Why It’s Harder for Asians to Succeed in the Workplace

Despite comprising 50% of the workforce in Silicon Valley, less than 2% of managers and executives are Asian. Furthermore, Asian Americans are the least likely racial group to ascend into managerial and executive positions. This obstacle to success compounds institutional bias against Asians by further relegating them into non-leadership positions. Both, the public and private sectors underrepresent the Asian Americans. This is perhaps the largest issue currently facing the Asian American community in America. The question is, why is it more difficult for Asians to succeed?


Poor Networking

Asians tend to invest less time and effort in developing strong peer networks, which can impede their professional progress. Strong networks are key to finding opportunities to progress in the workplace, and without them, individuals can struggle to move up the leadership ranks. However, organizations such as naisA are working to help Asian professionals build strong networks through mentoring programs.

Institutional Bias

Even with the latest trends in workforce diversity, the bamboo ceiling remains in place, even at progressive companies. In the Google diversity report and Apple diversity report, Asians only represent 26% and 23% respectively of technology leadership positions. When the managerial ranks at companies are majority male and white, similar candidates are also preferred for promotion.

Cultural Differences

Traditional Asian culture values deference to authority, compared to American culture, which values strongly held beliefs and the tendency to speak out. By “keeping their heads down,” Asian workers tend fewer ideas and opinions, which makes it more difficult to attain leadership positions.

Aversion to Risk

Workers who tend to take more risks also climb the leadership ranks. However, taking risks in the workplace always brings the chance of failure, which is a constant fear in Asian culture. Asian culture places value on harmony, which can make it more difficult for Asian workers to take risks that would land a promotion.

Ineffective Communication

Asian American workers are less likely to speak up at meetings. While in individual conversation, Asian workers are equally likely as white counterparts to exhibit shyness, the disparity increases within a team environment. Soft skills such as good communication, presentation are necessary. There are leadership training programs which provide such advice for young professionals.

50% of Silicon Valley technology workers are Asian, yet only half of the expected number of Asian workers find their way to management and leadership positions, according to Harvard Business Review. In summary, a combination of reasons such as poor networking, ineffective communication, and institutional bias can make it difficult for Asian professionals to reach the top. Yet, Asian professionals have access to many leadership development programs to close this gap.