Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling : Career Strategies for Asians

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-11-02
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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You're educated and ambitious. Sure, the hours are long and corporate politics are a bane, but you focus on getting the job done, confident that you will be rewarded in the long run. Yet, somehow, your hard work isn't paying off, and you watch from the sidelines as your colleagues get promoted. Those who make it to management positions in this intensely competitive corporate environment seem to understand an unwritten code for marketing and aligning themselves politically. Furthermore, your strong work ethic and raw intelligence were sufficient when you started at the firm, but now they're expecting you to be a rainmaker who can "bring in clients" and "exert influence" on others. The top of the career ladder seems beyond your reach. Perhaps you've hit the bamboo ceiling. For the last decade, Asian Americans have been the fastest growing population in the United States. Asians comprise the largest college graduate population in America, and are often referred to as the "Model Minority" - but they continue to lag in the American workplace. If qualified Asians are entering the workforce with the right credentials, why aren't they making it to the corner offices and corporate boardrooms? Career coach Jane Hyun explains that Asians have not been able to break the "bamboo ceiling" because many are unable to effectively manage the cultural influences shaping their individual characteristics and workplace behavior-factors that are often at odds with the competencies needed to succeed at work. Traditional Asian cultural values can conflict with dominant corporate culture on many levels, resulting in a costly gap that individuals and companies need to bridge. The subtle, unconscious behavioral differences exhibited by Asian employees are often misinterpreted by their non-Asian counterparts, resulting in lost career opportunities and untapped talent. Never before has this dichotomy been so thoroughly explored, and in this insightful book, Hyun uses case studies, interviews and anecdotes to identify the issues and provide strategies for Asian Americans to succeed in corporate America. Managers will learn how to support the Asian members of their teams to realize their full potential and to maintain their competitive edge in today's multicultural workplace.

Author Biography

Jane Hyun is a career coach, human resources consultant, and diversity strategist to Fortune 500 companies

Table of Contents

Introduction xvii
Chapter 1: Your Asian American Roots and You
Chapter 2: "But I Didn't Mean It That Way!": How Cultural Values Can Help or Hinder You at Work
How Asian Values Affect Individual Behavior and Workplace Interactions
"Technical but Not Management Material": Dispelling Stereotypes and Inaccurate Perceptions
Chapter 3: The Latest Trends in Corporate diversity Practices
Chapter 4: Doctor? Lawyer? Or Inner-City Teacher?: How Cultural Influences Impact Your Career Choices
Chapter 5: To Thine Own Self Be True: Understanding Yourself, Your Vision, and How to Break Your Bamboo Ceiling
Understanding Yourself
The Seven Stories Exercise®
Understanding Your Asian Identity
Asian Identity Exercise: How Assimilated Acculturated Are You?
Work-Related Values and Motivators Exercise
The Trusted Advisor Assessment
Authority and Hierarchy Exercise: A View of Your Relationships with Bosses, Peers, and Subordinates
Understanding Your Vision
The Forty-Year Vision®
Understanding How to Break Your Bamboo Ceiling
Identifying Your Bamboo Ceiling™
The Career Mobility Checklist
Chapter 6: Perfect for the Part: Mastering the Face-to-Face Job Interview
Chapter 7: Moving Past the Hors d'Oeuvres Table: Finessing the Art of Networking
Chapter 8: On-the-Job Mobility Strategies
Learning to Toot Your Own Horn: Navigating in Corporate America
Superior Mentoring Strategies
Staying in the Succession Planning Pipeline
Getting Your Voice Heard: Saying No...and Pushing Back with Diplomacy
Chapter 9: Extending Your Reach: Professional Associations and Affinity Networking Groups
Chapter 10: Getting and Maintaining Your Worth: Show Me the Money...and a Promotion!
"How Am I Doing?": Acing Performance Management Discussions
Negotiating Your Compensation and Severance Package
Epilogue: Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling 263(10)
A Conversation with Andrea Jung, Chair and CEO of Avon Products 273(4)
Appendix A: Summary of Challenges to Management 277(4)
Appendix B: Asian Pacific American Organizations 281(26)
Bibliography 307(4)
Index 311


Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling
Career Strategies for Asians

Chapter One

Your Asian
American Roots
And You

My first impression upon meeting Trinh was that she was far more Chinese than I: engaged with the (Asian) community, fluent. Also, less polished, less assimilated than I. But there are some who would consider her very un-Chinese. She speaks up, she fights, she exposes hypocrisy. She cares less about race than about basic moral courage ... The irony, then, is this: I am perhaps more Americanized. She is perhaps more American.

-- Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian


The 2000 U.S. Census reported that there are 11.9 million Asians in theUnited States, a 72% increase since the previous census. Compare that tothe total U.S. population growth of 13% for the same period. Even thoughLatino Americans are the largest minority group in raw numbers, Asians arethe fastest-growing minority group, and the population is expected to doubleby 2020 and triple by 2030. Forty-four percent of Asian Americans overage 25 have graduated from college, the highest percentage for any racialgroup. These numbers imply a success story. However, these statistics don't always tell the whole story of what really happens to Asian Americans oncethey leave the halls of academia for corporate America.

Who are Asian Americans? Far from being homogeneous, we are ofvaried Asian ancestry. We represent multiple nationalities and languages aswell as many social and political viewpoints. At last count, there were over80 distinct Asian languages spoken in the United States. Even within eachspecific Asian group, there is considerable variability in education, class,and acculturation level. In addition, there is a long history of war, politicalunrest, and resulting prejudices in many Asian nations. What further complicates matters is that non-Asian Americans often think of Asians as a homogeneous group of people. Companies tend to view us as the AsianPacific American constituency and do not necessarily categorize us by ourspecific nationalities.


An Asian American woman who works at a large distributor of home appliances notes: "I used to be quite involved with Asian networking groupactivities. But lately, I find a much deeper sense of community with themulticultural women's networking group. As a new mother attempting tojuggle home and a very demanding job, I identify myself as a woman andmother first, then take my ethnicity into consideration next." You can define yourself along a continuum of factors, your cultural heritage being oneof them. Most people describe themselves differently throughout the stagesof their lives, such as oldest daughter, father, mother, Catholic, manager,Asian American, cancer survivor. Yet we know these tags don't fully defineus or what we are capable of. We're each composed of so many qualities,skills, ideas, emotions, values, and behaviors that a few descriptors won't doanyone justice. We also know these self-ascribed tags aren't necessarily howwe are perceived by others, especially those who don't know us well or whoknow us in other contexts.


In workplace scenarios particularly, perception is often reality. As a result, what they don't know can hurt you. An assessment of your character and how you perform is based not solely on the quality of your "work deliverables" but also on how you interact with your colleagues. It's not what you say but how you say it. How confident do you sound? How articulate areyou? How well do you motivate others on your team? Do you take the timeto chat with colleagues, whether it's to discuss a project more thoroughlyor to just socialize? Other cues that may brand you can be as superficial ashow you dress, how you carry yourself, and what your facial expressionsare. Behavior is often misinterpreted by people from different cultures, because it is visible, unlike motivations, feelings, intentions, and thoughtprocesses. At the most basic level, an underrepresented group like AsianAmericans will stand out more.

To manage your career then, you must manage your personalbrand -- your image, how you come across. And knowing yourself is thefirst step in shaping the impression you make and in achieving your professional goals. You must understand your personality, strengths, weaknesses, and internal driving forces to guide how this all plays out in a work environment.

You may already know that your Asian background is integral to youridentity. But not fully realizing how that background manifests itself inyour attitudes and behaviors may cause misunderstandings in a Westerncorporate setting. Your Asianness doesn't have to work against you, however.In the process of deciphering your Asian cultural values and integratingthem into your workplace persona, you can leverage your naturaltalents and maybe even learn new skills. You will learn the tools to helpbreak the bamboo ceiling without compromising yourself. Training in selling,presenting, negotiating, and assertiveness can tap and channel yourknowledge to enhance your presence and capabilities.

Keep in mind that professional upward mobility requires action onyour part. It's unrealistic to expect that your managers and colleagues will automatically want and know how to unearth the true you and understand all you are capable of offering. People miscommunicate and misunderstand one another all the time; there will always be inaccurate perceptions of underrepresented emplyee populations. You have to take the initiative in clarifying the issues to effect change.

The corporate world is also recognizing that it's up to them as well.By 2050, the majority of Americans will come from non-Caucasian backgrounds. When a managing director from a top financial services institution went to a Harvard recruiting luncheon in 2002 to identify candidates for the investment banking training program, she was surprised to see more than 50% of the students who attended were of Asian descent, including a majority that were students who resided in Asia. She realized then that if this was the future of her company, she had better start understanding Asians better as her new recruiting targets -- as the pipeline of potential bankers at her firm.

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling
Career Strategies for Asians
. Copyright © by Jane Hyun. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians by Jane Hyun
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