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Hidden in Plain Sight: Asian American Leaders in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley high tech companies' efforts to diversify their workforce has received much attention in the past few months. The common perception is that Asians and whites dominate the Silicon Valley workforce. However, Ascend Leadership Foundation, a Pan-Asian organization of business professionals, recently released an important report on the often overlooked issue of the glass ceiling affecting Asian American men and women in major Silicon Valley companies. Ascend reached its conclusions after examining the previously confidential data released by five major high tech companies in 2013 -- Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo. But Ascend states its analysis of 2010 data from Cisco and eBay shows the same pattern. Entitled Hidden in Plain Sight: Asian American Leaders in Silicon Valley, the Ascend report found the following from analysis of the 2013 data:

  • Asians are overrepresented at the professional level in these five companies.

  • Asian men and women are underrepresented at the managerial level and severely underrespresented at the executive level.

  • Asian women are more underrepresented than Asian men at both the managerial and executive levels.

  • A gap is growing between Asians and whites at each stage in the career pipeline leading to managerial and executive positions.

The report also identifies the barriers that seem to prevent Asians from advancing to managerial and executive levels in Silicon Valley. These include: (1) traditional Asian values and cultural norms, such as deference to authority, (2) lack of role models, (3) lack of awareness of the "rules of the game" that govern career advancement in corporate settings, and (4) "implicit bias" that leads to the perception that Asians are purely technical individuals who lack the communication and leadership skills needed for advancement to leadership positions. Additionally, the report discusses steps that aspiring Asian professionals can take to advance their careers. These steps include: understanding what is expected of a leader as opposed to an individual contributor, developing needed leadership skills and behaviors, and securing an executive mentor. The report concludes with recommended strategies that companies can employ to ensure that Asian professionals move up the career ladder. These strategies include: engaging in candid conversations with their Asian employee groups, examining hiring and promotional processes for implicit biases, and providing management training programs that address the specific needs of their Asian employees.

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