Anti-Asian hate is dismissed since we’re never viewed as ‘truly American’: Dr. Janet Ahn

Dr. Janet Ahn
Dr. Janet Ahn

Behavioral scientist Dr. Janet Ahn talks about race- and gender-based discrimination that Asian American women are subjected to.

On March 31, the New York Police Department arrested a man charged with felony for kicking and stomping an Asian American woman in the city’s iconic Times Square. This crime is only latest in a series of recent attacks on Asian Americans, which have triggered renewed fear within the community. In mid-March, six Asian Americans were killed at an Atlanta spa, in a mass shooting targeted at the community.

Dr. Janet Ahn is the Chief Behavioral Science Officer at Mind Gym, a multinational company that uses psychology and behavioral science to change the way people think. A trained psychologist who specializes in the psychology of fostering racial and gender inclusion and retention in the workplace, she is also an Asian American woman and mother who has experienced the effects of this rising fear and hate first-hand. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Barnard College, Columbia University, and PhD in social psychology from New York University.

In an interview with the American Bazaar, Ahn talks about the race- and gender- based discrimination that Asian American women are subjected to.

Even when it comes to hate crime against Asian Americans in the United States, numbers reveal that women continue to be the worst sufferers. Why do you think this could be happening?

Women in general are held to a different standard than men. For example, women are assumed to be natural caretakers and highly nurturing. The problem is where these descriptive stereotypes turn prescriptive in which women are expected to be communal and caring. If women fail to meet expectations in these prescriptions (e.g., they are viewed to be too “bossy” and not “maternal” enough, they are penalized in various ways (e.g., losing promotions at work, getting low reviews, harassed, etc.) There is an added burden for women of color who are not only held to these prescriptions as a female but held to other cultural expectations (e.g., Asian women relative to white women are expected to be submissive and polite). When such prescriptions are “doubly” violated then there is a stronger backlash for [women of color.]

The topic of hate crimes against Asian Americans has been a point of discussion especially in post pandemic America. What efforts are needed to seriously be taken and where have they fell short?

Asians are chronically viewed as perpetual foreigners, as an Asian person, it feels like Asian hate is dismissed since we’re never viewed as “truly American”. The first step is to acknowledge Asian Americans as part of an in-group vs. out-group by celebrating their culture and finding more common ground than differences. The second step is to mitigate scapegoating.

A large number of Asian Americans including Indian Americans, work with top multinationals in America. In your experience as a behavioral scientist, having worked with many Fortune 500 companies, what would you say about the gender and racial inclusion and retention in work places?

To amplify a more diverse team and organization, we need to go a step beyond just “checking off boxes” on diversity representation – we need to work hard at retaining and actively including members so they feel like they belong. People feel a strong sense of belonging when they feel heard, they feel psychologically safe, and accepted. Where people are most authentic and comfortable being so, we can retain more diverse members.

Since the beginning of the pandemic 1 million more women have lost their job than men. What would you cite are the reasons behind this gender gap?

Women historically have disproportionately shouldered more of the physical labor at home (for example., cooking, cleaning, childcare) as well as the mental labor (keeping track of to-dos, reminders, scheduling, coordinating). Since everyone has been working from home, these two types of labors have increased, thereby increasing the load women take on. The gender gap has widened [in the work force] as a result.


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