The “bamboo ceiling” and the lack of Asian-American executives in Silicon Valley


Much attention has rightly been focused on the glass ceiling discrimination that exists in many of the most profitable industries in America, including the financial and technology sectors.

One issue, however, that has not been explored as deeply is the under-representation of Asian-American employees in the executive ranks (dubbed the “bamboo ceiling”) of technology companies.

female executiveThe “bamboo ceiling:”  another form of promotion discrimination in Silicon Valley

An in-depth analysis of publicly available information from some of the top technology companies, including Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, sheds some revealing light on the dearth of Asian-American executives across the industry.

Although Asian-American employees are actually in some cases over-represented in non-management positions in these five tech companies, they are, according to Ascend Foundation‘s research, “severely underrepresented at the executive levels.”

Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition, “Asian” includes any citizen or noncitizen having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent.

The data from these five companies show that Asian employees comprised 27.2% of the professional workforce, but made up only 13.9% of the executives in the professional workforce at Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo.

Some of the more striking conclusions that the Ascend Foundation draws from its data analyses include:

  • “Although there are nearly as many Asian professionals as white professionals in most of these five companies, white men and women are ~154% more likely to be an executive compared to their Asian counterparts.”
  • “Asian women are the least represented as executives, relative to their percentage in the workforce. There are 9,254 Asian women professionals in our sample (13.5%), but only 36 Asian women executives (3.1%).”

As to suggestions for how to increase the number Asian executives in Silicon Valley, the report states, “We have observed that the gap between the whites and Asians in the pipeline can be addressed with proper leadership training, visible Asian role models, and affirmative internal outreach to find high-potential Asian managers.”

Steps to take if you have suffered promotion discrimination

If you believe your company** denied you a promotion to a high-level position because you are Asian-American, what can you do?  If you want to preserve your ability to challenge this glass/bamboo ceiling in court, you should consider the following options:

  • File a written complaint and follow your company’s policy for submitting internal complaints;
  • You may also want to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Their website has helpful information on how to file the complaint and, although you cannot file the complaint online, you can file in person, by telephone, or by mail.  Depending on where you live, your complaint must be filed within 180 or 300 days of the discriminatory act.  If you have any questions about whether the EEOC is the right place to file, use their online assessment center, which will help you decide if the EEOC is the correct agency,
  • Talk about your legal options with an experienced employment law attorney. Given time bars that apply to discrimination claims, it is vital to get the right advice as early as possible in your case.

** If you are a federal government employee or a state or local (city, county) government employee, different complaint filing procedures may apply.  The EEOC’s website has a handy online assessment tool that provides information on how to file a complaint.

Hiring an experienced employment discrimination lawyer

Hiring a proven and effective advocate is critical to obtaining the maximum recovery in an employment discrimination case.  Eric Bachman has substantial experience litigating precedent-setting individual and class action discrimination cases.   His wins include a $100 million settlement in a disparate impact Title VII class action and a $16 million class action settlement against a major grocery chain.  Having served as Special Litigation Counsel in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and as lead or co-counsel in numerous jury trials, Bachman is trial-tested and ready to fight for you to obtain the relief that you deserve.

Bachman writes frequently on topics related to promotion discrimination, harassment, and other employment discrimination issues at the Glass Ceiling Discrimination Blog.

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