The presence of Asian American CEOs in top companies — especially in tech — is a favorite media highlight, but the assumption that such is the case for many others is false, according to a new report.
Ascend, the largest non-profit Pan-Asian organization for business professionals in North America, analyzed a publicly-available database of the San Francisco Bay Area workforce employed by technology companies between 2007 and 2015.
The organization found that while Asian Americans became the most-hired employees among all races, they were least likely promoted into managerial and executive positions.
Asian American women, in particular, were the least likely out of everyone to become executives.
Ascend also found notable trends in other racial groups. For instance, the number of Black executives increased by 43%, but the number of Black managers fell by 18%. This suggests a decline in Black executives in the future.
Hispanic executives, on the other hand, increased by 24%, but only accounted for 3.5% of all executives. The number of professionals in the group also fell from 5.2% to 4.8% out of all professionals.
In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of public policy at UC Riverside, and Jennifer Lee, sociology professor at Columbia University, argued that an “obvious explanation” for such bamboo ceiling for Asian Americans is racial discrimination. Employers, according to them, suggest that Asian Americans rank high in hard skills such as technical competence, but low in soft skills such as communication.
In their own survey, Ramakrishnan and Lee also found that Asian Americans are significantly disadvantaged even in the task of leading meetings at work — 51% versus White employees at 68%. They proposed that employers should ensure that every qualified employee gets the chance to lead such meetings. Asian American employees, for their part, could explicitly request for such opportunities.
These findings collectively suggest that Google’s Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen are the exception rather than the norm.
Ascend urges companies to come together to finally address such glaring disparities:
“Our clarion call is for the leading technology companies to join together in a cooperative effort to aggregate and analyze their internal data by race and gender; proactively enlist their minority leadership and employee community involvement; and develop joint and individual metrics to bend the curve in the Bay Area’s ability to attract, retain, and promote talented women and minorities.”