The term "bamboo ceiling" was coined by Jane Hyun in her book focusing on Asians in the workplace, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians. It is defined as a combination of individual, cultural, and organisational factors that impede Asian Americans' career progress inside organizations. Since then, a variety of sectors (including nonprofits, universities, and the government) have discussed the impact of the ceiling as it relates to people of Asian descent and the challenges they face. As described by a senior writer at Fortune magazine, "bamboo ceiling" refers to the processes and barriers that serve to exclude Asians and American people of Asian descent from executive positions on the basis of subjective factors such as "lack of leadership potential" and "lack of communication skills" that cannot actually be explained by job performance or qualifications. Articles regarding the subject have been written in Crains, Fortune, The Atlantic and Forbes (2016).
The term is a derivative of the glass ceiling, which refers to the more general metaphor used to describe invisible barriers through which women and minorities can see managerial positions, but cannot reach them.
Based on publicly available government statistics, Asian Americans have the lowest chance of rising to management when compared with blacks, Hispanics and women in spite of having the highest educational attainment. When also considering gender in the evaluation of the Bamboo ceiling, Asian American men faced higher rates of promotion discrimination than Asian American women, and Asian American women faced a pay equity discrimination in comparison to payment with Asian American men.
- 1 In the United States
- 2 Other forms of Asian American underrepresentation in American society
- 3 See also
- 4 References
In the United States
Underrepresentation of Asian Americans
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race. However, covert forms of racism persist in the workforce. The Census Bureau reports that Asian Americans have the highest education levels of any racial category in the United States. Of Asian Americans, 52.4% are college graduates, while the national average is 29.9%.
- According to United States Census Bureau, in 2010 the Asian American population accounts for about 5.6% of the total population in the U.S. but only 0.3% of corporate office populations.
- In New York City, Asian Americans have the highest number of associates at top New York law firms, yet the lowest conversion rate to partner.
- Even in fields where Asian Americans are highly represented, such as the Silicon Valley software industry, they comprise a disproportionately small percentage of upper management and board positions. Statistics show that despite one-third of all software engineers in the Silicon Valley being people of Asian descent, they make up only 6% of board members and 10% of corporate officers of the Bay Area's 25 largest companies.
- At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5% of scientists are Asians, they make up only 4.7% of the lab and branch directors.
- According to a study of the 25 largest Bay Area companies 12 had no board members of Asian descent, and five had no corporate officers of Asian descent.
- According to the United States Census 2010, Asian Americans make up 5.6% of the American population, as of 2014, 3% of the district court judges are Asian American. Between 2009 and 2010, President Obama had nominated eight Asian Americans to a seat on the U.S. District Court, four women and four men. Six of the nominations have been confirmed by the Senate except for the nominations of two of the men Edward Chen and Goodwin Liu; while all the women were confirmed.
- In 2015, Ascend, an Asian-American professional organization from New York, conducted a study on the Asian-American workforce in several tech companies within Silicon Valley. They found that although there is representation in lower-level positions, 27% of the professionals were Asian-American, there is an underrepresentation in many executive positions: fewer than 19% of managers and less than 14% of executives were of Asian descent.
- In 2009 a study by the Australian National University showed significant racism when hiring. The study found that a Chinese-named applicant would need to put in 68 per cent more applications than an western named applicant to get the same number of calls back. A Middle Eastern-named applicant needed 64 per cent more.
- Asian American women are specifically underrepresented. Out of all Asian-American women working in tech, only 1 in 285 is an executive.
The bamboo ceiling in the United States is a subtle and complex form of discrimination, and the umbrella term "Asian American" extends to include a number of diverse groups, including South Asians, East Asians, and Southeast Asians. These groups are often subject to "model minority" stereotypes, and viewed as quiet, hardworking, family-oriented, high achieving in math and science, passive, non-confrontational, submissive, and antisocial. In the workforce, some of these perceptions may seem positive in the short-term, but in the long-term they impede progression up the corporate and academic ladders.
While Asian Americans are often viewed as a "model minority" race, many feel that they are an invisible or "forgotten minority", despite being one of the fastest growing groups in the country. Because they are generally considered ineligible for many of the minority rights of underrepresented races, and Asian Americans have been shown to be less likely to report incidents of racial discrimination in the workplace, although there are far fewer institutional avenues and programs for them to combat these labels and perceptions.
Causes and effects
Some analysts attribute the racial disparity in administrative capacities to negative extensions of the aforementioned stereotypes of Asian Americans, such as common assumptions that they are "lacking in leadership skills" or that they have "poor communication abilities". Asian Americans are also sometimes expected to have higher qualifications than their white counterparts, such as graduating from more prestigious universities, to achieve the same positions in American companies.
