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Lessons from the Bamboo Ceiling – Association for Psychological Science – June 28, 2021

In this publication, Ludmila Nunes, a Staff Member of APS (Association for Psychological Science), highlights the recent Anti-Asian Hate Crimes and the Bamboo Ceiling faced by Asian Americans. It quotes the work of Jackson Lu, (Mitsui Career Development Assistant Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management), Richard E. Nisbett of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Michael W. Morris of Columbia University. Together they conducted a series of 9 studies involving 11,000 Asian Americans and other Asians.

For decades, Asians have been called the “model minority”. This term is inaccurate and undesirable because: 1) It mystifies and unfairly compare Asians to other minority groups, and ignores racism; 2) It ignores the diversity within the Asian community; and, 3) It creates an unrealistic myth about Asians.

Asians were found to be well represented in non-managerial work forces but underrepresented at the executive level, making up about 6% of the country’s population but only 3% of the top executives at Fortune 500 companies. At the U.S. law firms, Asians represent 11% of the associates, but only 3% of the partners. In technology Asians represent over 30% of the workforce, but are less than 15% of the executives.  

Their studies also found that South Asians were more likely than East Asians to achieve executive leadership. In 2017, of the 16 Asian CEOs in the S&P 500, three were East Asians as compared to thirteen South Asians. Three potential mechanisms: prejudice, motivation, and communication assertiveness were postulated to have caused this discrepancy. Of the three, communication assertiveness was found to be the factor that enabled more South Asians to be admitted to the executive suites. “To a large degree, these ethnic differences in assertiveness can be attributed to culture. Strongly influenced by Confucianism, East Asian cultures are characterized by humility, conformity, and interpersonal harmony.”

Professor Lu also highlighted the double jeopardy East Asians face: “People not only believe that East Asians are non-assertive, but also believe that East Asians should be non-assertive.” As a result, when they are not assertive, they are less likely to attain leadership, but when they are assertive, they risk being viewed as “too assertive.”

Not surprisingly, the study also found gender bias on top of racial bias:

  • White men are 165% more likely to be executives than White women
  • Asian men are 112% more likely to be executives than Asian women
  • White men are 192% more likely to be executives than Asian men
  • White women are 134% more likely to be executives than Asian women

Please read all about this publication here.

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