5 Simple Truths Behind Why Asian Americans feel Stuck On The Corporate Ladder

I first came across this article in the Harvard Business Review in 2019 as I began my journey of awakening (I’ll share that in a future post). What I had always felt was confirmed by the data described in this article. The key thesis is there’s a disparity between the percent of Asians in lower ranks and executive ranks – Asians are just not making it to the top.

I spent the next 3 years self-educating, driving awareness and building programs for Asians at the company of my employment. 

In January, I posted a call out to my professional network asking if Asian Women interested in a Career Development program would be willing to share their personal story. I wasn’t sure I would get to my 50 woman goal, but within 2 days, I had well surpassed that. It was clear there’s a need to help Asian Women progress in Corporate America.

I interviewed over 80 women over the past 3 months.  Some women I met for the first time. Others, I had known for over 20 years and yet had never talked about what it meant to be an Asian Woman in America. 

We come from a wide variety of backgrounds including ethnicities, cultures and religions. There were women who immigrated to the Americas at different stages of life. There were women who were born from immigrants and others whose families have been in the Americas for 5 generations. I also spoke to transracial adoptees to white families.

While we have different origin stories, we all share some similar experiences.  Here are just a few thematic feelings related to our career progression:

  1. The system is biased, but it’s not always obvious. Some of us understand how Racism has held us back. Some of us have never thought about how being Asian impacts how others perceive us. 
  2. My cultured behaviors are misinterpreted. Many of us don’t think about how our culture operates within us. It’s the water we swim in, when you don’t see it, you don’t know it. Examples among a list of many: Respect authority vs. being too quiet. Hard work vs. having an intimidating work ethic.
  3. I’m not sure how to get promoted.  It’s unclear what it takes to get promoted and if there’s room for us all. Promotions are a black box! What’s the secret sauce? There are very few role models or Asian women leaders who can share the inside scoop. We wish for mentors who can guide the way.
  4. I feel overlooked. We have more credentials and have to do 2x or more work for half the recognition. We were taught to keep our heads down and work hard because that will lead to success. We aren’t included in Diversity Leadership programs because we’re already ‘seen as successful’. Thank you, Model Minority Myth.
  5. I am tokenized. We feel we have to compete with other Asians for the one seat at the table. If there is already an Asian woman, sometimes they don’t lift us up too.  We carry the weight of other Asian women. If I don’t succeed, will others assume that all Asian women won’t succeed? 


Despite our struggles, few have gotten the support they need as an Asian Woman in the workforce. We don’t think help will be there when we need it.

My mission is to close that resource and support gap for Asian Women. I want to help Asian women get recognized for hard work so we can achieve the levels of professional success we desire. This is what gives me passion and drive. I hope you’ll come along for the ride and land your next level of success.

Cindy Halvorsen

Cindy Halvorsen

The Leadership Coach for Asian Americans.
I'll help you reach the level of success you deserve and desire.

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hi! I'm Cindy!

I’m the Leadership Coach for Asian Americans that you never thought you needed.

I’ll help you reach the leadership level you deserve & desire by giving you more clarity on your potential and what’s keeping you back.

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