N E IT H E R B L A C K N O R W H I T E :
A N E W A ME R IC A N D IL E M MA
THE "GLASS CEILING" PROBLEM FOR ASIAN AMERICANS
SAMUEL WONG, PH.D.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT
N E IT H E R B L A C K N O R W H I T E :
A N E W A ME R IC A N D IL E M MA
THE "GLASS CEILING" PROBLEM FOR ASIAN AMERICANS
SAMUEL WONG, PH.D.
Samuel Wong, a former president of the Asian Pacific American
Network in Agriculture (APANA), was the Acting Assistant
Administrator for Administration of the Office of International
Cooperation and Development (OICD) until its recent merger with
the Foreign Agricultural Service in USDA. Before Civil Service, Dr.
Wong was an Associate General Secretary of the Commission on
Religion and Race, the United Methodist Church. He has written
several papers on race relations for publications such as
Engage/Social Action, the United Methodist Reporter, the New
World Outlook, and the Interpreter. His most recent publication is the
paper Communication and Career Advancement: the Asian Pacific
Experience in USDA. He holds a Ph.D. degree from Northwestern
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOREWORD ......................................................................... v
THE GLASS CEILING PHENOMENON ............................... 1
THE JOB SITUATION .......................................................... 15
BARRIERS TO CAREER ADVANCEMENT
Lack of communication skills ................................................ 23
Too research-oriented .......................................................... 25
Key Barriers .......................................................................... 26
Prejudice ............................................................................... 27
Lack of career planning ........................................................ 29
Hostile environment .............................................................. 29
Lack of organizational savvy................................................. 32
Other barriers ........................................................................ 34
Lack of a mentor ................................................................... 35
THE GENDER FACTOR
HOW TO OVERCOME THE BARRIERS............................. 49
ENDNOTES .......................................................................... 55
REFERENCES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
APPENDIX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
USDA Office of Civil Rights Enforcement
Advocates of equal employment opportunity have observed that barriers to career
advancement are flexible lids. For the groups who are reserved in their interaction styles,
their lack of assertiveness is cited as a barrier. For those who are less advanced in formal
education, their relatively low level of educational attainment is a barrier. For those who are
vocal, they are considered as too loud and therefore a liability to their career. For those who
are focused in their professional pursuit, they are deemed to be not managerial material
and they are left in their "technical ghetto." Some are blocked from advancement because
they are too specialized; others are kept from upward mobility because they lack technical
Many employees feel that they work in an environment of shifting values. If the selecting
officials happen to like the employees; they focus on the strengths of the employees. If the
selecting officials happen not to like the employees, they focus on the purported
weaknesses of the employees. The key is in the definition of the situation. He who has the
power to define the situation determines the outcome of that situation. The practice of "like
hires like" is common in the employment world. It is not absent in the public sector.
This dynamics of shifting values is reported in the study on Asian American experiences in
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Sam Wong, a staff member of the Foreign
Agricultural Service, directed the study for the USDA Senior Executive Candidate
Development Program. The USDA Office of Civil Rights Enforcement had the opportunity
to review the report and decided to publish it. I congratulate Dr. Wong for making an
exceptional contribution to the cause of equal employment by this "labor of love." Writing
this report was not his regular work assignments.
Almost one thousand -- one of every two -- Asian American employees in the U.S.
Department of Agriculture participated in the study. The response rate is high and the
findings are representative. The study clarifies the problems and challenges facing Asian
American employees, and their employment situations might be representative of the
conditions confronted by women and other ethnic and racial minority workers.
Being neither Black nor White should not keep Asian American employees, or any
employees of whatever color or gender, from career advancement. The employment
systems must be reformed to make full use of all the talents of all employees. A new USDA
needs the gifts of all people; we must remove the barriers that keep them from reaching
their full potentials.
This study is the by-product of a management project undertaken in the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program (SESCDP) in 1993.
Reiko T. Sakata of the Sakata Consulting Group, California, was the preceptor of the project. In
that capacity, she worked with the author to develop the conceptual framework and the
questionnaire for the survey of Asian Pacific American employees in the USDA. The project
concluded with a paper titled Communication and Career Advancement: The Asian Pacific
Experience in USDA.
John Miranda, former Acting Administrator, USDA Office of International Cooperation and
Development (OICD), provided the resources for the author's participation in the SESCDP and the
implementation of the survey project.
Larry Slagle, former Director, USDA Office of Personnel, authorized the use of the list of
Asian Pacific American employees from the central personnel database. The 981 employees who
responded to the survey are the real authors of this study.
Recognized Asian Pacific leaders in USDA including Vi Baluyut, Pat Basu, Fumiko Church,
Angel Cielo, Nilda Godwin, Eva Kaufman, John Kusano, Karen Liu, Hao Tran, and Jinhee Wilde,
pre-tested the questionnaire and offered valuable comments on improving the questionnaire and
other aspects of the survey.
Wardell Townsend, Jr., USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration, endorsed the project
and encouraged Asian employees to participate in the survey.
Zhixu Zheng, a visiting scholar from China, developed the computer program in FoxPro for
the analysis of the survey data. She also assisted in preparing the questionnaire for mailing.
Lorraine Sigler, a computer specialist in OICD, provided assistance in scanning the mailing list from
the Office of Personnel.
Staff members of OICD, including Helen Stanard, Theresa Przybylek, Mary Griffin, Angela
Robinson, and Lauren Beatty, provided valuable assistance at various stages of the management
Other colleagues in USDA, including Mike Alexander, Bob Franco, Norm Franklin, Lon
Hatamiya, Karin Leperi, and Bill Payne gave critical comments on various drafts of the concept
paper and the project report.
Laura Whitaker, a colleague in OICD, read the complete draft of this study and made helpful
suggestions for improvement. She also gave critical comments on the project report.
Marcus Fang, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, offered valuable
insights on the problem of cross cultural communication. Joan Wallace, former Administrator,
OICD, made available Maurice Dawkins' study of the problem of minority under-representation in
the U.S. Department of State and offered cogent comments on how to overcome the barriers to
Cathy, Philip, and John Paul Javier-Wong, the author's teenage children, gave invaluable
assistance in data entry. Mercedes Javier Wong, the author's spouse and resident critic, made
inestimable investments in the management project and this study.
David Montoya, Director, USDA's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, wrote the
FOREWORD for this report and provided resources to publish and distribute the report.
Vi Baluyut, in her capacity as the Acting Asian American Program Manager of the USDA
Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, provided oversight to the publication and distribution of this
Ed Poe and Phil Villa-Lobos, staff members of USDA's Office of Communications, directed
the review, editing, and publication process.
The contributions of these mentors, friends, and colleagues, and the USDA employees who
responded to the survey made possible the completion of the SESCDP management project and
•981 Asian employees responded to the survey, yielding a response rate of 55.2 percent.
•Nine out of ten (94 percent) of the Asian employees (91 percent of the females) feel they can
communicate well or very well.
•Four out of five (83 percent) of the Asian employees (65 percent of the females) are college
graduates, and 43 percent have advanced degrees.
•Four out of five (82 percent) of the Asian employees (79 percent of the females) do not believe that
Asians are so research-focused that they cannot supervise people.
•Seven out of ten (70 percent) of the Asian employees (75 percent of the females) are from the
three established ethnic groups in the Asian community -- Japanese, Chinese/Taiwanese,
•Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the Asian employees (56 percent of the females) believe they
have "organizational savvy."
•Six out of ten (62 percent) of the Asian employees (58 percent of the females) have career plans.
•Almost six out of ten (59 percent) of all the respondents (50 percent of the females) feel there is a
glass ceiling in USDA.
•Slightly over one-third (37 percent) of the Asian employees (27 percent of the females) believe that
their agencies discriminate against Asians.
•Slightly over one-third (36 percent) of the Asian employees (43 percent of the females) have
•One-third (34 percent) of the Asian employees, both male and female, have difficulty in balancing
career and family.
•Three out of ten (30 percent) of the Asian employees (25 percent of the females) are more
comfortable dealing with their own ethnic groups than with other racial/ethnic groups.
•Almost three out of ten (29 percent) of the Asian employees (32 percent of the females) feel they
have been undercut (sabotaged) by their co-workers or supervisors.
•Most Asian employees are not in upper grades. Only 8 percent are in Grades 14 and 15. There
are no career senior executives. More females are in lower grades.
•Grade 12 seems to be the modal grade for Asian employees with Doctor's or Master's degrees.
•Grades below 11 seem to be the modal grades for Asian employees with Bachelor's degrees.
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 1
THE GLASS CEILING PHENOMENON
In recent years, Americans of Asian Pacific Americans in Silicon Valley, little
descent i have voiced concerns over the hard data is available on the nature of the
phenomenon of the "glass ceiling" in their barriers facing Asian Pacific American
workplace. Like women in the workforce, employees in the workplace.
Asian Pacific American employees have
encountered the artificial barriers that kept This study of the "glass ceiling" for
them from career advancement. They "can Asian Pacific American employees in the U.S.
see their way to the top of the career ladder, Department of Agriculture is the by-product of
but bump into an invisible barricade when a project in the Department's Senior
they try to make the climb." They Executive Service Candidate Development
participated in roundtable discussions Program. It is a follow-up of an unpublished
convened by the U.S. Commission on Civil report of the USDA Office of Advocacy and
Rights to register their complaint that "highly Enterprise on workforce diversity. The report
educated Asian Pacific Americans earned found that "low percentages of minorities and
less relative to their white counterparts.... women in selected occupations, in particular
[They] were much less likely to be in professional occupations; and low
managerial jobs than comparable percentages of minorities and women in
non-Hispanic whites." iii In the Fortune 500 higher grades, in particular GM/GS 13-15 and
companies in the U.S., only 0.3 percent of in management and executive positions;
senior executives are of Asian descent.iv [were] the two most significant problems of
workforce diversity in USDA."viii
In a recent study titled Evolving
Workforce Demographics: Federal Agency This study is focused on the Asian
Action and Reaction, the U.S. Merit Systems employees. It is an assessment of the
Protection Board found that minority workers barriers that keep one group of minority
are also under-represented in the senior people from moving into the senior grades
grades in the Federal workforce. v It and into the management and executive
recommended that Federal agencies "expand positions. It makes no attempt to compare
their efforts to develop and advance the the Asian experiences with those of other
careers of minorities in order to achieve full minority groups or with the dominant group in
representation at all grade levels." the USDA. The study attempts to contribute
to a better understanding of the "glass ceiling"
Thus, in both the private and the problem by letting Asians speak out for
public sectors, the "glass ceiling" themselves. And as they speak out,
phenomenon is present for Asian Pacific strategies for overcoming the "glass ceiling"
American and other minority employees. problem are identified and recommendations
They are kept from advancement to senior for needed corrective actions are evolved.
positions in the corporate world and in the
Federal Government. However, except for
the study on glass ceiling issues facing Asian
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 2
It is the policy of the United States to
insure equal employment opportunities Table 1:Asian employees are a
for employees without discrimination
small segment of the
because of race, color, religion, sex, or
national origin. USDA workforce
5 United States Codes 7201.
Percent of Asian
Of course, the responsibility for
overcoming the "glass ceiling" problem does
All Positions 1.1% 1.6%
not rest with the Asians alone. In fact, in the
public sector, the Federal Government, under
Senior Positions 1.6% 2.3%
5 U.S.C. 7201 and the Civil Service Reform
Act of 1978, has the statutory mandate to
eliminate situations in which a minority group
in the civil service is under-represented. The In the U.S. civilian labor force, Asian
data presented in this study are a call to the Americans and Pacific Islanders accounted
Government to hasten its efforts in expanding for 1.6 percent in 1980 and 2.6 percent in
and assuring opportunities for equal 1990. ix In 1984, the U.S. Department of
employment for all Americans. Agriculture had a total of 97,624 employees in
the permanent workforce of which Asian
Pacific American employees accounted for
1.1 percent. In 1993, the total permanent
workforce in the USDA had increased to
99,903, and the proportion of Asian Pacific
American employees had also increased to
1.6 percent (Table 1).x Thus, the proportions
of Asian Pacific American employees in the
USDA were less than their proportions in the
civilian labor force, but the Department had
increased its recruitment and hiring of Asian
Pacific Americans between 1984 and 1993.
