parents had encouraged her to seek a mentor, nor had they elaborated on the benefits gained from these relationships.
“Looking back, I could have benefited from a mentor’s per-
spective, but at the time, finding a mentor wasn’t on my radar
screen,” said Mlsna, who has held in-house positions in the cor-
porate and nonprofit spheres. “I was raised and schooled to work
things out on my own.”
While working for a Fortune® 500 law department, for example,
Mlsna was so determined to prevent her personal life from seeping
into standard business hours that she would take a vacation day—
rather than ask for time off—whenever one of her kids became sick
and needed a pediatrician. To avoid falling behind, Mlsna finished
her assignments either extra early or late into the evening.
“I didn’t just work hard,” she recalled of her mindset three decades ago. “My goal was to exceed expectations [held by others].
No one at work needed to know the reason I was out of the office.”
But her views shifted as the years passed. Today, Mlsna urges
young lawyers to enlist mentors and sponsors. She has assumed
these latter roles as her career evolved and advanced, and she
was a discussion leader at one of the AAPI roundtables organized
by Major, Lindsey & Africa. Since leaving the in-house world,
she has been associate executive director of the Chicago-based
American Academy of Periodontology.
Mlsna said AAPI lawyers can break through the bamboo
ceiling that seems to stunt upward mobility into the C-suite—at
least, statistics suggest that it does. For instance, only 16 Fortune®
500 companies employed an AAPI legal chief last year, according to the annual MCCA General Counsel Survey. The 16 lawyers
included one South Asian-American and one biracial GC who’s
Asian-American and Caucasian.
“Put inappropriate stereotypes squarely on the table if you
feel they are being applied to you,” Mlsna suggested. “Address
negative perceptions about your leadership skills by creating
an opportunity to talk about the effective leadership you have
already demonstrated. Identify a team to lead in the future.”
Discussion at the AAPI roundtables has delved into barriers
to career advancement, such as being pigeon-holed as the lawyer
handling business with an Asian nation or being stereotyped as
an information technology expert.
Roundtable participants have talked about the practicality—
and for some, a perceived impossibility—of cobbling a pan-Asian
alliance to further the careers of all AAPIs in the profession.
Some lawyers have doubted the wisdom—even the plausibility—
of partnering with colleagues across different ethnicities and age
groups. They have also wondered if it’s possible to overlook the
different priorities of U.S.-born versus foreign-born AAPIs and
native English speakers versus non-natives.
Whitacre doesn’t fault the skeptics. He grew up in a Mid-
western town where Korean-Americans were few, and he felt
proud when friends called him “a good guy” because he didn’t
seem Asian. But he began exploring his cultural roots during law
school because so many people lumped him with other AAPIs.
Nowadays, the tendency of all Americans to regard AAPIs as
racially homogenous—however short-sighted that may be—is
why AAPI lawyers should band together whenever possible,
“The majority of corporate America sees us as one,” Whitacre
said. “We’re not a monolith, but splinters can crumble our collec-
tive actions. We should get over our differences and try to help
each other. Besides, [non-AAPIs] don’t believe we need the help,
so we have to talk about these issues.”
He added, “We’re behind other racial groups in the activism
game, but I’m thrilled [AAPI] people are talking about this.” ■
A freelance writer and editor, LYDIA LUM ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
former reporter for the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Kathryn Kimura Mlsna Ryan Whitacre
I was raised and schooled to work things
out on my own. —Kathryn Kimura Mlsna
We’re behind other racial groups in the
activism game, but I’m thrilled [AAPI]
people are talking about this. —Ryan Whitacre
MCCA.COM MAY.JUN.2016 DIVERSITY & THE BAR 15