HomeAsian AmericansSilicon Valley: Race Trumps Gender; Asians Bump into Bamboo Ceiling

Silicon Valley: Race Trumps Gender; Asians Bump into Bamboo Ceiling


Silicon Valley
Asians find it difficult to move into leadership positions in Silicon Valley

Views from the Edge

A new report concludes that Silicon Valley high tech companies have a long way to go to reflect the workforce of the San Francisco Bay area, one of the most diverse regions in the country.


Although a large percentage of Silicon Valley workers are Asian, they 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.The Illusion of Asian Success, a new report from the Ascend Foundation, a non-profit Pan-Asian career life cycle organization, spotlights the evolving challenges for Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and minority women in climbing the professional ladder to success.

While the Bay Area is home to one of the most diverse populations in the U.S., researchers found that diversity in technology leadership roles has generally stagnated over the last decade.

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The Ascend study finds that “it was clear 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.”

Other key findings in The Illusion of Asian Success:

    • Race is an increasingly more significant impediment than gender to climbing the management ladder, with Asian women and Hispanic women most affected.
    • 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.


Co-author and Ascend executive advisor Denise Peck, a former vice president at Cisco, stated, “Minority women continue to bump against a double-paned glass ceiling. The data show that a general focus on developing women leaders has not addressed the distinct challenges for Asian, Black, or Hispanic women. This has been an unspoken truth in the minority community, and we hope that our report opens a long overdue dialogue. We encourage all companies to take a hard look at their minority pipeline and ask how they can do better.”

READ:The Illusion of Asian Success

It’s part of a larger problem with diversity programs, said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of ReadySet, a diversity solutions firm in Oakland.

“Because they are not thinking of women of color, they are not addressing the problems they face,” she said. “Disproportionately, the beneficiaries of these initiatives tend to be White women.”

Among the authors’ recommended solutions are:


    • Company programs to attract and retain talent should focus on Black, Hispanic, and White women. Special emphasis should be given to retaining Black women.
    • Company programs to develop and promote leaders should focus on both men and women in the Black, Hispanic, and Asian workforce. Special emphasis should focus on Hispanic and Asian women.
    • Having previously analyzed national EEO-1 reports from 2014, 2015, and 2016 made public by individual Bay Area technology companies, we determined that our analysis of pipeline diversity at the Bay Area aggregated technology sector level in this report is entirely consistent with what we saw at individual company levels. The consistency, along with the scant progress for women and minorities in the Bay Area sector, suggests that the diversity challenge is a region-wide sector problem that should be addressed by the leading companies working collectively rather than each technology company working individually.
    • The need for a collective effort has recently been recognized at the national level with the recent announcement of Fortune 500 CEO-led alliance “CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion” as a forum for sharing best practices. Many in the Bay Area have already joined the alliance, including CEOs from Adobe, AMD, HPE, Cisco, Netapp, and Salesforce. But as the next step, our clarion call is for the leading technology companies to join together in a cooperative effort to aggregate and analyze their internal data by race and gender; proactively enlist their minority leadership and employee community involvement; and develop joint and individual metrics to bend the curve in the Bay Area’s ability to attract, retain, and promote talented women and minorities.
      “In spite of companies investing in their recruiting and hiring of Asians, Blacks and Hispanics, advancement to senior corporate ranks and corporate boards is still highly limited,” said Anna Mok, executive vice president and national board member of Ascend. “To make the systemic changes that positively impact and advance results, CEOs, their executive teams, and corporate boards need to actively lead change and drive solutions.”


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