AABANY Presents a Book Talk: Stuck – Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder

On August 4, 2020, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) hosted a book talk on CUNY Professor Margaret Chin’s new book, Stuck – Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder. Moderated by Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director and Chair of AABANY’s Issues Committee, the virtual webinar received over 300 registrations from legal and non-legal professionals. Conversation centered around the book’s subject — invisible challenges Asian Americans face when it comes to upward corporate mobility.

Professor Margaret Chin began the panel by articulating the difficulty that Asian American professionals face in moving from mid-level management to the C-suites. Chin has discovered two critical factors that explain why. The first is that Asian Americans are hidden from the research. Only in the past five years has research been done on the corporate mobility challenges facing the Asian American professionals, demonstrating not only the invisibility of Asian Americans in racial discussions but a lack of awareness of the “bamboo ceiling.” The second is trust. Through her interviews with corporate executives, Chin discerned trust as a leading factor in who is and who isn’t promoted. Trust, however, also opens the door for implicit bias. Oftentimes, those who are seen as part of the “in-group” or white are seen as more trustworthy, leaving racial minorities at a disadvantage. 

A Q&A session followed the talk, during which Chris, as moderator, posed questions sent via chat to Professor Chin. One audience member asked Professor Chin what inspired her to write this book. Her answer recounted a class reunion where she realized that while many Asian Americans are admitted to Ivy League and top tier universities, there was no research on their career paths post-education. This reveals the false assumption that once an Asian American achieves an elite education, their career is set. Another question asked Professor Chin for solutions to the lack of upward mobility faced by Asian professionals. To this, she discussed how through her interviews with Asian executives, she discovered the importance of early career resources such as college career offices, formal corporate programs, and other similar programs. These have proven to be particularly helpful to non-white professionals who often do not have strong networks or resources at their disposal. Nonetheless, these are not the only solutions, leading Professor Chin to reiterate the need for more research on the “bamboo ceiling” in order to drive change.

Thank you to Professor Margaret Chin for her time and insight and Chris Kwok for moderating. Congratulations to Professor Chin on her book, which was released on August 11. We encourage anyone interested in this hot topic to purchase the book, which is available here. For those looking to continue this important discussion, please email Chris Kwok at [email protected] to participate in his book club which will gather together readers of the book for further conversations about the book’s findings and conclusions.

AABANY Co-Sponsors “Women’s Leadership Panel: Pathbreakers” Webinar

On July 22nd, GAPABA and NAPABA co-hosted a webinar panel entitled “Women’s Leadership Network: Pathbreakers,” which AABANY was proud to co-sponsor. The event, moderated by GAPABA President Angela Hsu and Hannah Kim, Chief Legal Officer of Energizer Holdings, featured six panelists who discussed the complexities of being an Asian American woman in the legal field, sharing personal anecdotes and advice with those wishing to break the so-called “bamboo ceiling” and “glass ceiling.”

The panelists included Amy Chua, author and Professor of Law at Yale Law School; Hon. Neomi Rao, a judge in the D.C. Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals; Marie Oh Huber, SVP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel & Secretary at eBay; Hon. Lorna Schofield, a United States District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York; Jessie K. Liu, Former United States Attorney in D.C.; and Selena Loh LaCroix, Vice Chair & Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry.

The event was split into two sections: extracurricular development, and career changes and advice. During the first part of the event, the panelists discussed how they felt they had found success as Asian American women in typically white, male-dominated fields. All six panelists agreed that cultivating deep, lasting relationships was one of the most important keys to success. Others added that not allowing yourself to get discouraged was vital, especially because minorities often find their leadership abilities and competency questioned.

“There will always be assumptions based on our appearance and backgrounds, but the way to get around this is perseverance,” Liu said. Chua added that because of these assumptions, the playing field is not level; she admitted that she was forced to out-work and out-prepare her colleagues, and learning how to acknowledge the existence of stereotypes (such as the Model Minority Myth), while not focusing on them.

The panelists also discussed how they ended up in their current positions and in the legal field more generally. While each story was unique, they all shared a common theme – to get to the high-ranking positions they currently hold or have previously held, they had to begin at the lowest point on the totem pole and work their way up. Having a mentor that pushed them to work harder and guided them through their career choices made a big difference.

“I firmly believe that you can’t do it alone; things don’t happen without help. And I believe that the road is littered with hard-working smart people, but there are other qualities you need  to have: taking initiative and asking someone to be your mentor can go a long way,” Judge Schofield advised. While Huber agreed that the best relationships arise organically, she noted the need for organizational and structural change to allow minorities a greater chance to form relationships; “otherwise,” she said, “people are going to be left out.”

One of the most inspiring pieces of advice shared by the panelists was how they reacted to controversy and criticism. Chua admitted to writing provocative pieces even when her own mother warned against it, and found three main ways to maintain her sanity: riding it out, standing her ground, and rejecting bitterness and pettiness.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Asian American women get shoved under the bus disproportionately because of the Model Minority Myth,” Chua shared. “But it is vital to be generous and optimistic regardless.” 

The second section of the discussion focused more specifically on switching careers and taking risks professionally. Many of the panelists switched from the private to the public sector, and though the motivations to make this switch varied from person to person, they all noted that the choice is based both on the context of where you are in life and in your mindset.

Judge Schofield shared that the decision for her to leave the corporate world took a great deal of time, thought, and courage, but when the opportunity arose, she was very glad she took it.

Lacroix added that “as scary as it was to take the plunge, I haven’t looked back since.” She explained that “sometimes your corporation and your own personal integrity might diverge — if it gets very far from each other the discomfort level can get really hard. Trust your own instincts and values,  because that’s all you have at the end of the day. If that’s something that diverges from your corporation, do not be afraid to make that choice. You’re the only one who can build and maintain that integrity.”

On taking risks, Liu added that nearly every job has some degree of risk associated with it. She noted that her personal philosophy is to say ‘yes’ to opportunities whenever they arise and see where it goes from there, because you never know if or when it may come again. 

Ultimately, the panelists all shared that while blazing the trail as Asian American women – often facing harsh assumptions and negative stereotypes – was difficult, it was also extremely rewarding. Judge Schofield advised the audience that “people are going to notice you’re different so you might as well do something with that. Embrace that you’re different and do it with confidence.”

AABANY is honored to have been a co-sponsor for the event, and we would like to thank GAPABA for putting together a wonderful panel, as well as all the speakers for their sage advice and inspiring stories.

For a video of the panel, please click here. 

Andy Hahn Discusses Biases, Barriers, and the Bamboo Ceiling within the Asian American Legal Community

Andy Hahn Discusses Biases, Barriers, and the Bamboo Ceiling within the Asian American Legal Community

Watch this episode of CUNY TV’s Asian American Life, featuring Helen Wan talking about The Partner Track with comments on breaking the bamboo ceiling by AABANY President Clara Ohr, AABANY Executive Director Yang Chen, and Ona Wang, Partner, Baker Hostetler.