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For members of the media looking for information about Ascend, press releases can be found in our news section. For other inquiries, please contact Arthur Chin, Executive Director.

Course Penetrates the Bamboo Ceiling

Highly skilled mid-level managers with Asian backgrounds are playing increasingly vital roles at many U.S. corporations, particularly in the Silicon Valley. Yet according to a recent study by the New York–based Center for Work-Life Policy, Asian Americans hold less than 2% of executive roles at Fortune 500 companies. Nearly half of Asian American women surveyed, and 63% of Asian American men, report feeling stalled in their careers.

Retired executives Buck Gee and Wes Hom saw similar trends at their own companies, Cisco and IBM. The so-called "bamboo ceiling" concerned them so much, in fact, that they approached the Center for Leadership Development and Research (CLDR) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The result was a unique new course, aimed at promising mid-career managers at U.S. companies, called the Advanced Leadership Program for Asian American Executives.


When first offered in summer of 2010, the weeklong program attracted 26 participants from 19 companies. This past year, 38 came from 26 companies, including Google, Cisco, JP Morgan, and HSBC. "I wasn't convinced initially this was a widespread need," says Mike Hochleutner, MBA '01, executive director of the CLDR, "but when we started talking to senior people and HR leaders, we found it was perceived as a challenge across many industries. If you look at the demographics of the workforce, the area that's highly skilled and growing tends to be Asian American. The fact that companies were having trouble promoting executives from this talent pool showed an intriguing leadership development challenge and a hidden opportunity."

Hayagreeva Rao is the faculty director of the program, along with Seungjin Whang, who kicked off the week this summer with some executive team-building simulations that highlighted the role cultural factors can play in team performance. In another session, organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer offered tips on projecting authority, something managers from some cultures can find uncomfortable. Evening get-togethers gave participants a chance to network among themselves and develop action plans for their own advancement.


Click here to view the original article

Ascend was featured in the March 2011 issue of Insight Into Diversity, as well as in a couple of seminal articles on "The Failure of Asian Success."

Below you will find a copy of the article featured in the March 2011 issue.

"Promoting Leadership In Business: From College through Professional Career" by Howard Feintuch

Ascend and ALPFA are two organizations that work to promote leadership skills among their members. Ascend members are Pan-Asians while ALPFA members are Latino. Both organizations begin the process of developing leadership skills at the college level with student chapters. When the students graduate from college, the goal is for them to join a professional chapter where they can continue to further develop their leadership skills and share their knowledge with younger members as they advance in their careers. Both organizations seek to service their members for the entire length of their careers. In this way, both Ascend and ALPFA nurture the initial de­velopment of career-oriented social networks and support that networking during the working professional lives of their respective members.

"Ascend’s student members realize that show­ing leadership experience on their resumes is an attractive attribute to employers,” said Arthur Chin, executive director of Ascend. "There are plenty of opportunities for them to gain that ex­perience, whether it is running the chapter itself or coordinating events.

”Ascend currently has 24 student chapters and 12 professional chapters across the United States.

William Jue, one of the founding members of the student chapter at San Francisco State Univer­sity, agreed that the opportunity to develop lead­ership skills is one of the most valuable aspects of being a student member of Ascend. Jue graduated from San Francisco State in January 2011 and will soon begin work as an accountant in a local firm.

"The leadership experience I gained with Ascend has given me added confidence to make the tran­sition into the business world,” Jue said. "One of the things I learned was that being a strong leader is making sure everyone in the group is working in unison to achieve the same goals, and when there is a problem that arises you face it head on and work to resolve it.”

Stephanie Cheung, who works as an auditor at a firm in Northern California, began her asso­ciation with Ascend as a college student when she joined the University of California, Berkeley chapter. After graduation in 2007, she joined the local professional chapter. One of the greatest benefits she has received as a professional mem­ber, she said, is "exposure to senior management in the Pan-Asian community at events and con­ventions.”

"They serve as role models,” Cheung said. "They inspire me to advance in my own career.”

For Andrew Mahabir, a senior consultant at a pro­fessional services firm and a professional mem­ber of Ascend’s metro New York chapter, the single greatest benefit has been the networking aspect. Like Cheung, Mahabir began his affilia­tion with Ascend as a student member of the Ba­ruch College chapter.

"Being involved with Ascend has allowed me the opportunity to network, meet people from dif­ferent industries and expand my contacts,” said Mahabir.

The highest level of Ascend membership is called the Corporate Executive Initiative (CEI), which consists of Pan-Asian executives from large companies in New York and San Francisco. One initiative is to meet with CEO’s of major corpora­tions and discuss the status of Pan-Asians in their respective companies, including how many have been able to advance to senior levels.

