Dispelling the Model Minority Myth: A Message from LEAP’s President and CEO

On Sunday, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed, “The Asian Advantage”, for the New York Times generalizing Asian Americans as the model minority and writing that “Asian-Americans are disproportionately stars in American schools, and even in American society as a whole.”  He focuses on Asian American exceptionalism by citing aggregate statistics about the Asian American community, US Census data showing higher overall educational attainment and median household income for Asian Americans, and excerpts from The Asian American Achievement Paradox

Kristof, like many before him, continues to sustain the stereotypical notion that the traditional values of Asian Americans create quiet, hardworking high achievers with overbearing Confucian parents. This completely misses the reality that, like other groups, Asian Americans are diverse and face inequity, bias, and discrimination.  Kristoff is adding to a long debated conversation about the model minority in media that began in the 1980s and continues in The Economist earlier this month and even on CNN Money this morning.      

In response to Kristof’s article, Christopher Kang, National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), points out through an infograph created by Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP) that less than 3% of the leadership of the nation’s top for-profit and non-profit groups is Asian American. LEAP is a proud member of NCAPA and the infograph summarizes research from LEAP’s Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Board Representation Research.  LEAP began this research in 2009 to dispel the myth that Asian Americans had achieved the American dream and were over represented in positions of leadership.  Often times when advocating for leadership at all levels and in all sectors, LEAP was asked to present data to prove there was a “bamboo ceiling” and should be included in diverse talent pipelines.  At the time, there was very little data available, so LEAP took the initiative to create that data and partner with the Alliance for Board Diversity to ensure that women and minority communities would not be divided and positioned against one another.  

The research showed that despite being the fastest growing minority group, and a vital part of the nation’s talent pipeline, Asian Americans remain one of the least represented groups in leadership roles. Representation of Asian Americans on Fortune 100 Boards show that despite the business and economic clout of the group, Asian Americans remain absent from corporate boards. Furthermore, a whopping 80.4% of the Fortune 500 companies lack Asian representation in their boardrooms.

Across industries and sectors, Asian Americans continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles, including nonprofit boards and foundation boards. Asian American representation on the top 100 nonprofit boards shows that despite the fact that 47 of these nonprofits have Asian American representation on their boards, it represents merely 2.55% of the total board seats. Furthermore, with the continuously growing need for segments of the Asian American community to gain greater access to services supported by large grant making foundations, Asian Americans continue to remain largely absent from the decision making tables of foundation boards.

However, it is not enough to look at representation at the board level.  It is also key to work with companies and organizations to create stronger pipelines so that there are qualified confident Asian American leaders ready to step into those roles.

For the past three years, LEAP has worked with the Asia Society as their knowledge partner for their annual 2015 Asian Pacific American Corporate Survey, a national benchmarking study aimed to fill a critical knowledge gap relating to the growth, development and advancement of Asian Pacific American employees and the opportunities and challenges that Asian American employees face in Fortune 500 companies. 

As President and CEO of LEAP, I believe that, for Asian Americans to be seen as three-dimensional, we need to continue to challenge, question, and educate those who seek to box us in and make us one-dimensional model minorities.  We also need to continue to seek out diverse partners and allies to ensure that division amongst marginalized communities does not allow for continued inequalities.


Linda Akutagawa,

President & CEO

Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc.



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