Thursday, November 17, 2011

Glass Ceiling and Bamboo Ceiling

Here is a bit about gender gap in legal business:
Both female partners and female associates lag behind their male counterparts in pay, and the difference largely shows up in the respective bonuses paid to each. Finally, "[t]he majority of large firms have, at most, two women members on their highest governing committee. A substantial number have either no women (11 percent of firms) or only one woman (35 percent of firms) on their highest governing committee."

We know that nearly half of law students are women, so we must question why women are not faring nearly as well in private practice as are their male counterparts.
The Gap [PrawfsBlawg]

A lot of women in law schools, but only a few women in top position. That looks awfully like what is happening to Asian Americans. As Wesley Yang noted in his New York Magazine article:
According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.
But there is a difference between women and Asian Americans, and the difference is in the way people go about trying to figure out why women/Asian Americans are lacking in the top position. Few people dare to speak about how it's the women's fault that they are underrepresented at the top. Many people may think to themselves that women are dumb, emotional and unfit as leaders, but few dare speak out their minds because the social consequence will be swift and harsh. (Recall what happened to Lawrence Summers.) On the other hand, people feel quite free to discuss how it is really Asian Americans' fault -- because Asian Americans are uncritical and uncreative robots -- that Asian Americans are underrepresented at the top. Why?

-EDIT 11/18/2011- After reading the comments, a few more thoughts:

- As several commenters pointed out, it is absolutely true that not only sexists harbor their thoughts about the supposed unfitness of women as leaders, but they also often share their thoughts in casual conversations. The Korean never intended to deny that. But the point still holds that people are ready to blame Asian Americans than women for their respective underrepresentation in the top of their fields. The point also holds that the social consequences of blaming the victim differ on who is blamed. President of Harvard had to resign for blaming women for being underrepresented at the top. Wesley Yang gets a cover story of the New York Magazine by blaming Asian Americans for being underrepresented at the top. The Korean still does not fully understand why the treatments are disparate.

- Another difference in this context:  the willingness of the women and Asian Americans to accede to the arguments that blame them. It appeared that, in response to Lawrence Summers' remark, women were unanimously indignant. Surely no women stood up to extol Summers for bravely exposing something that had to be said. In contrast, a number of Asian Americans stood up and cheered for Wesley Yang's article that blamed Asian culture for the underrepresentation of Asian Americans at the top. (You can read some of the reactions in the comment section of that article.) Again, why?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

24 comments:

  1. Because it hasn't been addressed enough yet. People have to have these things battered into their brains under threat of it being more trouble than it's worth to say these opinions out loud. Then it just has to stay that way for long enough for new generations not to have grown up hearing these things said out loud. Then, maybe it dies off.

    It may not be the done thing to say things like that about the glass ceiling in print or on the television (although I would argue that it's only considered an issue among certain portions of the population and certain publications/companies), but it's still extremely common to hear those arguments about women in a lot of personal/business conversations. It's still not unusual to hear someone rattle off about how men are doing the hard work that women aren't, men are more logical and better at critical thinking, men are more professional and respectable/trust-worthy in a business environment. Women are emotional and irrational and weaker and not used to hard work and unable to hold their own and too timid and friendly and not cut-throat enough and whatever else it is that people want to argue is necessary to succeed in business.

    Maybe it's the perspective I'm coming from, but I don't see making comments like that as being socially outlawed at all. It is, at best, considered a "matter of opinion".

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  2. Because the category of "women" also includes "white" women. And we can't have people insulting the white race, now can we?

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  3. The degree of respect a social group gets from the society is correlated to the degree of violence that ensues from disrespecting that particular groupe. No empirical evidence yet :) In other words, if Asians riot and shoot people who disrespect, people would be more careful what they say about Asians.

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  4. I say it is flawed to look at the stats from Wesley Yang article and say that a bamboo ceiling even exists, because it is too early to point to discrimination or racial/cultural differences as a cause for the disparity in the high-up positions.

    This is because while Asian-Americans as a group have been around since the 19th century, the real jump in Korean/Chinese immigration occurred after 1970, and South Asian immigration has only really caught fire in the last couple decades.

