The Glass Ceiling For Asian Americans

Students talking to Casey Winters after moderating the growth panel. Jerry Lu photo

The Glass Ceiling For Asian Americans

Asian American white-collar professionals are the least likely group to be promoted into roles of management, a new report finds.

Buck Gee and Denise Peck of the Harvard Business Review recently analyzed data from the national EEOC workforce and found that while Asian Americans are the most successful US demographic in terms of education and median income, they rarely are promoted into positions of management.


The underrepresentation of Asian Americans managers spans from industries like tech to law to finance.

A report by the Yale Law School and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association found that while Asian Americans make up more than 10% of the graduates of the top 30 law schools, they “have the highest attrition rates and lowest ratio of partners to associates among all [racial] groups.”

At finance banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Asian Americans make up 27% of the US workforce. Yet, only 11% of US executives and senior managers are Asian-Americans. Among those who are executive officers? Zero.

Asian Americans are 12% of the professional workforce in America while making up only 5.6% of the US population, according to the EEOC.

“This fact underlies the potential blind spot for many companies: Because Asian Americans are not considered an underrepresented minority, they are given little priority or attention in diversity programs,” Gee and Peck argue.


Gee and Peck argue that while the numbers are striking, there are ways that many companies are working to close the gap.

They cite a global energy company that introduced an internal task force responsible for reviewing the status of women and minorities who transition into leadership positions.

“Reporting to the executive staff, the task force found insufficient gender and racial diversity in the pipeline, including Asian diversity, and recommended specific actions,” Gee and Peck write. “With strong CEO and executive support, the company quickly moved to identify potential leaders and significantly increase its spending for leadership training for women and minorities.”

The company then partnered with Stanford Graduate School of Business in hopes of integrating culturally specific training into its leadership development program for Asian American managers.

In 2014, Microsoft announced Satya Nadella as its new CEO. For many, it was a step towards breaking the glass ceiling for Asian-Americans. But, for many, it’s just the start.

“I think with Satya Nadella becoming the CEO of Microsoft and immigrant companies becoming super successful, I think that balance will change,” Karan Chaudhry, an Indian-born Stanford grad, tells NPR. “But it will not happen overnight.”

Sources: Harvard Business Review, EEOC, Yale Law School/National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Goldman Sachs, Stanford Graduate School of Business, NPR

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