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There's a lot being written lately about the bamboo ceiling - the glass ceiling for Asians. Basically, the theory claims that there are lots of overachieving Asians in the educational arena, but very few of them make it to management positions.

What's your take on this? Have you seen this happen where you work? Is it the result of cultural differences or just plain discrimination?

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Comments (82)

  • Cardinal's picture

    Whenever internationals gave group presentations in college it was painful to watch. They can rape the curve on tests, but they still look ridiculous presenting to the class.

  • bugattiveyron's picture

    What about second/third-gen Asians who don't have any language barriers?

  • moshimuncher's picture

    I suppose I am more interested in second/third-generation Asians as well. It's pretty obvious that there are significant barriers for international Asians. But what about well-integrated Asians? Are they still discriminated against when it comes to headhunters, promotions, etc?

  • wackovia's picture

    Interesting.... never thought about this.

  • Vancouver Canucks 2011's picture

    I am Chinese and can write a breadth of material on the concept of the Bamboo Ceiling. But I won't digress and can describe at least a very real phenomenon in banking.

    In my experience, the average North American BB IBD analyst class will consist of 30+% Asians. They exemplify the traditional characteristics bankers look for in analysts - hardworking, dedicated, high-tolerance levels and an ability to crank. However, I literally see Asians constitute less than 5% Associate-VP-ED-MD levels of banking. I also barely see any Asians at partner-track positions at PEs... It is a shame because a lot of my Asian friends are brilliant but simply cannot develop the critical sales and people skills it takes in navigating organizations.

    There are a lot of nuances in managing people / relationships so if you are Asian, I highly advise that you work on your confidence and polish.

  • Quarterlife's picture

    Well I guess it comes down to
    (a) communication (that includes how well you speak English and how articulate you are. I have seen international students who despite English isn't their first language, speak pretty intelligibly and intelligently. @Carnival: yeah I've seen that as well, but mostly among freshmen, when they get to senior year their English gets better)

    (b) personality/fit: I think this is of paramount important. If you want to climb the corporate ladder you need someone high up who'd back you, go to bat for you, induct you to the other league. It helps if you have a Asian American in their or someone whose background is similar to yours. After all, even for their white counterparts, if you don't get along well/be liked by your colleagues/people above, you won't get any further

    (c) your ability: I don't need to elaborate on this :D

    That said, I hope you guys (Americans I mean) can perhaps be more patient when it comes to the language. I couldn't understand even the simplest English conversation until I was 18. I taught myself English when I was in college (no I don't go to school in the US, which till this day is my biggest, greatest regret. I was in the Midwest on an exchange scholarship for one semester and that was the best time of my life), and during my short time there, I've seen many international students who, despite their effort in learning, struggle to communicate. I guess English doesn't come easy to some of us :) Be kind and start talking to them sometimes :)

    My formula for success is rise early, work late and strike oil - JP Getty

  • Culcet's picture

    3rd generation Asian-American here; I could write a book on this topic but I will limit my thoughts to a few points:

    1) The Bamboo Ceiling definitely exists, but its hardly limited to the corporate world. I think the "Paper Tigers" article in New York magazine said that Asians, on average, need a higher SAT score to get in the same school as a white applicant would. I think this because of two reasons, 1)the fact that we're an ethnic minority, and 2) the plethora of cultural, societal factors that constitute "East Asian culture", the ceiling isn't going away anytime soon.

    2) Although I think it is good that we discuss this issue, I think the more we discuss it, the more it becomes real. Simply put, it is too easy to blame everything on "being Asian". Yes, the bamboo ceiling exists. Yes, it is unfair. Yes, you do have to work harder. What are you going to do about it?

    And I agree about the confidence part- I've seen "alpha male Asians" do a decently impressive job in a leadership role, but they usually had some external factors inapplicable to the greater Asian population working for them (rich, well-educated, good-looking, etc.). In other words, they had a lot of stuff going for them.

  • Culcet's picture

    And also, I don't think it is simply language- this issue has actually been discussed quite extensively by Asian-Americans that are fairly assimilated. Rather, I think it is because virtues that East Asians praise--modesty, obedience, politeness-- in a corporate setting mean having other people take credit for your work, having a hard time judging when you should "push back", and "being too nice" in a culture that praises assertiveness, respectively.

