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Asian-American women in finance face career hurdles, study shows

WOMEN who identify as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are more likely to face barriers in investment management than their white or male counterparts, a new study shows — and several people interviewed by Bloomberg echoed those findings.

Eight in 10 AAPI women surveyed see various individual, cultural, and organizational challenges — commonly referred to as the “bamboo ceiling” — as potential impediments to rising through the management ranks, according to an Association of Asian American Investment Managers report released Tuesday.

Of the 608 people who responded to the survey, 174 identified themselves as AAPI women, and 57% of that cohort said they were personally affected by the bamboo ceiling. Many also reported having to assert themselves more than their male peers in order to be recognized, promoted or credited for their work.

“Especially when trying to move up in the ranks, the onus was on women to prove themselves,” Melissa Maquilan Radic, a former BlackRock, Inc. executive whose parents immigrated to the US from the Philippines, said in a phone interview, speaking generally about her experiences in the corporate world. “I would look at women who had similar job titles to men, and their qualifications were twice as robust.”

The work of her parents, both practicing physicians, taught her the importance of establishing credibility as a woman by comparing her mother’s career with that of her father’s.

Ms. Maquilan Radic, 40, was one of several AAPI women who shared similar experiences of having to meld their identities and communication styles to get ahead.

“You’ve got to be so much better that there is really no question you are the best one and there is no alternative to you,” said Dynex Capital, Inc. Co-Chief Investment Officer Smriti Popenoe, a native of India with three-decades of experience in finance.

Ms. Popenoe, who was schooled across three continents during her youth, said she was accustomed to adapting to various cultures and circumstances in order to be competitive as the only immigrant, woman or person of color in the room.

“The others, they were white men that could play golf, that could talk sports,” said Ms. Popenoe, 53. “You really have to talk the native language of the male-dominated industry — the guy talk — and I learned that language.”

Roughly two-thirds of the AAPI respondents said race plays a role in limiting opportunities, compared with just 23% of those who didn’t identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander.

The AAPI women interviewed by Bloomberg said they had to actively seek mentorship opportunities with superiors who recognized their potential and made efforts to lift them up.

“Getting to the managing director position — that part requires a lot more advocacy and sponsorship,” said Amy (Wu) Stratton, 46, a former Citigroup, Inc. executive who recently founded MyAsianVoice, an organization that supports Asian women. “Even though I had a full network and a lot of folks expected me to be there already, in actuality it requires people to do the advocacy work. So I really had to rattle folks to get it done.”

Brenda Chia, AAAIM’s founding president, said young AAPI women need to constantly vocalize their presence and advocate for themselves and their work.

Often, ideas they propose “are not taken seriously or are stolen by other people,” said Ms. Chia, who spent the beginning of her career in Singapore before moving to the US, where she’s now chief of capital development for Paladin Capital Group. It’s “incredibly important to speak up consistently about what you believe in to make sure that they know you originated it.” — Bloomberg

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