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Six Leaders Address The Scourge Of The “Bamboo Ceiling”

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at September 19, 2021

We’ve long talked about the “glass ceiling” that prevents women from ascending in the corporate world and elsewhere. There is a new metaphor that smart companies would do well to understand and then vanquish: the “bamboo ceiling.”

The Association of Asian American Investment Managers polled 100 investment managers from the community of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. More than 90% of respondents said that the bamboo ceiling (which the report describes as unfair discrimination based on racial stereotypes) has been a problem in their career trajectories. That is one of several disturbing revelations from the poll.

To get a handle on this troubling report, I invited six leaders from four countries to comment on it and to offer suggestions for making diversity, equity, and inclusion a reality.

Raising awareness is the first step in overcoming bias

As a Mexican American, I applaud the Association of Asian American Investment Managers’ report to highlight the obstacles and challenges facing Asian Americans. Raising awareness is proven to be a positive first step in overcoming bias. See, for example, this study from the Brookings Institution.

In reading the AAAIM report, I began wondering what blind spots or biases I have toward Asian Americans. That is an essential step in my journey to walk in their shoes.

Rafael (Ralph) DeLeon, SVP of Industry Engagement, Ncontracts, U.S.

Beware: no quick fixes!

I say this from the perspective of a double minority (a Black woman): There is no quick fix to dealing with minorities. There’s no blanket “Step 1, 2, 3” instructional guide. It doesn’t work like that. 

We can provide suggestions, but the reality is people have to want to accept change, a change in what they have perceived as normal for years, including working with others who don’t look like themselves. 

Gina Green, Founder and CEO, Tuck9 Ethics, Compliance, and Finance, U.S.

“Just as human beings can be guilty of unfair bias, so can AI”

One strategy for eliminating the bamboo ceiling would be to empower HR to improve the process of hiring candidates. In some companies, hiring is informed by algorithms grounded in artificial intelligence, which can be embedded with biases based on gender and ethnicity. See, for example, this report in the Harvard Business Review.

Just as human beings can be guilty of unfair bias, so can AI.

Sabrine Makkes, LLM, Board of Directors member, Women in Ethics & Compliance Global, United Arab Emirates

“Ethical people want to work for ethical companies”

The bamboo ceiling is not just an American phenomenon. It exists on a global scale, not just in the professional arena, but also in politics, education and sports.

Inclusive policies in business and beyond not only help minorities in their workforces. These policies also attract the best talent.

Ethical people want to work for ethical companies. In the long run it is a win-win for employees and organizations alike.

Tonnis J. Poppema, Global Head of Compliance, Nyrstar-Trafigura, The Netherlands

“I am aghast but not surprised”

After reading the fascinating contents of this report, I am aghast but not surprised by the systemic, pervasive environment of structural discrimination of Asian Americans in the investment management profession today. 

The entrenched “old white boys club” has yet to fully comprehend that it takes more than implementing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program to eradicate this blight on the industry.

Smart businesses will take the solutions recommended in this report seriously. It is in their own interests to do so.

J. Kim Scholes, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Director of Human Resources, Aldridge Pite, LLP, U.S.A.

“All people have something to offer”

Our ability to perceive, understand, judge, and act has brought tremendous value to us.

However, our innate ability to discriminate works to our own detriment when we fail to view individuals as sovereign beings.

It may be a cliché, but it’s true: all people have something to offer. We forget this at our peril.

Aaron Jay Dason, Head of Special Projects, Initiatives, and Partnerships, REKA, Malaysia

Why this is an ethical issue

One of the principles of ethical intelligence is Be Fair. To be fair is to give to others their due, and the problem with the bamboo ceiling is that it is a form of unfair discrimination.

Discrimination is not inherently wrong. You discriminate when you choose which movie to watch, for example. Your college discriminated by choosing not to admit applicants below a certain grade point average. But denying someone a promotion simply because of their race or gender is unfair.

Ethical leadership means, in part, striving to be fair in decisions about who should join the organization, who should advance, and who should be asked to leave.

Now what?

Awareness is the first step toward eliminating unfair discrimination, as several leaders noted above.

I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as a bamboo ceiling until I saw the AAAIM report about it. There are lots of ways a company can raise awareness about this and other forms of unfair discrimination. Sharing the report among the leadership and discussing it would be an excellent place to start.

It is time to eradicate the bamboo ceiling, and it is never too late to right a wrong.


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