    And on the point of modesty- I think there's a certain sense of humility associated with being an ethnic minority- I've noticed this in all types of Asians- fairly assimilated Asians educated in New England prep schools to uneducated Chinese-American Panda-Express working Asians in Oakland. And again, not the best trait to have in a competitive, assertive atmosphere.

  • MMBinNC's picture

    Network and personality is the big thing wit the so-called "Bamboo Ceiling". No doubt after a few generations the problems disappear, but the culture differences and (if international) heavy accent are big downsides to having them in upper management. When some Asians give presentations in school I literally can't understand wtf they are saying, and it seems that stress/overworking is very easy. Like I said, it's probably cultural differences, but if you look at the fT recruiting sessions it seems like its usually mostly fobby asians. Business isn't the most cerebral thing in the world, else Harvard would be an instant billionaire maker. The intangibles (personality) come more and more into play as you move up the corporate ladder and go from crunching numbers to making and developing relationships.

    Obviously there are outliers, I have Asian friends who are cool and able to have fun- but the overall image (whether true or not) is that Asians are analogous to the white, skinny geeky dude. And you see very few of those in upper management either.

    Reality hits you hard, bro...

  • ballmouse's picture

    Isn't a majority of first generation Asians still fairly young? I'm guessing they're mostly in their 20s and mid 30s at most.

    In which case, shouldn't we wait longer before making any judgments?

    I think it's quite obvious why immigrant Asians don't get management positions, but Asians born in the US are on more equal footing since they learned English fairly early.

  • Tracer's picture

    I think a significant portion of the post-60's Chinese diaspora living in the US comes from academic/intellectual backgrounds. Many members of that first generation were fleeing the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution or among the first cohort to pursue international college/graduate degrees. Culturally, these are not the kinds of people that are going to raise their kids to be leaders. Educated and studious? Sure. But not charming and with very little emphasis on the psychology of others, other than basic power dynamics and a predisposition for passivity.

    It's not like Asians in Asia can't lead. Love Mao or Hate Mao (or Zhou Enlai), the dude was a balls-out leader. Same goes for Jack Ma, Wen Jiabao, Zhang Xin, et al..

    A big component of leadership is intuitive, big-picture thinking. The most admired and successful leaders are the ones who have a vision or prediction of the future and take the necessary steps to realize or exploit that opportunity. There is nothing particularly brilliant about the iPhone, Facebook, or Paulson's bet against the housing market. It doesn't take a 3.9 from Harvard or a bunch of upper level quant classes and bullshit extracurriculars to make those kinds of things happen. It takes intuition, guts, and the ability to rally people to your cause.

    You've got to fight for what you want or think you deserve. Nobody is going to give you anything based on your merits alone. Just because your parents love you unconditionally doesn't mean the outside world gives a single shit about you. If your upbringing has left you socially and emotionally retarded, fix yourself. Go buy How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, and the Art of Seduction by Robert Greene. Go on a bunch of dates. Learn how other people think instead of living a self-absorbed, entitled, and solipsistic existence.

    Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1tXhJniSEc

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  • TNA's picture

    I love it when Asians cry racist for not being successful ENOUGH. Some other groups should take a hint *cough*

    I am sure there are all kinds of ceilings for people. I think so much growth is going on in China and Asian that being Asian and speaking the language is so much of a benefit that it outweighs any type of ceiling or whatnot.

  • happypantsmcgee's picture

    What about the Whiskey ceiling for us Ginger Irish folk? Haven't seen any of my ginger brethren running things recently

    If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

  • txjustin's picture

    Happy, no one likes a freaking ginger bro. Don't make me go Eric Cartman on your ass.

  • dave742's picture

    2 types of asians:

    1) twinkie
    2) fob

    twinkies get sh*t on by fobs for trying to assimilate and having the characteristics needed to advance in the corporate world (i.e., social, outgoing, open-minded, etc.). if you took fobs out of the general asian-american population, i bet you have a proportionate amount of asians in the upper ranks.

  • Boozaka207's picture

    I give the Chinese props for setting high standards and pretty much grabbing every opportunity by the balls BUT it makes life 10x harder for the rest of Asians like (Cambodians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, etc) & themselves. Knowing several ppl at MS & JPM, I know many applicants are heavily screened. Since there is so much competition these days, many applicants are perfectly qualified and capable. But if they have 6 Asians that are perfect for the position and 1-2 African Americans perfect for the position, who would they pick? The majority or minority?

