How Diversity Programs Are Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling By Dana Ter and Photos Provided by UPS
As Jane Hyun posited in her book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, “cultural competency has become an increasingly important skill for the savvy executive.”
Yet Asian Americans are still significantly under-represented in upper management levels of major companies and corporations despite being one of the most educated demographics in the country. The reason for this under-representation has largely been attributed to cultural differences. For instance, while many Asian cultures stress keeping your head down and working hard, by contrast, the workplace culture in the U.S. is very much about speaking up in order to ascend the corporate ladder.
This is why diversity programs are essential in helping to bridge that divide. UPS in Atlanta, Ga. has been a forerunner in making sure that diversity in the workplace is utilized in the most effective way, ensuring the well-being and productivity of the company. Its Asian American Business Resource Group (BRG) spearheads these initiatives. ALIST Magazine spoke with the three co-chairs of the BRG – Global Procurement Finance Manager, Estrella Cramer, Corporate Director of Business Intelligence Systems, Kevin Hamada, and Network Planning Division Manager in Corporate Transportation, Vincent Wan.
Cramer described the BRG as consisting of three main pillars, which serve as a cultural bridge for Asian and Asian American employees. The first pillar, headed by Hamada, is the Employee Resource Group (ERG), which functions as an internal networking program. Training sessions and networking events provide opportunities for Asian American employees to build career-enhancing relationships within the company.
The second pillar, Business Connections, which is led by Vincent Wan, is meant to provide external networking opportunities for UPS’ Asian American employees. Through such opportunities, they learn to develop new business relationships outside of UPS while being exposed to a broad range of different business perspectives.
Community Connections makes up the third pillar, led by Estrella Cramer. Participants develop leadership skills through community service and involvement. Examples of such projects include liaising and fundraising with non-profit organizations such as NAAAP for scholarship grants and neighbor-to-neighbor programs. The holistic three-pillar approach is meant to stress the importance of networking, whether within UPS or externally. Social interactions are emphasized and considered vital.
“What is especially important,” Hamada said, “is to identify between IQ and EQ.” While Asians and Asian Americans tend to fare well in college, once they enter corporate America, there’s more emphasis on EQ, such as how effectively you communicate with your boss and colleagues. Hence the BRG’s focus on cultivating people skills.
“There’s less emphasis on networking in Asian culture,” Cramer added, “so we put a lot of effort in trying to get our Asian employees to participate in events that we organize internally or externally.”
Cramer has also noticed, however, that younger generations of Asian Americans tended to value the opportunity to mingle with others while still retaining intrinsic Asian values like working hard and being close to their family. Moreover, the onus is not simply on Asians or Asian Americans to adapt. UPS recognizes that the Asian American population in Georgia is growing. Concurrently, globalization is also ushering in a new age of international business where the emerging market is primarily concentrated in Asia.
“Change needs to come from both ways,” Hamada said. “For American companies to do business in Asia, they really need to understand these trends and adapt.”
The stereotype of Asians working quietly by themselves is not completely true either. In Asian culture, Wan explained, there’s a “preference for the collective well-being of the community over individualism.” Instead of prizing individualism or networking for one’s personal and professional gain, Asian culture is very much about working together – all of which could be highly beneficial for team work.
In the long run, Wan said that adopting certain Asian values like these would be advantageous to a corporation because they help to foster “sustainability and social responsibility of enterprise.” There’s so much focus on how Asians should adapt to corporate America, but in fact, some aspects of Asian culture could be very useful to business organizations.
In light of BRG’s work, UPS is reasonably optimistic that the “bamboo ceiling” will be surpassed in the future. Cramer summed up that as the Asian American population and business interest in Asia grows, this should reflect in the higher management in companies – and diversity and inclusion strategies such as those in UPS will continue to play an essential role in facilitating the process.