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Ascend National Convention Promotes Leadership Cultures for Asians

by Jian Ping and Lily Yang

Photos courtesy of ASCEND


A record 2,000 Asian professionals and students from the U.S and Canada gathered at the 6th Ascend National Convention to promote collaborative alliances and leadership cultures in Anaheim, Ca from Aug. 23 to 26.

Ascend is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help realize the leadership potential of Asian Americans in global corporations. It was founded in 2005 and has 16 professional chapters and 28 student chapters in the U.S. and Canada.

2Keynote speakers for this year’s convention included Punit Renjen, Chairman of the Board, Deloitte LLP; S. Sharq Yosufzai, Vice President of Global Offices of Diversity & Ombuds, Chevron Corporation, and Spencer Neumann, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

“The Ascend convention is the embodiment of what Ascend represents. Our attendees acquire new leadership skills and behaviors from senior leaders while creating new relationships with new colleagues who have common goals and desires to succeed,” said Wes Hom, Ascend National Board Member and Managing Director.

The annual convention has become a place where Pan-Asians get together to connect, recharge, inspire, and be inspired. Through professional development seminars, expert panel discussions, and network sessions, attendees are encouraged to dispel the myths of Asian leadership, identify the cultural roots that held Asians back, and build credibility and expertise to leadership positions in corporate America. A number of Pan-Asian leaders, industry experts, and community leaders shared their perspectives and experiences.

Major takeaways from the conference include the following:


1. Face the Bamboo ceiling

Despite comprising 5% of the U.S. population, Asian Americans account for only 0.3% of corporate officers and fewer than 1% of corporate board members.1 Asians are often considered the “Model Minority”, yet stuck at the middle-management level, unable to ascend the corporate ladder.

Is the “bamboo ceiling” the cause of such limitation or is it certain values in the Asian culture that prevent us from advancing? The issue sparked heated discussions. It could be both, and more. Regardless, one thing that everyone agreed is that Asians should not build the bamboo ceiling ourselves.

With diversity becoming an integral part of business culture, more corporations are starting to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion, and more focus is placed on developing people with diverse backgrounds. While corporate America is promoting diversity, Asians should do our part and play significant roles.

2. Embrace who we are

Punit Renjen, Chairman of the board at Deloitte LLP, emphasized the importance of being comfortable with who we are. “We all have our unique abilities and talents. Most individuals who succeed over time are those who have learned to be comfortable in their own image,” he said.

The bottom line: we should not let our skin color become our mental barrier and let our culture be a limitation. Instead, we should embrace what make us unique, and become a cultural ambassador for the understanding of our values and cultural differences. By taking others on our journey, we build more common ground, gain more understanding, and reduce misperception.

3. Seek out mentors and sponsors

Mentors are advisors, and sponsors are advocates. “You never succeed in life without others helping you,” said Renjen.

We need help from both on our career journey. Mentors and sponsors can be crucial in helping us avoid landmines and overcome our weakness. Sometimes they understand us better than ourselves and are willing to spend their personal capital to help us advance. In order to get mentors and sponsors, however, we have to make ourselves known.


4. Start self promotion

“Work hard, then you will be recognized and rewarded!” For years, our parents have been telling us that. The virtues of hard work and humility have become deeply ingrained in our minds.

Asians are not good at promoting ourselves. However, we know that strong technical skills and work ethic can only take us so far. After that, the soft skills, including self-promotion, become more critical. We need to become our own advocates, and more, we need to learn to feel comfortable taking credit for what we have done.

5. Networking and Netweaving

We understand very well that in today’s super-connected world, relationships mean power. To walk out of one’s comfort zone and build a network of contacts is very important for our development. More recently, Netweaving, a new concept, has emerged. It promotes building relationships by helping others with their needs in mind rather than just our own2. In doing so, we build meaningful win-win relationships, as opposed to seeking one-way benefits from others.

6. Develop leadership skills

In corporate America, Asians tend to be viewed as good workers, but not necessarily leaders with charisma. However, there are countless great leaders in Asia. Leadership might take different forms in different cultures and in different era. The virtue of being humble in the Asian culture, for instance, might be perceived as unassertive in the U.S., and respecting authority might be seen as lacking views of our own. We should be aware of the differences and be more adaptable. While maintaining our values, we should constantly innovate our leadership skills, including improving our emotional intelligence and executive presence.

“I feel just having the presence there (at the convention) meeting and networking with all the other professionals and executives was already rewarding to me,” said Faith Wang, Finance Manager at Metlife. Wang said that attending the convention could “broaden one’s view and change one’s life.”

Other issues such as “dream big,” “pursue what you love to do,” and women’s leadership are also addressed.

The next Ascend annual conference will be held in Washington D.C. in August 2014.

1 Sylvia Ann Hewlett. “Asians in America: What’s Holding Back the ‘Model Minority?’” Forbes Magazine, July 28, 2011. Web. Oct. 13, 2012.

2 “The Heart and Art of NetWeaving: Building Meaningful Relationships One Connection at a Time” by Robert S. Littell

About the authors:

Jian Ping: Author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary movie. Jian is also a blogger at Asian Fortune News.

Lily Yang: CPA, MBA, works as a Finance Manager with Deloitte Services supporting Deloitte’s own M&A transactions. She serves as a board member with the Ascend Midwest Chapter. She came from Sichuan, China and lives with her husband and daughter in Chicago.

Asian Fortune is an English language newspaper for Asian American professionals in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Visit fb.com/asianfortune to stay up to date with our news and what’s going on in the Asian American community.