    The first generation of immigrants had a low chance of getting to the top in the fields mentioned (law, medical research, business). The language barrier, cultural differences, educational mismatches, and a lack of citizenship disadvantaged this first generation, and for these obvious reasons very few of them had careers reaching great heights. That was not because of a “bamboo ceiling”--all immigrants have these inherent difficulties.

    Thus the apples-to-apples comparison in this analysis is whites vs. the Asian-American candidates who were born and educated in the US. They are the real candidates for executive/partner/director positions, but for the most part, they are 40 years old at best and therefore barely in the middle of their careers. You would need to compare them to white Americans of the same age to get any sort of meaningful comparison.

    Furthermore, given that immigration is responsible for the growth of the Asian-American population to a much greater extent than for most other demographic cohorts (whether it be women, whites, LGBT individuals, whatever) the percentage of AA execs/partners/directors will always be lagging compared to the percentage of AA in the population as a whole. This is due to the fact that first-gen immigrants of any race are much less likely to be qualified for such positions.

    It’s pretty easy and fun to say there are few Asian-Americans high up because of an entrenched good ol’ boy attitude, but it is also misleading and lazy. I would say check back ~50 years after Asian immigration to the US has reached a steady-state and then see if this disparity still exists.

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  5. The examples given in the post aren't really indicative of a "bamboo ceiling", if you take all factors into account.

    The current generation of senior academics, especially in high-profile posts at NIH and other government labs, is typically well over 50 years in age and so would have obtained their PhDs in 1985 or earlier. Same thing with startup companies where, apart from the founding members, the seats on the board are usually taken up by venture capitalists, investors, business mentors, and other 50+ year old types.

    A quick and dirty look at US immigration statistics (for all groups of population) shows that the number of people obtaining legal permanent residence increased drastically after 1985, so that it's likely that the majority of Asian Americans yet have to "come of age".

    At my work (a major US research institution) I see a whole generation of scientists with Asian roots storming up lists like "35 under 35 in innovation", assume directorships of research labs, spin off startup companies, etc. If there is something like a bamboo ceiling, these guys will burst through it like paper!!

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  6. What you can do is look at graduating class cohorts and track representation from various minority groups. Who's getting tenure? Who's getting promotions? Who's getting bonuses? How do the salaries shape up?

    Asians make up 14% of graduate students in the US right now. What's happening at the first job point?

    They disproportionately enter into business, which would suggest that between the disproportionately high number of Asian and Asian American students and their entry into business, we should see far *more* representation at lower ranks - perhaps as much as 20-25% of younger professionals with PhD's.

    I can't find numbers I like for that, but that's certainly not the case for any corporate group I've seen. (I know, I know, anecdata. Still.)

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  7. Actually there are many conservative apologists/trolls who try to blame women (either for their decisions or for their biology) for their lack of success at the top levels.

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  8. Put a few more thoughts in the OP in reaction to the comments.

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  9. Surely it is only natural to expect a lag between a new-come demographic's arrival and the equitable representation of its members at the top - of whatever field it may be.

    Given time, will these inequities not resolve themselves?

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  10. Love the Korean poetry blog, but I feel the translation is overly literal. You need to be something of a poet to translate poetry?

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  11. Maybe it's true that parts of Asian culture can be an impediment. After all, it took a white man CEO to expose the scandal at Olympus Japan. Simply have to adapt or tweak those parts of the culture, that's all.

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  12. Many people may think to themselves that women are dumb, emotional and unfit as leaders, but few dare speak out their minds because the social consequence will be swift and harsh. (Recall what happened to Lawrence Summers.)

    If you think he said that women are dumber than men are, you and/or your sources are misremembering what he said. Fortunately, Wkipedia has a decent summary and the full text of what he said is available courtesy of the Wayback Machine.

