5 ways Asian Americans can climb the corporate ladder
SAN FRANCISCO —Diversity and inclusion have earned increasing attention in the workplace over the past several years, with the focus being on hiring more people of color. But a report published last year highlighted Asian Americans’ low representation in senior leadership positions.
The Ascend Foundation’s report stated that only one of every 201 Asian American males is an executive, compared with one out of every 87 Caucasian males. Asian-American women are even more under-represented (one per 285) as opposed to Caucasian women (one per 123).
At the fifth annual Bay Area Pan Asian Executive Panel Event, held at PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters on May 4, Senior Vice President of Energy Policy and Procurement Fong Wan addressed ways Asian Americans can improve Asian Americans’ ability to gain officer positions.
Wan was on a panel with Asian executives from Ernst & Young, Kaiser Permanente, SAP and Global Upside to offer attendees advice on “Closing the Asian Leadership Gap.”
What should employees— of all ethnicities — do to help themselves rise to a management position? Wan, who’s been with PG&E for nearly 30 years and in his current position since 2008, highlighted five important things to know.
- Be a good manager of people
Wan said you must be able to leverage your energy, time, focus, results and the work of your team. It’s all about one’s ability to get people to do quality work and follow you willingly.
“The great bosses,” he said, “are the ones who keep coming back to help their team look good and support them.”
- Be effective at building your network
“It’s about getting alliances and building a strong network,” Wan said. “You want people to support your ideas and help them influence others.”
Wan recommended finding a mentor to help navigate the corporate landscape.
“We all have strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Pick the best parts of various mentors that work for you.”
- Be a good communicator
Wan said people may be looking at a presenter’s PowerPoint during a meeting, but they’re really looking at the presenter. He recalled his high school graduation day, which was the first time he spoke in public.
“If there wasn’t a podium,” he said, “I would’ve fallen down. The only way you can get good is to practice.”
- Be aware of your brand
“Every one of us has a brand,” Wan said. “Either we project it ourselves or someone will write it for us. Write down what you think your brand is. Ask yourself if you like it or not. Ask your closest friends and see if it matches. If you want to change your image, you’ll have to rewrite it and be comfortable with it.”
- Be confident
“You have to believe you can do it,” he said. “If you don’t, other people won’t have confidence in you.”
Wan is one of nine Asians who are officers at PG&E. In addition, PG&E Corporation’s Board of Directors has two. When he came to PG&E in 1988, the board of directors was predominantly comprised of Caucasian males.
As diversity and inclusion has evolved as a company core value, there are more minorities in executive positions. PG&E’s senior management roster reflects the customers of one of the most diverse energy service territories in the country.
“We’ve come a long, long way,” Wan said.
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