    In NYC, Asians have the highest salaries and have been rapidly populating past ten years. While there has been a 10% decrease in the white population. If you go more in depth, 75-80% by "Asians" they mean Chinese.

    Chinese are a majority in many ways. In a global perspective and a corporate perspective.

    I'm sure my fellow New Yorkers could confirm this. All you need to do is use subway or go to any networking event.

    No offense to any Chinese users even thou it's probably a majority here as well

    "I always knew I was going to be rich. I don't think I ever doubted it for a minute."

  • In reply to Boozaka207
    Quarterlife's picture

    acer123:
    If you go more in depth, 75-80% by "Asians" they mean Chinese.

    Chinese are a majority in many ways. In a global perspective and a corporate perspective.

    I'm sure my fellow New Yorkers could confirm this. All you need to do is use subway or go to any networking event.

    No offense to any Chinese users even thou it's probably a majority here as well

    So true, I am often mistaken for Chinese (by both Chinese and Western people). I actually don't mind this except that it's just sad thinking in most people's mind, there is probably little space for other "Asians" :(

    My formula for success is rise early, work late and strike oil - JP Getty

  • Smith3408's picture

    Maybe it's because you are all really unattractive, uncreative tools?

  • wikit's picture

    ^^Quarterlife, there are a billion people in China (not counting the diaspora).

    Life, liberty, and the happiness of pursuit.

  • UFOinsider's picture

    moshimuncher:
    Have you seen this happen where you work?

    Yes
    moshimuncher:
    Is it the result of cultural differences

    Yes
    moshimuncher:
    or just plain discrimination?

    Yes

    It really sucks because some of the smartest people get passed over b/c they aren't pushy loudmouths. One asian girl at the last WSO meetings was talking about becoming more pushy so that she gets ahead. For what racial stereotypes are worth, why not get kung fu on everyone's ass....we know you got it in you, seriously, lose the perfect manners and get real.

    Get busy living

  • Aviator's picture

    What about the Taco ceiling ? Why you gringos no give us jobs Senor ?

  • MMBinNC's picture

    There is a difference between not being a "pushy loudmouth" and being a pussy and taking a lot of shit. And the latter seems to be prevalent with the Asians I know. They don't know when to say no, or when to fight back. This leads towards them being taken advantage of and not taken seriously. It's some beta shit.

    Reality hits you hard, bro...

  • In reply to MMBinNC
    UFOinsider's picture

    MMBinNC:
    There is a difference between not being a "pushy loudmouth" and being a pussy and taking a lot of shit.

    Yeah, the whole spectrum of options in the middle don't seem to exist in finance. It's one....or the other. When push comes to shove, you want to be doing the shoving.

    Get busy living

  • SenorSerious's picture

    i mean it's a ceiling made out of bamboo. can't you chew your way through?

    i don't think fobs or a twinkies are the only type of asians as dave742 categorizes it

    and seriously, that girl has a point. i tend to be more quiet and I realized that I have to be a lot more upfront about things in order to be heard.

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  • SenorSerious's picture

    we all know kung fu. i know a bit, at least. Being quiet all the time is frustrating. urges to kungfu people's asses has passed my mind on multiple occasions

    vh62.host22.com- website for class. pagerank improvement.

  • In reply to happypantsmcgee
    reddog23's picture

    happypantsmcgee:
    What about the Whiskey ceiling for us Ginger Irish folk? Haven't seen any of my ginger brethren running things recently

    Always knew that there was something I didn't like about you.

    Also, too many Chinese and Korean people go for the job with the highest salary and perceived prestige with absolutely no regard for whether or not it's something they want to do.
    Long run, this isn't the best strategy.

  • cranium's picture

    Well it used to leak during the rainy season so i replaced it with plastic sheets... plus the elephants don't eat my roof anymore so that's a plus

  • ST Monkey's picture

    I am a first gen Asian and yes, people do classify me as a twinkie or banana because I don't behave like a fob or hang out with them.

    In my opinion the ceiling is created by the very people that claims to be held back by one. I was never a 4.0 student, shit I barely graduated with a 3.0 from a state school. What I realize early on is that charisma and networking will bring you further than any stupid little paper with a gold star on it. I am one of the few Asian S&T guys in my firm and my MD is a twinkie as well.

    My advice is to simply assimilate into the culture and not expect the culture to come around to accept your differences.

