Brown privilege in the American executive suite

By Razib Khan 49 Comments

Why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States:

Whereas extensive research has examined the “glass ceiling” faced by women, little research has examined the “bamboo ceiling,” whereby Asians appear disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States. To investigate the mechanisms and scope of this problem, we compared the two largest Asian subgroups: East Asians and South Asians. Across nine studies (n = 11,030), East Asians were less likely than South Asians and whites to attain leadership positions, whereas South Asians outperformed whites. The leadership attainment gap between East Asians and South Asians was consistently explained by cultural differences in assertiveness, but not by prejudice or motivation. To leverage diverse leadership talent, organizations should understand the differences among different cultural groups and diversify the prototype of leadership.

I’ll put some stuff from the discussions of each of the analyses:

– “Our analysis of the population of S&P CEOs revealed notable leadership attainment gaps among EAs, SAs, and whites. Whereas EAs had a lower CEO-to-population ratio than whites, SAs actually had a higher CEO-to-population ratio than whites. These results indicate that at the highest level of US corporate leadership, EAs are less likely than SAs and whites to attain leadership positions, whereas SAs actually outperform whites.”

– “By analyzing a large-scale field survey distributed to a set of S&P 500-level companies, study 2 provided evidence that the leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs exists not only at the CEO level (study 1) but also in broader senior leadership across large US companies. Importantly, this effect could not be explained by control variables such as birth country, education level, or the economic prosperity of EA vs. SA countries.”

– “By analyzing another large-scale field survey, study 3a provided evidence that EAs were less likely than SAs to attain senior leadership positions partly because EAs were lower in assertiveness, but not because they were lower in motivation. Again, these effects could not be explained by control variables such as English fluency, birth country, education level, or the economic prosperity of EA vs. SA countries.”

– “By analyzing another large-scale field survey, study 3b provided further evidence that EAs were lower than SAs in both current and prospective leadership attainment, partly as a function of EAs’ lower assertiveness.”

– “Complementing the field studies involving large US companies (studies 2, 3a, and 3b), study 4 analyzed a large MBA dataset that mitigated self-selection and self-report biases. Replicating the prior studies, EAs were less likely to be nominated as leaders than SAs; this effect was again mediated by assertiveness. Consistent with study 1’s finding about CEO representation, SAs were more likely to be nominated as leaders than whites. Importantly, these effects could not be explained by control variables such as personality, SES, and birth country.”

– “By analyzing the objective leadership attainment of a large dataset of MBA students, study 5 provided further evidence that EAs were less likely to attain leadership positions than SAs; this effect was again mediated by assertiveness. Consistent with the prior studies, SAs were more likely to attain leadership positions than whites. In addition, EAs and SAs did not differ significantly in leadership motivation or aptitude, suggesting that these two factors were unlikely to be the main reasons for the leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs.”

– “Dovetailing with study 6a, study 6b found that non-Asian Americans exhibited greater prejudice toward SAs than EAs. These results suggest that prejudice is unlikely to be the main reason for the observed leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs. As a robustness check, we replicated these results in another preregistered study that employed a group comparative design (for details, see SI Appendix).”

– “Study 7 provided experimental evidence that non-Asian Americans rated EAs lower on leadership potential than SAs. Consistent with our prior studies, this effect was significantly mediated by perceived assertiveness, but not by prejudice or perceived motivation. Together, these results suggest that, despite facing less prejudice than SAs and being equally motivated, EAs are less likely to attain leadership positions.”

The authors cite Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative India, but anyone who has spent time around subcontinentals and East Asians is aware of the difference. To be frank, we brown people can kind be annoying dicks, lacking in grace and civility. This is evident in comments on this weblog. But these antisocial tendencies happen to be good for selecting CEOs of major American companies.

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