Vancouver actress inspired to empower Asian- Canadian women
Career coaching: Cheng says cultural norm of stoicism too often interpreted as proof of disinterest
Atrio of Asian- Canadian women have formed a business venture that aims to empower women like themselves who want to thwart cultural stereotypes and discrimination.
Vancouver actress Olivia Cheng hatched the idea for One Asian a year ago, along with co- founders Alice Chen, a lawyer, and Josette Jorge, an actress who has since moved to Toronto.
The trio, who met while taking personal development courses, “noticed that women of Asian heritage have a unique way of looking at the world, and unique strengths that are part of our cultural conditioning,” Cheng says.
Those traits can either hold women back or, she says, be deployed to empower them.
To illustrate her point, Cheng cites the typically recognized Asian characteristics of stoicism and respect for authority. Canadian employers can misinterpret such traits as disinterest or remoteness.
The challenge is for someone exhibiting these characteristics to turn them into something positive — showing a boss that a stoic, respectful person can dig in and get the job done, regardless of any hurdles.
One Asian now has 55 clients, up from 20 in September 2013 when the group launched. The venture offers personal shopping parties, bubble tea gatherings and movie nights, in addition to its more formal weekend group discussions and a speakers series of breakfasts.
The company charges fees for its events. While the enterprise aspires to become profitable, it is not there yet.
Women of Asian heritage “often feel isolated and disadvantaged, even at the height of their success,” a One Asian news release says, describing the company as “a pioneering organization for women of East Asian and southeast Asian heritage ( that promotes) the power of solidarity and sisterhood.”
Clients are mostly Asian-- Canadians, but about 10 per cent have moved here recently from Asian countries. Non- Asians are welcome and frequently attend group activities.
Cheng says she wants to avoid generalizations about cultural characteristics: “I absolutely recognize there is a universal quality to what I’m talking about.”
But, when pressed, she says women of Asian heritage often have been taught to keep their heads down and their emotions hidden.
“I struggle with the sense of being invisible,” she says. “There’s a Chinese saying: ‘ The one to fly from the flock is the one to get shot down.’”
Accordingly, the company uses a video in its coaching that promotes getting noticed and being admired, titled: “Stop being a workhorse and start being a show pony.”
Cheng says she personally knows “the pain of prejudice” and has been the target of discrimination, having been “verbally attacked by a complete stranger on the street who called me ‘ chink’, ‘ f----- g Asian.’”
When the three founders launched the One Asian webpage, she says, it became a target for “racially ignorant” postings. And when she tried to secure a Hollywood agency to represent her, Cheng says she was told, “we already have our one Asian girl.”
Cheng would like to see Asian women stand together, and be part of a sisterhood where each person is given greater confidence and made more culturally self- aware.
Even in a multicultural city like Vancouver, Cheng says, Asians often have the experience of being the only person of Asian heritage in their workplace, or at an event. One Asian counters that lonely experience by providing “an encouraging positive community of supportive sisters that can act as a personal board of directors.”
I ask Cheng if she thinks men of Asian heritage in Vancouver could similarly benefit from a supportive brotherhood and she nods: “Asian men have their own sets of prejudices and challenges to overcome.”