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Why Aren’t there More Asian Americans in the C Suites of Silicon Valley

Board RoomSo often we hear employers blame the lack of diversity on the pipeline, but that’s clearly not the case with Asian Americans in Silicon Valley.

A study by the Ascend Foundation found Asian Americans make up 27.2 percent of the employees in Silicon Valley, but just 13.9 percent of the executives at the top five firms-Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo.

According to the National Law Review, the Ascend Study found White men and women were 154 percent more likely to rise to top management than their Asian counterparts.

Asian women are even more underrepresented. They make up 13.5 percent of Silicon Valley’s workforce, but just 3.1 percent of its executives.

Some put the blame on cultural differences.

“My brothers and I were raised to not talk unless we were spoken to,” said Wes Chung, the chief of staff for IBM’s chief brand officer. “We were told to work hard and the results would come to you.”

Others, however, say the onus can’t be entirely be left on Asian Americans to change their behavior.

“Putting it on the employee to change their behavior is not going to solve the problem,” said Ellen Pao who gained both fame and notoriety for her failed sex discrimination case against Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers. “This kind of solve-one-problem-at-a-time approach creates divisions among groups that should be working together.”

Ironically some Asian Americans who are outspoken find themselves getting typecast as well.

“People expect me to be a certain way and I show up another way,” said Tina Lee, founder and CEO of MotherCoders.org to USA Today. “I am no more extroverted and loud than many White women I know, but I’m perceived as being unconventional because I’m not the meek Hello Kitty or the cold dragon lady they expect.”

There are several high profile Asian American executives such as Microsoft Corp.’s Satya Nadella; Sundar Pichai at Google Inc.; Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Ajit Jain, the head of reinsurance; and Citigroup’s chief risk officer, Brad Hu. That leads some to overlook the under representation of Asian Americans in the C Suite.

“Obviously there are some Asians in very high profile positions,” said Laura Colby of Bloomberg. “What one of the academics I interviewed said was that gives a false impression because there are a handful of people at very high level positions, but it doesn’t represent a proportional percentage of the total management.”

Colby says many corporations are developing management development programs, but added all groups must be given attention and corporations must stop blaming the victim.

Pao has launched Project Include which has suggested 80 different things companies can do to become more inclusive.

Buck Gee of Ascend along with Wesley Hom, a retired IBM executive,  has helped Stanford develop a management program at Stanford specifically focusing on Asian Americans.

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