    In short, he had three conjectures as to why top-notch science labs tend to be cockfests:

    1. High-powered jobs tend to suck up all your brainpower during every waking hour. If you have your mind elsewhere — say, on something important, like your kids — you're not going to be as productive as someone who doesn't have children.
    2. It seems as if the standard deviation of math ability for women is smaller than men. This won't affect much in, say, an AP Calculus AB class, but will have large effects when you're talking about the top 99.99% of mathy people. (Oddly enough, most of Summers' critics blithely ignore the lack of female representation among the most innumerate.)
    3. There appear to be differences in taste that aren't well-explained at all by socialization. (Summers' daughters, when given trucks, assigned roles of "daddy truck" and "baby truck".)

    It's unclear to me how someone can read or listen to #2 directly and interpret it as "women are dumb" unless they're a rank innumerate or are deliberately trying to twist Summers' words for personal and/or group gain. (This wouldn't apply to our host; he's likely going off some journalist's lobotomized summary.)

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  13. The degree of respect a social group gets from the society is correlated to the degree of violence that ensues from disrespecting that particular group

    Iunno. The death-to-those-who-insult-Islam crowd hasn't succeeded in getting me to respect them, or their religion, at all.

    If nothing else, it makes other groups look more civilized — last I checked, Serrano didn't need police protection because the Pope put out an edict to kill the guy. Salman Rushdie, on the other hand? Not quite so lucky.

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  14. It's unclear to me how someone can read or listen to #2 directly and interpret it as "women are dumb" unless they're a rank innumerate or are deliberately trying to twist Summers' words for personal and/or group gain.

    That is an interesting, but ultimately irrelevant point. (To be fair, most comments so far seem to be irrelevant to the points raised in the OP.)

    It may be true that Asian Americans are culturally unfit to be in leadership positions. It may also be true that women are genetically unfit to be in a top-notch science lab. At this point, I am not interested in debating the truth or falsity of those points. What I want to know is:

    (1) Why it is ok to publicly state those positions with respect to Asian Americans, but not with respect to women, and;

    (2) Why Asian Americans are more willing to accede while women appear to bristle at similarly situated claims.

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  15. (1) Why it is ok to publicly state those positions with respect to Asian Americans, but not with respect to women[?]

    I suspect part of the reason you're getting off-topic responses is because not everyone buys your priors. In my case, I'm unconvinced women are a more-effectively protected class than Asians are. Remember Alexandra Wallace and the death threats she got?

    If we assume that women are a more protected class than Asians (whether Americans or otherwise), then I'd assume that your group's ability to censure/censor is a factor of:

    * how long your group has been under the thumb of straight white men in the US
    * the prevalence and famousness of people who are able to direct rage and extract concessions from people who make insufficiently complimentary remarks about your group

    So, if you say something that paints blacks in a bad light, expect to see Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson on your doorstep with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition right behind them. This mostly works because, hey, slavery, and there's plenty of preexisting know-how built up in that sector of the concession-extraction industry. For Gyno-Americans there's NOW and similar, plus, about half of the US population is women, so the potential number of offended people is on the large side.

    If you make a joke in public about, say, dental-floss blindfolds, on the other hand, there's no Jesse Jackson equivalent, although some try. Moreover, most people tend to think that most Asians in the US are mostly doing OK unless they're surrounded by southeast asian hill people (Hmong, etc.). Because of this, Asians are about as acceptable a target as straight white guys.

    (2) Why [are] Asian Americans […] more willing to accede while women appear to bristle at similarly situated claims[?]

    Likely a combination of:

    * the lack of professional offendees (i.e. Sharptons of a different color)
    * being less annoyed by statements like these because they're simply less easily provoked by what some random person said
    * not enough Americans whose family came across the Pacific to form a stable, effective cadre to stoke outrage
    * a generally higher level of intellectual honesty and willingness to 'fess up to their own foibles, both individually and as a group

    I'd like to think it's mostly the last bullet point of the four.

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  16. TK, I would have to agree with Said, your questions pre-program off-topic answers, as the women vs. Asian comparison is not the one that would hold muster.
    But for the sake of an academic argument I would say it's a nature-vs.-nurture and numbers difference
    .
    There's not much a woman can do about who she is (or should do) , unless she goes a complete Chaz Bono. Therefore, physical differences aside, it is the alleged intellectual differences with males that women chafe about -because, let's face it, those notions usually have root in physical differences. Plus, when half the population are women, and you are going to have your ass chewed out by you mom, sister, wife, daughter and end up sleeping on the couch for saying this stuff - that's a big deterrent.

