Asian Americans are widely viewed as “model minorities” on the basis of education, income and competence. But they are perceived as less ideal than Caucasian Americans when it comes to attaining leadership roles in U.S. businesses and board rooms, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

This study is so obvious fascinating for so many reasons.

I go to meeting after meeting, professional conference after professional conference, panel discussion after panel discussion, and I am usually the only Asian American in the room. Sometimes, no lie, the only Asian American in the building. Okay, I’m lying. I’m probably not the only Asian American in the building; but, I’m sure as heck one of the few who I see out in the public light speaking my mind, facilitating workshops, stirring up controversy, and doing what I do best: BEING A LEADER. What do we need? We need more Asian Americans in leadership.


That’s why I love ASPIRE. ASPIRE is an organization of amazing Asian American women who are committed to learning about, sharing, and passing on leadership that empowers others. ASPIRE rooms are filled with dedicated, motivated, passionate, and socially just women who strongly believe – and practice – thoughtful mentoring. And, through these interactions, meetings and shared spaces, we encourage leadership.

At a fairly early age, and I mean in my 20s, I was taught I could be a leader. I was taught that I had the confidence, the intelligence, and the maturity to actually influence minds, hearts, and pocketbooks of people. I was encouraged to study Public Speaking, was mentored through effective lesson planning, lead professional workshops, and facilitated difficult and meaningful dialogue. I took charge over groups, programs and projects. Outside of my family, (my parents still believe in a “low profile” kind of existence) I was taught to tell my story, to serve as a spokesperson, and to be the public face of a number of causes and organizations. And, I was speaking out about things that my family – my culture – told me I shouldn’t be talking about: race, power, racism, privilege, personal issues, strength, and leadership.


In short, I was groomed for Leadership.


But, don’t get me wrong. I fought for every single step I’ve taken. I’ve had to battle stereotypes, bust through some glass ceilings, and work 200x harder just to get a seat at the table. And, despite my ability to work across the aisle, to approach situations with confident assertiveness, and possessing the qualities of  an outstanding leader, I walk every day in a body that is still poked with the glass shards from above me. I feel the sting of the bamboo ceiling, the cuts of the glass ceiling, and the every day assumption that I am not a leader. And, if I don’t walk carefully or duck my head low enough, the glass ceiling reminds me that its there. Every day.

If there are no examples of leaders of your race or gender, you’re less likely to believe you are leader-like and consequently you don’t aspire to be a leader,” he explained.

I’m 35 years old young. I’ve been a professional student since I was 5 years old. I’ve seen a lot of people, been to school with a lot of students, and played with lots of kids in the school yard, study room, on the athletic fields, and in road races. I have never had an Asian American teacher. Never. I have never been in a classroom where an Asian American stood in front of me and taught me, encouraged me, or learned with me. Now, the statistics show that Asian Americans are high achievers in education, in doctoral programs, and in post-doctoral programs. Yet never, ever, have I had an Asian American (or Asian national, for that matter) educator.

I’ve never had an Asian American coach.

I have never had an Asian American supervisor or boss.

I have never had an Asian American adviser or mentor.

And, only last year, did I work on a staff with an Asian American colleague.

I am currently the only Asian American director at my work.


I’ve been around the educational and professional block a few times, and yet the neighborhood has looked remarkably unremarkably the same.


So, if We are a model minority. If We are a culturally educated population. If We are supposedly surpassing the majority population in jobs and taking over coveted spots in higher education, then why are We not in leadership?

Asian Americans represent approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to account for 9 percent of the population by 2050. However, they account for only .3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members and about 2 percent of college presidents, despite their higher representation in business and professional occupations.

While there are institutional and structural challenges (along with inherent biases) for Asian Americans in leadership, I strongly believe that the first step is in being aware of the very stereotypes that we, and others, hold of us as Asian Americans:

Traits often associated with Asian Americans, such as social introversion, emotional withdrawal, verbal inhibition, passivity, a quiet demeanor and a reserved manner.


For many of us, those traits are true (just as they are with any person, regardless of race). Our challenges as Asian Americans — if we aspire to leadership positions — is in breaking down those stereotypes in a genuine and functional way. Know the stereotypes. Come up with a personal strategy that is comfortable for you, genuine to you, and resonates with you. Then, use those strategies to bust through the glass/bamboo/shit covered ceilings. Once you do, once you’re on your way, inspire other Asian Americans. Let them know it’s possible. But, do more than just tell them. Show them. Help them. Work with them. Mentor them.


It’s not that we aren’t good leaders.

It’s that we are perceived not to be.

But, the perception isn’t just in the mind. It’s institutional. It’s structural. And, it’s real. We need to find ways to productive increase Asian American leaders in positions of influence so that we can show — as a community of people — that we are good leaders. That we are agents of change. And, that we are here.