Moss Adams Voices

Annie Yuan Norviel: Model Minority Myth

Annie talks about immigrating to the United States, the model minority myth, and how we can all better advocate for our colleagues during Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month.

Annie Yuan Norviel

Annie Yuan Norviel, recently named to Diversity Journal’s Asian Leaders Worth Watching, decided to move from China to the United States to achieve her professional dreams. Once she immigrated, she struggled to get accepted into a university, learn a new language, and make ends meet. She worked in the restaurant industry for several years before finishing school and starting her career at Moss Adams in 2008. Now, as a senior manager in San Diego, Annie is proud to mentor other Asian colleagues at the firm to be resilient, communicative, and go after their professional goals.

I understand you came to the United States in the 1990s. What started your journey?

Growing up in Beijing, I never dreamed I would be living in the United States one day. We were poor, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was seven and couldn’t work, so we depended solely on my father’s income. I lived with my parents, my older brother, and my grandmother in a bedroom that was less than 200 sq. ft. without water supply or heating system—it was essentially mud and bricks put together with a roof. The hardship during my childhood didn’t deter me. My parents instilled Asian traditions and a strong work ethic in me, which made me more resilient when facing challenges.

Growing up, I believed the United States was a world leader that embraced freedom and equal opportunities. I was inspired to start my life here. However, I didn’t imagine how difficult it would be for me to start a life in a foreign country with a language I barely knew.

What was your experience when you came to the United States?

I had some detours just like a lot of first-generation immigrants. I was not well informed on how to prepare for US universities, so I had to change my original plans and wait tables while trying to figure it out. It was a difficult time for me as I didn’t speak the language or understand the culture. I didn’t have any family near me, my savings were depleting, and I went through a period where I was very homesick. I was lost, isolated, and lonely. I could also sometimes see in people’s faces when I spoke that I had said something weird or my accent was too thick, so I had low self-esteem. Because of this, I became a very shy person until soon after I started my career at Moss Adams.​​​​​​​

Can you talk more about that?

Do you know that when you have a language barrier, you can automatically feel less confident? I’d see people’s faces, as if they were annoyed by me, and I felt very insecure. Once someone even told me my English hurt his ears. Imagine learning a new language and hearing that. How would you feel?

I worked very hard to improve my English so people wouldn’t say that to me again, but others should know the slight facial expressions you make when someone is struggling with the language has a huge impact. You may not feel that when you’re rolling your eyes, but the other person receives that message so much more than you realize.

Annie Yuan Norviel

Has your experience improved over the course of your career?

Today, I no longer have the same fear and insecurity. I am fortunate that the culture at Moss Adams is very accepting and supportive, which helped me open up and be myself again. At first, I was quiet because I didn’t want people to laugh at me if I said something wrong. However, I slowly discovered people are friendly and they praise my Asian culture and language skills, which made me feel unique at the firm. Further, my language skills have given me the opportunity to serve our clients with global Asian operations, including China and Taiwan. What a difference our inclusive culture has made on me!

As human beings, we all have unconscious biases. We need to be willing to work on that, including at the workplace, so that we’re accepting, respecting, understanding, and find good ways to communicate and work with one another. This is a beautiful world and great country because we are different, and we bring different aspects of skills, culture, and ways of doing things to collaborate.​​​​​​​

What are some ways each of us can contribute to inclusion at Moss Adams?

We have done a great job in emphasizing diversity and inclusion, but we still have work to do.

Asian Americans aren’t always part of inclusion discussions due to the model minority myth—the belief that we’re smart, quiet, compliant, and get work done without complaints. Some people believe Asians are good worker bees, but not good leaders. Sometimes people don’t pay attention to us. There’s a glass ceiling for women and Asians, and it’s a double-paned glass ceiling for Asian women.

We continue to see discrimination against Asian people, whether it’s situational, verbal, or physical. I think it would be nice to see more Asians as partners and in other leadership roles, especially Asian women. I would like to see our Asian colleagues speak up and share what they truly think and voice their unique perspectives so we are no longer the quiet group. I encourage those who work with Asian team members to be mindful of cultural differences and celebrate them. Mentors might ask questions in a different way so that our Asian colleagues can feel comfortable opening up. That, to me, is the first step toward setting an inclusive tone for our culture firmwide.​​​​​​

You mentioned physical discrimination, and we know there’s been an increase in hate crimes against the Asian community this year. How can we be active on behalf of the community during Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month (APIDA) Heritage Month?

I am saddened that violence against Asian communities has continued, and that there has been a recent uptick in attacks. It’s awful that it takes acts of violence to bring these issues to our attention, but I’m glad Asians aren’t being ignored any longer. I have friends in New York City who don’t feel comfortable walking outside, especially at night. Racial targeting of any kind has to stop.

As for APIDA Heritage Month, I encourage people to look into why May was chosen to celebrate. We’ve come a long way to establish ourselves in this country, and we’re part of the engine that pushes the economy and culture forward. It’s important that we all remember the contributions that APIDA communities have made in this country. We should be proud of our achievements thus far.

The best way for people who are not Asian to help support Asians at the firm is to join the Asian business resource group (BRG). The Asian BRG is bringing awareness to our culture so that all people at the firm can better understand the unique aspects of Asian culture that contribute to our firm, and address commons stereotypes about Asian communities. It will take all of us to promote an inclusive culture at the firm—the BRGs are not meant to divide us into different groups, but to make sure all our people are equal.

​​​​​​​The Asian BRG is still very new, but it can be a resource to support and promote Asian professionals at the firm so that they may have an amazing experience similar to what I’ve had. Our vision is to build awareness at the firm of societal challenges faced by APIDA individuals and give back to the community.

Go Beyond the Desk

At Moss Adams, we believe in the power of possible to empower our clients and people to pursue success however they define it. Explore stories about our professionals, including their personal achievements, at our Beyond the Desk page.