In 1984, a total of 10,671 USDA
employees held senior level positions,
Grades 13 and above. Of these, 1.6 percent
were Asian Pacific American employees. In
1993, the total number of senior positions was
13,399, with Asian Pacific American
employees occupying 2.3 percent of the
positions (Table 1). Thus, the proportion of
Asian Pacific American employees in senior
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 3
level positions is considerably higher than larger agencies would provide more
their proportion in the total permanent opportunities for development and
workforce in USDA, even though none of the advancement, however, this is not true for
career senior executives in USDA in 1993 Asian Americans.
was an Asian. xi Based on these data, one
might conclude that Asian Pacific American Asian employees are in 160-plus
employees fare reasonably well in the USDA. different occupations, with 31.9 percent of
them in the following five most populous job
series: veterinarian (701 series), plant
According to the records of the USDA protection and quarantine (436 series),
Office of Personnel, the Department had computer specialist (334 series), chemistry
1,778 Asian Pacific American permanent (1320 series), and forestry (460 series).
employees on its roll in June 1993. Of these, Again, to bring results to the advancement
59 percent were male and 41 percent were efforts, it might be more effective, as a short-
female. They work in 36 of the 40-some or mid-term strategy, to focus on these more
agencies and staff offices of the Department, populous occupations.
with a concentration in six agencies: the
Forest Service (28 percent), the Food Safety Asian employees are found in all the
and Inspection Service (17 percent), the states and many of the U.S. territories. Many
Agricultural Research Service (15 percent), of them are in California, Maryland, Hawaii,
the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Virginia, and Oregon.
Service (12 percent), the Farmers Home
Administration (6 percent), and the Soil To assess the status of the "glass
Conservation Service (5 percent). The ceiling" in the USDA, a questionnaire was
remaining 18 percent are found in the other mailed in August 1993 to the 1,778
30-some agencies and offices of the USDA. employees who were self-identified in the
central personnel database as Asian
As a strategy for moving Asians Americans or Pacific Islanders. A total of 981
upward on the career ladders in the USDA, it responded to the survey, yielding a response
might be more effective to concentrate the rate of 55.2 percent.xii
group efforts in the six agencies where the
employees are already present in the pipeline,
than to expend energies in the entire
Department. Besides, some Asian
employees in these six agencies have
explicitly expressed the lack of promotional or
developmental opportunities in their agencies.
One of these agencies, for instance,
envisions that "minorities will make gains
starting at the entry level positions." No
recognition is given to the representation of
minority employees at the senior levels.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 4
as the analysis in the section on the gender
Table 2:More of those in upper factor shows, since more Asian females are in
lower grades, and employees in lower grades
grades responded to
tend not to respond to the survey, the
the survey under-representation of females in this study
is probably due more to the grade factor than
Population Survey the gender factor.
Grade % %
15 1.45 1.36
14 5.19 7.00
13 11.21 13.58 Table 3:The most populous job
12 20.58 23.20 series are not
11 15.62 17.45 over-represented in the
10 0.22 0.31 survey
09 16.06 16.30
Below 09 29.67 20.80 Population Survey
N= 1,778 N=957 Veterinarian 12.05 10.55
& Quarantine 7.14 5.64
While the findings of this study reflect Computer
the views and opinions of one of every two Specialist 5.19 3.97
Asian Americans in the USDA, they are more Chemistry 3.85 2.51
representative of the employees in higher Forestry 3.57 4.81
grades, except for those in Grade 15 (Table N= 1,778 N= 957
2). Those below Grade 9 have not responded
to the survey in proportion to their presence in
the workforce. Perhaps, with the opportunity Given their relative dominance in the
for advancement ahead of them, many of workforce, and the "promotion" of the survey
them do not perceive or anticipate any by a senior staff person in Food Safety and
barriers, and the emphasis of the survey is Inspection Service and the Asian Pacific
less relevant to them. It might also be American program manager of the Forest
possible that these employees, being in lower Service,xiv employees in the veterinarian and
grades, feel that usually "nobody listens to forestry job series, along with those in the
them" and therefore chose not to respond to other three most populous occupations (plant
the survey.xiii protection and quarantine, computer
specialist, and chemistry), can be expected to
Proportionately, there were fewer have a dominance in the survey. The findings
female Asian Pacific Americans in the survey might reflect more of the opinions and views
than in the total population in the USDA (36.5 of these employees. However, as shown in
percent in the survey; 40.9 percent in the Table 3, except for those in forestry,
population). The reasons for their employees in four of the most populous
under-representation are unknown. Perhaps, occupations were slightly under-represented
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 5
in the survey. The survey results cover a
broad spectrum of Asian employees.
The Asian Pacific American
respondents are in 130 different occupations
(another 30 occupations are not represented
in the results) and about two-thirds are in
technical or research jobs. None of the
respondents is in a blue collar or wage-grade
position. About 40 percent of them are in
supervisory or managerial positions. xv This
diversity in occupations is probably more
representative of the general Asian white
collar employment situation than one might
expect from a Federal agency.
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 6
Table 4:Asian employees have many more years of service in the Government
Age groups: Under 30 31-40 41-50 50+ Total
% % % %
01-10 18 32 30 20 393
11-20 0 33 36 31 359
20+ 0 1 33 66 194
Total 8 26 33 33 946
*YOS= years of service
Slightly more than two out of five (42 is a continuing frustration that would sap their
percent) Asian employees have less than 10 energies and undermine their productivity. It
years of service in the Federal Government makes equal opportunity into another
(Table 4). Of these, 18 percent are under 30 "American Dilemma."xvii
years old, 32 percent are in the 31-40 age
group, 30 percent are in the 41-50 age group,
and 20 percent in the oldest age group. If
they remain in Government service, and if the
average retirement age among them is 65,
most of them will have 15 to 25 more years of
Almost two out of five (38 percent) of
the Asian employees have 11-20 years of
service. Of these, 33 percent are in the 31-40
age group, 36 percent are in the 41-50 age
group, and 31 percent in the oldest age group.
Like their colleagues with less than 10 years
of service, many of them will also have 15 to
25 more years of service.
Thus, four out of five (80 percent) of
the Asian employees in USDA will likely have
15 to 25 more years of service in the
Government. xvi Those who are near their
retirement age might be expected to tolerate
the status quo of inequity. For people with 15
to 25 more years of service, the "glass ceiling"
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 7
reflection of prior investment in education.
Table 5:Asian employees are from Most Asian employees, it is believed, have
acquired a high level of education which then
enables them to be assigned to the relatively
senior positions. This argument appears to
be supported in the survey.
Japanese 257 28
Taiwanese 243 26
Filipino 152 16
Indian 82 9
Pakistani 47 5
Vietnamese 40 4
Korean 37 4
Other Asian/PI* 68 7
* includes Hawaiian, Thai, Cambodian,
Okinawan, Indonesian, and immigrants from
other Asian countries and Pacific Islands and
A majority of the Asian Pacific
American employees in the USDA come from
the more established ethnic groups such as
the Japanese American, the Chinese and
Taiwanese American, and the Filipino
American (Table 5). Some of them are from
India and Pakistan, South Korea and Vietnam.
In addition, 20-some other countries-of-origin
are represented among the Asian Pacific
American population in the USDA.
Three-fourths of the Asian Pacific American
employees are married.
Advocates of equal employment
opportunity, especially those of Asian descent,
have consistently argued that the relatively
high number of Asian employees in senior
positions in the workforce is not as much an
indicator of career advancement as it is a
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 8
Table 6:Most of the Asian Pacific American employees are college graduates
Bachelors Bachelors Masters Doctors Total
% % % %
Below 11 39 49 11 2 356
11 7 52 25 16 167
12 3 32 24 41 221
13 3 31 14 52 129
14 & 15 1 17 8 75 79
Total 17 40 17 26 952
Of the Asian employees in this study,
26 percent have doctorates, 17 percent have
master's degrees, and 40 percent have
bachelor's degrees (Table 6). Among the
Asian Pacific American employees in senior
grades (grades 14 and 15), 99 percent are
college graduates. At Grades 12 and 13, 97
percent are college graduates. At Grade 11,
93 percent. Even among those below Grade
11, 61 percent are college graduates.
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 9
Table 7:Most Asian employees are not in upper grades
Bachelors Bachelors Masters Doctors Total
Below 11 138 173 38 7 356
11 12 86 42 27 167
12 6 71 53 91 221
13 4 40 18 67 129
14 & 15 1 13 6 59 79
Total 161 383 157 251 952
Among the Asian employees are 251 Asian Pacific Americans are facing an
"doctors," 157 "masters," and 383 insurmountable glass wall."xviii
"bachelors." However, only 79 of all of them
are in Grades 14 and 15, 129 in Grade 13, It might be argued that career
and 221 in Grade 12. Most of the employees advancement is more of a function of
with master's and doctor's degrees are in experience (i.e., seniority in service) than
Grade 12, and most of those with bachelor's education. Given the same conditions, those
degrees are below Grade 11 (Table 7). who have more years of service are likely to
be higher in grade. This argument, however,
If career advancement is contingent does not appear to be supported in this study.
on educational achievement, more Asian
Pacific American employees should be in the
senior positions than the current 2.3 percent
in USDA. Of course, it is possible that the
higher educational attainment of the Asian
employees might work against them, as noted
by a respondent: "The credentials of those in
management are so sparse that there is no
desire to recognize people of superior talent."
