American Entrepreneurs
In reality, Asian American women achieve success as entrepreneurs because of their strong cultural values and when they have access to business resources, networks, and educational support. For many Asian American women entrepreneurs, the obstacles they face build resilience and deepen their determination to effectively navigate the business world.
CEO of Tatcha, an innovative Japanese skincare brand, Victoria Tsai is Taiwanese-American. She creates all of her products based on the Japanese diet and values, blending Japanese clinical ingredients with botanicals to solve complex skincare challenges.
Meera Lee Patel
An artist, writer, and self-described bookmaker, Meera Lee Patel is an Indian-American woman who connects her creative work with her ancestral heritage. Target, Esteé Lauder, and Free People are among the prominent brands that work with Patel.
A Vietnamese-American beauty YouTuber, Michelle Phan founded EM Cosmetics, a multimillion-dollar cosmetics line. Her brand was launched by L'Oréal in 2013 and is dedicated to Phan's mother. She's won several awards, including five Teen Choice awards.
5 Professional Organizations for Asian Women
When navigating the business world, whether as an entrepreneur or solopreneur, it is crucial to seek out support, such as mentorship, networking, and other professional development resources. Finding professionals who have experienced similar struggles can help empower you to move forward strategically and with confidence.
Supporting Asian American Women Entrepreneurs
Despite facing unique challenges rooted in cultural expectations, bias, and other forms of discrimination, Asian American women entrepreneurs have made remarkable contributions to the business landscape.
Recognizing the importance of Asian American women entrepreneurs helps us dismantle stereotypes, foster inclusivity, and promote economic empowerment for a group that is underrepresented and underestimated.
Advocacy efforts and support networks play a vital role in amplifying the voices and talents of Asian American women. When we recognize their accomplishments we empower Asian American girls and women to pursue and thrive in entrepreneurship. Ultimately, supporting them drives innovation, economic growth, and social progress, benefiting everyone.
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