    Asians, on the other hand, while growing, are still a minority. They are, as stats show, more financially successful than others. With that comes a perceived assumption that, with that success, they can take the "hazing." Plus, what the article in NY Mag was referring to, was the cultural behavior (hence, nurture), that mainstream America believes should be prone to adapting to American ways. Example -if in Asian (i'll use this quasi-assumption here, no offence to anyone) culture the nail that sticks gets hammered, in American culture squeaky wheel gets the grease.
    I am seeing that second and third-generation Asian Americans have no issues with bamboo ceilings, because they tend to incorporate the best of both worlds - excellent work ethic, perseverance, and American traits of standing up for your ideas, marketing yourself more effectively and getting yourself heard. Because, let's face it, how you market yourself is a huge part of your success.

    I'd say give it time, and with growth in total numbers, and increase in second-third gen representation, it will be an equal cultural faux-pas to state those things in mainstream society.

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  17. @- (what an enigmatic name) Really enjoy your writing style, very academic yet logical. Thanks!

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  18. Here's an article from Forbes about Asian Americans and the perception that they are too "docile" to get promotions in Corporate America:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/sylviaannhewlett/2011/07/28/asians-in-america-whats-holding-back-the-model-minority/

    Excerpt: CWLP research shows that Asian respondents were as likely as other ethnic groups to have asked a manager or supervisor for a pay raise or a promotion at work. Thirty-seven percent of Asians report asking for a pay raise and 28 percent for a promotion, figures on par with peers in other groups. The fact is, both male and female Asian professionals actively advocate for themselves and the rewards they feel they deserve.

    This is a big "FU" to all those like Wesley Yang who place much of the blame on Asians/Asian Americans and the culture they were raised in for the lack of promotions.

    More: The problem is, they’re asking. But they’re not getting. The CWLP study concludes that Asians are blocked by hidden bias and by cultural stereotypes.

    There are countless motivated, articulate, and extroverted Asians and Asian Americans who are doing some extraordinary things, and yet, because of people like Wesley Yang who continually reinforce negative stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans, it becomes much more challenging to get their voices heard.

    I'm not saying that there aren't "docile" Asians/Asian Americans who are products of their culture. I'm just saying that maybe it's time to put more focus on all the Asian Americans who are breaking this stereotype, not only in the corporate world, but in all facets of society. There are plenty to choose from. Isn't this the best way to change long held biased perceptions? There are a few sources out there who are getting the message out, like AAK, Angry Asian Man, YOMYOMF, et al, but unfortunately, it's voices like Wesley Yang's who are reaching the mainstream more often than not.

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  19. Since we're all going kinda off-topic here…

    I'd say give it time, and with growth in total numbers, and increase in second-third gen representation, it will be an equal cultural faux-pas to state those things in mainstream society.

    Two other possibilities:

    * The immigration rate from China, Taiwan, Korea and the various SE Asian countries drop for whatever reason, and the percentage of fobs in the Asian population here drops. The supposed bamboo ceiling then is shown to be absent because it only filters fobs out of top places in large organizations, and not Asians in general. In this scenario, that particular thoughtcrime never develops because there's no persistent disparity.

    Or…

    * The immigration rate keeps pace with the Asian population in the US (last I checked, there's no cap to how many family unification visas are issued)
    * The fob subpopulation continues to be a sizable minority
    * The fob subpopulation lags behind the 1.5-and-later-generation in terms of English-language ability and would-have-a-beer-withness
    * The fob subpopulation is virtually excluded from the upper echelons of large organizations where facility with the English language is paramount

    Since it's difficult to tease out the differences between fobs and not-fobs when doing percentages-of-Asians-in-such-and-such-industry surveys, any paucity of fobs will show up (and be billed as) a paucity of Asians. Because of the difficulty of testing alternative hypotheses, the usual explanation will become the only socially acceptable one — the lack of Asians in white-shoe firms is entirely due to white racism.