(Case 53) The highly educated employees
may be perceived as a threat rather than an
asset to their supervisors and managers. The
relatively low proportion of highly educated
Asian Pacific American employees in higher
grade positions confirms the perception that
in USDA, as in the corporate world, "most
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 10
Table 8: Years of service have no consistent impact on grade level
YOS*: 01-05 06-10 11-20 21-30 30+ Total
% % % % %
Below 11 30 22 35 10 4 357
11 28 13 38 15 6 165
12 19 20 38 19 4 221
13 14 11 49 23 4 130
14 & 15 10 23 34 29 5 80
*YOS= years of service
Among Asian Pacific American those below Grade 11 and those in Grades 12
employees with 1-5 years of service, there is or 13.
a concentration in the lower grades, 11 and
below (Table 8). Thus, only for two "tenure" groups,
1-5 years and 21-30 years, grade level is
For those with 6-10 years of service, apparently and partially determined by
there is practically no difference among those seniority in service. However, given the fact
below Grade 11, those in Grade 12 and those that seniority in service does not consistently
in Grades 14 and 15; or between those in lead to higher grades, it cannot be said that
Grade 11 and Grade 13. career advancement is primarily a function of
seniority in service.
Among those with 11-20 years of
service, there is practically no difference
between those below Grade 11 and those in
Grades 14 and 15, and there is no difference
between those in Grades 11 and 12. A large
proportion of them, however, are in Grade 13.
For those with 21-30 years of service,
there is a concentration in the upper grades.
For those with more than 30 years of
service, there is practically no difference
between those in Grade 11 and those in
Grades 14 or 15, and no difference between
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 11
Table 9:Grade 12 seems to be the modal grade for Asian employees with the
doctor's degrees (N=249)
Grades: Below 11 11 12 13 14 & 15 Total
% % % % %
01-05 6 25 35 22 11 63
06-10 4 11 33 17 35 46
11-20 0 4 40 37 20 87
21-30 2 2 38 24 34 50
30+ 0 0 0 33 67 3
*YOS= years of service
To reduce the variation of educational
levels and years of service on grade levels, Grade 12 seems to be the modal
employees who are college graduates are grade for Asian employees with a doctor's
isolated for further analysis. Among those degree. Proportionately, there are as many
with doctorates and 1-5 years of service, a employees with 6-10 years of service in
majority are in Grade 12. Those with 6-10 Grade 14 (35 percent) as are those with
years of service are more concentrated in 21-30 years of service (34 percent).
Grades 12 and 14 (Table 9). Those with
11-20 years of service are concentrated in
Grades 12 and 13, and those with 21-30
years of service are mostly in Grades 12 and
If seniority is a "determinant" of
grades, one should find proportionately more
Asian "doctors" with more years of service in
the upper grades. This expectation is partially
met among those in Grade 11 with 1-5 years
of service (25 percent) and those in Grade 12
with 6-10 years of service (33 percent), and
those in Grade 13 with 11-20 years of service
(37 percent). However, there are fewer
"doctors" in Grades 14 and 15 with 21-30
years of service (34 percent) than those in
Grade 13 with 11-20 years of service.
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 12
Table 10:Grade 12 seems to be the modal grade for Asian employees with the
master's degrees (N= 157)
Grade: Below 11 11 12 13 14 & 15 Total
% % % % %
01-05 34 36 24 6 0 50
06-10 27 21 39 6 6 33
11-20 17 21 40 19 4 53
21-30 17 28 28 17 11 18
30+ 0 33 67 0 0 3
*YOS= years of service
For those with master's degrees
(Table 10) and 1-5 years of service, a
majority are below Grade 11 or in Grade 11.
Those with 6-10 years of service are
concentrated in Grade 12 or below Grade 11.
Those with 11-20 years of service are mostly
in Grade 12, and those with 21-30 years of
service are in Grades 11 and 12.
The expectation that more "masters"
with more years of service will be found
among the upper grades is partially met
among the Grade 12s. However, there are
more "masters" with 1-5 years of service in
Grades below 11 than those with 6-10 years
of service in Grade 11. And the Grade 13 with
21-30 years of service are fewer than those in
Grade 12 with 11-20 years of service. Thus,
the impact of experience and educational
level on grades is inconsistent among
employees with master's degrees.
Like the employees with doctor's
degrees, Grade 12 seems to be the modal
grade for Asian employees with master's
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 13
Table 11:Grades Below 11 seem to be the modal grades for Asian employees
with the bachelor's degrees (N= 381)
Grade: Below 11 11 12 13 14 & 15 Total
01-05 72 15 10 1 1 79
06-10 60 12 23 5 0 75
11-20 37 30 17 11 5 151
21-30 18 26 28 25 4 57
30+ 21 26 21 21 11 19
*YOS= years of service
As shown in Table 11, the modal comparable to other employees with similar
grades for employees with the bachelor's level of education or similar years of service.
degrees are Grades below 11. The
expectation that holding educational level
constant, one would find more "bachelors"
with more years of service in the upper
grades is met, except for those with 1-5 years
It was reported in the MSPB study
(1993) that "experience and education are
two of the most important factors in career
advancement in the Federal Government.
Those at the highest grade levels... tend to be
those with the greatest length of Federal
service, and those with the most formal
education." xix This might be true for the
Federal workforce, as a whole; but for Asian
Pacific American employees, years of service
or high level of education, or both, do not
assure that they would be in the senior
positions in USDA.
Being in positions that are not commensurate
with their educational achievement or years of
service, Asian employees are in effect denied
the opportunity to earn an income
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 14
The Glass Ceiling Phenomenon 15
THE JOB SITUATION
How do Asian employees feel about
their job situations? Are they in the right
positions? Are their careers at a stand- still? Table 13:Many Asian employees
Do they plan to move elsewhere? What feel their careers are at
chances do they have for promotions? These a standstill
are some of the questions asked of the Not
employees. Yes Sure No Total
% % %
Table 12:Most Asian employees feel Below 11 54 23 23 355
they are in the right 11 42 25 33 165
12 53 21 26 222
positions 13 50 21 29 129
14 & 15 34 33 33 79
In the right positions: Total 49 23 27 950
Yes No Not Sure Total
% % %
Below 11 45 36 19 352 As shown in Table 13, 49 percent of
11 55 29 16 163 the Asian employees feel that their careers
12 51 32 16 220 are at a stand still; only 27 percent feel
13 55 29 16 127 otherwise. Another 23 percent are not sure of
14 & 15 61 23 17 79 the status of their careers. Most employees in
Total 51 32 17 941 Grade 12 and below Grade 11 feel their
careers are at a standstill. One-half of those
in Grade 13 also have the same feeling.
Those in Grade 14 and 15 are about evenly
One of every two (51 percent) Asian divided among the ones who believe their
employees feel that they are in the right careers at a standstill, those who are not sure,
positions. Almost a third feel they are not and those who believe their careers are not at
(Table 12). There are more of those in higher a standstill. More than one-fifth of the
grades who feel they are in the right positions employees at each grade level are not sure if
than those in lower grades. There is a their careers are at a stand still.
sizeable number of Asian employees, across
every grade level, who are not sure if they are The proportion of those who feel their
in the right positions. careers are at a standstill (49 percent) is
exactly the complement of those who feel
they are in the right positions (51 percent).
There are more employees who are not sure
if their careers are at a standstill (23 percent)
The Job Situation 16
than those who are not sure if they are in the
right positions (17 percent).
Conventional wisdom in the Federal
workforce, especially among employees in
upper grades, is that employees should
always look around for new opportunities for
promotion or other challenges. Smart
employees, it is said, look for other job
opportunities regularly. Do Asian employees
follow the conventional wisdom?
Table 14:A majority of Asian
employees are not
actively seeking other
Seeking other jobs:
Not looking Did Apply in
now last 3 years
Below 11 70 59
11 71 61
12 73 57
13 77 53
14 & 15 81 46
Total 73 57
N= 951 N= 954
As shown in Table 14, 73 percent of
the Asian employees are not looking for
another job now. Those in higher grades tend
not to be actively looking for another job.
However, 57 percent of them did apply for a
job in the last three years. Again, those in
higher grades tend not to have applied for
another job in the last three years.
The Job Situation 17
Table 15: Most Asian employees feel they have the same chances for
Chances: Poorer Same Seeking Better Total
% % % %
Below 11 30 38 15 17 348
11 26 26 33 15 163
12 34 33 19 14 222
13 40 25 27 9 128
14 & 15 28 31 29 12 78
Total 31 33 22 14 939
Among Asian employees, 22 percent
are not seeking a promotion, 31 percent feel
they have poorer chances for promotion than
their co-workers, 33 percent feel they have
about the same chances, and 14 percent feel
they have better chances (Table 15). More
employees in Grade 13 feel they have poorer
chances of promotion than their co-workers,
and more of those below Grade 11 feel they
have about the same chances as their
co-workers or better chances to get promoted.
More of the Grade 11 are not seeking
promotion, and more of those in Grades
below 11 feel they have better chance for
The Job Situation 18
Table 16:Profile of employees not The analysis thus far has shown that
almost one-half (49 percent) of the Asian
employees in USDA feel their careers are at
a standstill, slightly under a third (32 percent)
Satisfied with present grade (N= 203)
of them feel they are not in the right positions,
Not very satisfied 9%
almost another one-third (31 percent) feel
Somewhat satisfied 52%
their chances of promotion are poorer than
Very satisfied 39%
their co-workers, and one-fourth (27 percent)
are actively looking for another job now.
In the right position (N= 200)
Strongly disagree 4%
It is not clear at what point the
dissatisfaction of a group of individual
Not sure 12%
employees becomes a group issue. Perhaps,
as long as the individual employees feel that
Strongly agree 19%
their situations were unique and no
recognition is given to the systemic nature of
Actively looking for another job (N= 203)
their problems, the individual malaise will
Yes 8% xx
remain within the individual domain.
Moreover, the individual "problems" at the
workplace are either moderated or
Did apply for another job in last 3 years (N=
aggravated by the employee's perception of
the support they receive from their
supervisors. If the perception is positive, the
relatively negative situation at work might be
neutralized. If the perception is negative, the
Career at a standstill (N= 202)
negative situation might be further
Not sure 25%
What kind of working relationships do
the Asian employees have with their
supervisors? Do they feel that their
Among the employees who are not supervisors are supportive of their career
actively seeking promotion (Table 16), 91 development?
percent are satisfied with their present grades,
74 percent feel they are in the right positions,
but only 44 percent feel their careers are not
at a standstill (and 25 percent are not sure).
Slightly over a third (36 percent) of them did
apply for another job in the last three years
and 8 percent are actively looking for another
job (perhaps a change of environment,
without promotion potential).
The Job Situation 19
Table 17:Most Asian employees feel their supervisors are supportive of their
Supervisors are: Supportive Not Supportive ** Total
% % %
Below 11 65 13 23 356
11 66 13 19 166
12 68 11 22 219
13 70 7 23 130
14 & 15 71 12 18 78
Total 67 12 21 949
** don't know
Table 17 shows that 67 percent of the
Asian employees feel that their current
supervisors are supportive of their career
development; only 12 percent feel otherwise.
There is almost no difference across grade
levels among those who feel that their current
supervisors are supportive, but those in the
higher grades tend to feel their supervisors
are supportive of their career development.
Conversely, with the exception of those in
Grade 13, there is not much difference
among those who feel that their supervisors
are not supportive. The 21 percent of Asian
employees who are not sure of their
supervisors' support might indicate a lack of
communication between the employees and
The Job Situation 20
Table 18:Supportive supervisors seem to make a difference
Employees who have Supportive Non-Supportive
(on the grade issue) (N= 634) (N= 108)
are not very satisfied with grade 31% 69%
are somewhat satisfied with grade 47% 29%
are very satisfied with grade 22% 2%
(on the career issue) (N= 632) (N= 110)
feel careers are at a standstill 40% 77%
are not sure of their careers' status 25% 16%
don't feel careers are at a standstill 35% 6%
Table 18 shows that of the employees supervisors are non-supportive who feel their
who feel no support from their supervisors, 69 careers are not at a standstill.
percent are not very satisfied with their
present grade, and 77 percent feel their Thus, it appears that supportive
careers are at a stand still. While it is not supervisors are a key factor in how an
claimed that non-supportive supervisors are employee feels about his/her job situation. To
a contributing or causal factor for an cultivate better support for Asian employees
employee's dissatisfaction with his/her and to enhance their career advancement,
present grade or the feeling his/her career is Asian American organizations might design
at a stand still, there is a strong positive or sponsor seminars and workshops targeted
correlation among these variables. In fact, in for supervisors of Asian employees. These
the AACI's study, over 30 percent of the supervisors might be given some incentives
respondents note the "lack of encouragement to attend the seminars and workshops to help
from supervisors" as an obstacle of career them provide better support to Asian
Employees with non-supportive From the data on years of service,
supervisors are twice as many as those with educational attainments, and grade levels,
supportive supervisors to feel not very one might conclude that a "glass ceiling"
satisfied with their present grades. There are appears to be present for Asian employees in
almost six times as many employees whose the USDA. The question is, do the Asian
supervisors are supportive than those whose employees themselves feel there is a "glass
ceiling" in their agencies?
The Job Situation 21
Table 19:Most Asian employees feel
there is a glass ceiling
Is there a glass ceiling?
Yes No * Total
% % %
Below 11 50 35 15 342
11 60 34 6 163
12 65 26 9 216
13 68 25 7 125
14 & 15 67 27 6 79
Total 59 31 10 925
While 49 percent of the Asian
employees feel their careers are at a standstill
(Table 13), 59 percent of them feel there is a
"glass ceiling" in their agencies (Table 19).
However, 31 percent are certain there are no
barriers that would keep them from
advancement, and 10 percent of the Asian
employees do not understand the concept of
Except for those below Grade 11,
more than 60 percent of the Asian employees
at each grade level feel that their agencies
have a "glass ceiling." Even for those below
Grade 11, 50 percent feel the same way.
Among those who believe that a
"glass ceiling" is present in their agencies
(415 out of 925), 33 percent feel it is very
widespread, 44 percent feel it is somewhat
widespread, and 23 percent feel it is a little
The Job Situation 22
BARRIERS TO CAREER
Lack of communication
skills. Among the persistent perceptions of
Asian Pacific Americans held by the dominant
group in America is the impression that Asian
Pacific Americans lack good communication
skills.xxii As the ability to communicate well
orally and in writing is among the basic criteria
for supervisory, managerial, and executive
positions in the Federal Government, this
presumed deficit in social skills is cited as a
key barrier to career advancement. It is
reaffirmed in the AACI's study in which 25
percent of the respondents feel that written
and verbal communication skills are the main
obstacles to career advancement.xxiv To put it
simply, Asian Pacific Americans are not
promoted to senior positions because they
are unable to communicate well.
What are the necessary
communication skills in the corporate world?
Gary T. Hunt specifies that "perception,
listening, planning, organizing, and
presenting" are the communication skills
essential to a business organization. Owen
Hargie, in A Handbook of Communication
Skills, identifies non-verbal communication,
questioning, reinforcement, reflecting,
starting or ending [a conversation], explaining,
self-disclosure, and listening as the core
social skills in communication. He further
includes humor and laughter, handling strong
emotions (such as anger and violence),
asserting and confronting, and showing
Barriers to Career Advancement 23
communication skills as very well, 55 percent
as well enough, and 6 percent as poor. This
empathy as some of the special dimensions is contrary to the popular impression. The
of communication. Asian employees in USDA do not "buy into
the stereotype" to accept it as valid for
If being able to communicate is themselves. The employees in Grade 13
essential for career advancement, how well have the highest proportion (48 percent)
do Asian Pacific Americans communicate? among those who consider themselves
Are there differences in communication skills having superior communication skills. The
among Asian Pacific American employees? If difference between those in Grade 11 and
so, what are these differences, and what those below Grade 11, and those of Grade 12
effect is there on career advancement? Do and those in Grades 14 or 15, is slight. In
employees with a high level of communication both instances, the difference is three points.
skill tend to have higher grades in On the other end of the scale, there are
Government Service? These were some of notable numbers of Asian employees in
the questions addressed by the survey, and Grade 13 and those below Grade 11 who
the responses were presented in the Wong consider themselves inadequate in
paper (1993). communication skills.
Asian employees have also been
Table 20:Possession of a high level criticized for the accents in their speechxxvii or
speaking English haltingly. It is also believed
of communication skills
that their co-workers have problems
does not necessarily understanding what they say. These
lead to career criticisms are accepted by only a minority of
advancement the Asian employees in USDA: 22 percent
feel they have strong accent in their speech;
Level of Skills: 8 percent feel they speak haltingly in English,
Poor Well Very Total and 20 percent believe their co-workers have
Well problems understanding what they say.
% % % These patterns are probably to be expected in
Grade a diverse people; not everyone in the Asian
Below 11 9 58 33 346 community is a Laurence Olivier or a Ronald
11 5 59 36 165 Reagan; but neither is everyone in the
12 4 51 45 219 dominant group in the USDA workforce!
13 7 45 48 128
14 & 15 1 57 42 79 The question is, what level of
Total 6 55 39 937 communication skills is acceptable to the
dominant group? Does the attainment of a
set level of communication skills ensure that
As shown in Table 20, 39 percent of the employee would be moved to a higher
the employees rate their overall grade, or, would she/he meet with other
barriers? Why is it acceptable to have
Barriers to Career Advancement 24
German or French accents in one's speech "What do you feel are the obstacles to career
and not Japanese or Indian accents? Is it advancement for Asian Pacific employees in
plausible that the oft-repeated stereotype your Agency?") that some employees believe
about Asian Americans not having good that some aspects of inadequacy in
communication skills is a generalization by communication skills are among the
the dominant group in America from their obstacles to career advancement for other
interaction with the segment of Asian Asian Pacific American employees! Some
community that has inadequate of the typical comments include:
"Asian Pacific employees have the tendency
The analysis in the paper not to express their feelings to their
Communication and Career Advancement: supervisors involving the issues
The Asian Pacific Experience in USDA, related to their work." (Case 18)
shows that Asian Pacific American
incumbents of higher grades do not "Poor ability to express ideas, thoughts and
necessarily have a higher level of feelings." (Case 117)
communication skill. Conversely, lack of a
high level of communication skill does not "Most Asian Pacific scientists are modest and
necessarily keep an Asian Pacific American somewhat introverted. Language is a
employee from attaining a high grade in barrier also. I don't think we know
Government service. how to 'toot our own horn' like
extrovert managers." (Case 203)
The fact is, while a vast majority of
Asian Pacific American employees in the "Most of us are not good sales persons; it's
USDA workforce feel that they have adequate not our nature to promote our
or more than adequate communication skills, accomplishments. We somehow
most of them are not in higher grade positions. need to overcome this." (Case 220)
Probably, there is some truth in the
observation of one respondent: "Poor communication skills. Traditionally, we
"Management pre-selects the employee for are taught to listen and not speak. At
the vacant position. Therefore, it doesn't work, this means our work is
matter about the communication skills you under-appreciated and overlooked."
possess." (Case 373) Possession of good (Case 266)
communication skills or a lack of good
communication skills has no consistent "Asian Pacific employees lack effective
correlation with career advancement. communication skills. They are too
emotionally attached to their cultures
More importantly, the Asian Pacific and paradigms." (Case 284)
American employees in the USDA do not
accept the stereotype that they lack good "Being too cautious, afraid to speak up/out.
communication skills, as the stereotype is Grow tire and be wary of the politics
applied to them. There is some evidence (in easily. Feeling being left out or not
the responses to the open-ended questions,
Barriers to Career Advancement 25
wanting to be a part of the system (to as technologists (technical coolies)" and
avoid the politics)." (Case 757) "being discriminated against because of their
cultural style."xxxii This phenomenon is also
Too research-oriented. reported for women in the workforce where
Another persistent stereotype on Asian stereotyping "acts as a barrier." xxxiii Ann
Pacific Americans held by the dominant group Morrison, in her study of non-traditional
in America is the perception that Asian Pacific leaders, expands on how stereotyping is a
Americans are un-aggressive and too barrier to career advancement: "[S]tereotypes
technical to become managers, xxviii or that make it acceptable... to ignore, disparage, or
they are "so research oriented and technically discount the qualities and contributions of
focused that they are not able to supervise nontraditional managers." xxxiv It is plausible
people."xxix As in the case of communication that the persistent perceptions that Asian
skills, the Asian Pacific American employees Pacific American employees lack good
in the USDA reject this stereotype by 82 communication skills or are so
percent. research-oriented and technically-focused
that they cannot supervise people are a form
Until recently when recognition was of subtle discrimination.
given for senior-level positions in research, a
scientist could only advance his/her career by Key Barriers. Ann Morrison, in
being a manager. This practice might explain the study of non-traditional leaders, has
why 86 percent of the Asian employees who identified six barriers for career advancement:
are not supervisors or managers now, want to (1) prejudice: treating differences as
enter those ranks. xxx This is considerably weaknesses; (2) poor career planning; (3) a
higher than the 74 percent in the AACI's study lonely, hostile, unsupportive working
who are interested in managerial positions. environment for nontraditional managers; (4)
lack of organizational savvy on the part of
Thus, most Asian Pacific American nontraditional managers; (5) greater comfort
employees do not feel that they are so in dealing with one's own kind; and (6)
research-oriented or technically-focused that difficulty in balancing career and family. xxxv
they cannot supervise people. A vast majority Maurice Dawkins, in his study of the glass
of them feel that they are interested in ceiling problem in the U.S. Department of
supervisory or managerial jobs. And more State, emphasizes the importance of having
than 95 percent of them (547 of 574) feel that the right person to be one's mentor. Thus,
they have the necessary skills to supervise or lack of a mentor can also be a barrier to
manage people. The rub is, most of them are career advancement.
not in supervisory or managerial jobs; and
most of those who are now supervisors and While the SESCDP project was
managers are not in the higher grades. focused on the perception of Asian Pacific
employees on the relationship between
In Thomas' study, Asians cite communication skills and career
stereotyping by the dominant group as the advancement, the survey included some
key barrier to their advancement. They questions on the key barriers as identified by
face the twin barriers of "being pigeon-holed Morrison, Dawkins, and others.
