The Bamboo Ceiling

The issue of why Asian-Americans are sometimes very high achievers in school, but sometimes under-represented in senior management of companies, isn’t new. A former human resources executive wrote a book about the topic six years ago.

But, now the topic’s in the news as much as ever. Some reading for those interested:

  • A lengthy new feature in New York magazine, about there being “throughout corporate America, lots of Asians at junior levels, quite a few in middle management, virtually none in the higher reaches of leadership.” The theory offered, in short, is that Asian-Americans very generally speaking have been brought up to be more reserved, less questioning, and otherwise with characteristics that aren’t detrimental in school but may be on a corporate ladder.
  • A response in Forbes yesterday, which among other things says that the author, when reading the New York article, “kept thinking of exceptions to Yang’s sweeping claims about Asian behavior.”
  • And from a Slate column this week, the author says, about the New York article, “… every individual is marked by several overlapping forms of identity—not just ethnicity but also gender, class, attractiveness, intelligence, and distance in time and space from the emigrant country. Ignore these other factors and naturally everything becomes a simple reflection of ethnicity … in my professional life, for example, I’ve dealt with many of the issues he describes. I’m not as assertive as I’d like to be. I often fear that I’m more tenacious than creative or canny. These are precisely the “typical” Asian qualities Yang describes. But do I feel this way because I’m Asian? I could just as easily see those issues as a reflection of my status as a woman.”

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