New York, NY (July 25, 2011) — Despite graduating from top universities at rates that far exceed their peers and forming an important part of the talent pipeline for many professions, Asian-Americans remain largely underrepresented in leadership ranks, according to “Asians in America: Unleashing the Potential of the ‘Model Minority,'” a new study from the Center for Work-Life Policy whose findings were announced today.
Although Asians are a mere 5 percent of the US population, they are one of the fastest growing minority groups and a vital part of the nation’s talent pipeline. Consider, for instance, the representation of Asians at top schools: they account for 15 to 25 percent of Ivy League enrollment, 24 percent at Stanford and a stunning 46 percent at UC Berkeley.
At the same time, Asians are fewer than two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and corporate officers. How can we understand this disparity? According to the study, what keeps Asians from making it to the top are subtle workplace biases that are masked by the general perception of Asians as a highly qualified, successful “model minority.”
Asians in America have long been lauded for their ambition, drive and impressive qualifications, stereotypes that resurfaced in the recent controversy surrounding Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In contrast, Asians in the workplace are often portrayed as unassertive and reticent, lacking in leadership potential in spite of their skills and dedication.
The study examines the uneasy place Asians occupy in corporate America. It shows how educated Asians struggle to conform to the dominant leadership model and hit a “bamboo ceiling” that prevents them from breaking into upper management positions. They report difficulties not only in “fitting in” but also in establishing the professional networks and relationships that are essential for advancement.
As a result of these challenges, 63 percent of Asian men and 44 percent of Asian women report feeling stalled in their careers. Seeing little chance of fulfilling their ambitions, many highly qualified Asians scale back or have one foot out the door.
Corporations need to understand and respond to these workplace realities for Asians, not least in order to stay competitive in the global market. Barbara Adachi, the managing director of Deloitte Consulting LLP’s human capital practice, says, “The Asian community is a very large economic force both inside and outside of the U.S. The more you understand what’s going on globally, and the impact that China and India are having on the world, the more you will recognize the importance of having Asians be part of your organization and leadership team.”
The study showcases best practices and innovative programs that allow Asian talent to reach their full potential. The authors, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid note that “Fully rounded programs should not only provide development opportunities for Asians, but also target organizational culture so that Asians’ strengths are more readily recognized by those in leadership positions.”
• Asians are more likely than Caucasians to aspire to hold a top job: 64 percent of Asians versus 52 percent for Caucasians.
• Asians are more likely than other groups to value being highly compensated and to place importance on having a powerful position and prestigious title.
• In contrast to the image of the unassertive Asian, the study revealed that Asians are just as likely as other groups to directly ask a manager or supervisor for a pay raise or a promotion.
• Asians are more than three times as likely as Caucasians, and significantly more likely than African-Americans and Hispanics, to scale back at work- reduce their ambitions, work fewer hours, consider quitting, etc.-owing to issues of bias
• Nearly half of Asian men and women (48 percent) report that conformity to prevailing leadership models-having to act, look, and sound like the established leaders in their workplace- is a problem
• Only 28 percent of Asians say they feel very comfortable “being themselves” at work, versus 40 percent of African-Americans, 41 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of Caucasians.
• Revealing differing communication styles, results from the study show that Asians, particularly Asian women, are less likely than people of other ethnicities to share new ideas or challenge a group consensus in a team meeting
• Fewer than half (46 percent) of Asians have a mentor in their professional life, making them 15 percent less likely to have a mentor than Caucasians
• Asians are much more likely than Caucasians to have eldercare responsibilities. These range from 9 percent of Asians having elders living with them, to 30 percent providing monetary support to their parents.
• Asians are more likely than Caucasians to report feeling guilty about the tradeoff between their childcare and eldercare responsibilities and their work.
• Only 23 percent of Asian women have off-ramped-voluntarily leaving their jobs for a period of time-versus 32 percent of Caucasian women.