Asian American Women: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

with Sue Ann Hong of The Center for Asian Pacific American Women

Asian Pacific American women are most likely to have earned graduate degrees compared to their counterparts, yet are least likely to hold executive-level positions.

Sue Ann Hong of The Center for Asian Pacific American Women discusses how her organization is preparing and supporting Asian Pacific American women for leadership roles in both the public and private sectors.

Posted on:

March 02, 2020

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: According to research by the Ascend Foundation, Asians are the least likely racial group to become managers in the business world, and Asian American women are least likely to advance into executive roles professionally. Why does this leadership gap exist, and what efforts are under way to close it? Joining me is Sue Ann Hong, executive director of the Center for Asian Pacific American Women. Hello, Sue Ann, and thank you for joining us.

Hong: Thank you very much.

Hyland: As I mentioned, AAPI women are the least likely racial group to become managers. And out of all gender and racial groups, Asian women are the least likely to become executives. Is it that Asian American women are being bypassed for these positions or that they are not seeking these leadership positions?

Hong: It's a combination of both. First of all, when we talk about the issue or the gap for the Asian American women, it's twofold. One is the perception that they're quiet, they're demure, they're modest, and they don't have these leadership skills. And the second is the fact that they're also women. And so we call it the double pane in terms of just being able to cross both barriers in gender bias and racial bias.

Hyland: We know that there's a study by the Ascend Foundation that found that in some areas, Asian Americans are more highly educated and have a higher income bracket than many other populations. So I think that there is a perception that Asian Americans are doing just fine. But we have to remember, there are many different ethnic groups.

Hong: Absolutely. And to your point, if you look at Indian American women versus Laotian women, and if you break down all of the different segments of AAPI women -- the income levels as well as their ability to get to, whether it's management roles or leadership suites -- that varies. So when you look at the whole, it looks like they're doing very well. But when you break down the different ethnicities, there is a significant gap.

Hyland: There's also a lack of managerial role models. How do you change the narrative on that?

Hong: So, one of the things that is very important is having role models and women who have actually broken through the bamboo ceiling or the double pane, and we have women who have made it. But I think it's also showing and bringing them together where women can be seen as role models and the fact that they can actually break through these and share their learnings and how they did it and to be able to share that with the up-and-coming young millennials or Gen Y and to be able to show them how to do it.

Hyland: And you've been showing them how to do it through the center for 25 years now. Congratulations on your anniversary. It started with the Warrior Sisters. This is really intriguing. Tell us about the history of the organization and how the Warrior Sisters got started.

Hong: So, our organization started May 31st of 1995 by a Kellogg Fellow named Martha Lee. And she started this organization in talking with her friends, who they realized, number one, there wasn't a lot of representation of AAPI women, and also they were finding barriers and/or they could not get to leadership tables. And so they said, "We need to do something to support these women so they are not alone in this journey." So they started the Asian Pacific American Women's Leadership Institute. That's how they started. And the first class actually started in 1996. So these 18 women, these Warrior Sisters, reached out to all their friends and the 100 Asian American and supporters who gave $100 each to start this effort.

Hyland: And how far have you come since that time? Twenty-five years later.

Hong: So we now have 158 fellows who have graduated from the program since the first year, 1996. And we're getting ready to launch the 2020-2021 class this year as well, midyear. So we are very excited. And all of the impact these women have had, these 158 sisters, they are asked to do an impact project to impact 25 or more people as part of this experience. So it's not about just impacting themselves. It's about impacting all these individuals in their community, in however they define community.

Hyland: All right. If you had to say one thing to an Asian Pacific American woman to try to get her into an executive position or think about raising the bar, what would you say?

Hong: I would say the resources are here. If you need help, if you want to do more, if you want to achieve, there are people who've done it. There are role models out there, and we can help you at CAPAW, at the Center for Asian Pacific American Women. Reach out to us at

Hyland: And we hope they do.

Hong: Thank you.

Hyland: Sue Ann Hong, thank you so much for being our guest today, and thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders from your community and across the nation, visit I'm Sheila Hyland. ♪♪ ♪♪

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