While the proportion of Asian American high tech workers in Silicon Valley has grown from 38 percent in 2000 to over 50 percent in 2010, their representation on senior executive teams is only 11 percent. In board rooms, their presence has declined from 8.8 percent to 8.3 percent. And even though Chinese Americans constitute the largest Asian group, their board representation has dropped from 5 percent to 3 percent.
Asian American women appear to face a double-pane glass ceiling. Women are 17 percent of boards and 16 percent of senior executives in Silicon Valley, but Asian American women are less than 1 percent in both.
These are red flags missing in the public conversation about the corporate glass ceiling.
The popular narrative of Asian American success has been well documented in studies by Pew Research and others, citing higher-than-average educational achievement and median incomes with little perceived discrimination. But the problem was made painfully obvious to us a few years ago when we listened to a diversity consultant’s review of our Asian workforce.
We heard that we “should represent the face of the customer” and Asian Americans, being 5 percent of the population, were overrepresented in the workforce and management. When we pointed out that the percentage of Asians in the company was the same as the surrounding community, she responded, “No one asked me to look at that, but now that you mention it, there is a problem”.
It does not appear to be solved with the next generation. A review of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups with young entrepreneurial teams indicates that Asian Americans are still only 12 percent of the senior executive team, with Asian American women at 1 percent, similar to public companies.
We would ask corporate leaders, including influential CEOs like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo!, John Donahoe at eBay and Reed Hastings at Netflix, to look into their executive pipelines for Asian Americans. They will find none in their highest ranks. We trust that awareness will drive progress. We know several CEOs who, when finding few Asian Americans in the executive talent pipeline, arranged new leadership training. We would also ask Asian American executives to be more than passive advisors and to lead mentoring and development programs.
We share the sense of optimism and concern about our Asian American community that we find in LEAN IN about women. Many of the issues are the same — the anxiety about ambition, cultural traps and an “impostor syndrome”. As Sandberg suggests, the community has the choice to remain in a comfort zone or to demonstrate leadership skills. A leadership role is not an entitlement. It is earned.
Until there is more general public discussion about Asian Americans’ role as corporate leaders, change will come slowly, if at all.