[DIVERSITY] Breaking Through the "Bamboo Ceiling"
- Equipping Asian Americans with Tools to Break the `Bamboo Ceiling'
Pacific Citizen, Profile of Author, Lynda Lin
For more information on Jane Hyun, visit: www.crossroadcareers.com
When Jane Hyun worked as a graduate recruiter for Fortune 500
companies, it was her job to scour college campuses and cut through
rehearsed lines of half-truths to find the strongest candidates for
coveted job openings. But in her many searches, she noticed some
familiar traits in Asian Pacific American interviewees that she saw
in herself when she graduated from Cornell University and first
entered the workforce a manifest conflict between her built-in
Asian values and adopted Western corporate values.
"I came to this country at the age of eight and it's this sort of
bi-cultural experience where you are raised one way and then you
enter the corporate world and suddenly, you have to operate on
different standards," said Hyun, who is Korean American. "I wanted
to do something about that experience for a real long time."
So when Hyun visited campuses to recruit new hires and saw the same
characteristics in young APAs, who were resume perfect but generally
not willing to aggressively jockey for key job openings like other
candidates, she decided to write a guide.
"I wish I had this book when I graduated from college," said Hyun
about her HarpersBusiness published book, "Breaking the Bamboo
Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians," which combines lessons from
her seven years of experience as a career coach and human resources
consultant with statistics and case studies about APAs in the work
As a career guide, "Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling" takes on the
daunting task of explaining and exposing myths about Asian employees
while offering self-assessment exercises to identify fortes. Chapter
topics range from the pragmatic lessons about mastering the face-to-
face interview to more thoughtful exercises about how to be true to
"It's a guide that I needed for myself," said Hyun, 37. Like many
other APAs, Hyun battled the internalized need for stability early
in her career when she made the leap over to human resources, which
she described as being more nebulous.
"Certainly, from an Asian parent's standpoint, it's a move that
demands the question `What are you doing?' There's no real license,
no graduate degree needed to back it up. I did feel that type of
pressure within myself wondering, `Do I have the wherewithal?'"
Now the founder and principal of her own career coaching and
diversity consulting company, Crossroads Associates, Hyun identifies
Asian cultural values such as filial pressure, fear of shame and
deep-rooted respect for authority as some possible roadblocks to
"Asian values are often at odds with western corporate values," Hyun
said. "For example, when an Asian employee is challenged by a senior
instead of becoming strident and saying, `I did my homework. I stand
by my numbers,' [he or she] backs down and apologizes it's one
reaction I think could come from cultural values."
It is also, Hyun explains in the book, an example of a self-
imposed "bamboo ceiling" that boxes APA workers into career ruts and
reinforces stereotypes about Asian employees' tendency to avoid
Hyun coined the phrase "bamboo ceiling" in the title of the book to
raise awareness about personal (cultural influences or relating
styles) and organizational (companies that are not truly inclusive)
barriers. The phrase is also more culture-specific than the well-
known "glass ceiling," a phrase that originated as an illustration
of women struggling to climb the corporate ladder.
With increasing population numbers and a growing presence in the
labor force, APAs only make up a dismal 0.29 percent of corporate
officers and up to 1 percent of board seats in Fortune 500
companies, a reality which Hyun says creates a demand for the book.
In an oversaturated career guidebook market (8,000-plus related
books on Barnesandnoble.com), very few are geared toward minorities
and no other book offers the APA specific self-help like Hyun's.
"It's a little bit sad for me to know that there are not too many
career resources out there for minorities. What there isn't a lot of
is the mass trade resources where some on the street could say, `I
want to know about breaking into the corporate world as a minority.'
It could be that there are not a lot of minority human resources
When Hyun started in the human resources business in the 1990s, she
noticed that the only company-run diversity awareness resources
offered were sensitivity training sessions. Now, she travels the
country operating an extensive speaking schedule for private
corporate events and some public speaking engagements. She is also
doing a book tour where she said APAs and non-Asians have given her
positive reinforcement on her first book.
"The book speaks about cultural fluency that does not just pertain
to Asian Americans," said Hyun, adding that many have commented on
finding similarities between themselves and case studies reported in
the book regardless of ethnicity.