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Discrimination and Overcoming the Bamboo Ceiling

Updated: Feb 20

Discrimination and Overcoming the Bamboo Ceiling

In case you’ve never heard of the term, it was coined by Asian American coach, Jane Hyun in 2005, that describes the bias and discrimination faced by Asians in the workplace that prevents us from advancing to certain roles and top leadership positions.

Is the bamboo ceiling real? 

Just look at the stats.  

  • According to Ascend Foundation in Silicon Valley, 1 out of every 285 Asian women and 1 out of every 201 Asian men is an executive.

  • In the federal government, Asians make up 5.8% of the workforce, but just 3.5% of senior executives, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

  • Asian Americans make up 5% of lawyers, but have the lowest ratio of partners to associates.

  • According to Bloomberg, in the banking industry, despite a 23% representation in middle management and professionals, Asian Americans make up 7% to nearly 19% of executives or senior managers at the six largest U.S. lenders

  • According to Bain, while 9% of the professional workforce in the US identifies as Asian, only 2% of CEOs do.

A study showed that 65% of AAPI managers view the bamboo ceiling as a moderate to serious problem in their careers. This is the exact reason why I started AAPLN.

“No worries at all.  We need to help each other out as much as possible.  There aren’t many people that look like us in leadership positions in our industry.”

This was the direct quote from someone I couldn’t thank nearly enough when I was searching for a new position after I was laid off.  Admittedly, I was very down.  I felt like I finally made it to my dream role.  The chief revenue officer at a startup, running multiple teams and building out strategies.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.  The company let go of the entire C suite and 90% of the staff.  That’s a story for another time.  When I reached out to my network, this individual who I’ve only spoken to live once, spent half a day sending me leads and introductions.  When I reached out and thanked him profusely, that was his response.  

You know what?  He was right.  When you look around my industry, nothing has changed for 100 years.  The leadership teams look identical as it was before, with a few minor exceptions.  

Bottom line, we need to help each other out.  

The AAPLN was founded with the mission to help Asian professionals advance in their careers, learn new skills and build meaningful connections. Frankly, my goal wasn't just , to break the bamboo ceiling and take our seats at the table, but build our own inclusive bamboo club.  We recruited an amazing honorary founding panel of leaders and influencers who have made an impact in their careers and the community.  We want to help other API professionals with mentorship, advice, professional growth, networking, opportunities, and a safe place to share experiences.   But this is not an ad for AAPLN.  The point is, you don’t have to go at it alone. 

Below are a few tips on how to address discrimination and overcome the bamboo ceiling.  

  • Self-Advocacy: Asian professionals should actively advocate for themselves in the workplace. This includes confidently expressing their ambitions, seeking out opportunities for advancement, and showcasing their skills and achievements.

  • Networking: Building strong professional networks both within and outside of the organization can help Asian professionals access mentorship, sponsorship, and opportunities for career growth. Networking can also provide visibility and help break through biases.

  • Seek Mentors and Sponsors: Finding mentors and sponsors who can provide guidance, support, and opportunities for advancement is crucial. Mentors offer advice and coaching, while sponsors actively advocate for their mentees' career advancement within the organization.

  • Develop Leadership Skills: Investing in leadership development can help Asian professionals build the skills and confidence needed to take on higher-level roles. This includes honing communication, negotiation, and strategic thinking skills.

  • Challenge Stereotypes: Asian professionals can challenge stereotypes and biases by actively participating in discussions about diversity and inclusion, sharing their experiences, and advocating for inclusive practices in hiring, promotion, and decision-making processes.

  • Cultural Competence: Developing cultural competence and understanding the cultural nuances of the workplace can help Asian professionals navigate organizational dynamics more effectively and build rapport with colleagues and leaders.

  • Address Bias and Discrimination: Organizations should implement policies and practices to address bias and discrimination in the workplace. This may include unconscious bias training, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and accountability measures to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunities for all employees.

  • Create Support Networks: Forming affinity groups or employee resource groups for Asian professionals can provide a sense of community, support, and advocacy within the organization.

  • Educate Others: Asian professionals can educate colleagues and leaders about the bamboo ceiling and its impact on career advancement. By raising awareness and fostering dialogue, they can contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture.

  • Advocate for Change: Finally, Asian professionals can advocate for systemic changes within their organizations to address the root causes of the bamboo ceiling. This may involve partnering with HR, leadership, and diversity committees to implement policies and initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the organization.

By combining individual strategies with systemic changes, we can work towards overcoming the bamboo ceiling and advancing our careers in the workplace.  Most importantly, know that there are organizations like AAPLN that are here to help you connect, be empowered, and advance so you can take your seat at the table.

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