Barriers to Career Advancement 26
Table 21:Asian employees have to
be better performers Table 22:More employees in higher
than white employees grades believe their
to get ahead agencies discriminate
Yes Not Sure No Total employees
% % % Not
Grade Yes Sure No Total
Below 11 56 23 22 338 % % %
11 59 18 23 165 Grade
12 69 17 14 218 Below 11 29 33 38 347
13 71 17 12 127 11 29 31 40 163
14 & 15 70 11 19 79 12 49 23 28 218
Total 63 19 19 927 13 41 29 29 126
14 & 15 44 26 29 79
Total 37 29 34 933
Prejudice. In the AACI's study,xxxvi
26 percent of the Asian respondents cited
"racial prejudice and stereotypes" as a factor The employees were also asked, "Do
in limiting their advancement. Does this you feel that your Agency discriminates
barrier work in the USDA? The employees against Asian Pacific employees?" Those
were asked, "Do you feel that Asian Pacific who agree account for 37 percent of the
and other minority employees in your Agency respondents, those who disagree account for
have to be better performers than white 34 percent. The "not sure" are 29 percent
employees to get ahead?" More than (Table 22).
three-fifths (63 percent) of them feel that they
have to be better performers, almost one-fifth Employees in Grade 12 have the
(19 percent) feel otherwise, and another highest proportion -- almost one of every two
one-fifth (19 percent) are not sure (Table 21). --who believe their agencies discriminate
against Asian employees. More than
Among those who feel they have to be two-fifths among those in Grade 13 and in
better performers than white employees to Grades 14 and 15 also hold such a belief.
get ahead are 70 percent of the Grades 14 Almost three out of ten (29 percent) in Grade
and 15, 71 percent of the Grade 13, and 69 11 and below Grade 11 believe their agencies
percent of the Grade 12. For those in Grade discriminate against Asian employees. Do
11 and below Grade 11, the proportions are the views and opinions among these
smaller but still well over 50 percent. Might employees suggest that Asian employees in
one speculate that as the employees move higher grades are more likely to have
higher up in the career ladder, they are more experienced discrimination in their agencies
observant of the disparate expectation? thus the higher proportion who hold the belief
Barriers to Career Advancement 27
that their agencies practice discrimination? In proportion (41 percent). The ability and
any case, prejudice may be a factor in the capability of Asian employees to assume
lack of career advancement for some Asian extracurricular assignments seems to be
employees in the USDA. recognized and utilized by the USDA
agencies and by the Department. Prejudice
The puzzle is, why do many of those in the form of denial of visibility assignment
who feel they have to be better performers to does not seem to be working against Asian
get ahead (63 percent) do not feel that their employees.
agencies are in discrimination against their
kind (34 percent)? Is this acceptance of Nonetheless, Asian employees in
disparate treatment a factor in keeping them USDA do feel that they have been
from moving ahead in their careers? discriminated in other ways. The following is
a sample of their observations:
Table 23:Many Asian employees "My current supervisor is young and not as
experienced as I am. I believe I've
have had high visibility
been discriminated against because I
assignments was not born here and look different.
I've enough data to prove my belief."
Yes No Total (Case 731)
Grade "I have tried every possible way to get
Below 11 41 59 344 promotion or to get
11 45 55 162 position/remuneration relevant to my
12 46 54 219 qualifications but had no success.
13 43 57 125 Being a foreign-born professional, I
14 & 15 56 44 79 have no chance of getting certification
Total 44 56 929 for executive service." (Case 75)
"I made 13 certificates for promotion to
Prejudice in the workplace takes GM-13 grade but unable to get the
many forms. Not being given the opportunity promotion. I don't know what else I
for high visibility assignments is one form of have to do." (Case 903)
prejudice. However, Asian employees have
a high proportion of visibility assignments. "Minority groups always have to work harder
There were 44 percent of them having had and prove themselves. There still is
high visibility assignments in the last 3 years some unconscious discrimination
(Table 23). based on stereotypes." (Case 307)
Those in Grades 14 and 15 have the "In my last panel review, the subject specialist
highest proportion of Asian employees having could not even understand my work,
had high visibility assignments (56 percent). not to mention to do the same." (Case
Those below Grade 11 have the lowest 731)
Barriers to Career Advancement 28
Hostile environment. The
Table 24:Most Asian Pacific environment and the corporate culture in
American employees which one works are key factors in career
advancement. If the environment is
have a career plan
supportive, the employee may be moved
along and moved up in his/her career. If the
Yes No **
environment is hostile, the employee's career
% % %
may be stalled or regressed. This process is
reported in Dawkins' study of the
Below 11 59 32 8
under-representation of minorities at the
11 62 32 6
State Department. Dawkins found a
12 63 30 7
conspicuous absence of minorities and
13 68 26 6
women in mid-level and senior-level positions
14 & 15 66 30 4
in the State Department. "Asians were not
Total 62 31 7
making as much progress as Hispanics,
Hispanics were lagging behind Blacks, and
**Do not know how to make a career plan.
Blacks were making less progress than [white]
women."xxxviii Some Asian Pacific American
employees of the State Department reported
Lack of career planning. that some "managers and supervisors are
Most minority employees, it is believed, do not sanctioned [and rewarded] for failure to
have a career plan. Early in their careers, comply with equal opportunity provisions,"
many of them are channeled to staff positions and their special contribution to the linkage
with little or no promotion potential in the with Asian nations is not recognized or
organization. They are in a display case utilized. xxxix (Dawkins, nd:4). The State
rather than on a fast track. Among USDA Department does not appear to be a friendly
Asian employees, lack of career planning environment to these employees. How do
does not seem to be a factor for keeping the Asian Pacific American employees fare in the
majority of them from career advancement; USDA?
62 percent of them have a career plan.
However, 7 percent do not know how to make How well do the Asian employees
a career plan, and almost one-third (31 interact with their co-workers and supervisors?
percent) of the Asian employees do not have How much freedom do they have doing their
a career plan (Table 24). jobs? Do they have opportunities for formal
training for career development? Have they
While those in upper grades are more been undercut or sabotaged by their
likely to have a career plan, the variation co-workers, subordinates, or supervisors?
among the different grades is slight. Lack of These are some of the indicators of the "tone"
career planning does not appear to be a of the work environment or the culture of the
factor in the lack of advancement for most of organization.
the Asian Pacific American employees in the
Barriers to Career Advancement 29
Table 25:Most Asian employees Table 26:Most Asian employees
have a lot of freedom have attended some
on the job formal development
Amount of freedom:
No. of courses:
A lot Some None Total
% % % None 1-2 3 or more
Below 11 60 34 6 354 % % %
11 60 34 6 167 Grade
12 63 32 5 220 Below 11 26 36 39 351
13 65 31 4 130 11 27 42 31 165
14 & 15 74 24 2 80 12 24 41 35 220
Total 63 32 5 951 13 30 51 19 130
14 & 15 26 45 29 80
Total 26 41 33 946
Table 25 shows that 63 percent of the
Asian employees feel they have a lot of
freedom to do assignments in their own ways, Table 26 shows that between 24
32 percent feel they have a small amount of percent to 30 percent of Asian employees
freedom, and 5 percent feel they have no across the grade levels have not had formal
freedom at all. development courses in the last three years.
Employees in Grade 13 have the highest
As they move up in grades, more percentage among those who have not taken,
employees have more on-the-job freedom. within the last three years, formal training for
For instance, 74 percent of those in Grades career advancement. However, in the same
14 and 15 report having a lot of freedom, but time period, most Asian employees have had
only 60 percent of those in Grades below 11 at least one formal development course.
feel they have a lot of freedom. The reversed Those below Grade 11 have the highest
pattern is also true for employees in lower percentage among the ones who have
grades. There are more Asians below Grade attended more than three courses. While
11 who feel they have no freedom to do many of those in Grade 13 have not attended
assignments in their own ways. Except for any formal development courses within the
those in the top grade levels, there is very little last three years, they have the highest
difference across grades among Asian percentage among the ones who had
employees who feel they have some freedom attended at least one course.
on the job.
It might be noted that the inquiry was
about attending formal development courses
in the last three years. Attending three
Barriers to Career Advancement 30
courses in that period is equivalent to Lack of organizational savvy.
attending one course per year, not a lot of To some human resource consultants, the
formal training for career development. possession of organizational savvy is the
critical factor for career advancement. The
Shields term it "corporate street smarts." xl
Table 27:Asian employees have John Fernandez, Donna Thompson, and
been undercut by their Nancy DiTomaso call it the "soft" side of a
corporate culture. xli It involves the
understanding of the politics of an
supervisors organization, knowing the key players in the
organization, and having access and
Undercut by Undercut by connection to the grapevine. Indeed, the
co-workers supervisors comments of many of the respondents, as
% % listed below, show their grasp of this crucial
Below 11 26 29
11 33 30 It is "comparable to the stereotypical
12 28 31 'woman's intuition' - a gut feeling
13 33 28 about how one's agency works, who
14 & 15 32 29 to go to to get things done, when to
Total 29 29 act, when not to act, how to do a job
that superiors will like...." (Case 60)
In their work experience in the last "Knowing who are the key players in an
three years, 29 percent of the Asian Pacific organization who hold power,
American employees feel that they have been interacting with them, and making that
undercut or sabotaged by their co-workers knowledge work to your advantage."
and their subordinates, and the same (Case 80)
proportion of them feel that they have been
undercut or sabotaged by their supervisors "Know when to speak up and when to shut up.
(Table 27). Thus, for most Asian Pacific Know how to float out trial balloons
American employees, the environment is not and let your boss take some credits,
too hostile. Nonetheless, the sizeable make your boss look good. Know
number of employees who feel hostility in how to plant ideas into your
their environment or the corporate culture administrator's head so it will become
should be a concern for the senior managers his/her ideas. Do not rush to take
in the USDA. Is it normal for almost 30 credit in front of public; let someone
percent of a group of employees to feel that else do it for you." (Case 220)
they have been sabotaged by their
co-workers or supervisors? Is there a "Understanding who makes decisions and
standard of acceptable hostility in the what gets priority, how to please your
workplace? supervisor and make him look good,
Barriers to Career Advancement 31
what to pay attention to, and what to
ignore." (Case 251) Table 28:Many of those in upper
grades feel they have
"To have a feel for the current 'climate' of the
entity and use this knowledge to "organizational savvy"
better serve you and your objectives."
