Asian Pacific Americans Hit the 'Bamboo Ceiling'

Participants at the 2010 Asia Society Diversity Leadership Forum.

Asian Pacific Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group, represent the most educated employees (as a group) and their purchasing power continues to rise. So why then, were there only seven APAs serving as chair, vice chair, president, or CEO of a Fortune 500 company last year? Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai calls for an end to this lack of representation in a recent op-ed.

While the typical Asian American stereotypes such as being, "hardworking," or "good at math" seem positive in some respects, Desai says these same stereotypes are probably what limit APAs and keep them from reaching their full potential in the corporate sphere. Asian Americans are often employed as engineers, accountants, and computer programmers, but where are the Asian VPs and CEOs? The difficulty APAs have gaining top level employment is what Vishakha calls, "the bamboo ceiling."

Asia Society's Asian Pacific American Corporate Survey reveals that the majority of Asian American employees cares about their company's futures (88 percent) and supports their company's diversity efforts. Still, APAs aren't having an easy time climbing that corporate ladder. Only 55 percent of employees say that their employers capitalize on their talents and only 31 percent said that their companies encourage them to pursue careers in Asia.

Desai says that overcoming this so-called "bamboo ceiling" will "allow employees and employers alike to reach their fullest potential must be part of our American story."

"By easing the way for Asian Pacific Americans to climb the corporate ladder, companies can reward dedication and maximize these workers' contributions to corporate growth at home and abroad-whether through professional skill development, support of employee resource groups, mentoring, or building ties with Asian communities and Asian markets," says Desai.  

Despite some of the discouraging numbers found in the survey, Desai is hopeful for the future.

"Asians in America are a young population, and our tale is still being written," she says.