Glass Ceiling for Chinese Americ

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					          Glass Ceiling for Chinese Americans? Maybe start by looking within…

By: Charles G. Lo, Ph.D.
Paralyzed Veterans Association – Spinal Cord Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow
University of California, San Diego
SABPA Pacific Alliance & Entrepreneurship Committee

August 11, 2007

       On a quiet Saturday afternoon behind the walls of The Institute of the Americas at
UCSD, members of the Sino-American Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Professional Association
(SABPA) gathered for an up close and personal lesson abo ut the glass ceiling that Chinese
American professionals might face in the workplace. Even now in the 21 st century as women
continue to gain foothold, the glass ceiling continues to exist for many, limiting career
advancement for individuals based on racial and gender discrimination.

        Chinese Americans are increasing in numbers in the global biopharmaceutical industry,
including in Southern California. However, with the rise of globalization there is a need for a
new kind of professional. Asian Americans are the highest-achieving demographic with more
than twice the national average in advanced degrees, but comprise less than 1% of all senior
executives in corporate America (source: Harvard Business School).

        There is very clearly a glass ceiling for Asian Americans in the Tech Coast of Southern
California, which has increased in girth due to factors such as stereotypes, sinophobia, language
and cultural barriers, cross-cultural misperceptions, etc. Asian Americans can be the key players
in the 21st century R&D development by increasing personal and professional effectiveness and
breaking through the glass ceiling that limits peak potential.

        The leadership and volunteer corps of SABPA confronted the glass ceiling head-on with
a seminar entitled, “Maximum Effectiveness for the Sino-American Professional.” Guest
speaker, Dr. Judy Yeh, Principal and Chief Trainer of the international cross-cultural consulting
company, Winning Edge Global, deconstructed the glass ceiling in a discussion of its root causes
and strategies for progress.

         The day started with a welcome note from SABPA President Dr. Hui Li, Principal
Scientist at Pfizer La Jolla, followed by an introduction by SABPA Board member Dr. Zhu Shen,
Vice President of Business Development at Immusol. Dr. Yeh’s enthusiastic and lively manner
set the pace and tone for an afternoon of highly interactive discussions, ice-breakers and role
plays. Dr. Yeh first outlined the different aspects of the glass ceiling for Chinese Americans,
including racial discrimination, cultural stereotypes and personal cross-cultural differences. She
noted that racial discrimination and cultural stereotypes exist in all societies, even in China
which is much less culturally diverse than the United States. Rather than placing blame on the
dominant culture, Dr. Yeh explained that personal cross-cultural differences, or the disparities in
the cultural ideals between the upbringing of Americans and Chinese Americans, are at the crux
of the problem. Whereas American ideals are often highly ind ividualistic, prizing originality and
personal initiative, Chinese ideals often focus on the deferment of individual desires (i.e. work
before play, doing as you are told, avoidance of confrontations and self-sacrifice for the
collective good). Waves of affirmative nods swept across the room as Dr. Yeh asserted that
Chinese Americans have been imprinted with these cultural ideals, and those ideals are the
limiting factors for Chinese American career advancement today. We, ourselves, are our own
glass ceilings.

        The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to learning ways to break free from these
limitations, focusing on how to efficiently integrate into American society and prevent
marginalization. Dr. Yeh applauded SABPA’s work in the promotion of essential ne tworking
and leadership skills to the San Diego Chinese community and hoped that more organizations
like SABPA exist nationwide. These skills will help advance current Chinese American
professionals, who will, in turn, serve as role models and provide increasing opportunities for
future generations. Furthermore, Dr. Yeh suggested that societal integration needs to start at
home in raising our children and understanding what it really means to be an “American Born
Chinese” (ABC). The afternoon closed with a sense of empowerment and the notion that large-
scale change starts with the individual. With the increase in global commercialism and the rise of
China, the contributions of Chinese Americans to American society will become more important
than ever in the 21st century.

Dr. Yeh received her Ph.D. in Workforce Education from Ohio State University. She is
passionate about empowering Asian American professionals to reach higher levels of efficiency
and effectiveness in both their personal and professional lives leading to overall life success.

SABPA is a 501(C) (3) nonprofit organization founded by professionals and scholars from the
local Chinese community in San Diego and with another chapter in Los Angeles/Orange Co unty.
SABPA’s organizational mission is to foster professional development, education and the
establishment of strong Pacific alliances. SABPA celebrated its 5th year anniversary earlier this
summer and has seen its membership grow to over 1,000 members. As SABPA continues to
grow, we invite scholars, students and professionals from all ethnic backgrounds who are
working in, engaged in, or interested in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industry to join us as
members or volunteers of SABPA. For more information, please visit us on the web:
Dr. Judy Yeh speaks to SABPA members about what is and how to break the glass ceiling for
Chinese American professionals today. Photos provided by Dr. James Zhao