“Bamboo Ceiling”


“Bamboo ceiling” comes from a book by Jane Hyun, “”Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling”. It means the limitation in an Asian-American’s career due to difference in culture and work ethics in the United States. Here is one example told by the author in an interview with NPR: All things considered:

“Ms. HYUN: I have a little story there. When I was early on in my career, I was in a job where I did a lot of spreadsheets and analysis, and I worked with a team of people. And I noticed that a co-worker and colleague of mine would go into my manager’s office once in a while to connect, informally, engage in banter and discuss a variety of different things, work and personal-related, with him.

And so at the time, I didn’t understand why she did that because for me, the message that I got about how to be successful, right, was to put your head down, work hard, and then you’ll get rewarded. Somebody will see that you’ll do the hard work, right. That was – I didn’t know any differently, right. This was the second year inside of a Fortune 500 company.

And so I actually asked my friend, who was my peer, who tended to do this, and said: You know, why do you go in there? You can get a lot more done if you actually spend 20 minutes more at the computer or finishing up a response to an email. What she said was really interesting to me. She said: Well, you know, I just go in there to shoot the breeze, to build a relationship with the boss.

And that was the first time I had that aha moment of really getting the fact that, you know, you can actually, without being asked to come to the meeting or without scheduling a meeting, you can actually go in unannounced and unscheduled to have this very informal relationship with a manager. I didn’t see that as a possibility because I thought hard work was working alone at your desk.

And so that moment was kind of turning point for me to realize wow, you know, there’s some cultural – deeply embedded cultural messages, scripts, that I operate under that maybe I need to understand better so that I know how to work effectively across a variety of different spectrums.

And so that really was a turning point for me that helped me in the rest of my career.”

The key is “to promote yourself”. I see myself in her story, and I know I still have to practice this habit (talking to my manager and other co-workers). To me, it is not about to advance in my career, but just to build a relationship with my friends from white ethnicity group. I have a bad experience in class with my classmates who criticized my accents and my personality. People should not judge and they should try to understand others who speak English as a second language. One thing I love about America is that it is the most diversified country in the world. People should be more open to others’ culture.

The show also mentions Wesley Yang, the author of “Paper Tigers: What Happens to All Of The Asian-American Overachievers When the Test-taking Ends?”.  He talked about Asian-American students’ over-representation in almost every index of achievement in education and their under-representation in corporate leadership. Asian-Americans have been raised in a different way which hinders their success at the workplace in the United States. It is a challenge to not only the first generation Asian-Americans but also to the second and the third.

You can listen more on NPR.

Do you have this experience? Can we break that “ceiling” to be successful in this country and turn it to be Asian pride?


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