According to this new book, shame and reticence are Asian values that impede career success in the Western corporate world
By LYNDA LIN, Assistant Editor, Pacific Citizen
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 world.
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 yourself.
“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 career success.
“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 conflict.
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 professionals.”
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.
For more information on Jane Hyun, visit: www.crossroadcareers.com
Other Readings of Interest