Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: the Challenge of Chinese American Physician Scientists

October 9, 2005

- Share experiences and aspirations

- The Challenge:

1. Advancement and professional acknowledgment

a. Chinese students and faculty not given leadership and principal investigator opportunities
b. Chinese-Americans risk being labeled as a “sell-out” to our culture when we attempt to integrate or participate in the larger communities
c. Not given due credit or acknowledgment for work or ideas by PIs, colleagues or other scientists

2. Socio cultural challenges

a. Chinese-Americans struggle with the issues of assimilation and acculturation such that there is pressure to honor traditional culture and values which are not necessarily aligned with corporate advancement and professional development

  • Leadership v. deference
  • Individual v. family/group advancement
  • Authority v. hierarchy
  • Assertiveness v. modesty

a. Chinese-Americans risk being labeled as a “sell-out” to our culture when we attempt to integrate or participate in the larger communities
b. Because we tend to be comfortable within our communities and circles of support, we conversely risk the practice of self-segregation
c. Chinese are a “minority” by number in US but not treated as one

- Personal journey

- Lessons Learned:

  1. Passion and commitment
  2. meritocracy
  3. Importance of people (mentor, students and network etc
  4. Adaptation

- Recommendations

1. Work place and professional advancement

a. Understand the advancement culture of the US and understand the professional environment of your workplace

b. Understand the business and financial marketplace/environment of health care so that you can anticipate future challenges

c. Select a workplace that recognizes the success of the team (not just the leaders/managers)

d. Participate in professional development opportunities (i.e. presentation skill classes, English proficiency if necessary, leadership training, negotiation skills, financial acumen)

e. Be assertive but appropriate

f. Manage up (with your boss) and down (with your direct reports)

2. Mentor and network

a. Find an effective mentor regardless of race who will be willing to give you opportunities to share the limelight and teach you how to move forward

b. An ideal mentor is honest with you and helps you improve your weaknesses. Ideal mentors will open doors for you

3. Take initiative and participate

a. Take the time to assess your workplace, the environment and talk to/interact with people

b. Initiate and take advantage of very opportunity to present your own studies/findings even if it means going to conferences that you would not ordinarily select

c. Start presenting/sharing your work in comfortable and welcoming forums (i.e. ACMA) and then consider participation in larger scale conferences

d. Don’t underestimate the importance of publishing, especially as first or second author. Don’t give away your research without getting credit for the work.

e. Accept challenges to demonstrate that you can perform above and beyond expectations

4. Socialize and acculturation

a. Take opportunities to socialize with a diverse network of colleagues. Get out of your comfort zone. Go to events, activities and parties sponsored by non-Chinese colleagues

b. Don’t forsake your core values at any expense. It is possible to “evolve while staying true to your core values.” You will need your values, traditions and family when times get difficult and to celebrate your successes

c. Take the “best” of both worlds and bring them together. Leverage your background and cultural strength, turning them into advantages

5. Establish a leadership style

a. Create a shared vision
b. Build a management structure that works for you
c. “Lead…don’t manage”
d. Insist on accountability and responsibility
e. Communicate, communicate, communicate

1. Town hall meetings
2. Frequent staff meetings
3. Engage a diverse group of advisors (students, faculty, colleagues, peers)

6. Support each other

a. Maintain work-life balance

7. Creative science, skilled organization, building a team