On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Simon Rhee, American Cyberculture student at UC Berkeley.
Keywords: Inequities, Occupations
Asian-Americans are notorious for doing well academically. According to a report published by the Pew Research Center this past June, the rapid rise in Asian immigrants along with a high cultural value placed upon education and academic success, it is of no surprise that the growing influx of Asian-Americans into the high-skilled workforce is occurring (and arguably, has already occurred). Asians represent only five percent of the U.S. population,  yet represent three to five times that in Ivy League universities. One would assume that this would relate to future success. However, this is not the case; a “bamboo ceiling” is blocking their rise.
Noted by its association to the glass ceiling, the bamboo ceiling is the Asian equivalent to the barrier preventing women from succeeding. A study presented by the Center For Work-Life Policy, published in July of 2011, stated that despite high academic success, Asians failed to make it to the highest reaches of success in the almost all levels of career leadership. Only 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs and corporate officers are Asian. Asians have the lowest conversion rate to partner in law firms in comparison to any other minority group. In the medical field, Asian-Americans are one of the lowest represented members in medical board positions. These statistics demonstrate is the illusion of success for Asian-Americans, that the ethnicity as a whole does not need extra help or attention given their high levels of success, when in fact there exists a problem.
The existence of the bamboo ceiling draws a multitude of questions that should be addressed. First of all, it highlights the failure of Asian-American values, at least on the corporate level. Asian-Americans are often educated to listen to their superiors, to not stick out, and to take responsibility for their own work. There is a clear conflict between Asian-American values and traditional leadership values held on the corporate board level. What this means is two fold: a change in the Asian-American value system and change in the traditional leadership norms of the country. While it may be easy to place the blame and “change the Asian,” it may hold some importance to reevaluate traditional leadership roles and identify whether they hold validity and draw out the best ideas. By reevaluating such traditions, it may allow for other ceilings to broken through, not just the bamboo ceiling.
The bamboo ceiling also spotlights the disparity between academic preparation and career escalation. If Asian-Americans are graduating at 25% of the country’s top universities, it would seem common sense that they would make up 25% of the top jobs in the country. However, this is clearly not the case. This means that there are limitations to the idea that attending top universities, and education as a whole, is the end all, be all of stepping stones to the American dream. There should be shift in the education model in the country, with a stronger focus in real workplace capabilities and leadership training. Only then can equity even be possible.