The Bamboo Ceiling

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Asian-Americans are part of the incredible success story that is Silicon Valley. You all know this. Jerry Yang at Yahoo. Steve Chen at Youtube. Vinod Khosla at Kleiner Perkins.

But just beneath that fable of Asian success is another story you don't know. It's the story of successful companies where you find few Asian-Americans as corporate leaders.

I worked in Silicon Valley for almost 40 years, ultimately becoming a vice president and general manager for a networking giant. But I never met another Asian-American vice president in any other company. The executives I dealt with were all white men. But that never struck me as odd.

Not until I stepped up as executive sponsor for our Asian employee network did I realize how very few Asians become executives. I knew nothing about what's called the Asian glass ceiling. With other executives, I had to find out what was going on.

We were stunned to discover that the Asian glass ceiling is almost four times worse than the one for women. For Asian women, there is a double penalty for being both Asian and female. White men are still 42 percent more likely than white women to be executives but 260 percent more likely than Asian women.


Personally, I don't like the notion of a glass ceiling, some mythical barrier blocking Asians from leadership levels. But we found common gaps in Asian expectations of leaders and leadership; expectations such as speaking up in meetings, respectfully and openly debating with your manager, taking big risks. For too many, these are new attitudes. And many Asians need help -- with culturally-aware leadership programs.

Unfortunately, these programs have been overlooked by many companies while dealing with other important diversity issues.

Today, Asians have become more than half of Silicon Valley's high tech workers. The evidence for an Asian leadership gap is compelling.It's time for Silicon Valley to write a new story for its Asian workforce.

With a Perspective, I'm Buck Gee.

Buck Gee is a former Silicon Valley executive who now leads executive leadership workshops for Asian-American professional organizations.