“A CAREER BOOK about Asians? Aren’t they doing fine…?” So begins “Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling”, a tome by Jane Hyun published in 2005. Because Asian-Americans had higher incomes and education levels and committed fewer crimes than their average compatriot, they were seen as a model minority. Despite this, they rarely rose to the top of companies. A mix of individual, cultural and organisational barriers—the “bamboo ceiling” of the book’s title—seemed to halt their rise.
Fifteen years later Asians are still under-represented. Some 11% of associates at American law firms are Asian, but only 3% of partners are. In technology Asians make up over 30% of the workers but less than 15% of bosses. In 2017 Asians made up roughly 6% of the country’s population but only 3% (16) of the bosses of S&P 500 firms.
Some prominent Asians run big companies. Arvind Krishna is IBM’s new boss. Satya Nadella runs Microsoft and Sundar Pichai leads Alphabet. But few other Asians have joined their ranks—and, revealingly, these stars all have Indian roots. There are fewer South Asians in America than East Asians, but they still made up 13 of those 16 Asian S&P 500 CEOs.
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