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  20. =, in that case, we better stick around for the next 20-30 years, to see which scenario was true...
    May I suggest a crate of bourbon for a friendly wager? :)

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  21. The problem is, they’re asking. But they’re not getting. The CWLP study concludes that Asians are blocked by hidden bias and by cultural stereotypes.

    The Key Findings (PDF) contradicts your assertion that they're assertive. On page 2, it says:

    * Revealing differing communication styles, results from the study show that Asians, particularly Asian women, are less likely than people of other ethnicities to share new ideas or challenge a group consensus in a team meeting

    That right there strikes me as the standard definition of workplace assertiveness, not how often you go to your boss in private for a raise. If your colleagues all agree that they want to use a statically-typed programming language like Python for the new project to keep the bug count down, the the assertive person is going to be the one to mention, somehow, that Python isn't statically typed.

    I'm not saying that there aren't "docile" Asians/Asian Americans who are products of their culture. I'm just saying that maybe it's time to put more focus on all the Asian Americans who are breaking this stereotype, not only in the corporate world, but in all facets of society.

    That brings me to another problem with this study (and with most studies that deal with Asians in the US) — it doesn't appear to differentiate one whit between fobs and non-fobs. Are these differences that're mostly due to foreigners trying to fit into a new culture, or is something else going on? Since this study doesn't attempt to answer these sorts of questions, it's not nearly as useful as it seems to be at first glance.

    There are a few sources out there who are getting the message out, like AAK, Angry Asian Man, YOMYOMF, et al[…]

    AAM and YOMYOF, to put it politely, preach exclusively to the choir. It's unclear to me why, say, a non-Asian mid- or C-level executive would bother reading either for more than five minutes. They're simply not for him/her, much in the same way Eminem isn't for octogenarians.

    it's voices like Wesley Yang's who are reaching the mainstream more often than not.

    Well, Yang's piece has struggle and conflict and gravitas, crucial elements of a compelling narrative. A headline like "Second-and-Higher-Generation White-Collar Asian Guys Just As Likely To Wear Douchebaggy Toe Shoes As White-Collar White Guys", on the other hand, sounds like it's from The Onion. In general, headlines like "Group X, Like Everyone Supposes, Is Pretty Normal" don't get much play in news outlets that don't focus on Group X.

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  22. =, in that case, we better stick around for the next 20-30 years, to see which scenario was true...May I suggest a crate of bourbon for a friendly wager? :)

    I don't even have a bottle of bourbon in the house. What would I do with two crates, assuming I win? :D

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  23. @ "That right there strikes me as the standard definition of workplace assertiveness, not how often you go to your boss in private for a raise."

    I'm curious as to why you don't question the reason for this lack of assertiveness. Could this lack of assertiveness be from the built-in bias as mentioned in the study? Could this lack of assertiveness be from having their opinions devalued over time due to their gender and/or race and not because of some culturally derived meekness? It most certainly could, for the abstract you link to makes no mention of the cause of this lack of assertiveness.

    Also, I'm wondering if you are not seeing the forest for the trees. Why focus on this one finding and not on the entirety of the study which clearly states that despite the built-in biases, despite the cultural differences, despite the discomfort many Asians feel in the workplace, they are still stepping up and asserting themselves at comparable levels to their peers, in particular, Caucasians who have the advantages of race and culture on their side? Isn't this more evidence of just how much these Asians/Asian Americans are defying the stereotypes that are forced on them by the likes of Wesley Yang?

    "AAM and YOMYOF, to put it politely, preach exclusively to the choir. It's unclear to me why, say, a non-Asian mid- or C-level executive would bother reading either for more than five minutes.

    Not too sure what your point is about Angry Asian Man and YOMYOMF. Yeah, your average non-Asian and "C-level executive" is probably not reading these sites. But I would argue that you just made the perfect argument for why there is a need for sites like these.

    "Yang's piece has struggle and conflict and gravitas, crucial elements of a compelling narrative.

    That's arguable. What isn't arguable is that his piece was sorely lacking in any significant attempt to paint a more complete picture of the Asian American experience, and merely reduced it to self-serving stereotypes.

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