The Bamboo Ceiling: Being an AAPI Leader - Vested
Previously published on May 19, 2023 in
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By Binna Kim, Group CEO at Vested

Less than seven percent of PR and advertising professionals identify as AAPI. Very few AAPIs are represented in the C-suite amongst the top PR agencies. Beyond the communications industry, AAPIs run into the “bamboo ceiling,” and AAPI women, in particular, find themselves crashing into the “bamboo glass ceiling.”

The so-called model minority myth often masks the issues and stereotypes that prevent AAPIs and AAPI women from being promoted into positions of leadership. AAPIs are the least likely group to be promoted to management. Politics is no better—where AAPIs represent less than one percent of US elected leaders.

As an AAPI female agency founder and executive, these numbers can be disheartening, but also motivating, because we have an opportunity to make a change by talking about the issues and taking action.

Here are three things I’d challenge all of us to consider and take action on:

Define PR leadership in inclusive terms: American corporate leadership has historically promoted individuality—a hyper-focus on self-promotion. Meanwhile, many Asian Americans were raised in a collectivistic culture—where your individual identity is the identity of the whole group.

This means that culturally, Asian Americans were raised to value humility—while corporate America might emphasize aggression and authority. If, within your workplace, AAPIs are not being considered for leadership roles because they are not “outspoken enough” or “aggressive enough”—it may be that leadership is not being measured in a way that’s inclusive of the many different cultures and values that comprise our population today.

We’re not a monolith: Part of the model minority myth is rooted in the perception that Asian Americans are successful—they make good money, are well-educated, and hold good jobs. But the AAPI community is incredibly diverse representing more than 30 countries and dozens of ethnicities.

The AAPI community—while treated as one group—has the greatest income divide amongst all other racial and ethnic groups. According to CNN, high-income Asian Americans earn 10.7x as much as the AAPIs on the opposite end of the income spectrum. This disparity is what drives the model minority myth that suppresses consideration of the racially related challenges the AAPI community faces in economic and educational opportunities.

Celebrate our stories: I’ve been so excited to see so much authentic AAPI content and entertainment become popularized—from seeing Everything Everywhere All at Once dominate awards season to the popular Beef series now on Netflix. I know how encouraging it is for my young kids to see people who look like them represented in the mainstream. I’d love to see this represented and better celebrated in the communications industry. Every young person needs someone they can look up to and be inspired by. And the more we can celebrate the amazing AAPI communicators in our industry, the more we can continue to encourage more young AAPI professionals to enter our industry.

I am many things—I’m an agency founder and leader. I am a mom of three kids under the age of 10. I’m a first-generation Korean American. And I’m AAPI. I believe all of these facets of my heritage and personality make me the leader I am today—and that these many experiences make me a stronger communicator. I am a leader because of my AAPI heritage—not in spite of it. I can’t wait to see more AAPIs represented in our incredible industry because more diversity of perspective in communications will help us tell better, more powerful stories. And that’s what great PR is all about.

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