Racial discrimination

Is there a 'bamboo ceiling' at U.S. companies?

October 7, 2011: 10:50 AM ET

Few Asian Americans have made it to the top of the corporate ladder at Fortune 500 companies despite the minority group's outsize achievements. Why is that?

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie:  I just got passed over for yet another promotion, the third one in five years, even though I've been working flat-out and all my performance evaluations have been great. This is upsetting, but perhaps not surprising, considering that I am Asian American (third-generation Chinese) and there is no one of Asian extraction in any high position at this company. I hate to "play the race card," but given the circumstances, I can't help wondering if there is some subtle race discrimination at work here. What are your thoughts? — Invisible Man

Dear I.M.:  You aren't the only one wondering. About 5% of U.S. residents identify themselves as Asian, but Asian Americans hold fewer than 2% of executive jobs at Fortune 500 companies, according to a study published in July by the nonprofit Center for Work-Life Policy.

The gap clearly isn't due to a lack of education: 16% of all Ivy League college grads identify as Asian or Asian American (over three times the group's representation in the population overall), and more than one-third (35%) of students at top schools like M.I.T. and Stanford identify as Asian or Asian American.

Granted, every now and then someone who identifies as Asian or Asian American scales the corporate heights, like Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon Products (AVP), and Citigroup (C) chief Vikram Pandit. Altogether, eight Fortune 500 CEOs identify themselves as Asian.

Partly for that reason, about one-quarter of Asian people surveyed for the CWLP study said they believe that race discrimination is holding them back at work. Interestingly, a scant 4% of Caucasians saw any evidence of bias against Asian people.

So what gives? More

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