Van­cou­ver ac­tress in­spired to em­power Asian- Cana­dian women

Ca­reer coach­ing: Cheng says cul­tural norm of sto­icism too of­ten in­ter­preted as proof of dis­in­ter­est

Vancouver Sun - - BUSINESS - [email protected]­cou­ver­sun.com

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.”

WAYNE LEIDENFROS­T/ PNG

Olivia Cheng, left, and Alice Chen are two of the co- founders of One Asian, a business ven­ture that works to em­power women of East Asian and south­east Asian her­itage.

Bar­bara Yaff e

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