'Bamboo Ceiling' author: 'Asians have been invisible’ for too long

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent
·3 min read

Asian business leaders launched a $250 million philanthropic fund called The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) on Monday, the largest ever dedicated to supporting the AAPI community.

Timed to Asian Pacific American Heritage month, high-profile Asian Americans, including Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Care.com founder Sheila Lirio Marcelo, and Alibaba (BABA) co-founder Joe Tsai have pledged $125 million toward helping their own communities over the next five years while corporations like Coca-Cola (KO), Walmart (WMT), Amazon (AMZN) have pledged an additional $125 million.

In a new interview with Yahoo Finance, Jane Hyun, the author of "Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians,” said she's encouraged by initiatives like TAAF, particularly in how it will help combat hate crimes and bring Asian American history into school curriculum.

“It is going to take some time, obviously, to see the long-term impact but it is exciting to see. The model minority myth has been alive and well in our communities for such a long time, and oftentimes in companies and in society where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, I think Asians have been invisible for quite some time and have been painted as a monolith,” she said.

Jane Hyun speaks to Yahoo Finance.
Jane Hyun speaks to Yahoo Finance.

The launch of TAAF comes amid heightened hate crimes and violence toward the Asian community. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 164% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. And while Asian Americans make up 12% of the professional workforce despite making up only 5.6% of the population, Asian white-collar professionals are the least likely to be promoted into management roles, according to a 2017 report prepared for the Ascend Foundation.

Hyun first coined the term “bamboo ceiling” in 2005 and says there’s been positive movement toward equity and inclusion at work since then. But Asians still face immense difficulty breaking into management roles, according to Hyun, who has worked as an executive coach for over two decades, specifically focused on equipping Asian employees with the skill sets to succeed in often cutthroat corporate environments. 

“I think it is important for companies to define what an inclusion initiative looks like. Are you ticking the boxes, are you happy getting people in the door, how are they making it through the system, are they being mentored, are they getting the opportunity to stretch themselves and have different skills developed, do they have sponsors to look out for them for different opportunities as well?" she said. "We need to think about how we're measuring the success of the issues to make sure that the voices of Asian Americans are heard and they get the opportunity to reach their full potential in the organizational setting."

The Asian community, which encompasses over 40 ethnicities, is also the most economically diverse by at least one measure. Asian Americans have the largest intragroup income inequality compared to any other race in the United States, as Yahoo Finance's Brian Cheung has reported. The top 10% of Asian-American earners made 10.7 times the income of the bottom 10%, according to Pew Research Data from 2018.

“Just because it is not spoken and not shouted from the mountain top, it doesn't mean the problems don't exist," Hyun said. "So I think we really need to be understanding of these cultural dynamics that happen within our organizations."

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm and on LinkedIn.

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