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Bamboo Ceiling is not just your Imagination

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

Stanford Alumni Denise Peck and Buck Gee just shared with us their chock-full-of-data report from Ascend, The Illusion of Asian Success, and the charts only proves what we already know intuitively - the bamboo ceiling is real.

The Harvard Business Review article covering this report didn't pull any punches in their headline: Asian Americans Are the Least Likely Group in the U.S. to Be Promoted to Management.

This is even more shocking in Silicon Valley: "But excluded from the report was the fact that Asian Americans are the least likely racial group to be promoted into Silicon Valley’s management and executive levels, even though they are the most likely to be hired into high-tech jobs."

Another distinguished Stanford alum, Goodwin Liu, is referenced in the article:

These issues aren’t confined to the tech industry. Similar concerns were raised about the legal profession in a 2017 study coauthored by Goodwin Liu, associate justice of the California Supreme Court. Published by the Yale Law School and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the report found that Asian Americans are well-represented in law — they’re more than 10% of the graduates of the top 30 law schools — yet “have the highest attrition rates and lowest ratio of partners to associates among all [racial] groups.”

Same is true in the medical industry. Same in education (though Stanford MS and PhD in EE Dr. Mung Chiang bucks the trend by being appointed President of Purdue University). Same in [name your industry].

So, the data is in. See the depressing charts for yourself:

Download PDF • 2.65MB

The HBR article does lay out a 3-step process for organizations to address the bamboo ceiling issue. The book I found above when searching for an image for this blog gives advice for individuals.

But WHY is this happening? What are some outliers - like there seem to be a lot of Indian CEOs (e.g., Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Twitter, IBM, Mastercard)? What have they figured out that other Asian ethnicities haven't? Those are some of the questions that I hope the Center for Asian American Studies can research.

And maybe some school, like GSB, has already done the research and figured it out. Then it's an issue of marketing, letting all of us know what the solution is. That's another thing the Center can do. Not just research. Not just be a "hub" to coordinate across the disparate schools at Stanford. But it would also have the ability to convene scholars, policymakers, business leaders, and influencers to share ideas and learnings.

Knowing the bamboo ceiling is real is helpful - the first step is awareness. But we shouldn't be complacent, happy to be the "model minority" and not wanting to "rock the boat." We need to know why this is happening and address the issue at its root. As it did for me when I was a young electrical engineer, I hope Stanford can lead the way for all Asian Americans.


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