When I was in college, my classmates in a Women in Leadership class often addressed the “glass ceiling” women face in attaining leadership and managerial roles.
After Kamala Harris shattered glass by becoming the first female, first Black, and first Asian-American U.S. Vice President, I began reflecting on my experiences around leadership roles held by other Asian women like me. I recalled all the managers and leaders I have personally known who were Asian. There are not many to count. When I count the number who were also women, it is in the single-digits.
My mother is one of them.
A few years ago, my mother told me she received a promotion to Nurse Supervisor. I was surprised. It was hard for me to imagine my Filipino mother – a petite, quiet, and gentle woman – trying to settle employee disputes or delegating tasks to other nurses. Since immigrating from the Philippines, she worked hard in every hospital, nursing home, or medical center that employed her and was beyond deserving of her promotion.
So why did I feel this way?
18 credit hours and one minor in Leadership Studies later, I thought I had Leaned In enough times to believe that any woman could smash that metaphorical “glass ceiling.” No one ever taught me that Asian-American women would need to break through the “bamboo ceiling” as well.
Up until my mom’s promotion, the people in my life who I saw in positions of power were primarily white men. But I had also seen many white women join them. Though not as many, I also saw some Black and Latina women in such roles. But I did not know of any Asian women in such positions. I did not see them in the shows I watched or in the books I read. I wasn’t aware of any leadership roles in the U.S. government, nor did I know of leadership roles in corporate America.Up until my mom’s promotion, the people in my life who I saw in positions of power were primarily white men. - Princess Clemente, Senior Instructional Designer Click To Tweet
My experience with Asian women in leadership roles, or lack thereof, colored my lenses when I imagined what a leader looked like and who gets to be one. This, along with my experience of people stereotyping Asian Americans as the “model minority,” led people to further stereotype us as antisocial, awkward, or intimidating. Additionally, stereotypes about Asian women being small, meek, and submissive further moved us away from the Western characteristics of leadership, emphasizing charisma, directness, and assertiveness.
Such stereotypes have led to Asian American women being excluded from leadership and managerial positions. Asian American white-collar professionals are the least likely group to be promoted into management – less likely than any other race.
Because of these biases, leaders whose lenses have been tainted by the stereotypes of Asian American women have underutilized and excluded talent in their organizations. Leaders need to recognize these biases and invest in management diversity, bias training, and diversifying leadership. It also includes expanding and shifting our views of effective leadership and communication styles.No one ever taught me that Asian-American women would need to break through the “bamboo ceiling.” - Princess Clemente, Senior Instructional Designer Click To Tweet
Shortly after my mom’s promotion, she called me for help. She is sending an email to her team and wants to make sure she uses the “right words.” English is not her first language, nor is it her second. I have never been able to beat her at a game of Scrabble, but still, she asks for my help as we draft an email to send. Her email was void of jargon like “I will circle back,” or “We have to get our ducks in a row,” or “We’re on the same page.” While someone may have thought her words were unimaginative, I thought they were efficient and concise. Her comments were thoughtful and intentional. After all, my mother never liked to waste time. I saw how seriously she cared about her work.
I wonder if her leaders saw this too.
I wonder how I would have reacted differently to my mother’s promotion had I seen more Asian American women in managerial roles growing up. I wonder why I have never considered management in any of my professional development conversations.
I wonder why no one has ever asked me.
Disrupting these biases is essential to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. The impact of disrupting biases extends beyond the workplace. These biases play a role in the income inequality in the U.S. among Asians (the greatest among all racial or ethnic groups), and even the violence Asian American women face. It is one way to break the stories we have made up about others and, to some, the stories we have made up about ourselves.Asian American white-collar professionals are the least likely group to be promoted into management – less likely than any other race. Click To Tweet
When we find the value in diversity, we find the value in each of us.