ASIAN AMERICANS & Why Aren’t There More Asian Americans in Leadership Positions? #Harvar dBusinessReview

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I help churches become multiethnic. But I’ve often found a subtle resistance in some Anglo churches to partnering with Asian American sub-congregations. This article points out that such reticence may be because the perceived success of Asian-Americans makes others uncomfortable. Churches must be communities that move beyond stereotypes and bridge cultural gaps. Read this article to learn more.

Since the 1960s, Asian Americans have become the country’s “model minority,” largely due to significant increases in mobility that have mostly (though perhaps inaccurately) been attributed to education.

Asians do outperform other minorities and white people when it comes to education, employment, and income. According to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Asians are better educated than other races, with more Asians age 25 and older having graduated college (52%) than white people of the same age (32%); Asians have a lower unemployment rate (7.5%) than whites (8.7%); and Asians, on average, earn more per week ($855) than whites ($765). Yet this narrative around Asians’ success obscures the fact that they are underrepresented in leadership positions, a phenomenon referred to as the “bamboo ceiling.”

A highly cited 2015 report on diversity in Silicon Valley by an Asian professional organization found that at five big tech firms (Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo), Asians and Asian Americans are well represented in lower-level positions but underrepresented at management and executive levels. Asian Americans (including Indians) are 27% of the workers in these companies, but only 19% of managers and 14% of executives. In contrast, whites represented 62% of professionals and 80% of executives in these firms. This is worse than the glass ceiling effect that’s been identified for women; in these five firms, men are 42% more likely to have an executive role than women, and white men and women are 154% more likely than Asians to hold an executive role. And Asians represent only 1.5% of corporate officer positions in the Fortune 500, according to 2012 data.

Why aren’t Asian Americans advancing into leadership positions? Based on the psychology literature, we believe that stereotypes about Asians contribute to the problem in two ways: Stereotypes about Asians being highly competent can make Asians appear threatening in the workplace, and stereotypes about Asians lacking social skills make them seem unfit for leadership.

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