Asian American Women Speak Out on Breaking the 'Bamboo Ceiling'

Statistics show that nearly 44 percent of Asian Pacific Americans are college graduates (we have our tiger moms to thank), compared to the national average of 27 percent. Yet, Asian Pacific Americans are still underrepresented in the world of corporate leadership. Where have all the Asian American CEOs gone? Just like the “glass ceiling,” the “bamboo ceiling” is a cultural barrier that prevents Asian Pacific Americans from advancing in their careers.

“The whole world is waiting to critique you, so why let everyone wait—just speak up and you’ll get somewhere,” said Annie Lo, former CFO of Johnson & Johnson, to a group of young Asian American women during a panel last week. Lo said the only way Asian Americans can break through the “bamboo ceiling” is to speak up and share your ideas, because no one will know that you have great ideas if you don't talk about them.

After 34 years with the company and several promotions, Lo shared her experiences working in the corporate finance world, alongside J-14 magazine editor-in-chief and Mochi Magazine editorial advisor Rachel Chang, who also spoke about her career and how she broke through the “bamboo ceiling.” In a partnership with the Taiwanese American Professionals Association and Manhattan GMAT, Mochi Magazine hosted a career panel celebrating successful and respected Taiwanese American women such as Lo and Chang. Stephanie Wu, Mochi’s Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, moderated an hour-long Q&A, in which the women discussed the cultural stigma of being Asian American in the workplace, overcoming gender inequality, and persevering through their dreams. With a little luck, a lot of hard work, and sheer tenacity, Lo and Chang rose to the top.

“I remember being the only Asian woman in my staff. I used to work at CosmoGIRL! [RIP] and we didn’t feature any Asian American actresses and actors. So every now and then, I made it my mission to squeeze in an Asian American somewhere in the magazine. We featured Brenda Song and even did an editorial spread with Harold and Kumar lead stars John Cho and Kal Penn. It was probably one of my greatest accomplishments,” said Chang.

When asked if they always knew the career path they wanted to follow, Lo and Chang shared different perspectives. Lo, who grew up in Taiwan and attended school both in Taiwan and the United States said she followed a career her parents wanted for her. “My generation is very different from the one now. When my mother said I should pursue business, I didn’t question it. Marriage also came first and love second. So, there were many sacrifices. My best advice is to do what you love and are passionate about. If your career is something you can see yourself doing 15 years from now, I would focus on that. But if you want a family, that’s okay too. Just know what you want,” said Lo.

On the other hand, Chang knew she wanted to be in magazines from a very young age. Despite her parents’ doubts about a career in magazines, Chang stayed true to her dreams and worked her way to becoming a teen magazine editor. When Chang graduated college, she was took on a job in photo publicity. Deep down she knew she wanted to do magazines, and luckily, the job found her. An opportunity at CosmoGIRL! came up and Chang couldn't resist the offer. “I guess wasn’t ready to grow up yet,” Chang laughs. “When I got the job at J-14, I knew that I was meant to be in the teen market.”

Lo and Chang had humble beginnings, but because they were assertive, hard working, and passionate about their careers, they were able to break through the so-called "bamboo ceiling." "There was no glory in being a low-life accountant," said Lo. "You can be the smartest person in the room but if you don't express yourself, no one would know. Be an independent thinker, it's the only way you can succeed." Yes, ma'am.