(Case 388) Yes No * Total
% % %
"Knowing what battles to fight and with whom. Grade
Understanding what the political Below 11 60 21 19 343
alliances are, but remaining as neutral 11 64 20 16 164
as possible." (Case 389) 12 66 16 17 214
13 67 17 17 126
"Playing the games, but not losing your 14 & 15 73 22 5 77
integrity. Networking, going to Total 64 19 17 924
meetings/lunches, joining committees.
Be seen. Get to know the people * Do not understand the meaning of
with power." (Case 510) "organizational savvy"
"It's 3-D chess -- understanding not just
what's happening at your level, but at In the survey, the Asian Pacific
levels above and below, putting all American employees were asked, "Do you
together." (Case 520) feel you have 'organizational savvy?'" More
than three-fifths (64 percent) of them
"Knowing the unwritten rules to use to one's answered "Yes," and almost one-fifth (19
advantage in an organization." (Case percent) answered "No." However, slightly
653) under one-fith (17 percent) of them do not
understand the meaning of "organizational
"Ability to work the system to get things done. savvy." (Table 28) Those in the upper grades
To know the right people to talk to to (14 and 15) have a higher proportion who feel
get decisions or answers to questions, they have "organizational savvy" than those in
while not offending other people. To the lower grades (below Grade 11). However,
know when to go up the line for a there is very little difference among those in
decision or to go around it." (Case grades 11 through 13.
"One must have good peripheral vision as Table 29:Most Asian employees are
well as forward look." (Case 817) attuned to the political
nuances of their
"To be included in the agency's 'inner circle'
through political and other environment
connection." (Case 967)
Yes No ** Total
Barriers to Career Advancement 32
% % % Yes Not Sure No Total
Grade % % %
Below 11 54 36 7 343 Grade
11 64 35 2 165 Below 11 50 38 12 347
12 59 40 1 210 11 48 35 17 163
13 60 39 1 126 12 49 34 17 217
14 & 15 55 42 4 77 13 46 42 12 127
Total 59 37 4 921 14 & 15 47 38 15 79
Total 49 37 14 933
** do not understand the meaning of "political
As being "in the know" is an indicator
of "organizational savvy," a reliable source of
Almost three-fifth (59 percent) of the information is a key element in organizational
respondents feel that they are tuned to the savvy. About one-half (49 percent) of the
"political nuances and subtleties" of their work Asian Pacific American employees feel they
environment but almost two-fifth (37 percent) have reliable sources of information, but
feel otherwise. Another 4 percent state they under two-fifths (37 percent) are not sure, and
do not understand the expression "political 14 percent do not have reliable sources of
nuances and subtleties." (Table 29) information (Table 30). If being "in the know"
is a reliable indicator of "organizational
Most of the Grades 14 and 15 are savvy," only one-half of the Asian employees
attuned to the political nuances of their work really have this "smartness." This is 15-point
environment, however, they are also the least less than those who claim to have
among the ones who are so attuned. More of "organizational savvy."
the employees in Grade 11 are attuned to the
political nuances of their work environment While those below Grade 11 have the
than their colleagues in lower or higher most claiming to have reliable sources of
grades. For Asian employees, grade levels information in their agencies, most Asian
do not appear to have consistent correlation employees across all grade levels feel that
with being in tune with political nuances. The they have reliable sources of information.
high proportion of those who are not attuned The variation across grades is only 4 points -
to the political nuances of their environment not a lot of difference. However, a higher
indicates that this may be an area for percentage of the Grade 13 (42 percent) are
intensive development for Asian employees among those who are not sure if they have
who wish to advance their careers. reliable sources of information in their
agencies. It is unclear whether the "not sure"
is a substitute for the seemingly more
Table 30:Most Asian employees feel negative "no." It appears that Asian
employees need to expand their information
they have reliable
contacts to make sure that their sources of
sources of information information are reliable. How this can be
Barriers to Career Advancement 33
done is yet another area for training and
development. Table 31:Asian employees do not
necessarily find it more
Other barriers. In addition to the
above key barriers, Ann Morrison has
identified "greater comfort in dealing with with people from their
one's own kind, and difficulty in balancing own ethnic group
career and family" as the other barriers to
career advancement. In the survey, the Asian Yes Not Sure No Total
Pacific American employees were asked how % % %
difficult it is for them to balance their career Grade
and their family and whether they find it more Below 11 33 13 54 355
comfortable to deal with people from their 11 30 9 61 164
own ethnic background than those from other 12 32 13 55 220
racial/ethnic background. 13 26 11 63 126
14 & 15 25 14 61 80
Total 30 12 57 945
On the issue of being more
comfortable with one's own kind, 57 percent
are in disagreement; only 30 percent feel that
they are more comfortable dealing with
people from their own ethnic/racial group
(Table 31). Among those in upper grades,
only 25 percent or 26 percent feel they are
more comfortable dealing with their own
ethnic groups but there is a higher proportion
among those in lower grades. Among those
who are not necessarily more comfortable
dealing with people from their own ethnic
background than those from other
racial/ethnic background, there is little or no
difference for those in upper grades and in
Grade 11, or those in Grade 12 and in Grades
below 11. For some Asian employees, being
in higher grades do seem to make for a
greater disposition to deal with other groups.
Barriers to Career Advancement 34
sponsor is probably it. While more than one
Table 32:Both Asian males and third (36 percent) of the respondents report
they have people who act as a guide, advisor,
females have about the
or counselor at various stages of their careers,
same difficulty in the majority of them do not have a mentor.
balancing their career
and their family Among the mentors identified, 244
are Whites, 74 are Asian Americans, 21 are
Difficult Not Difficult Afro-Americans, 6 are Hispanic Americans,
% % and 7 are Native Americans. and 256 are
males and 56 are females. The contribution
Men 34.1 65.9 of these mentors to the career advancement
Women 33.6 66.4 of Asian employees has not been determined.
Total 33.9 66.1 Given the general acceptance of the crucial
role of mentors and sponsors in making
contacts and building networks for their
On the issue of balancing their career "mentees" and "protégés," the high proportion
and family (bearing in mind that 75 percent of of Asian employees not having a mentor or
the respondents are married), 66 percent feel sponsor may be a factor in their difficulty in
that it is not difficult, and 34 percent feel shattering or bypassing the "glass ceiling."xliv
differently (Table 32). There is no difference Thus, mentoring is another area of
between male and female on their development for Asian employees.
assessment of the "balancing act." The same
proportion of Asian men and women have
about the same difficulty or no difficulty in
balancing career and family.
Lack of a mentor. In the study of
under-representation of minorities at the
State Department, Maurice Dawkins reported
that "mentoring was the glue that held the
process together." He cited numerous cases
in which having a mentor did make a
difference in one's career advancement. xlii
Finding a mentor, according to the Shields, is
a success planning strategy. Do Asian
Pacific American employees in the USDA
have mentors? Who are their mentors?
If there is a weaker area in the career
advancement strategy of Asian Pacific
American employees, the lack of a mentor or
Barriers to Career Advancement 35
THE GENDER FACTOR
It was reported that female Asian
employees, for whatever reasons, did not
respond to the survey proportionately to their
presence in the USDA workforce.
Nonetheless, 349 did respond. The number
of female respondents in this study is larger
than the total number of respondents for the
California study (AACI, 1993).
It has often been said that "women
have to work twice as hard" and "company is
not willing to take risks on women." xlv A
woman senior executive noted that "women
have to prove through their dealing with
people that they are competent and reliable.
With men, it is assumed [they are competent]
and they have to prove they are not."xlvi Or,
as one of the respondents of this study wrote:
"I have had to prove myself in every position
I've been in. First with my supervisor and
then continually with both the public and other
employees. If there is any one major gripe I
have, it is that I feel I have to work 10 times
harder than a white male before I can gain
respect, and people always question my
competence before I am ever given a
Minority women face a double
discrimination, for being a minority and being
a woman. In the MSPB study, it is reported
that "minority women are even more poorly
represented in top-level jobs in the
Government than are non-minority
women."xlvii Given the scarcity of data on the
employment situation of Asian women, it
might be instructive to compare the
perceptions of male and female Asian
The Gender Factor 36
taught to be content with what is doled
out. Consequently, many of us will
employees on the "glass ceiling" problem in not ask for opportunities to advance
the USDA. careers." (Case 677)
To highlight the uniqueness of the "Being female and a minority, my opinions or
data and to look at the survey results from a contributions are often dismissed as
different perspective, the comparison of the of little consequence. Only by being
Asian female and male experiences in the very assertive and vocally promoting
USDA will be presented in graphs. Much my accomplishments can I advance."
of the comments on the employment (Case 266)
conditions of Asian employees as stated in
previous sections are, by definition, "The management goals [for removing the
applicable to the condition of Asian women. glass ceiling] given to our state office
However, there are some unique experiences affect only 'target' grades in the upper
only the Asian females know first-hand, as management grades GS 11 through
shown in the following remarks. 13. Lower grades were not included.
We in the 'trenches' who daily deal
"My main obstacle is my supervisor. He with the general public are in probably
resents my technical knowledge and the worst situations... We endure high
my abilities to get along with my levels of stress." (Case 348)
regional and headquarters staff. He
has a tendency to harass Asian
females in our office. He does not like
me because I always speak up about
the unfairness and incompetence in
our work place." (Case 54)
"Male supervisors do not consider female
workers (especially if you are a racial
minority) as equal. If you work hard
and out-perform your peers, you
become a target of resentment and
jealousy, and become isolated."
"The obstacles are more due to my gender
than my race. It is difficult to break
into the white male management
layer." (Case 66)
"Traditionally in our culture, female Asians are
not asked for opinions. We have been
The Gender Factor 37
Figure 1 Figure 2
One of every two (50 percent) of the Asian Over two-fifths (41 percent) of the female
female employees in USDA have been in employees are below Grade 9, and none of
Government service for 1 to 10 years. the respondents is a Grade 15. l They are
also fewer in the upper grades.
Slightly over one-third (36 percent) have
served for 11 to 20 years. As discussed in the previous sections, in
USDA, Asian employees as a whole are not
In contrast, slightly over one-third (37 percent) moving ahead in their careers. Asian female
of the Asian male employees have served for employees, it appears, are doing worse than
1 to 10 years and almost two-fifths (38 their male colleagues.
percent) have served for 11-20 years.
This pattern is similar to what is found in the
As the MSPB study noted, "to the extent that MSPB's Government-wide employee survey:
advancement depends on experience, "[Women] are frequently found in the lower
women in the Government are at a graded jobs."li
disadvantage."xlix This is applicable to Asian
women in USDA.
The Gender Factor 38
Figure 3 Figure 4
For educational attainment, female "doctors" There are more Asian females of Japanese
are 30 percent of the male "doctors," and and Filipino background.
female "bachelors" are 94 percent of the male
"bachelors." The Chinese/Taiwanese American females
have practically the same proportion as the
However, there are more female "masters" males.
than males and 32 percent of the Asian
females are not college graduates. Together, the 3 established groups account
for 65 percent of the males and 74 percent of
MSPB noted that "there is a tendency for the females.
those in top-level jobs to have more formal
education than those in lower level jobs."lii The female group has less ethnic diverse
than the male group.
