An analysis published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology finds that US companies are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to appoint an Asian-American CEO when they are in decline than when they are succeeding. This suggests that Asian-Americans are often put in “glass cliff” situations, appointed to precarious leadership roles that others don’t want to risk taking—and stereotypes of Asian-Americans may be driving this phenomenon. Jane C. Hu discusses the study’s findings at Quartz:
In their analysis, the researchers found that Asian-American leaders tapped to lead declining companies also faced a glass cliff, experiencing shorter tenures as leaders than white leaders in the same position. Even when Asian Americans were asked to lead companies that were not in decline, they were in charge for about half as long as white CEOs (3.25 years versus six years).
The researchers also ran a few online experiments to dig deeper into people’s perceptions of Asian-American leaders. In one study, participants read a fake article, either about a struggling company or a successful one. They were then asked to rate how important they thought certain behaviors were in a leader, like working weekends or forgoing a bonus. People who read the article about a struggling company were more likely to think that “Alex Wong” would make a better CEO than “Anthony Smith”; compared to the white candidate, the Asian-American leader seemed like a better match for participants’ idea of a selfless leader. In a different study, participants rated the CEO “Alex Wong” as more likely to be self-sacrificing, and in a third study, participants chose an Asian-American executive to lead a struggling company.
Asian-Americans occupy a unique place in the conversation about diversity and inclusion in the US: Unlike black or Hispanic Americans, they are not underrepresented in professional fields, but Asians still frequently report experiencing discrimination on the job and are markedly less likely than their white peers to be promoted into leadership positions. A landmark study on racial inequality in the US tech sector last year found that white men and women were twice as likely as Asians to become executives and held almost three times as many executive jobs, with Asian-American women particularly underrepresented in these roles.
In discussions of diversity and inclusion, particularly in the tech sector, Asian Americans are often left out. Because their representation in the tech workforce is high relative to their presence in the US as a whole, tech sector diversity reports do not treat Asian Americans as underrepresented minorities, diversity initiatives don’t focus on recruiting them, and relatively little attention is paid to whether they are given opportunities for career advancement and leadership roles.
However, just because Asian Americans are well represented in science and technology professions, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience racial bias. Joan C. Williams, Marina Multhaup, and Rachel Korn, researchers at the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, have been studying the impact of gender and racial bias in STEM professions for the past few years. “Our research,” they write at the Atlantic, “has found that Asian Americans, especially women, often face significant career hurdles tied to perceptions about ethnicity and race”:
For one approach, we developed a 10-minute survey that picks up major patterns of racial and gender bias. When we gave an early version to more than 3,000 American engineers, Asian American men and women were much more likely than white men to report that they had to prove themselves more than their colleagues. Most of the 3,000 respondents were women, which makes it hard to draw conclusions about Asian American men. But our data are clear that Asian American women, at least, face the same kind of “prove it again” bias that has been documented for decades in studies of women and black people. Despite being stereotyped as competent, Asian American women still report that they have to provide more evidence of competence than white men in order to be seen as equal.
“If you’re perfect, we might accept you. But if you’re not perfect, forget it,” summarized an Asian American woman in a 2014 study of science professors by our center, with contributions from Katherine W. Phillips of Columbia University and Erika V. Hall of Emory University. …
The Ascend Foundation, a non-profit Pan-Asian career lifecycle organization, published a report this week on racial inequality in the US tech sector. Analyzing EEO-1 data for 2015-2017 from hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area tech companies, the study concluded that “diversity in technology leadership roles has generally stagnated over the last decade,” while race is “an increasingly more significant impediment than gender to climbing the management ladder, with Asian women and Hispanic women most affected.” Other key findings include:
- Asians are the least likely to be promoted to managerial or executive positions, in spite of being the largest minority group of professionals and the most likely to be hired. In particular, Asian women are the least represented group as executives, at 66% underrepresentation.
- White men and women are twice as likely as Asians to become executives and hold almost three times the number of executive jobs.
- Even though white women are now substantially more successful in reaching the executive level than ALL minority men or women, white men are still 47% more likely than white women to be executives.
- Both Blacks and Hispanics have declined in their percentage share of the professional workforce despite efforts to hire more underrepresented minorities.
“When we used the Executive Parity Index to compare the numbers of minorities as executives to their numbers in the workforce, it was clear that that efforts to promote more Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics have made no meaningful impact to the minority glass ceiling,” said Buck Gee, a former vice president and general manager at Cisco Systems who is an Ascend executive advisor and a study co-author. “That said, we saw progress made by white women, so we know tech companies can change. Now it’s time to do the same for minority men and women.”
This report represents a major contribution to the literature on racial diversity and discrimination in the tech sector, particularly in dismantling the myth that Asian-Americans are unaffected by bias or even unfairly advantaged. What Ascend found was that while Asian employees are not overtly discriminated against in policies or practices, they observed “a pattern of cultural traits among some Asians that did not align with leadership expectations in Western corporate culture, such as risk-taking and being confrontational,” Gee tells Wired’s Nitasha Tiku: