Minority Lawyers Can Break Through Stereotypes and Still Remain True to Themselves

By Tiffany Wong

The 6th Annual Conference and Banquet of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) was held on November 10th, 2012 at the Toronto Board of Trade. Started in 2007, FACL and has grown from a small conference to a virtually sold out event of hundreds of lawyers, law students and allies from the Asian-Canadian legal community.

This year’s keynote speaker was Don Liu, Senior Vice-President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Xerox Corporation, Recipient of the 2011 Trailblazer Award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), and one of only nine general counsel of a Fortune 500 company who is of Asian descent.

His keynote speech, “Confessional Ode of a Pussycat Father,” was in response to the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon. It suggested that traditional Asian values in raising children can backfire and impede their success as adults. He acknowledged that stereotypes of Asian model minorities as smart, nerdy, not risk takers, not interested in leadership and boring as assumptions that have hurt Asians in upward mobility in the legal profession.

Part of his speech mentioned troubling statistics in a recent American study showing that even though Asian lawyers in the United States make up about half of all associates of minority background, their numbers inevitably thin out at the top of corporations. Their upward mobility is restricted in a trend that Liu emphasized is likely reflected in similar statistics in Canada.

While biases still exist in today’s society, Liu had four tips for minority lawyers that could apply to lawyers from any background:

1) Network (as your reputation starts on your first day of law school);

2) Engage in public speaking (even if it is discouraged by personal or cultural values that assumes that working hard and keeping quiet about it is enough to succeed);

3) Be a mentor (as it also teaches the mentor skills in communicating, listening and articulating ideas to the mentee);

4) “Chart your own path” (a common sense piece of advice that sounds easier said than done, particularly when some immigrant parents may, with all the best intentions, limit their children’s options to what their families believe to be the formula for success).

All of these points , Liu indicated, criticized but also recognized the stereotype of Asians as lacking leadership and communication skills, partly due to a cultural overemphasis on IQ (intellectual quotient) rather than EQ (emotional quotient). The key for “diverse” lawyers, he concluded, is “to accept who you are, what you are, express it in a professional setting, and be proud of it.”

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