Why the Bamboo Ceiling is a Real Thing and How it Hurts all POC
The glass ceiling is an invisible
barrier women know all too well. As ambitious women, we set our goals high. We
put in the work and are thriving in the workplace more than ever — yet there's still a lack of visibility for women and minorities at the top. Just like the glass ceiling, there’s
a similar roadblock built on bias and misconceptions that’s holding
minorities and particularly, Asian professionals from reaching their
professional potential. Today, we’re talking about the bamboo ceiling.
Stereotyped as “hardworking” and “educated”, Asian individuals face very specific barriers, unique to them. The term “bamboo ceiling” is a sad spinoff of the “glass ceiling” and is used to speak to the fact that Asians are underrepresented in leadership roles. The reality is that Asian professionals are missing from corporate boards and in management, even in fields where they make up a significant portion of the workforce.
The income divide in 2019 is real and racialized (read: non-white) people are feeling it. According to new research by United Way Greater Toronto, income inequality continues to grow. “The earnings gap was barely noticeable in 1980,” reports the Toronto Star, “But by 2015, for every dollar earned by non-racialized Torontonians, racialized residents made an average of just 52.1 cents.”
Let’s explore what this barrier is and why it is something we can’t ignore in the today’s modern workplaces.
Stereotypes are never a good thingAn over-generalized belief about anything should always be a red flag. Whether stereotypes are being used for humour (think Apu from The Simpsons) or an oversimplified way of explaining a complex group of people (see the entire cast of Fresh Off the Boat), they are sometimes harmful and almost always problematic.
Ultimately, stereotypes do nothing but contribute to a dysfunctional class system and harm the individuals within it. Aside from being untrue (no group of anyone is always anything), stereotypes create social barriers for various groups of people. It’s never right.
Look down: the “sticky floor” is also too realWhether the marginalized group is women, Asians or other people of colour, the “sticky floor” is a term for a discriminatory employment pattern many businesses and industries are guilty of. This practice keeps certain groups trapped in low-level or low-mobility jobs — like women in office admin or assistant roles and Asian folks in junior positions.
This disappointing process is visible across various fields.
Of course, there are jobs in Canada where women are dominating and you should know about them.
Terms like “model minority” are terrible and hurt all POCThe “model minority” is a stereotype and term given for it to describe groups like Asians. It’s a myth and has been too frequently used as a device to create a divide amongst people of colour, often in America. Historically, the term is given to a demographic group to elevate them from others — success is usually measured by income, education, low criminality and family — and used to reinforce stereotypes.
By suggesting certain groups are a “model minority” — it inadvertently suggests other minorities don’t uphold the same measures of success. It’s ultimately unfair to make such statements and not actually true.
Before the workforce: schools limit enrollmentLast year, Harvard was on trial for allegedly discriminating against Asian-American applicants. Students for Fair Admissions alleged that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants by giving lower ratings on personal scores (courage, kindness, etc.) — which end up having a serious impact on admissions. This is not the first time elite colleges got called out for this — Stanford, at least, acknowledged that unconscious bias may have played a role in its admission process.
Attempts at breaking the “bamboo ceiling” are sadCommon advice to ambitious Asians looking to break this unfortunate social barrier is to “seek out a mentor” and basically train Asian Canadians to conform to white cultural expectations. Assimilation seems to be key advice. The suggestion, of course, is to bury cultural roots and behaviours and act more “North American” to fit in better socially and advance in school, the workplace, life, etc.
Representation in the media doesn’t helpThough 2018 was the year of Crazy Rich Asians, the representation of Asians and North American Asians is lacking on film and television. After all, it had been 23 years since Hollywood’s last film with an Asian cast. While television shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Canada’s Kim’s Convenience do exist — the representation is still very limited, very seldom offering audiences an opportunity to see Asians outside of those very specific lenses — inevitably perpetuating stereotypes.
Asian Canadian women face specific challengesIntersectionality matters. While it’s known women need to save more money than men for retirement, and alarming reports on income divides amongst racialized Torontonians, the impact of racial identity, immigration status, age and gender are all very real.
How to take action towards a more inclusive societyCorrecting institutional and systemic flaws is a daunting task. But, like most things in life, we can all still do our part to counter and challenge injustices. The best action to take is to check our biases and avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Through understanding and learning, we can empower ourselves with knowledge and resources and gently share in hopes of paving a way towards a more inclusive Canada.
RELATED: tips for introverts to help them thrive in the workplace.