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Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: A Book Review

Book Review Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling

For National Women in Small Business Month, we teamed up with women business owners and leaders to review books written by women, for women. Below, Amy Lim reviews Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling by Jane Hyun. These opinions are solely those of the reviewer and do not necessarily reflect those of Kabbage. Check out the other book reviews we’ve posted, here.

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians


In the same vein that the “glass ceiling” prevents women from advancement, Jane Hyun claims there is a “bamboo ceiling” in place culturally that prevents Asians from advancement. Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians looks at factors that may be impeding Asian Americans from career advancement and provides tips for how to overcome them.

Although I read this for National Women in Small Business Month, this leadership book is not specifically targeted to Asian women. While there are countless books targeted to women leadership and entrepreneurs, you’ll be hard pressed to find many that are tailored to the Asian woman experience. After reading this book, I better understand why that is the case – there are very few Asian American (let alone Asian American women) leadership figures, which may be due to inherited cultural values at odds with American values.

The author, Jane Hyun, is an experienced executive coach and diversity strategist. She formerly held positions at JPMorgan, Deloitte & Touche and Resources Connection – which is reflected in the book’s focus on corporate America. Despite the book’s focus, it is written in a way that provides valuable insight for many different readers – whether or not you’re Asian, and whether or not you work in a corporate space. Asian Americans will benefit from career advancement/leadership tips, while managers and coworkers of Asian Americans will read for ways to be inclusive and cognizant of diversity.

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling does not suggest that you blame your failures on your Asian upbringing, but that you understand how your background influenced your traits. A main idea the book drives is the embedding of Confucian ideals into Asian culture, which has distilled into Asian American culture, regardless of how “Asian” the person feels. Some key Confucian values include respecting elders and harmony over confrontation – so it’s easy to see how that is at odds with Western values of voicing opinion and individuality. Personally, I’d side with Socrates over Confucius, but that doesn’t change the fact that the world I’ve encountered at work, school and social events is different from the dynamic of the Asian home that raised me.

Where Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling shines is in its coverage of a range of Asian experiences – from those who are newly immigrated to third generation Asian Americans who grew up solely speaking English. With this breadth of possible scenarios, it’s easy to find advice that speaks to you and use the rest to illuminate your understanding of the experiences of others who you may encounter.

After reading this book, I’ve become increasingly aware of how my background has influenced my behavior in a career setting, and I feel empowered to one day become the female Asian American role model I lacked growing up.


Kabbage Team

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