You’ve likely heard of the glass ceiling, which refers to employment barriers facing women, but are you familiar with the bamboo ceiling? As you can probably guess, this term applies to the obstacles that Asian Americans encounter in the corporate world. While it may seem offensive, this industry-accepted terminology accurately captures the discrimination that gives the theory its name – and while you may be thinking, “Not in my company,” you may be surprised to learn that it’s more prevalent than you think. With May being Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, now is a great time to take a closer look at the bamboo ceiling and discuss ways to break it for good.

What is the Bamboo Ceiling & Who Does it Affect?

While the exact instance of first use is unknown, the term bamboo ceiling appears to date back to the late 80s or early 90s, appearing in a Wall Street Journal article as early as 1991 as an already established term.1 Specifically, it refers to the individual, cultural, and organizational factors that impede career progression and limit opportunities for workers of Asian origin. This includes stereotypes, biases, discrimination, lack of career advancement opportunities and professional development, and more. In 2021 there were estimated to be approximately 22 million Asian Americans in the U.S., an estimate which doubled between 2000 and 2019 alone.2

How Do We Break It?

  • Celebrate the Diversity within Asian Cultures – Often grouped together as one entity, Asia is actually made up of more than 20 countries2, including India, each with differing cultures, histories, and characteristics. Take the time to get to know your employees and colleagues and acknowledge their unique cultures and personal identities. This can go a long way in making employees feel accepted, and like they belong in your workplace.
  • Banish the “Model Minority” Stereotype – You’ve likely heard the myth that all Asian people are hardworking, well-educated, wealthy, disciplined, and successful. Due to this misconception, colleagues and employers often believe they won’t encounter work-related problems or struggle to advance in their careers. As result, this often prevents them from getting support when they need it. Being aware of biases and working to counteract them within your organization is crucial, as is checking in with your employees to see if there’s anything they need.
  • Invest in Professional Development – As with most marginalized groups, the presence of Asian Americans within leadership positions is lacking. In fact, Asians only hold 2.6% of senior positions in U.S. companies.3 Providing training, professional development courses, and mentorship programs can go a long way in helping them obtain opportunities and promotions.
  • Educate Your Workforce – Diversity training is key! Educate your employees on the cultural differences, stereotypes, and best practices for fostering inclusion and belonging in the workplace. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are another great way to educate employees on cultural differences and help build allies within your workforce.

While May is a time to bring our awareness to issues facing Asian Americans in the workplace, it’s important to take what we learn and apply it the whole year through. Building a diverse and inclusive workforce is vital to not only the success of your employees, but your organization as a whole. Want help reaching diverse job seekers? DirectEmployers Members have full access to our partnership team who can connect you with organizations serving underrepresented groups. Reach out to us to learn more about how we can help diversify your talent pipeline and help you establish equitable and inclusive practices within your organization.


Kacie Koons
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