Bamboo Ceiling: What We Can Do About It

By Seaver Wong

Asian Americans face many challenges. There are the classic stereotypes that say we are hard-working, good at math, quiet, and family oriented. These are just the good traits. The negative stereotypical traits would be that we’re passive, sexually inept, short, non-charismatic, not good looking, lacking in leadership skills, and having poor communication abilities. Some or maybe most of these traits may be true for us, which is why it’s not a good thing.

We are trapped under a “bamboo ceiling”. This term was first used by Jane Hyun in her book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians, which was released back in 2005. It’s the same thing as the “glass ceiling” term, which described the invisible barriers that women and minorities had to shatter to earn the same opportunities in managerial positions that white men usually had. The difference is that the bamboo ceiling applies to people of Asian descent and they are held down for their supposed poor communication ability and leadership skills. That may be true for some people, but not all Asians, particularly Asian Americans, have poor leadership or communication skills. Those two traits are very important since job qualifications and performance aren’t a good indicator of those two skills. I feel that this bamboo ceiling is more of a invisible and subtle kind of stereotype. Nobody is going to come right out and say that they are racists are stereotyping, except maybe for Asians. Some people know it’s wrong, but they choose to crack offensive jokes about us anyway. Others might not be aware of it. However, regardless of race, those two main skills are integral to advancing in your career.

One of the reasons why this happen is because we Asians don’t speak up when we should. Having a backbone is very important especially when we need it to stand our ground in times of conflict. Being quiet has its drawbacks because we have that reputation as antisocial and arrogant. We’re too submissive and that gives us no chance to move up since we accept what is given to us when we should be moving up via promotions based on our hard work.

There are ways to break through the bamboo ceiling. To accomplish this, we need to be aware of our own flaws and attempt to change them. Toastmasters can go a long way in helping to improve our communication skills. Some people end up starting their own business in order to be their own boss and not take orders from anybody else. Thus, they don’t have to worry about the politics that go on in the company. Remember that race and looks do not matter when moving up the job ranks. If it does, you probably do not want to work for them anyway. Remember to network and interact with other people. This builds up skills and comfort with talking to other people. Some companies may have leadership programs to help Asian Americans improve their skills. The most important thing is to work on disproving the common stereotypes which fit you as a person. That means going out of your comfort zone to do things you don’t really like doing. Take pride in crediting yourself in what you do. It’s not just about working hard, but also being aggressive in what you want rather than being passive. To that end, go out there and take an active role in being social by getting to know new people, and doing things that are contrary to the Asian American stereotypes even if if makes us uncomfortable. Who knows? Maybe it might be the spark that we need. If we don’t do this, we’re always going to be stepped on and disrespected. Change first starts with us and that’s the most important thing to remember if we’re going to shatter that “bamboo ceiling”.

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