Are Asian Americans Still Under-represented In Leadership Positions?

English class for Asian American's in the 1960's. Photo credit here.

English class for Asian American’s in the 1960’s. Photo credit here.

The short answer, yes. They are. However, it isn’t all doom-and-gloom. Progress is being made, and we are happy to report not only the bad, but the good that comes along with it. First, let’s take a look at the numbers.

Asian Americans have consistently scored higher on placement tests as well as dominate almost every single statistics-based metric that we have in higher education. However, in spite of this, they are under-represented in top leadership positions as well as big law firms when compared with their makeup of the general US population.

Let’s address a few stereotypes that follow around Asian Americans.

  • Asian Americans are smart and hardworking but seldom want to become leaders.

This stereotype is self-fulfilling prophecy; that concept subconsciously negates Asians from leadership positions. It’s something that needs to be addressed as a culture.

  • Asians are over-represented in high level, C-suite positions.

This is also false. In fact, only about 1.4% of Fortune 500 CEO level positions are held by Asian Americans. That number becomes even more surprising when you look at the fact that Asians comprise about 3% of the total US population and are consistently over-represented in institutions of higher education. The top universities (Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc) generally have about 15% of their incoming class fall into this ethnic category.

If 15% of students at the top institutions are Asian, why are only 1.4% rising to the highest levels of leadership?

What Needs To Be Done?

For those newly-minted Harvard MBA graduates going into positions in management consulting or those law school grads that gave up three years of their life, this is a very pressing question… assuming they are Asian.

As in most cases, the number one thing needs to be education. Not education in the sense of ‘more school,’ but education in the sense of educating the general public, especially those in management positions, of the differences or uniqueness of Asian Americans. Perhaps it’s the fact that their leadership style is generally more reserved, or that they may need some additional encouragement to speak up. Regardless of what it is, it needs to be understood that they are not less able and they have no less desire than anyone else to succeed.

Even in a time when law school admission exams are at the lowest number in forever, the economy seems to still be struggling, and other professional degrees like the MBA are having their validity questioned, it’s nice to know that Asian Americans are still working hard and succeeding. While perhaps not at the frequency with which they should be, the future still looks bright.