Jaishree Singh, the New York-based director of research at asset management and advisory firm 17 Asset Management — who was born and raised in the U.S. — observed that South Asians who grew up in the large diaspora communities of the U.S., U.K. or Canada are better perceived by Western employers than their peers directly from the subcontinent. "I have a very Anglicized accent and I understand Western culture very well," she said. "And let's face it, the stereotypical 'Indian accent' is often the butt of jokes and ridicule from the media and entertainment industries in the West."
Indeed, South Asians from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh with "foreign sounding accents" are often regarded as "comedic" and "not to be taken seriously" in the West, Ms. Singh said.
"In order to succeed in Western firms, South Asians often have to 'erase' their accents and downplay their cultural differences in Western corporations," she added.
Asset management was once a "clubby profession," but that has changed in recent years, said Prabha Carpenter, Arlington, Va.-based senior equity portfolio manager with Homestead Advisers Corp.
"When money is involved, there is no room for discrimination, only room for excellence," she said. "Increasing the diversity of teams is being encouraged by pension managers and consultants."
But as a South Asian woman, Ms. Carpenter recalled some subtle discriminatory behavior directed toward her. "One CFO of a company under consideration for investment asked me to serve him coffee while male colleagues were not asked to do the same," she remembered. "Sell-side analysts, others, external company managements were giving eye contact to only the white males in a conference room, (while) ignoring my questions, and complimenting a white male colleague who subsequently asked a similar question with 'what a great question.'"
Ms. Carpenter also said that some people in management and analysts pretended they didn't understand what she asked, questioned her vocabulary or referred to her accent indirectly.
She noted that when she began her career, there was a lack of mentors and a support network that would have guided her.
"More networks exist now," she noted. "Some men, regardless of color or ethnicity, have helped me and other minorities. Having a mentor and a network is tremendously helpful. Having an Asian or South Asian CEO at the helm of a global enterprise is encouraging. I wish there were more women, but glad there are men who share the same immigrant experience, or non-immigrant men who value cognitive diversity. I am personally grateful to the male mentors who hired and promoted me and respected me; they happened to be all exclusively white."