Earlier this week, we wrote that Asians comprise about 5 percent of the American population, yet they account for only 1.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. Additionally, Asians make up only about 2 percent of board members.
The Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP) reports that Asians are chronically underrepresented in management and leadership in American companies, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the "bamboo ceiling." What accounts for this significant race discrimination?
Experts believe that key differences between Asian and American cultures might keep Asians from rising to top positions. Many Asian countries value deference to authority. Therefore, Asians in the American workplace are less likely to challenge the consensus, question authority or promote themselves to managers or supervisors.
A corporate consultant who has written about the bamboo ceiling explains the difference. She says: "In Asia, there's a saying that the loudest duck gets shot. In America its 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease.' These things are totally different and at odds with each other."
Among co-workers, Asians may also appear more reticent and private. This might make other employees less willing to approach them as friends. According to a CWLP survey, 37 percent of Asian men said that their colleagues seem uncomfortable asking questions about their personal life. This number is twice as high as the numbers reported by Caucasians or Hispanics.
Corporate experts believe that solving the problem should not be about reconditioning Asians to "fit in." Rather, they say that non-Asian managers need to recognize the diverse and important talents Asian workers can contribute.
For international companies based in America, China and India are very important markets. The managing director for a major consulting firm says: "The more you understand the impact that China and India are having on the world, the more you recognize the importance of having Asians be part of your leadership team."
Source: Bloomberg, "Breaking Through the Bamboo Ceiling," Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Aug. 3, 2011