When we started AAAIM in 2006, I was the youngest founding board member, and I was very much in the early stages of my career, having just graduated with my MBA from Harvard Business School two years prior. One of the most important things I did during my time at HBS was to co-write a 40-page paper with my good friend and classmate Philip Tseng. We wanted to better understand the Asian American and Pacific Islander community’s position in the leadership of corporate America – were we doing well like so many people assumed or were there real issues to AAPI leaders rising to the c-suite?
To answer our questions we interviewed 40 Asian American executives from Fortune 500 companies do mid-sized businesses. The results were compelling. With quantitative research we proved that a glass ceiling does exist in corporate America for AAPIs. The results were disheartening and developed in me a passion for making sure that we reverse the under-representation of Asian Americans in senior professional levels.
When I started asking myself what were the solutions to these huge problems, I quickly realized one of the keys to success in any industry is mentorship. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful mentor in Ginger Lew, my fellow AAAIM founding board member and former senior advisor at the White House National Economic Council. Ginger was my assigned mentor during business school as part of the Toigo fellowship program. During this time she generously gave me her time as well as her network.
I learned many things from Ginger and her network, but the most important lesson Ginger taught me was to speak up, and to never fall into the stereotype that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are quiet worker-bees, with no charisma or leadership skills. So I started to speak with force, confidence, and substance – and when appropriate, to display a level of leadership – in meetings or at conferences or in public speaking engagements. This is my small way of dispelling a longstanding stereotype of our community. And while helping my career along, my hope was that my small acts would change the minds of others who will begin to see Asian Americans as strong leaders, thus slowly removing the glass ceiling, as all of us in our community begin to progress towards roles of importance and influence.
This small change in myself all began with my mentor Ginger, and I believe AAAIM can play a role in helping more people make the same impactful connections.
That’s why at this year’s AAAIM national conference we announced the launch of AAAIM’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). The ELP is a program with a singular focus: helping young AAPIs build relationships and find mentors. Each year, AAAIM will invite members of the ELP to participate in Mentor-Mentee Meet-ups and networking receptions. These events will bring industry veterans that are part of AAAIM’s network together with young people who apply via our free web portal.
I have high hopes that this program will help young people find great mentors the way I did with Ginger. The only way we can break down this glass ceiling is as a community. I hope you will join us by taking the first step and applying via our website and spreading the word to your network about this great initiative.
Gordon C.C. Liao is a Founding Board Member & Vice Chair of the Association of Asian American Investment Managers (AAAIM)