Many of these stereotypes and expectations have a basis in cultural misunderstandings. Some Asian Americans claim that they are raised with culture-specific values that affect perceptions of their workplace behaviour. For example, some report being taught from an early age to be self-effacing, reticent, respectful, and deferential towards authority. These values do not translate well into the American workplace, where Asian Americans are sometimes perceived as aloof, arrogant, and inattentive. As a result, Asian Americans are less likely to be seen as having qualities that appeal to American employers, such as leadership, charisma, creativity, and risk-taking, and are often passed over for promotions in spite of satisfactory job performance. Asian Americans are also less likely to aggressively network, self-promote, and speak up at work meetings with concern and ideas when compared to their coworkers.
Others indicate that physical characteristics are a factor. Studies have shown that taller individuals tend to be promoted and earn more money than shorter individuals, and the average Asian American height is shorter than the national average. Some also report that Asian facial characteristics are unconsciously perceived as less expressive, less engaged, uninterested, and untrustworthy. These factors, combined with the common stereotypes and portrayals of Asian Americans as "nerds" and "geeks", with high intelligence as well as high math and or science aptitude(s), creates an image of Asian males in particular as "[s]hort, not good-looking, socially inept, sexually null". Furthermore, even Asian Americans born and or raised in the United States are sometimes assumed to be less English-proficient on the basis of their appearance as "perpetual foreigners".
Another factor may be an existing lack of connections and Asian Americans role models in upper management and in politics. Until relatively recently with the Civil Rights Movement, a large number of individuals of Asian descent had few political and social rights, or were denied rights of citizenship by naturalisation. While many Asian Americans are active in political life and government positions today, their representation is still disproportionately small, and there remain unofficial barriers to political access.
A survey that was taken revealed that while 83% of Asian Americans felt loyal to their jobs, but only 49% felt as though they belonged in the American workforce. According to researchers that study diversity and talent management said that 25% or 1 out of 4 Asians said "they had felt workplace discrimination because of their ethnicity." Asian American men, more than any other demographic, said they felt stalled in their careers and were more likely to quit their current jobs to search for advancement elsewhere and revealed in another survey done by researchers that 66% of Asian American men and between 44–50% of Asian American women said they felt their careers had stalled showing that not only do Asians face large amounts of widespread workplace discrimination in general, but that Asian American men are discriminated against more by a wide margin revealing a great gender disparity.
Asian American women face additional barriers as a result of being both Asian American and female. This idea of being in multiple minority groups is called intersectionality. In comparison to Asian American men, articles revealed that estimated on average Asian American women earned 27–40% less than Asian American men in terms of payment, if the latter is proven to be true the gender gap in terms of payment between Asian men and women is the highest of any racial group. There are many negative stereotypes associated with Asian American women that could have contributed to this salary difference. These stereotypes being the perception of Asian American women as outsiders, ultra-feminine lotus blossoms, dragon ladies, and model minorities. Also, the stereotypes regarding their relationship to men play a role in their discrimination. Historically, Asian American women were overly sexualized and thought off as being devoted and submissive. These stereotypes lead to discrimination and sexual harassment of Asian American women in the workplace.
Another commonly cited barrier, complementary to the bamboo ceiling, is the "sticky floor". When applied to the Asian American experience, the sticky floor refers to the phenomenon by which young professionals of Asian descent are often trapped in low-level, low-mobility jobs. Asian Americans graduate from universities in high numbers, and firms tend to hire them in high numbers as well. However, within a few years, many claim to find themselves pigeonholed into dead-end careers with no path for advancement to upper-level corporate careers. This process is visible across a number of fields, including business, academia, and law. Even in areas where Asian Americans are believed to excel, such as software engineering, there is an overall tendency to see them assigned to low-ranking positions with fewer opportunities for advancement compared to other racial groups.
The bamboo ceiling is an issue that many Asian Americans face within the workplace. It is a mix of individual, cultural, and organizational factors that hinder the growth and success of these people in office settings, mainly managerial roles. Studies have shown that the psychological aspect of this issue is rooted in the fact that men and women who are raised with an Asian cultural influence are instilled with a set of values much different than the ones needed in managerial positions. From a foundational standpoint, Asian Americans are already at a disadvantage because they have grown up to be self-sufficient, self-critiquing, and uncommunicative.
A psychological experiment was done by two researchers on the bamboo ceiling and their findings revealed that East Asians who do not conform to racial stereotypes of Asians and possessing qualities such as assertiveness, dominance, and leadership skills are less likely to be popular in the workplace with one of the researchers even stating that "In general, people do not want dominant co-workers, but they really do not want to work with a dominant East-Asian co-worker."
Wesley Yang tried to define what the force is that has held Asian Americans back and does so by communicating that Asian Americans have a hard time with the networking and highlighting of their own accomplishments as well as challenging authority. He adds that, Asian Americans tend to be culturally trained to be less flamboyant in the aforementioned skills... therefore slightly limiting their ability to rise above the field in certain professions. To be successful within a managerial role or in a corporate position, it is important for an individual to know how to promote themselves in order to get ahead, but as Yang and Hyun explain, there are cultural nuances that impede upward mobility for Asian Americans.
