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Reviewed by:
  • Asian Pacific Americans in the Workplace
  • Sharon M. Lee
Asian Pacific Americans in the Workplace. By Diana Ting Liu Wu. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 1997.

In this 276 page volume, Diana Wu brings an organizational psychology perspective to the subject of Asian Pacific Americans at work. The focus is on the relationship between individual Asian Pacific American workers and the micro-environment of the work organization, and how an understanding of this relationship can contribute to positive changes to the work experience of Asian Pacific Americans. There are eight chapters in the volume and they are organized into three parts. Two chapters in the first part introduce the theoretical approach used and provide background demographic information on the Asian Pacific American population. Chapter one outlines an Asian Pacific American typology model (Table 1.1, p. 33) that is used to analyze different cases and situations in later chapters. According to this typology, Asian Pacific Americans can be characterized as “abnegator/pragmatist,” “assimilator/autonomist,” or “progressivist/altruist.” Each type has its own distinctive traits, attitudes, and perceptions. Several factors contribute to how individuals fit in this typology, including personality, life situation and experiences, social/political/economic environment, and opportunities for social interactions with others. While a particular individual may be categorized as one or another type in this model, the author clearly states that “the divisions between all three types are permeable, so it is possible (even normal) for individuals to move from any one type toward another.” (p. 34) She warns against reading this typology model as a way of rating people, and insists that no judgments of desirability of different traits are implied in the typology.

The second part includes chapters three to six, and presents several case studies to illustrate different ways in which individual characteristics interact with organizational and group attributes. For example, chapter five profiles and discusses work-related issues of generation and gender identities while four cases are described in chapter six to address the experience of Asian Pacific Americans with the corporate glass ceiling. Responses to challenges in the work place are analyzed with reference to the typology model outlined in the first chapter. In part three of the book, the last two chapters review various strategies for individual and organizational adaptation to an increasingly diverse labor force, and different organizational forms and cultures. There is also a useful index and extensive bibliography.

The author states that her principal goal is to write a textbook for undergraduates, and this book should be an excellent text for undergraduate courses [End Page 335] on diversity and work in general, and Asian Pacific American workers in particular. The writing balances an engaging style with useful theoretical concepts to encourage critical thinking and understanding. Each chapter also concludes with discussion questions and an “experiential exercise” designed to have students actively learn more about specific issues. I thought some of the experiential exercises were particularly provocative; others could benefit from further explanation by the author (for example, an explanation of “your potential as manager” scores at the end of chapter six would be helpful). Another useful feature is the use of boxes to highlight and summarize concepts and theories. This encourages the reader to consider how particular theories may be applied to various case studies. While Wu draws mainly from organizational psychology in framing her theoretical paradigm and typologies, she frequently refers to research by other social scientists including sociologists, economists, and social historians, and stories reported in the mass media. This enriches and complements the qualitative methodology used by the author. Another strength of this book is the author’s explicit desire to provide practical advice that may help Asian Pacific American workers flourish in the American workplace. Eye brows may be raised at some of her advice, for example, her discussion of personal appearance and etiquette and protocol. (pp. 202–10) However, I found her frankness to be quite refreshing, and Wu is always careful to acknowledge any negative implications of her advice. Occasionally, in her enthusiasm to make her point, the author sounds like a motivation or inspiration speaker. This does not detract from the overall, well-considered and thoughtful writing.

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pp. 335-337
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