For Many Women of Asian and Pacific Islander Descent, the ‘Bamboo Ceiling’ is Still Firmly in Place

Asian women often have to put their gender status ahead of their ethnicity to get into diversity programs.

Noriko Hiyashi/Bloomberg

Noriko Hiyashi/Bloomberg

When it comes to career advancement, Asian American and Pacific Islander women often find themselves trapped beneath a variation of the investment industry’s proverbial glass ceiling.

According to a report by the Association of Asian American Investment Managers, 80 percent of AAPI women said that they often face a “bamboo ceiling” when it comes to moving up the career ladder. Sixty-five percent of AAPI women don’t think career opportunities are equal regardless of race or gender. While some AAPI women believe that they could advance in the investment field, more than 60 percent of them said that the bamboo ceiling becomes more obvious after they’ve moved beyond entry-level roles.

The findings of the report, which paints a unique picture of how women of color are challenged by the status quo, are based on a survey of over 600 respondents who work in the investment management industry, including people who don’t identify themselves as AAPI. Non-AAPI respondents are less aware of the career challenges surrounding people of AAPI descent. According to the report, only 50 percent of non-AAPI respondents agreed that the bamboo ceiling is real.

Despite the progress made in recent years, diversity remains an issue in the asset management industry, although the problem is more pronounced at some types of asset managers, such as private equity firms, than it is in others. Part of the career hurdle faced by Asian women comes from culture. According to the report, about 70 percent of respondents said that commonly perceived Asian cultural values, especially those imposed on women, have negatively affected their career success. In many traditional Asian cultures, women are encouraged to be humble, family-oriented, and attentive to their partner’s career development. Such traits have made it hard for some Asian women to speak out or to ask for a promotion in the workplace, according to the report.

But a bigger problem lies in the diversity, equity, and inclusion programs offered by many big asset managers and allocators. According to the report, people of AAPI descent are often excluded from DE&I initiatives, and Asian women in the investment industry are frequently forced to put their gender status ahead of their ethnicity when applying for emerging manager programs and other diversity initiatives. Such DE&I programs “don’t acknowledge their unique space in the workplace,” the report said.


Eva Shang, the Asian American co-founder of Legalist, told II that it’s tough to say if a DE&I initiative program is fair just by looking at the racial statistics. In some cases, Asian Americans are more present than other racial minorities, which has led some diversity programs to tilt more toward other underrepresented groups. While it’s a reasonable action, it ignores “the lived experience of each individual,” she said. “It’s a tough issue.”

Besides coming up with more inclusive DE&I initiatives, the report said that companies can also hold more networking events and form employee resource groups for women of AAPI descent. They can also provide more culturally informed leadership training to help understand the biases towards AAPI, and use blind résumés to hire people for management positions. The report added that employers should also be aware of the cultural differences in sub-ethnicities, instead of just lumping the AAPI workforce altogether.

“AAPI women can take steps to improve their chances for promotion, but firms have the duty to assess their own workplace culture, practices, and policies to ensure that they are offering a level playing field,” said Brenda Chia, co-chair of AAAIM’s board, about the report. “When AAPI women do not have the same opportunities for advancement as their peers, our industry is disadvantaged.”