Breaking the Multiple Stereotypes of Being an Asian American Female 'Introvert'

Channel your inner Kamala Harris, perhaps

There is a certain stigma that comes with being an introvert, especially when culturally, you’re taught to not draw attention to yourself. But what happens when the way you behave culturally appears to conflict with the way you behave professionally?

Growing up as an Asian American woman in a big family, I was taught to not place any attention on myself. My mom would say, “Listen, work hard and be respectful; then you’ll be successful.”

While there is a time and place to do both of these things in life, I learned over time that only focusing on these areas in my professional career—especially as a team lead and manager—ended up creating a false perception of my ability to succeed as a leader. I was often told I was “too reserved” in meetings, that I needed to smile more, be less serious and speak up over my extroverted counterparts, mostly men. Yet ironically, the only feedback I ever heard given to them at the time was “be crisper in how you articulate your point of view” or “Great job,” even though the point they made was a rephrasing of what I had said a minute prior.

What happened there? First, I didn’t articulate my point clearly enough, and second I didn’t ask a follow-up question to make sure people understood my point the first time.

Some people may think introverts can’t possibly be successful team leaders or command a room as public speakers because they’re too quiet, too serious, too reserved or too intense and not friendly enough. When did these terms become associated with failure?

Online resources have defined introverted people as those who prefer calm environments, limited social engagements or embrace a greater than average preference for solitude. These definitions don’t capture the spectrum of qualities that an introvert could have. In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the New York Times bestselling author shares that one out of every two or three people you know are introverts—but they’re frequently dealing with societal bias that are designed for extroverted personalities, like workspaces.

Listen and key in

Sometimes you might be in a room full of larger-than-life personalities who have a tendency to take control of the room. Giving yourself time to formulate these points or questions will give you the reassurance to not overthink what you want to say and establish your point of view. Ask yourself: What is the challenge or problem at hand? What can be changed? Why should this change matter?

Practice the pause; speak with conviction

Be your authentic self. Even if you’re nervous, remember that people want you to succeed. If you speak too quickly, you may appear nervous. Don’t be afraid to let your audience linger on your words or approach for a couple of seconds longer. Practice this by recording yourself talking or rehearsing a point. You may even want to hit record so you can see how you show up. I learned this exercise from my music teacher in third grade: Enunciate your words and do some vocal warm-up exercises; posture does wonders for your vocal exercises.

Ask for feedback

As an Asian American, I was advised not to ask for help, as it comes with the notion of laziness. It took me nearly two years to ask a former executive why I wasn’t considered for a higher level role than what I had applied for. This executive said despite my experience, I couldn’t look this person in the eye throughout the interview. I was so concentrated on making sure I articulated my point of view that I didn’t relate to the situation and maintain that personal connection.

Self-awareness is key. Build a circle of professional advocates. Perhaps you want to know how your actions and words are being perceived in your company. Find a variety of colleagues who may be able to help you grow, such as a mentor or coach, someone who will champion you; a challenger, someone who may encourage you to think differently about your approach; or a peer in a different organization. This is critical when you’re leading a team. Make sure you understand how your team members want to be communicated to, and give them opportunities to participate.

Explore your connection options

Even if being in the spotlight makes you uncomfortable, you can select other methods to invite others into your thought process. You may be surprised at the receptivity you get. Make time to connect through one-on-one virtual coffee chats, emails or maybe share an article you thought was interesting. Find something that helps you connect better with your audience and relate that back to your conversation.

You may never be the loudest voice in the room and that’s OK, but the only way you’ll be heard is if your response is thoughtful and your voice and presence carry a distinct vibe that makes people in the room feel calm and confident in your response. Critiqued for being too quiet or serious? Find ways to dispel the myths that quiet and serious are not leadership qualities.

Look to solve problems after identifying them and come forward with recommendations. As silly as it sounds, write down three adjectives you want to be known for and highlight examples of ways you can demonstrate these more effectively. Find something that helps you connect with your audience so you can relate those connection points to your conversation. If being in the spotlight makes you uncomfortable, there are other ways you can invite others into your thought process and may be surprised at the receptivity you get. Believe it or not, aligning others to a shared mission and purpose can create disproportionate impact for the effort you put in.

I see you, fellow introvert, and I celebrate you.