Kim Ng’s rise does not solve baseball’s gender and race problems
Kim Ng’s rise to General Manager of the Florida Marlins is a tremendous accomplishment. Her route getting there is typical of the 103 Asian American professionals and leaders I interviewed for my book Stuck: Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder. Ng is superbly overprepared, like many women and people of color before her. What gets them to the top is to be trusted. Like my interviewees, she had to do two times the work just to get half as far. Ng was the youngest Assistant General Manager in 1995, the first woman to argue arbitration and win three world series rings. But this job was 30 years in the making. In fact, she should have been a General Manager 15 years ago. In 2005 she was interviewed by the Los Angeles Dodgers for General Manager but didn’t get the position. She was then considered for GM at the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants. All these positions went to men.
What happened? The stories written have been all about how really, very, truly capable she is. How she must have been overlooked because she is a woman, especially since there are no women at this level. “Baseball is so traditional and change doesn’t come quickly,” as Elaine Steward, vice president senior club counsel for the Boston Red Sox said. No doubt this is true. Steward knows. She is a mover and shaker and was herself a Red Sox assistant general manager in 1990. Only two other women have been assistant general managers, Raquel Ferreira for the Red Sox, and Jean Aftermath of the Yankees.
However, we need to understand that Ng’s rise to the top is a story about intersectionality and trust. Women are seen as caregivers and just not assertive enough. Women are not perceived to be leaders, and especially not in the male game of baseball. Being a woman and being an Asian American more than doubled her chances of being held back. The much discussed 2003 incident with Bill Singer – when he asked her where she was from and harassed her by using a fake accent – shows that there could be racism, animosity and disrespect towards Asian Americans in the MLB. They are seen as outsiders, like many African Americans, Latinx and Native Americans.
Like Corporate America, Major League Baseball has a poor record of promoting women and people of color (BIPOC) in the corporate office. It’s not that they aren’t capable – Kim Ng’s record shows that she is incredibly qualified. She wasn’t promoted because she wasn’t trusted to do the right thing based on her “outsider” status. Women, Asian Americans and “foreigners” like her are seen as outsiders. Bill Singer’s kind of harassment still exists today. In other words, her authenticity as a peer baseball executive wasn’t recognized for the longest time. It took Derek Jeter, now chief executive and part owner of the Marlins to pull her up. The two of them have worked together for over two decades – especially notable is that they (and the rest of the Yankees) won the World Championships three times, he as a player and she as an assistant general manager. He trusted her then for putting the organization first. And he trusts her now, for she will put the Marlins first.
Margaret M. Chin is a Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center (CUNY). In addition to the book referenced above, she is also the author of the award winning book Sewing Women: Immigrants and the NYC Garment Industry.