Why Asian American are not succeeding to Executive roles

Asians are less likely to attain senior leadership positions

It began with an email i received from an Asian American woman in Tech. She found me on LinkedIn and very soon we started our mentoring relationship. We had a common story.

We were immigrants from South Asia – India and were now citizens of the US and had jobs in the Tech industry. The struggles were real.

Asians are stuck in the middle.

Asians are hired at a faster rate than their proportion of the US general population but that does not mean they’re climbing the Executive ranks at the same pace.

Asian Americans Are the Least Likely Group in the U.S. to Be Promoted to Management by the Harvard Business review (HBR).

The HBR analysis of national EEOC workforce data found that Asian American white-collar professionals are the least likely group to be promoted from individual contributor roles into management — less likely than any other race, including blacks and Hispanics. The Analysis also found that white professionals are about twice as likely to be promoted into management as their Asian American counterparts.

So….Are they not qualified?

Quite the contrary, Asians were the most likely of the groups to have graduated from college: 63 percent of Asians in the labor force had a bachelor’s degree and higher, compared with 41 percent of Whites, 31 percent of Blacks, and 21 percent of Hispanics (computed from table 6 and chart 2 below).

Asian-Americans do better at university, but face barriers in the workplace

From Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fifty-five percent of employed Asians worked in management, professional, and related occupations—the highest paying major occupational category—compared with 41 percent of employed Whites, 32 percent of employed Blacks, and 23 percent of employed Hispanics(See table 7 and chart 3.)

Chart 3

With such strong statistics around Asians in America the question became more important to me as why I don’t see them in the executive roles and on Boards.

1A new survey released this week by Asia Society in New York, the ‘2018 Asian Corporate Survey’, concludes that Asian and Asian Pacific American (APA) employees in the United States are less likely to attain senior leadership positions (Rajan 2018).

What are the barriers?

“Asian Americans are the forgotten minority in the glass ceiling conversation,” says Buck Gee and Denise Peck, two former Silicon Valley executives, in the Harvard report.1

  • Cultural Backgrounds and Cultural Differences – here’s one difference – Asian and Asian Pacific American (APA) are less assertive and less likely to speak up and share their perspectives compared to their non-APA counterparts.
  • Assertiveness is generally the biggest barriers seen among all women, but is specifically seen broadly in APA men and women
  • Lack of Mentors and Role Models. New programs such as the Stanford – Asian American Executive is a step to develop more Asians Leaders in the pipeline
  • Limited access to that famed White Boys’ Club, who adroitly stonewall colored people from access to boardrooms and country clubs
  • Lower favorability on how managers support the professional growth of employees of Asian background.
  • Leadership pipeline do not include their APA employees.

Given these barriers research has shown Asian women are disproportionately impacted

“We hope that our findings will spark a broader conversation about the disadvantages faced by Asian American professionals across the country, and more importantly, about what policies might be put in place to help promote more equal treatment and opportunities to all groups, including not just Asians, but also whites, blacks and Latinos in the US,” says Professor Van Tran.

Van Tran, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Columbia University who led the study – Ethnic and Racial Studies article, three researchers–Van Tran, Jennifer Lee and Tiffany Huang–from Columbia University.

Company programs to develop and promote leaders should focus on both men and women in the black, Hispanic, and Asian workforce. Special emphasis should focus on Hispanic and Asian women.

This article is written to serve as a baseline for companies to re-examine and validate their approach to hiring practices and talent development programs, Leadership pipeline and Diversity Inclusion and Equity strategies.

“If you do not intentionally include, you will unintentionally exclude.”

Erlin Kakkanad

Follow me on Twitter

YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxqahorRoI5sV7FigTnjBJQ/videos

On Linkedin – www.linkedin.com/in/erlin-kakkanad


1Rajan, S. (2018, Jun 29). Forget banga, pichai and nooyi. For Asian American employees, ‘bamboo ceiling’ is very real. News India – Times Retrieved on Feb 7th 2020.

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