  • In reply to reddog23
    BepBep12's picture

    Also, too many Chinese and Korean people go for the job with the highest salary and perceived prestige with absolutely no regard for whether or not it's something they want to do.
    Long run, this isn't the best strategy.

    What the hell? This just sounds dumb.

    'Before you enter... be willing to pay the price'

  • CompBanker's picture

    Please clarify for us white guys, what is a twinkie and what is a fob?

    CompBanker

  • In reply to CompBanker
    ST Monkey's picture

    CompBanker:
    Please clarify for us white guys, what is a twinkie and what is a fob?

    okay white guy.

    Twinkie: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Essentially it is to reference an Asian that acts, talks and culturally similar to a white guy.

    F.O.B: acronym for Fresh Off the Boat, Asians that are not well assimilated nor speak decent engrish.

  • mongoose's picture

    Interesting conversation here. The US Government classifies people with origins in the Indian subcontinent as Asian-Americans. College admissions committees also classify them as Asian-American.

    Looks like people here do not classify Indians as Asians. So is there a separate ceiling for us? But I can give you examples of a lot of Indians who have risen to the top. The CEOs of Pepsi, Citi and Motorolla are Indian immigrants. I'm just wondering if there is a difference between Indians and east-Asians.

    Also Raj Rajaratnam and Rajat Gupta(CEO of McKinsey) before they got caught.

    FYI: I'm a FOB from the subcontinent. However, I do feel like I have assimilated well enough and can speak pretty decent English.

    Care to comment on the differences?

  • dcer's picture

    Any examples/anecdotes that come to mind about being pushy when push comes to shove (as opposed to being shoved)?

  • dave742's picture

    Indians do the best of helping each other, like the Jews, out of all the Asian-Americans cultures. I'd say the Koreans are second best but don't have the sheer numbers to really make a huge impact. Chinese, in my opinion, aren't nearly as cultural connected.

    SenorSerious, what other asian types are there?

  • In reply to dcer
    dave742's picture

    dcer:
    Any examples/anecdotes that come to mind about being pushy when push comes to shove (as opposed to being shoved)?

    like harold was pushed around in the first harold and kumar movie

  • SenorSerious's picture

    personally, i'm first generation chinese american, so i wouldn't be a fob. and i wouldn't say i'm a twinkie. i hang out with whoever and I don't particularly act a certain way to be considered "white". I'm just saying that you made it seem as though there are only two types of asians in general

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  • In reply to SenorSerious
    dave742's picture

    SenorSerious:
    personally, i'm first generation chinese american, so i wouldn't be a fob. and i wouldn't say i'm a twinkie. i hang out with whoever and I don't particularly act a certain way to be considered "white". I'm just saying that you made it seem as though there are only two types of asians in general

    sorry, left one out. i call you guys candy corns. white on one end, yellow on the other...all coming together in a neutral orange middle. you guys are pretty rare.

    definitely true that stereotyping saves time.

  • ERGOHOC's picture

    I don't care. I'm a quant. I NO NEED SPEAK ENGLISH PERFECT NONO.

  • SenorSerious's picture

    that's a new term to me. i like a good balance and it can't be that rare. i feel like that's pretty common at my college. Though there are those who tend to "flock together".

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  • Quarterlife's picture

    Talk about English. Who cares whether or not you can speak it?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3S4dBk4E1g&ob=av3e \m/

    My formula for success is rise early, work late and strike oil - JP Getty

  • Solidarity's picture

    Indians tend to perform better. A lot of my Indian buddies are prototypical bankers

    East Asians for the most part hit a ceiling

  • kraken's picture

    The only azn i'd trust would be an indian neurosurgeon (they are all neurosurgeons wtf is wrong with you indians, can you all stop overachieving, you re embarrassing us.... there has to be at least one indian who's not smart, i blame it on the little skinny non-violence guy... god i hate you!!!)...

  • Neighbor's picture

    Just because you are insanely book smart doesn't mean you have the mental capacity to lead people. Two very different things.

    To quote someone, "No one's gonna promote you cause you're smart. Everyone wants smart people working FOR them."

    I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

  • whatwhatwhat's picture

    Anyone in a client-facing industry with an accent and terrible social skills will have some sort of ceiling as far as their progression goes.

  • TNA's picture

    1st generation Indian's tend to be legit. Same with Asians. Once America sets in and you have born and brought up here it goes to shit.

    2nd generation Indian and Asian people act like normal Americans (aka morons).

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