Contrary to popular beliefs, Asian Americans do openly ask for the professional rewards they feel that they deserve, but despite their overwhelming desire to climb higher on the corporate ladder as well as the American workforce in general, Asians hit barriers that prevent them from doing so.
Breaking the bamboo ceiling
The bamboo ceiling is a socially recognized phenomenon, and a number of different methods have been proposed to help address the issue. Some people have suggested that Asian Americans make stronger attempts to overcome negative stereotypes through "self-awareness". This involves going out of one's way to network and interact with others, making oneself visible by taking pride in and credit for one's work, commanding leadership roles, proposing new ideas in the workplace, taking every opportunity that is available, and conversing in the politics of the workplace. People also advise that finding a mentor can be beneficial. Mentors are a resource commonly used by other minority groups, such as Hispanics and African Americans, to give advice and be a person to talk to about the issues being faced by their community. Groups such as Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education and Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc. provide resources for mentorship. For example, Linda Akutagawa, founder of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc., explains how her company provides leadership training for Asian employees, in addition to their mentorship service.
However, some people argue that it should not the responsibility of Asian Americans to bridge the gap between the differences in their culture and the environment of the standard workplace. So there is an ongoing debate between those who believe that personal adaption is the best solution and those that there are things that the business can do to fix this issue. Some companies have leadership programs designed for Asian Americans to cultivate skills and to help translate values across cultures. Among these inclusive companies is Cisco, which recently created an Advanced Leadership Program for Asian-American Executives at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The program charges $11,000 for a five-day session. Instead of training Asian Americans to “be more white,” some argue that instead, Asian Americans can learn to leverage their cultures and values rather than hiding them.
Other forms of Asian American underrepresentation in American society
In 2014, despite making up 5.6% of the U.S. population, Asian Americans accounted for 5.3% of people and characters shown on film.
In 2015, ABC Sitcom Fresh off the Boat aired on television. This was the first time in 20 years that a show featuring predominantly Asian-Americans had been on national TV; the last one being All-American Girl in 1994, which was cancelled after one season.
A major issue in the media industry has been the concept of "white-washing" where white actors and actresses are cast in roles portraying people of color. In 2015, Emma Stone was cast as Allison Ng in the romantic-comedy Aloha. Allison was supposed to be a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese, yet she didn't look anything like her heritage in the movie. This casting choice led to an outcry in the community; the movie was met with negative reviews and a disappointing box office performance, which may have been due to the response to the casting choice.
More recently, Matt Damon was cast as an ancient Chinese soldier in upcoming action movie The Great Wall (with an expected release date of February 2017). There were many negative comments circulating around the Twitter community shortly after the trailer was released. Actress Constance Wu from Fresh off the Boat chimed in, stating that no matter what, Hollywood will find a way to cast white actors – even in a film set in China 1,000 years ago.
In the United States, Asians, particularly people of East Asian descent, are stereotyped as being physically and athletically inferior to other races. This has led to much discrimination in the recruitment process of professional American sports where Asian American athletes are now highly underrepresented. In 2015, despite making up 5.6% of the nation’s population, Asian American athletes only represented 1.1% of the NFL and 1.2% of the MLB, and as of 2014 0.2% of the NBA.
Basketball is a sport noted for its low number of Asian athletes, despite the fact that the sport's color barrier was broken by an Asian American named Wataru Misaka athlete in 1947. Misaka was the first person of color to play in the NBA. The Utah native played for the New York Knicks.
In American sports, there are and has been a higher representation of Asian American athletes who are of mixed racial heritage in comparison to those of full racial heritage. For instance, former football player Roman Gabriel was the first Asian-American to start as an NFL quarterback and was only of half Southeast Asian descent (Filipino).
Notably, the majority of Asian American athletes who are currently recruited or drafted to compete professionally tend to be in sports that require little to no physical contact.
Asian Americans in 2016 made up 2.6% of congressional population. However, Asian Americans represent 5.6% of the total population in the United States. To be proportionate to population size, there would have to be 30 Asian Americans in Congress.
Underrepresentation in business
As of 2015, less than 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are Asian, although they comprise 5.6% of the total United States population.
Underrepresentation in education
Aside from corporate underrepresentation, there is also a bias against students applying to colleges; there seems to be a racial quota established in several schools that limits its enrollment of Asian-American applicants. Because of this, there are some programs that try to minimize an applicant's "Asian-ness" in order to have a greater chance of being accepted. There is also the fact that Asian American Pacific Islanders have more trouble when it comes to attaining tenure and reappointment in higher education (Woo, 2000). Whether this is due to a glass ceiling or not has not been extensively studied.  Asian-American organizations asked the Department of Education in 2016 to investigate Brown University, Dartmouth College and Yale University, alleging they discriminate against Asian-American students during the admissions process.
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