Given many Asian women are without a
college degree, their advancement to
senior-level positions might be further
The Gender Factor 39
Asian females below age 45 account for 67 Whether it is due to women's ability to reach
percent of the respondents. out to other people or their more acceptability
to other people, more of them (61%) feel they
In contrast, 42 percent of Asian males are are not necessarily more comfortable dealing
under 45. with their own ethnic groups than dealing with
people from other racial/ethnic background.
More Asian females are younger than their
male counterparts. Despite their higher educational attainment
and their self-perceived better communication
As discontent with lack of promotional skills, more men feel more comfortable
opportunities tends to increase with age,liii it dealing with their own ethnic groups.
can be expected that unless the "glass
ceiling" is shattered or bypassed, more Asian The greater ease of Asian women to reach
women in the USDA in the next decades will beyond their own groups is a strength to build
complain more vocally about "double on for their career advancement.
The Gender Factor 40
Table 33:Adequacy in
& Well enough in % %
Communication 83 82
Asking Questions 88 87
Reinforcing 89 87
Feedback 85 83
Starting & Ending
Conversation 97 94
Explaining 93 87
Disclosure 86 81
Listening 98 97
Assertiveness 87 80
& Negotiating 87 77
More Asian females feel that their overall Keeping supervisors
communication skills are not very well. informed 96 95
However, they are a minority, about 3 percent. Speaking up
in meetings 83 67
Writing 92 89
More than 90 percent of them feel that their
overall communication skills are adequate. Disagreement with
Accent in speech 58 67
haltingly 79 80
employee 70 70
On each of the eight Hargie's core social skills
in communication (Table 33), liv Asian
females are behind their male colleagues.
The Gender Factor 41
However, except for starting or ending a
conversation, explaining, and disclosure, the
difference is less than 2 points.
Noteworthy is the high proportions, in both the
female and male groups, who rate
themselves as having adequate or more than
adequate command of the skills in question.
In the four job-specific communication skills,
male and female employees have no
difference on keeping supervisors informed of
the status of their projects. The female
employees are behind the male in the other
three skills, especially the one on speaking up
in meetings. In fact, on this as well as the one
about persuading and negotiating with
co-workers, many female employees might
benefit from further skill training or practice.
On the three situations unique to the Asian Figure 8
condition, the female employees are ahead of
their male colleagues in two issues (accents More female employees (34%) do not have a
and speaking English haltingly), and career plan and more of them do not know
practically even with them on the third one how to make a career plan.
(co-workers' problem in understanding the
employee). Both female and male have It is more likely for them to be encouraged "to
about the same views on these issues. They stay in staff positions rather than move to line
might benefit from having specialized training positions.
to smooth out the rough edges in their oral
communication.lv Thus, when they apply for promotions they
are not as competitive as men who have line
What they need is what the Shields sisters
called "success planning" which involves
developing and implementing a series of
The Gender Factor 42
Mentors are people who can help an
employee to discern and build on their
strengths and skills.
They make important contributions to one's
knowledge of how things work, values,
technical competence, growth in character,
knowledge of how to behave in a social
situation, understanding the world,
understanding of how to get things done in or
through an organization, moral development,
and so forth. "The mentor is particularly
valuable as a conduit for passing along
organizational culture and history, thereby
ensuing continuity in organizational
In the MSPB's study, it has been shown that
"women are somewhat more likely than men
to have been helped by 'having a senior
person/mentor looking out for [their]
Thus, it appears to be a weakness in the
career advancement strategy of Asian
women that less than one-half of them (43%)
have a mentor or a sponsor.
As stated in a previous section, "mentors"
have been identified as a key factor for career
advancement for many people.
The Gender Factor 43
Figure 10 Figure 11
Unlike the private sector where "people tend
to have mentors of their own gender,"lx more Similarly, since Asians and other minority
females in USDA tend to choose males to be employees are relatively few in the upper
their mentors. grades, the choice of a white person to be
one's mentor appears to be a wise move.
This is perhaps due to fewer women in senior
positions available to mentor them.
As the upper grades in USDA are still
dominated by males (only 15 percent of the
Grades 13-15 and only 10 percent of the SES
positions were filled by women in FY 1990),lxi
having a male mentor might be a wise
strategy for career advancement.
The Gender Factor 44
"Organizational savvy," what the Shields More Asian females (32%) feel they have
sisters call "corporate street smarts," has been undercut by their co-workers and
been extensively defined by the respondents subordinates than males.
It has been shown (Table 27) that fewer of
It might be noteworthy that there is a 9 point those in lower grades were undercut by their
difference between men and women who feel co-workers, and a high proportion of Asian
they have organizational savvy, and another women are in lower grades (Figure 3),
6 point difference among those who do not therefore, the 32 percent of Asian women
understand what "organizational savvy" is. who have been undercut by their co-workers
and subordinates are mostly those with a
Evidently, Asian females are less adept in higher grade, probably the Grades 12 and 13.
"playing the game."
The higher up they move on the career ladder,
the more likely they are to be undercut by their
This phenomenon is due probably to the
relatively recent entry of Asian women into
The Gender Factor 45
the higher grades or supervisory positions,
and they had to "earn the respects" through
For female and minority people to succeed as
managers, their managers need to watch out
for signs of sabotage by their subordinates
and by the "managers of managers"
Among Asian females in the USDA, 59
percent are occupied in a technical or
In contrast, 72 percent of the Asian males are
Both males and females confirm the
stereotype that Asians are drawn to technical
and research jobs.
However, many of these same technical and
research personnel strongly dissent from the
notion that Asians are so research-focused
that they cannot supervise people.
The Gender Factor 46
While there are fewer female dissenting, they
account for almost four-fifths (79 percent) of
the female respondents.
Thus, those who disagree with the stereotype
include not only the scientists and technicians,
but also employees in the non-technical fields.
Slightly over one-fourth of the female
employees feel their agencies discriminate
This is considerably less than the 41 percent
reported for the male employees.
However, more females are not sure if their
agencies discriminate against Asians.
This pattern is similar to the AACI's study in
which 50 percent of male respondents feel
that promotional opportunities are inadequate
for Asians, while 38 percent of females feel
How Asian females are discriminated in the
USDA has already been stated in the words
of the respondents (pp. 37-38).
The Gender Factor 47
HOW TO OVERCOME THE
In the previous sections, the study has
referred to the barriers to career
advancement as identified by the experts.
How do Asian employees in the USDA define
the barriers that keep them from promotion?
The following are a sample of what they think.
"The stigma that Asians are not minorities in
need, that preference ought to go to
Blacks and Hispanics. The stigma
that Asians are technician-types, not
managerial." (Case 29)
"Asians are perceived as "shy, followers, and
non-assertive." (Case 93)
Figure 16 "Managers' lack of understanding of Asian
cultures. Lack of mentor and
networking by Asians. The need for
Fewer females than males feel there is a
Asians to be more assertive and
"glass ceiling" in their agencies.
visible." (Case 501)
However, those who so feel account for
"Our obstacles are lack of strong political
one-half of the female respondents and are
support and connections." (Case 79)
considerably higher than those who feel that
their agencies discriminate against Asians.
"Asians (males especially) are not as adept at
playing politics than whites and blacks.
Many of the female employees feel there is a
They are less likely to complain about
"glass ceiling" in their agencies (therefore
unfair treatment and about
blocking their career advancement), but they
discrimination, and are therefore
do not consider it as a form of discrimination.
bypassed for upgrades/promotions in
favor of others who are more vocal
(and often less experienced and
qualified)." (Case 124)
"Being assertive, aggressive, and seeming
overconfidence are considered
undesirable traits and rude manners
[by Asians]. These traits and
How to overcome the barriers 48
manners need to be developed in "Play politics with manager and supervisor.
Asian Pacific employees." (Case 134) Go along or conform with their ways,
even though you strongly disagree...."
"Being too cautious, afraid to speak up/out. (Case 54)
Grow tired and be wary of the politics
easily. Feeling being left out or not "Either one or a combination of the following:
wanting to be a part of the system (to (a). Stick one's head in the sand and
avoid the politics)." (Case 757) ignore things around you; (b). Appear
threatening, as if ready to file a
"Culture of the agency. It still is an 'old boys grievance at the drop of a hat; (c). [Be
network' and basically a white man's servile, an apple polisher] -- the
world. When they (agency power servile seems to advance more
brokers) say minority, it usually is in quickly; (d). Seniority outweighs merit,
reference to Black or Hispanic." even when positions are announced
(Case 846) as 'merit promotion;' (e). Know
someone higher up." (Case 98)
"There are many misperceptions by other
minorities and Whites of Asian Pacific "To follow orders like a dog and not cause
persons [such as] we are the shadow 'any ripples in the pond.' Don't cause
race, not really seen; the gray color, any problems that management
not black or white; we are not would have to answer to or defend."
assertive enough to make good (Case 114)
supervisors; we prefer occupations
that don't require or have little "If we had more Asian males or females in a
interaction with people." (Case 960) supervisory capacity, we Asians on
the lower technical positions would
The respondents also have come up not be overlooked." (Case 224)
with specific recommendations (including
some cynical ones) for dealing with or to "It certainly isn't in your work performance or
overcome the barriers, as listed below. quality. It appears to me it's who you
associate with, who you hang around
"It might help some Asian Pacific employees and who you socialize with after hours
to be able to look at the organizational determines the criteria for career
chart and see at least one Asian advancement. I feel the people I work
Pacific employee instead of the typical for don't support their people; only that
middle-aged white male." (Case 696) they want your support to upgrade
themselves." (Case 319)
"Advancement of career requires
'acceptance.' Asians should improve "Kissing up to people in power, going along
speech, manners, and improve their with good old boys, having
acceptability." (Case 11) connections in order to move around."
How to overcome the barriers 49
"We need more people participate in the executives know the situation [about
politics and lobbying for promoting the glass ceiling]." (Case 19)
Asian Pacific employees in the U.S.
workplaces." (Case 478) "Be not afraid to speak up. Asians are too
preoccupied with their work and do
"Having a mentor is very important. I have not take time to speak with managers
seen many white employees shoot about their desire for promotion."
past me on the career ladder with the (Case 41)
help of a mentor in upper level
management." (Case 480) "Asian employees in management need to
serve as a mentor to other Asian
"Strong antidiscrimination enforcement and employees. Asian employees need to
change in attitude of the agency take advantage of the EEO and civil
towards minorities in general. I have rights and grievance processes.
had more than enough training from Many are afraid to use these means."
