Glass Ceiling for Vietnamese Professionals, Part I

January 27, 1995

This is a survey of VACETS members on this subject.

PROCEDURE. From the Market Thyself issues and an e-mail I wrote to the general membership, I got one set of inputs. I then wrote directly to members of VACETS who indicated on their membership form that

1. they have 10+ years of experience,

2. they agreed to let other VACETS members contact them,

3. they were not directly part of government organizations (from .gov and .mil suffixes in their e-mail). Why you may ask? I felt that government employees are governed by a different set of regulations that those in effect in the business/commercial world. Thinking more about it, I would welcome all inputs from government employees too! So, if you feel like contributing, send me your input.

From this last mailing I receive eight sets of relevant inputs.

In this issue, I am posting the first 5 sets of inputs. The next issue will have the other 4. If anybody would like to contribute additional inputs on this subject, please send them to me ([email protected]). I am especially missing any input from our female members! - not that I did not try to get their inputs!

Any way, here are the first five inputs that I received. I would like to thank all the VACETS members who have contributed to this issue to help all of us better understand the work environment out there. All the contributors to this issue are male and work in the U.S.A.

All names and references to companies have been deleted, modified, except for public figures.

I have also taken some editorial liberties to rephrase the texts.


IMHO, discrimination is everywhere. Personally, I have not experienced very much. I considered myself zeroth generation Vnese American (i.e. attending American high schools and colleges, understanding the office protocols and politics). It must be something about me. Coming to the U.S. in 1980, I found myself 'immersing" into this new culture. I speak English fluently with minimal accent. In addition, I'm extremely knowledgeable about American culture things such as sports, music, and fine arts. As a result, I interacted with more Americans than Vietnamese's. I found some discrimination but those are in areas I don't want to get involved in such as politics and business. However, in computer technology area, most of the companies I was with have accepted me as who I am. I'm involved with a lot of corporate extra- curricular activities such as annual golf tournament, company party and outing. I guess being fluent in English does have an advantage. With my knowledge of American culture, I can relate to a lot of things that a typical Vietnamese cannot relate to.

So, you can tell me that I am "a banana or a twinkie (yellow outside but white inside)". Even though I do not like the terms but I accept them. There's two old sayings that I always take heart, "Nha^.p gia tuy` tu.c", or "Ddi vo+'i tha^`y chu`a ma(. ao' ca` sa, ddi vo+'i ma ma(.c a'o gia^'y". This does apply. I understood that one needs to establish the cultural identity. However, to transform the "white" into "multi-color", IMHO, one needs to "hangout" with the "white" majority. That means one needs to communicate with them clearly and fluently. That means one needs to be a part of the "white" culture. I want to qualify something here. Being a part of the "white majority does not mean "sucking up" to the "white" majority. However, doing the thing they are doing and familiarizing yourself with the society can be helpful so that you can assimilate into it and eventually make it assimilate into you.

More thoughts to come.

++ next e-mail by same

I would like to add some more thoughts on this topic. As a former XYZ employee, I have been working at many different client sites (Northeast: Richmond, VA; Midwest: Dayton, OH, Anderson, IN, Detroit, MI; Southwest: Dallas, TX, Houston, TX, Freeport, TX, La Porte, TX). In a geographical sense, one would say the Southerners are the most discriminating. When I was at a chemical plant in La Porte, I was assigned to a gopher task while most the "white" interns are doing the work that I was familiar with. Asked why I did not get those assignments, my boss said that I needed improvement in my pronunciation and communication. I tried hard to improve these areas but they were not up to his standards. Midwesterners are tossed-up in this area. Some, for fear of their job security, are adamantly discriminating. I was at BB two years ago working as a test engineer with a Bible-thumbing WASP senior engineer. He came from a mainframe environment while I have been a UNIXoid. There were assignments that I know he did not comprehend the concept. Yet, he got them anyway and overshot the deadline about 5-10%.

In general, "white" majority, for fear of their position and job security, discriminated the "non-white" minority . It boils down to the $$$. The only thing that the "non-white" minority got to show for is the know-hows that they possess, especially the special skillsets that "white" majority lacks.

P.S. Would you post others' thoughts on this subject.


I don't feel that my experience on glass ceilings is much different from that of any other Asian professional and, to tell the truth, I haven't thought much about it - apart from acknowledging to myself that it does exist and has affected my career in some way. In short: yes!


A few thoughts:

1. Has discrimination been a factor in my career? you bet! My guess is that in order to be promoted, people like us must be at least 150% as good as a white person in similar circumstances, whereas a black person needs to be only 80% as good!

2. Ironically, some white racists cite our cases (how "well" we are doing) to tell the black people that they are not racist!

3. One reason is, I think, in our culture we are taught not to "blow our own horn" (which I still think is a good philosophy) but as you know, without doing that (shame! shame!), one can never get ahead in this country.

TT note: the reason why the Vietnamese title of this column, Tu+. pho^ tru+o+ng, may sound a little bit crude to some of you is because of our cultural hangup. So, at least while looking for a job or at review time, let us set our cultural hangup aside.


I have been involved in management and have risen to be a 2nd level engineering manager during my 20 years professional career. Yes, I feel there is a glass ceiling. But I don't enjoy managing any way. I feel happier being a technical contributor. It's much more enjoyable and the pay isn't bad either.


My current job title is first level manager. I've been working for this company for over 6 years or so. This is the fifth company that I've worked for. I started out as a Software Engineer and worked my way up the so-called 'corporate ladder'.

Climbing the corporate ladder in a non-Asian own company is not an easy task (at least for me). Not only you must show or prove that you are technically competent and then wait for the right moment to strike but you must also play you boss game, in another words the company politics. I am a technically oriented person so I always get very frustrated with this game. Knowing when to make the next move is crucial. Throughout your working years or months you must obtain enough experience and knowledge about the position that you desire and constantly keep in touch with the hiring manager to show your interest in that position. When the opportunity arises, try to talk or discuss with the hiring manager about your skills & qualifications for the position you are aiming for. You must have goals and know where you want to be in the corporate ladder. Knowing the right people in the corporate ladder will also help you to meet your goals for advancement.

I did not encounter any obstacle to achieve my goal. I think that if you have the desired skills, qualifications, the ability and the right attitude you will accomplish almost anything you want. As far as discrimination is concerned, I have not encountered any from the upper management but I think that it is there but it is not that obvious.

Where do I go from where I am right now? That's a good question. by examining my corporate structure and my personal qualifications, I don't think I can advance any further. Besides, I don't like to work in the management area. I don't have the leadership skills and I don't like to play politics so the chance for me to move up within my organization is very slim.

That's it for now.

This page is maintained by VACETS.