What applying for jobs is like when you're an Asian woman

After graduation, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Having achieved an English Literature degree and having racked up a lot of writing experience, I naturally assumed that becoming a writer was a logical career ambition.

People tell you that finding your first “real” job is hard — but I don’t think I realized just how hard it was going be until I went through it myself. So I took the first job that was offered to me. Although it’s not an editorial role, my responsibilities do have some elements of writing, which makes me happy.

I’ve been told by people wiser than me that your first job is never your dream job, anyway. A job is a job, and experience is vital for any recent graduate. But my journey before landing this role was extremely difficult. For six months, I alternated between being unemployed, working for free as an intern or as a writer for companies that couldn’t pay, and freelancing. I never had a regular income.

I didn’t plan on being unemployed for so long. At first, it was intentional — I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, and thankfully, I had a supportive family. But once I had even a faint idea, I began applying for any roles that featured the terms “writer” or “editorial.” Half of the time, I was rejected immediately. The rest of the time, I went to interviews with no luck.

And I do think my race and gender had something to do with my inability to land a job for so long.

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I am an Asian woman. I am British, and I live in London.

If we are talking about stereotypes, then English Literature is not a degree many Asians choose. Typically, in academia, we are more represented in subjects like math and science. So even as I worked toward my degree, the difference between me and my peers was clear.

After graduation, when I applied and interviewed for editorial roles, I was often one of the only non-white applicants.

Sure, maybe I didn’t get the roles because I had less experience than other applicants. But I also think stereotype-based perceptions of Asian people influenced employers’ decisions, too.

Asians are stereotyped as quiet and shy, which is read as anti-social.  Journalism is a career in which you are expected to be talkative, and employers want a team where everyone gets along.  And we are stereotyped before we are even given a chance to prove ourselves.

I joined a small team as an intern for a month. I was the only Asian on the editorial team of five people. I often felt excluded from things — group lunches at the pub, nights off at the club, etc. At first, I thought it was because I was new, but then I realized things weren’t changing.

Eventually, I had to say something. My internship was about to end anyway, so I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose. I got straight to the point: “How come you’ve never asked me to join the team for things outside of work?” My co-intern replied, “We didn’t know if it was your sorta thing, and we didn’t want you to feel like you HAD to come.” I asked why they had assumed that. My co-intern struggled to give me an honest answer, before saying:

“Not really sure, we just thought that it wouldn’t be up your alley because where we go — it’s very white. Not being racist or anything.

You know, whenever someone denies that they’re being racist, there is always some racial intent behind their comment.

Journalism — especially in newspapers and newsrooms — is still dominated by white men. And while you can see some people and publications are trying to change this, the ratio between men and women is still unequal.

According to a study conducted by City University in London last year, “The British journalism industry is 94% white, 86% university-educated and 55% male.”

Furthermore, there is also a significant difference in pay between these genders.

City University found that “women are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Nearly 50% of female journalists earn £2,400 or less a month compared with just a third of men.”

But I don’t want to be tokenized either. I want to get the job on my own merit, because my skills are fully acknowledged, because I am not stereotyped — and I am recognized as the best candidate for the role. I don’t want to be hired just because a boss needs to say they employ an ethnic minority or woman.

We need to keep pushing for equality in the work place. Through our persistence, we need to show employers that women — and non-white women — are just as capable as men. Not only in journalism, but in all aspects of life.

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