Challenging the Asian Female American Career Stereotype

 By Nancy Yu, Senior Manager EMEA Accounting Compliance


You might say I come from the typical Chinese American immigrant story: my parents came to the US from China in search of the American dream to give their children a better life. My mother was widowed at a young age and had to raise four children on her own. I didn’t know my father as he had died when I was less than 3. My three older brothers and I were raised with the help of grandparents and extended family, while my mother often worked 2-3 jobs to support the family. All she wanted to do was give her kids a good education and have the opportunities she never had. So here is where my story begins.

As an Asian American growing up in California, I was expected to study hard, excel in math, get good grades, go to a good university, get a good job, and get married, and have kids.  And that’s what I did: studied hard in high school, went to UC Berkeley, worked for Ernst & Young.  That’s all my mom ever wanted for me, to study hard and find a “good stable job for a girl.”  After seven years into my professional career, I decided to break out of that mold, challenge the Asian stereotype and challenge the standard “career path.”  I decided to quit my job, leave all my comforts behind, and travel the world in search of other opportunities.  It was a tough decision point for me as I weighed the impact of what all this meant. Even harder to absorb was: what did it mean for my career, how much would this set me back, and what would future employers think?  As most of my peers were either taking the next steps in their careers or getting MBAs, I was packing my bags to embark on a personal adventure that didn’t pay a salary and would only be expending out the hard-earned cash of my twenties. This decision was even more challenging for my mom to digest. Concerns about me traveling alone as a girl, along with the thought of me “throwing my career away,” was unimaginable.

I leaped anyway despite the concerns.  In 2010, I bought a one-way ticket to Ireland and planned to explore Europe, Asia, and eventually to Australia. About a month into my travels, I landed an accounting consulting job in Austria for a UN organization via the Facebook era and two degrees of separation.  There, I also met my now Dutch husband on a ski trip in Austria while he was also doing IT consulting for the same organization.  A few years after that, I moved to the Netherlands, got married, worked a few years in Amsterdam, and had my first child. After my maternity leave, my work did not renew my contract, so I stayed at home mom for a few years.  As my husband was traveling a lot in his consulting job, my daughter and I decided to join him. As I never made it to Asia and Australia as I had initially set out to do so, we ended up traveling together there as a family together.  During this time, we also started to plan my return to sunny California to try to put my career path back on track. While my peers were now partners, managing directors, or entrepreneurs building their start-ups, I felt I had a lot of catching up to do.  

In 2018, the LinkedIn era, I saw an opportunity come up at Palo Alto Networks in Amsterdam and saw quite a few of my friends and former colleagues working for Palo Alto Networks in California.  I thought this could be a perfect bridge to make my way back to California eventually, work for the EMEA headquarters while figuring our move back to California.  The more I looked, the more people I spoke with in HQ, the more I wanted the job.  As I awaited the interview process, I had also just found out I was pregnant with my second child; it was still early on in my first trimester, and I had debated sharing this information.  I became nervous about whether this would impact my chances of getting this job, thinking, “who would want to hire a pregnant woman to work a few months and then go on maternity leave?”.  As the process continued along, I wanted to be transparent with the Company and my potential boss and the fact that he said simply replied that this is a non-issue, surprising yes but nothing we can’t plan for, spoke highly of the values of the Company which made me want to work here even more. 

So here I am in 2021. I’ve been with Palo Alto Networks for 2.5 years, was recently promoted to Senior Manager, and about to head into maternity leave with my third child.  We’ve decided to stay in Amsterdam with the family as I found a place where I finally feel I’m back on track in my despite an unconventional route and a change of location.  I’m able to reconnect back to my California roots while being in Europe, get my career back on track as a working mom of (soon to be) three.”