The Bamboo Ceiling: An Asian American Issue

 paralegal dude

Pic credit found here.

The bamboo ceiling is a term coined by author Wesley Yang, of Korean descent, in an article he wrote about the lack of Asian American representation among leaders of fortune 500 companies, colleges, and other high-profile jobs. While reading the statistics below, keep in mind that Asian Americans score, as a whole, much higher on all standardized tests, have the highest college attendance rate, and basically win in almost all educational catagories that are measurable.

Yang cites a study saying that while Asian Americans represent 5% of the total population, they only represent about:

  • .3% of corporate officers
  • fewer 1% of all board members
  • about 2% of all college professors

These statistics in an article found here are meant to help highlight the essence of the bamboo ceiling. Asian Americans are held back when looking at upper-level leadership roles by some unknown force. Yang attempts to define what this force is by explaining that Asian Americans have a hard time with the networking and highlighting of their own accomlishments as well as challenging authority. He does, however, talk about the hope for Asian Americans in…

…an organization called Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, or LEAP, that teaches students how to retain their values while speaking up at meetings and conveying accomplishments; in other words, presenting themselves outwardly as leadership material.

The bamboo ceiling may be the different in an Asian American getting the job and becoming a paralegal or as the lead attorney in an over-saturated field like law. A lot of success, as Yang implies, is outward appearance as well as personal back patting. If you don’t excel in these traits, intelligence itself will only take you so far. Asian Americans tend to be culturally trained to be less flamboyent in the aforementioned skills… therefore slightly limiting their ability to rise above the field in certain professions.

While in other professions, sticking within the field of law, Asian Americans may find great success. In a field such as forensic psychology, for example, where there isn’t as much outward-facing skills or pretentiousness needed, Asian Americans may see a higher bamboo ceiling than in other areas of law. Someone not naturally gifted in talking themselves up could still help people and earn a great salary as a forensic psychologist. Or, for example, as a doctor or other medical professional where winning clients isn’t necessarily the name of the game.

While there is no question that Asian Americans are smart and have the work ethic and determination to succed, the fact that they are underrepresented in leadership positions is quite clear. Hopefully programs like LEAP and other great programs can help Asian Americans step out of the person they have been programmed to be and help them better fit into leadership roles in the western hemisphere; back patting and self-promotion running rampant whether or not it’s correct or not.