Posted by: Andrea | February 19, 2009

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling

I stumbled upon Jane Hyun’s “Bamboo Ceiling Workshop” almost accidentally; a friend had forwarded me the facebook invite and asked if I wanted to go.  It was a Wednesday evening and I almost let the rain convince me to stay in, cozy up with a book and make a dent on that paper I’m researching.  But I went anyways, and was pleasantly surprised and inspired by the workshop.

The asian american electorate is one of the fasted growing groups in the North American labour force.  It makes sense, afterall – most asian generation X and Y’ers grew up on the backs of their immigrant parents hard work, and rightly felt the need to excel in their school and careers to justify the sacrifice their parents made for them in this brave new world.

This is a phenomenon that hasn’t received much attention until now.  The asian american diaspora has led to a number of interesting trends that, in Jane Hyun’s opinion, should be noted.   Why?  Because in the heart of the knowledge economy that has slowly taken over the steel mills and pulp factories and manufacturing plants, there is an equally slow takeover of the workforce that doesn’t operate in the white boys club.   Companies operating in the knowledge economy hold the majority of their assets in their labour force.  High turnover rates lead to high transaction costs, and high transaction costs lead to unnecessary expenditures on an already weakened financial situation for most companies overall.

Here are some facts and figures taken from Jane Hyun’s website:

  • Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing groups in the U.S.labor force but remain one of the least represented groups in senior management ranks at Fortune 500 companies.
    A 2003 Catalyst study showed that while Asian women make up an important and growing source of talent, they make up .29% of the 10,000+ corporate officers of Fortune 500 companies. A previous study by Cliff Cheng showed that Asians make up less than 1/2 of 1/% of Fortune 250 companies.
  • Many Asian American professionals report that they are often misunderstood in business settings. Second and third-generation Asian Americans who don’t speak a syllable of Asian dialect report being mistaken as foreigners or expatriates in the workplace.
  • While Asians are well represented in entry level positions, few advance to senior management ranks or corporate board positions because of cultural barriers or lack of organizational resources.

On an anecdotal level,  Jane’s message resounded immensely with me.  When I consider all the individuals who made it to partner level at my previous workplace, there was maybe one asian and he was male.   But if you look at the manager level, the number of asian females was almost in the majority.   But why weren’t any of them making partner?

It’s a double-sided question, first on the feminine level and second on the ethnic minority level.   Complicating matters is this phenomenon of reverse brain drain, where immigrants who have been educated at the highest levels in North America are returning to their home countries.   Ten years ago, these reverse-immigrants would have been received by their home countries as “rock stars.”   Today, so many have returned and the tides of globalization have swept such that when these revese-immigrants return, they are regarded just as “rocks.”   What a fascinating topic.


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