Why Asian Americans on Wall Street from Goldman Sachs to Wells Fargo are breaking their silence

“They thought they were part of the mainstream until this ‘Chinese virus’ stuff,” Wall Street recruiter Mike Karp said of his Asian American clients. “Now there’s a building resentment that people have, and they aren’t taking it anymore.”
Alex Chi, Goldman Sachs
Alex Chi, Goldman Sachs
Source: Goldman Sachs
A year after the pandemic began in New York City, something snapped in Alex Chi.

The 48-year-old Goldman Sachs banker had been inundated with articles and video clips of horrifying, seemingly random attacks on Asian Americans in his home town. Then, in late March, eight people were gunned down in the Atlanta area — most of them immigrants from Korea and China — and Chi could stand it no longer.

The barrage of attacks forced a change in Chi, a partner and 27-year Goldman veteran. He became an in-house agitator of sorts, attending protests and rallying his colleagues around a simple idea: Silence is no longer an option.

“The message I’ve clearly put out to other Asian Americans is this: You have to start speaking up for yourselves,” Chi said in a recent interview. “We have to use this moment as an opportunity to finally make ourselves heard and change the narrative around Asian Americans in this country.”

This isn’t just the story of the political awakening of a single New York banker. It’s the story of thousands of Wall Street employees who are, many for the first time in their lives, connecting with co-workers in virtual chatrooms, over Zoom and in person to commiserate about being Asian in finance, and in America.

While Asian Americans make up one of the biggest minority groups in finance, comprising roughly 15% of the employees at the six biggest U.S. banks, few have made it to the operating committees of these institutions. Just one, former Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, has led a top-tier bank.

Chi, who became a Goldman partner a decade ago, reaching one of Wall Street’s loftiest ranks, says he is one of the first Korean Americans to do so at the 151-year-old institution.

He believes Asian Americans at Goldman and beyond are now pushing back against the stereotype —rooted in a common cultural upbringing that stresses modesty and conflict avoidance and reinforced at times by workplace discrimination — that they are quiet, docile worker bees.

For the broader community, some 23 million people, the past few months have been the first time Asian American issues have reached the national stage in decades. The last time this has happened was probably in the early 1980s, when the beating death of Vincent Chin galvanized an earlier generation to form affinity groups, according to historians.

‘China virus’
The arrival of the coronavirus last year brought a surge in bias crimes against Asian Americans, especially in New York and California. Many of the assaults have been against senior citizens and women. The violence has shattered the sense of security for many in the group, according to the Pew Research Center.

But a silver lining to the racial scapegoating that accompanied Covid-19 has been that it has unified many Americans of Asian descent, the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S. They make up a significant portion of the corporate workforce in industries including finance, technology and health care, and are an emerging force in politics.

“There’s so many differences within Asians, but you’re treated as one group,” said Joyce Chang, chair of global research at JPMorgan Chase. “Now, being targeted for hate crimes, people are saying, we are being treated like a monolith, we may as well get organized.”

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