[my agency] and advanced degree (Case 54)
beyond DVM, such as M.S., and Ph.D.
from this country. I don't know what "Asian employees should get together and
else it takes." (Case 838) help each other." (Case 87)
"It is easier for top USDA management "There is a glass ceiling - bullet-proof. One
officials at the Washington level to strong asset of Asian Pacific
realize this [glass ceiling] problem and employee is hard working. We prove
break it from above." (Case 887) ourselves by deeds not by words.
This asset in fact becomes the biggest
"You tell your superiors what they like to hear liability because we become the silent
and if you master the art, you might sub-sub-minority." (Case 112)
even get promoted." (Case 945)
"Network with other Asian Pacific American
"Asians should continue to demonstrate their employees. More effective
hard working habits, technical skills organization like APANA which can
and improve their communications. articulate needs and provide support
They should educate non-Asians to each member through programs
about their heritage and culture." like mentor program and information
(Case 11) sharing." (Case 139)
"Asians cannot isolate themselves. They "Form a strong Asian political coalition to have
need to be aware of what's going on in a stronger voice and influence with
the work place. They need to earn the Administration." (Case 175)
respect from their co-workers and
management, and they need to work "Increase the awareness of the agency about
together to let the high level 'glass ceiling.' Organize and demand
equal opportunity through a national
How to overcome the barriers 50
organization that represents Asian themselves to implement many of these ideas,
Pacific employees." (Case 209) their employer, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, has to ensure that it is indeed
"Perhaps one way would be to eliminate all fulfilling its mandate as specified in the Civil
references to employee name, Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA, 1978), to
gender and ethnicity from the recruit "minorities [including Asian Americans
evaluation processes during hiring. and Pacific Islanders] for positions in the
This would help eliminate favoritism in agency to carry out the [antidiscrimination]
selection. Asians must also help each policy... in a manner designed to eliminate
other. Sometimes I think nothing under-representation of minorities in the
short of a class action suit will make a various categories of civil service
difference." (Case 480) employment...." (CSRA, 1978, Sec. 310) In
the context of Asian Americans, this means
"Make agencies practice what they preach! the shattering of the "glass ceiling" that keeps
'Value diversity.' Asians are different; them from reaching the upper grades in
accept us and our qualities. Don't Government service.
make us into the other ethnic groups."
(Case 510) The "glass ceiling" exists largely
because generations of managers in the
"Need more political associations with the USDA have fostered a culture similar to that
White House. We Asians need to be in the private sector. It "recognizes and
much more active in politics and on all advances those of similar backgrounds with
levels." (Case 581) like-minded attitudes."lxiv This culture has to
be changed in the interest of equal justice,
"Until there is a court case the 'glass' will not and the infusion of fresh perspective and new
be broken." (Case 758) blood into public service. This transformation
is necessary for "reinventing Government."
"Learn the hiring processes, rules and
policies, and file grievances when Fifty years ago, the Swedish
unjust hiring has occurred." (Case economist Gunnar Myrdal published an
774) influential study on the U.S. Blacks and he
titled the work An American Dilemma. The
"Must have programs and support from crux of the dilemma was, how a nation whose
Asians who have made it to the top. creed is equality of all men could promote and
Strong group presentation. Be very maintain a society of racial segregation.
vocal, very supportive of one another. Today, in the workforce, America is
Mentor each other." (Case 782) confronted with a new dilemma. It is the
specter of a group of highly educated men
Clearly, the Asian community does and women being denied of access to the
not suffer from lack of ideas. What is needed upper echelon of American corporations and
is a core of committed "believers" to make Government because of the color of their skin.
many of these ideas into reality. In addition to They are neither black nor white. They are
what the employees can and should do
How to overcome the barriers 51
"strangers from a different shore." They are
In the past, Asian Americans have
remained silent. They supported and
advanced the interests of their employers
despite discrimination. Through the medium
of a survey, some of them have now spoken.
If a highly educated people are denied
access to higher grades in their occupations,
what is the value of education? Is a mockery
being made of the counsel on getting a good
education given to thousands in the younger
generation? How much talent can an
organization afford to waste and not lose its
competitive edge? If a people of a different
color, neither white nor black, are denied
career advancement because of the color of
their skin, what is the meaning of equal
The Asians have spoken. Are they
being heard? Should they not be heard in this
age of cultural diversity and reinvention?
Should they not be heard as their number
multiplies in the workforce? What should be
the responses from their employers? What
should be the responses from the people
whose fore-parents fought and died for equal
justice? Shall cynicism and resentment rule
The "glass ceiling" issue is an issue of
fairness. Its impact reaches beyond the
workplace. It undermines not only the morale
of a workforce but also the social bond that
holds together a diverse people. It erodes the
hard fought gains for which generations of
civil rights leaders gave their lives. When a
people of a particular color are denied their
equal opportunity today, all people can expect
their opportunity similarly diminished. The
"glass ceiling" must be removed, now!
How to overcome the barriers 52
How to overcome the barriers 53
i . This group includes the traditionally
recognized Japanese Americans, Chinese
Americans, Filipino Americans, Hawaiians,
Korean Americans, and the self-identified
Indian Americans and Pakistani Americans,
and the more recent immigrants from
Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. For a
history of Asian Americans, see Takaki, 1989.
Unless noted otherwise, the terms "Asians,"
"Asian Americans," "Asian Pacific
Americans," and "Asian Americans and
Pacific Islanders," as used in this study, are
interchangeable. They include all these
ii. MSPB, 1992:2; also DOL, 1992.
iii. CCR, 1992:18.
iv. According to the Korn/Ferry's International
Executive Profile, cited in CCR, 1992:133.
v. MSPB, 1993:22.
vi. MSPB, 1993:39.
vii. AACI, 1993. However, this study is more
diverse than the AACI's study in ethnic
composition. The proportions of college
graduates in both studies are about even,
however, the Silicon Valley sample has a
higher proportion of holders of advanced
viii. OAE, p.1.
ix. MSPB, 1993:22.
x. USDA Work Force EEO Profile for 1984
(as of 9/28/85) and 1993 (as of 4/13/93),
compiled by the Office of Advocacy and
Enterprise. of USDA are not available for this study.
However, according to the U.S. Office of
xi. Based on data compiled by the USDA Personnel Management, as of December
Office of Civil Rights Enforcement (formerly 1991, 1.6 percent of the Federal workforce
the Office of Advocacy and Enterprise). have doctorates, 7.5 percent have master's
degrees, 2.1 percent have professional
xii. The methodology of the survey is in the degrees, 24.5 percent have bachelor's
appendix. degrees, 27 percent have some college
education, 34.6 percent are high school
xiii. Deepak Bhatnager, a research geneticist graduates, and 2.7 percent are not high
with the Agricultural Research Service, school graduates. In contrast, according to
shared this observation with the author. the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 percent of
the U.S. workforce (age 25 and older in 1992)
xiv. Angel Cielo, a veterinarian in the Food have doctorates, 6.5 percent have master's
Safety and Inspection Service and currently degrees, 1.8 percent have professional
the president of the Asian Pacific American degrees, 17.2 percent have bachelor's
Network in Agriculture (APANA), personally degrees, 7.4 percent have associate's
encouraged his colleagues to respond to the degrees, 18 percent have some college
survey. John Kusano, the Asian Pacific education, 35.7 percent are high school
American program manager in Forest Service graduates, and 12.4 percent are not high
and currently the vice president of APANA, school graduates. Data on the Federal and
wrote a letter to the Asian employees in U.S. workforces were compiled by the
Forest Service to request their cooperation. Federal Times, published on May 16, 1994.
xv. Supervisory positions do not necessarily xix. MSPB, 1993:13.
carry a high grade. Some employees in
Grade 7 are in supervisory positions. Many xx . See C. Wright Mills' The Sociological
veterinarians at Grade 11 are supervisors. Imagination (1959) for a discussion of the
Managers, by definition, are supervisors of transformation of individual "troubles" into
supervisors. They usually carry a higher public "issues."
grade, 13 or above.
xxi. AACI, 1993:26.
xvi . Unlike the AACI's study, more of the
USDA employees are in the older age groups. xxii . CCR, 1979:426 & 564; CCR,
The AACI's sample, as a whole, is much 1992:131-2.
xxiii. From an OPM handout distributed to the
xvii. Myrdal, 1944. Senior Executive Service Candidate
xviii. CCR, 1989:66. Data on educational
attainment for the total permanent workforce xxiv. AACI, 1993:25.
xxv. Hunt, 1980:9. xlii . Dawkins, n.d.:29-30, 80-104; MSPB,
1992:24; DOL, 1991:22.
xxvi. Hargie, 1986.
xliii. Shields and Shields, 1993:67. The role
xxvii. Takaki, 1989:447. of a mentor will be further elaborated in the
section on the gender factor.
xxviii . CCR, 1979:426 & 564, CCR,
1992:131-2. xliv. The AACI's study merely mentioned "a
lack of mentors" as an obstacle to career
xxix. Morrison, 1992:35. advancement. It was not highlighted as a key
xxx. Among Asian employees 373 are now
supervisors or managers; the number of xlv. DOL, 1992:35.
non-supervisors/non-managers is 574. As of
June 1993, none of the senior-level research xlvi. MSPB, 1992:29.
positions is occupied by an Asian, even
though Asians are known for their focus in xlvii. MSPB, 1992:33.
xlviii. It might be worthwhile to emphasize that
xxxi. Thomas, 1991:119. the graphs are presented in percentages.
Thus, female employees are either
xxxii. Thomas, 1991:102; Dawkins, n.d. proportionately higher or lower than their
male colleagues on the issues in questions.
xxxiii. MSPB, 1992. In terms of absolute numbers, there are more
males than females in most situations. The
xxxiv. Morrison, 1992:37. overall difference is 603 males and 349
females. Unless noted otherwise, these are
xxxv. Morrison, 1992:34. the bases for comparison.
xxxvi. AACI, 1993:26. xlix. MSPB, 1992:13.
xxxvii . MSPB, 1992:2; Thompson and l. According to the central personnel record,
DiTomaso, 1988. two Asian women are in Grade 15. However,
neither one had responded to the survey.
xxxviii. Dawkins, n.d.:1.
li. MSPB, 1992:9.
xxxix. Dawkins, n.d.:4.
lii. MSPB, 1992:14.
xl. Shields and Shields, 1993:118-149.
liii. AACI, 1993:17.
xli. Fernandez, 1981:278; Thompson and
DiTomaso, 1988:143. liv. Hargie, 1986.
lv. For a demur on the issue of accents, see
lvi. MSPB, 1992:30.
lvii. Shields & Shields, 1993:48-71. While the
book Work, Sister, Work by the Shields
sisters is written for Black women, Asian
females and males can benefit tremendously
from the practical advice. It is a "how to" book
for anyone serious about advancing his/her
lviii. MSPB, 1992:24.
lix. From materials distributed in the Senior
Executive Service Candidate Development
lx. MSPB, 1992:24.
lxi. MSPB, 1992:55.
lxii. Shields and Shields, 1993:118-137.
lxiii. AACI, 1993:16.
lxiv. Namkoong, 1992:13.