"I think these conversations have a lot of impact,” Chin said. "The CEO is not always aware that there is an issue. They may hire a lot of Pan-Asians, but they don’t realize that these employees aren’t making it up the corporate ladder and are at risk, especially given the investment in them.”

Ascend currently has over 5,000 members with 75% professionals and was started just five years ago when several high-level executives saw the need to start promoting the ad­vancement of Pan-Asians in business. Ascend is a non-profit organization that has numerous corporate part­ners supporting their en­deavors. Ascend allied with with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, creat­ing the first-ever Advanced Leadership Program for Asian-American executives. James Lee, Vice President of New Products Market­ing at Pfizer, attended the program, saying: "I was extremely impressed with the relevance of the topics covered, allowing us to engage frequently with other dynamic, high potential Asian Ameri­can professionals who we could bond with during and after the program. We had opportunities to hear from and dialogue with C-Suite Asian execu­tives and senior HR professionals to get their per­spectives on what we need to consider and to act on to advance our careers.”

ALPFA originally stood for the Association of Lati­no Professionals in Finance and Acounting. How­ever, over the last few years professionals from a wide variety of fields began expressing interest in joining the organization, according to ALPFA CEO Manny Espinoza. Subsequently, it was decided to open membership in the organization to people from all professional backgrounds.

"ALPFA now stands for an organization that builds Latino business leaders,” said Espinoza. "When people ask what we do, that is what I tell them. Our end goal is to teach the leader­ship skills necessary for our members to reach the higher ranks of their companies and become CFOs, CEOs, and senior VPs.”

Like Ascend, the process begins with students. ALPFA has student chapters in colleges across the U.S., including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Arizona. According to ALPFA’s website, 66 per­cent of its membership consists of students. Es­pinoza sees the student chapters as feeders into the professional chapters. He believes there are many benefits to students who join ALPFA.

"Not only do they receive leadership training, but there are also many networking opportuni­ties with professional members at meetings, our annual convention and student symposiums,” he said. "We also award a significant amount of scholarships to student members.”

Alitza Araiza, a member of the Chicago profes­sional chapter, will graduate from DePaul Uni­versity this June with a finance and accounting degree - she said that she belongs to a profes­sional chapter because there is no ALPFA chapter at her school. Thanks to connections she made as a member of ALPFA, she already has a job sched­uled to start in July in the tax group of a major national accounting firm.

"As a member of ALPFA, you are able to meet professionals at different levels of their careers, and if you ask the right questions, then you can learn a lot of valuable information from them,” Araiza said.

ALPFA has professional chapters in cities across the U.S., as well as one in Puerto Rico. Espinoza said that many professionals join the organiza­tion for the same reason as students: to develop leader­ship skills and to network.

"We have a lot of young pro­fessionals among the mem­bership who are looking to become better leaders,” Es­pinoza said. "ALPFA provides opportunities for them to de­velop leadership skills and to take those skills back to their jobs. It is amazing how pas­sionate our more seasoned members are about helping other less experienced pro­fessional members, as well as student members.”

Bridgette Bustos has been a professional mem­ber of ALPFA’s Denver chapter since 2003. She has served on the organization’s national board since 2008. As the present national board direc­tor representing student affairs, she has novel insight into the value of ALPFA both for students and professionals.

"The unique value that ALPFA offers to students is direct access to practitioners at all career lev­els and it remains an intact community through­out the course of a person’s career,” Bustos said. "ALPFA’s professionals take a genuine interest in students and in helping them transition to the professional environment to gain career mo­mentum as a young professional.”

For professionals, Bustos points to the single greatest benefit that she has had as a member of ALPFA: access to outstanding professionals. "If there is something I’d like to learn, someone I’d like to meet, or a business opportunity I’d like to pursue, I am certain I can do so through connect­ing with fellow ALPFA members,” said Bustos.

ALPFA is a non-profit organization with many corporate sponsors that provide financial sup­port. There are presently over 15,000 ALPFA members and Espinoza foresees significant growth potential.

"We are the largest Latino professional asso­ciation in the country,” Espinoza said. "There are numerous members that have told me that the leadership training we provide has helped them further their careers. It is this kind of service that keeps our membership numbers strong and will make them even stronger in the near future.”

INSIGHT Into Diversity is proud to welcome Ascend as its newest partner.

Howard Feintuch is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

Click here to view a PDF of the March 2011 Issue



"The Failure of Asian Success in the Bay Area: Asians as Corporate Leaders"

Click here to view a PDF copy of the Article

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