Asian Americans are the fastest-growing, highest-income, best-educated racial group in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center. While they are well represented in the non-managerial workforce, they’re often significantly under-represented in the executive suite.
Jane Hyun, a South Korean-born leadership consultant who moved to the U.S. at the age of eight, says she lives with a constant duality. After 14 years as an HR executive at firms including JP Morgan and Deloitte , Hyun wrote Breaking The Bamboo Ceiling – which examines issues of diversity in managerial levels. “[The bamboo ceiling] is a combination of individual, cultural, and organizational factors that impede their career progress,” Hyun says.
A recent study by non-profit Ascend found that among 5 of the largest tech companies (Google GOOGL +0.00%, HP,Intel INTC +0.00%, LinkedIn LNKD +1.53% and Yahoo YHOO +0.00%), Asian and Asian Americans represent 27% of professionals, but only half that among executives. The bamboo ceiling is also evident in the underrepresentation of Asian American women in corporate America. A study from Catalyst found that female employees of Asian descent represent only 4.4% of manager-and-above levels among S&P 500 companies. Other minorities are facing similar challenges. The representation of black and Hispanic women in manager roles is similarly low – about 5% each.
Dr. Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo vice-chairman and chief scientific officer, is one notable example of an Asian American executive who rose up the corporate ladder and became an advocate for diversity in corporate America. Born to Pakistani parents in England, Khan grew up in England and earned a medical degree there before venturing to the U.S. for grad school and landing a faculty gig at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. But passion for nutrition and research led Dr. Kahn to a leading Japanese pharmaceutical firm before joining Pepsico.
“It’s important to think about diversity not just in terms of presence, but the inclusion of diversity. A lot of people look at metrics, but that doesn’t mean those people are included in the decision-making,” says Khan. “Don’t just count. Actually look at the track record on whether you are including these people and their perspectives in the decision-making process.” At PepsiCo, Indian-born CEO Indra Nooyi, ranked #15 on Forbes’ Power Women list, leads a team of 11 executive officers. Five are people of color.
Jason Wang, the 27-year-old CEO of New York City restaurant chain Xi’an Famous Foods, was born in Xi’an, China and moved to the U.S. at the age of 8. After college, he oversaw an expansion of his father’s food stall from its original location in a basement food court in Flushing into a 10-store fast casual chain across the city. “My upbringing is a mix of East and West,” says Wang. “It’s a constant juggle of these two cultures, but also an asset to have both.”
The Asian American Business Roundtable, a non-profit focusing on promoting the advance of Asian Americans in the U.S. businesses, will host its first summit that brings together speakers like Khan and Hyun on January 29 in Las Vegas. “It’s a great opportunity to bring experienced and aspiring Asian business leaders in one forum to share ideas and create a network of role models and mentees,” says Khan.