One-Minute Book Reviews

October 16, 2006

Jane Hyun Looks for Cracks in the Bamboo Ceiling

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:47 am

Asian-Americans can succeed at work partly by — surprise — “networking,” “mentoring” and creating a “personal brand”

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians/The Essential Guide to Getting In, Moving Up, and Reaching the Top. By Jane Hyun. Collins, 352 pp., $13.95, paperback.

Career guides for minorities are often smug and oversimplified exercises in self-congratulation by corporate superstars. Jane Hyun takes a more thoughtful approach in Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, pitched to Asian-Americans under age 40 working in the U.S.

Hyun mostly skips the self-congratulation and gets straight to her central issue: Asian-Americans have a tough time reaching upper — or even middle — management. “Even in Silicon Valley, where Asians comprise 30% of technology professionals, a 1993 study by the Pacific Studies Center found that Caucasians hold 80% of managerial positions, versus 12.5% for Asian Americans,” writes Hyun, a human resources consultant. These findings “challenge the model-minority myth — that Asian Americans are doing ‘just fine’ and need no career assistance.”

Why so few Asian-American managers? Hyun argues that while Asians comprise a diverse group that includes more than 80 languages, they tend to share certain traits rooted in the Confucian tradition, which prefers order and harmony to conflict. She lists 14 values that “traditional Asians” cultivate, including “self-effacement,” “filial piety,” and “deference to authority figures.” These traits can held them back in workplaces that reward self-promotion, if not outright arrogance.

Hyun believes that Asian-Americans can succeed without betraying their cultural values and, in Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, suggests many ways they can do this. Her point of view is what you might expect from a former HR executive: She never mentions that if many Asian-Americans are being unfairly denied management jobs, a labor union might help, and refers only twice to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And at times she does little more than put an Asian spin on standard career advice, especially when she plumps for activities such as “networking,” “mentoring” and creating “your personal brand.”

But Hyun offers some material that is fresher and more helpful, including well-chosen statistics and a chapter that aims to help Asian-Americans deal with parents who expect to have a say in their children’s career decisions long after graduation. How many authors would dare to advise professionals to “involve your parents as soon as possible in the career decision-making process” and add: “The more they are brought into the process, even if they are not 100% on board, the better off you will be in the long run”?

Best line: A Korean-American professional named June attended a seminar at which a colleague asked about her ancestry: “Senior executive: That was some really interesting material you presented. Where are you from? June: A northwest suburb of Boston. Senior executive: Actually, I meant where are you really from? June: How far back do you want to go? Senior executive: As far back as you’d like. June: Okay, then, I come from the Garden of Eden.”

Worst line: Hyun’s comment about an article in which the Chinese-American basketball star Yao Ming said he was trying to show more “aggression and ferocity” on the court: “It would be ideal if he could develop a way of playing that wouldn’t make him feel that he’s violating his Chinese self — perhaps by scoring points using teamwork, bringing out the ferocious side only when things get really heated, then going back to his more collegial style.” Yao Ming doesn’t need any advice on how to play basketball from a human resources consultant.

Recommended if … you’re a young Asian-American who is working in the U.S. and looking for advice on career decisions that relate directly to your cultural background.

Editor: Edward Tan

Published: April 2006. This review was based on the hardcover edition.

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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