While Asians tend to be well represented in North American businesses, their numbers are much smaller in corporate leadership positions.
Specifically, only 18 percent of Fortune 500 companies have Pan-Asian members on their boards, and as of 2013, Pan-Asian men and women accounted for only 1.8 percent of the 1,214 Fortune 100 board seats. This situation is often exacerbated by the fact that many people are not even aware of this disparity, according to Jeff Chin, co-founder and president of Ascend.
Established in 2005 to increase knowledge of and address this issue, Ascend — the largest nonprofit organization for Pan-Asian business professionals in North America — conducts its own in-house research to inform its efforts.
Chin says that research is key to dispelling the “model minority” myth and thus achieving progress.
“A lot of people believe in the model minority view — that there’s not a problem [for Pan-Asian people]. … We need to bring those issues to the forefront; we do that through research,” Chin says. “We highlight the fact that yes, there may be a lot of Pan-Asians [in] corporate America in certain companies, but many of them are not moving up to [be] leaders of organizations.”
With the help of seven other Pan-Asian executives from various companies, Chin and colleague Dylan Jeng launched Ascend while both were working at business management consulting firm Ernst & Young. After developing the first employee resource group for Pan-Asians at the company, Chin, now a retired partner, began searching for a similar external network.
“I saw a lot of Pan-Asians coming into [Ernst & Y oung] but not a lot of them rising to the level of leadership; I was one of the first Pan-Asian partners to make it into the mainstream business,” he says. “So once we started the internal network, we looked for an external network, couldn’t find one, and so we said, ‘Ok, we will start our own.’”
With 34 college chapters and 17 professional chapters across the United States and Canada, Ascend reaches 60,000 people through networking, training, professional development, and career enhancement programs and events. The organization’s main goal is to increase the presence and influence of Pan-Asian business leaders.
One of Ascend’s most prominent initiatives is Pinnacle. Launched in spring of 2013, it focuses on tapping the organization’s network of Pan-Asian corporate board members, which presently includes 95 experienced board directors of public companies, according to Managing Director of Pinnacle S.K. Gupta. Using a “push and pull” system, Pinnacle “pulls” from these current Pan-Asian board members to “push” those who aspire to be on public boards.
Chin says Ascend has been gathering its network of Pan-Asian board directors via roundtable dinners to discuss advocacy efforts and ways of working together to increase Pan-Asian representation. He says phase two will focus on developing and supporting candidates for future boards by providing networking and training opportunities.
As a life-cycle organization — with offerings for students, young professionals, mid-level managers, and senior executives — Chin says Pinnacle helps complete the professional cycle. And he believes Ascend’s corporate partners — companies like Deloitte, Bank of America, Disney, Johnson and Johnson, New York Life Insurance Company, Boeing, and others — are a testament to the good work it is doing.
“[The fact that] a lot of our partners have been with us from the very beginning, and continue to stay with us and support us, tells me that we’re doing the right thing,” he says.
And if the numbers weren’t enough to motivate Chin and his colleagues at Ascend, knowing that they are helping fellow Pan-Asian business professionals is.
“I truly believe … that we must lead by example,” he says, “and we must give back and help Pan-Asians become the leaders of today and tomorrow.”●
Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information on Ascend, visit ascendleadership.org.