I was a token Chinese and I didn’t even know it.

What I’ve written next will get me fired. But it’s okay – I’ve resigned anyway.

All my career life I’ve worked very hard in large multinational companies – putting in 100% commitment to both mine and my clients’ businesses. Clocking too many hours coming up with new ways to drive next level growth & profitability – whether needs have been implicitly or explicitly stated. My friends would say I’ve got a relentless work ethic. Head down, hands-on, getting the job done.

I admit having put work a priority over my family and social life for a long time now. I never regretted it then as I saw all my hard work resulted in getting ahead at work. I’m proud of where I’ve gotten in my career.

But this day changed my whole perspective.

I manage a large portfolio of Luxury accounts – and clients’ are currently focused on understanding the Chinese consumer, with reason. Largest population group, rising middle class and affluence and top nationality spending on luxury goods and tax free shopping globally. Prime audience for marketing & advertising.

As a Director of Strategy naturally, I’ve been deeply involved in this focus of work – one of many: I also create strategies on Middle Easterns, Russians, Indonesians, Kazakhs, Americans luxury consumers too. To me, I was providing intelligence that would shape my clients’ businesses now and into the future. The feeling I am part of something. Never complaining of the hours I’d put in, the urgent requests and short deadlines that caused me to burn the midnight oil. Late finishes, early starts.

Then my company hires new leadership. She immediately exerts authority and ownership over my clients. I get cut-out from emails immediately. That’s OK – I could use those hours in my day.

Annual budgeting and planning season rolls-in. Clients have requested time for briefing. A particular senior client had requested for my attendance. She manoeuvres in and makes an excuse not for me to attend. Seemingly odd not to include the strategist to this meeting. I stay quiet through out the lies. In my head I’m debating whether to expose all of this nonsense. But I decide against it. I hope Karma is real.

She calls my client to pacify and set expectations for the meeting. They go through the agenda – as I sit across from her, I can barely hear her through my headphones. She reacts rather playfully – giggling at times. I’m intrigued. Maybe she’s managed to build this deep meaningful relationship with my clients I’m not aware of. In 2 weeks nonetheless. Kudos.

Their conversation ended. She waved to me as to ask me to put down my headphones. She gives me a brief low-down on the conversation. She mentioned that the clients want to dedicate a section on briefing the Chinese consumer, in turn for the agency to present a strategy specific to target the Chinese.

The kicker comes next. Laughing out loudly in front of other colleagues and right in the middle of the office she says, “Now I know why the client wants you to be in the meeting so badly, you’re the Asian representative.”

You see, I’m Malaysian-Chinese. I associate my values and morals as being Chinese-influenced because of how my parents brought me up. I had a Chinese tiger mom who instilled discipline and hard work. My dad worked far too much to give me the best Western education money can buy. He always said “education is the best gift any parent can give to a child as it is a gateway to opening new opportunities”.

I never questioned any of my career achievements as filling some gender representation let alone a racial quota! Have I been totally niave?

Although I say I have not personally taken offense at that exact moment, deep down I was rather offended. I AM offended. She has managed to deliver two big slaps across my face, rocking all self-belief that I had managed to achieve some success in my 16+ year career. I had become the Company’s DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)!

I want to be very clear. I have gained the trust of clients and partners through my own track record, NOT because I’ve ever been or am the token Chinese for the company.

If there’s ever a time to take a chance on yourself and believe in what you do – this is it. We spend a huge part of our living life, working — it has to be doing something we love, enjoy and feel rewarded. We owe it to ourselves. What she said to me reminded me that racism is rife in the workplace, but it also made me realise that I should never have put my destiny in the hands of others. It is never too late to take back control.

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