HomeAsian AmericansBreaking Bamboo: Career advice from an Asian American executive

Breaking Bamboo: Career advice from an Asian American executive

Photo by Muhammad Faiz ZulkefleeHire from Unsplash

By Dave Liu

Every other week, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Dave Liu will answer questions and offer advice to help Asian Americans advance in their careers. Send your questions to info at asamnews dot com.

My supervisor doesn’t communicate very well and gives very little positive feedback. He gives directives, without explaining the reasoning behind his decisions. It’s hard to execute what he wants without seeing the whole picture. What can I do to start a conversation with him?

This is a very common problem with bosses. It’s not because they don’t want to give feedback, but I’ve found that it’s because we are all busy and that giving feedback to employees can detract from focusing on the immediate job at hand and getting stuff done. So bearing this in mind, you need to communicate to him the need to see the whole picture to get the job done well.

This was very common on Wall Street where senior bankers would give only directives and didn’t feel the need to explain the strategic implications of the work being done. To overcome this, the best junior bankers would strike a bargain. “You tell me more about what we are trying to do and I can make your life easier by getting more of it done and giving you more time to go hit your tee time. Help me help you.”

I would start with this and see if there are additional elements of the project that you can offer to take on. Nothing pleases a boss more than hearing a subordinate is willing and able to take on more. But obviously, you need to be ready for this. Don’t bite off more than you can chew!

I’ve been at the same company for three years. I really enjoy my co-workers, but the work itself is getting boring. I’m looking at my competition for promotions and I would have to jump over a handful of people with more seniority than me to move up the ladder. How do I know when it’s time to be looking for a new job?

First, you need to be honest with yourself about why is your work boring? Is it routine? Have you already become a black belt in it? If so, then seek out new projects and ideas. Every company is always searching for growth and so take the time to come up with new ideas and present that to your boss.

Or have informal coffees with your boss’s boss if you feel you are getting stonewalled. I guarantee you any company, unless it’s a non-profit, is always searching for new avenues of growth. Leveraging the people inside the company to make it happen is always better for the company – and for you. If you go elsewhere, you’ll have to start all over again to prove yourself and remember the adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” 

In the rare instance where your immediate boss and no one above them cares about your ideas, and you truly believe they are good, then it’s time to hit the road. Get that resume ready and start making calls!

I work in the technology sector around mostly men. They see me more as cute than an equal. I feel I’m being judged by my appearance. They aren’t overtly sexist, but when I speak up, my comments are often ignored and the conversations quickly shifts away from what I just said to other thoughts. What can I do to be taken more seriously.

I encountered a similar situation due to race. This may not be the popular opinion but I’m of the mind that you need to give a little to get a little. To get what you want, you can’t just stand on principle and not compromise somewhat. So pick your battles.

The key thing to remember is every person has biases and preconceived notions about the other gender or other races. Determine what those could be for you and your male colleagues and use them to your advantage to get heard. For example, as an Asian American, there is a preconceived notion that I came out of the womb a math whizz. So I used that to get a seat at the table and became a trusted source for analytical work.

However, I knew that type of work would only get me so far and that to really progress, I’d need to demonstrate my softer skills like salesmanship and leadership. Once I established credibility in the analytics area, it gave me more leeway to work on projects that would showcase my other abilities and thus be taken more seriously in non analytic areas.  

For women, one potential area is empathy and compassion. Men perceive women to have more of this than themselves and this could be an area to leverage. Areas related to customer journeys, and the subjective view of how products make us feel, are all areas ripe for exploiting this bias. Once you have accomplished that, it can make it easier to be heard in other areas. You also try the direct approach but that appears to have not garnered their respect.  Remember success drives opportunity but you need to start with smaller victories first!

Send your questions for Dave to info at asamnews dot com.

About the Author: Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur.  Prior to founding several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, he worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years. He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies when it had less than 200 employees.  Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF).  It was there that he rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history.  As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the bamboo ceiling by not only working hard but also understanding how to play the corporate game.  He has had hundreds of bankers work for him during his career and served as a mentor to many who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America.  He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans seeking to realize their full potential and achieve their career goals.

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