The bamboo ceiling for East Asian women in entrepreneurship

Queen’s commerce alumni grapples with being a double minority in debut book

Image supplied by: Winnie Wong
Queen’s alum talks about being an East Asian woman in business.

The racial and gendered disparity in the business realm is clear. A study on 5 major technology companies in Silicon Valley found that one in 87 white men will hold an executive position, while only one in 285 East Asian women will hold a similar position within their lifetimes. Wong saw similar disparities in some of her past career experiences and as a student on Queen’s campus.

Released this year on Amazon, the debut novel You Don’t Have to Look the Part: How East Asian Women Thrive as Entrepreneurs, written by Winnie Wong, Comm ’11, examines the barriers of being a double minority in the world of CEOs and venture capitalists.

“I wrote the book to better understand the issues and make an impact and really figure out how we can better support East Asian women in their path towards entrepreneurship and their path towards financial freedom,” Wong said in an interview with The Journal.

Wong traces her journey from Queen’s, Institut Européen d’Adminstration des Affaires, and living unemployed in Singapore to show how the lack of diversity in the commerce world reflected moments in her life.

In November 2021, Wong was laid off from her job.

With her savings, she hiked the Swiss Alps, meditated, and reflected on what she wanted to achieve in life. She realized teaching had always been important to her and became an adjunct professor at the SP Jain School of Global Management.

When glancing back at her experiences, the most compelling moments in her life looked at the underprivileged women who were technology entrepreneurs. She looked at her current living situation in Singapore, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and saw domestic servitude among other residents. This is when foreign domestic workers cook and clean a person’s home
for money.

Wong never experienced home servitude in her hometown of Toronto, she found the class disparity jarring.

“I realized very quickly that not everyone is born equal and that wherever you’re born and who your parents are affect your trajectory in life more than anything in the world,” Wong said.

Wong volunteered at an organization to teach foreign domestic workers financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills to help move them out of poverty.

She chose an East Asian lens because she wanted to relate to these women and understood each marginalized group experiences its own barriers.

To explain the shift towards creating a diverse business culture, Wong used Jess Lee, the co-founder of Polyvore, and an East Asian woman as an example.

Polyvore is designed to allow the user to sell and customize outfits on a Pinterest-type platform. Lee’s success allowed her to become the first female venture capitalist at one of the largest firms in
America, Sequoia Capital.

In Sequoia’s 44 years of operation, they never had a female partner. However, Wong said due to Lee’s diversity in the investment landscape, Lee could access different types of entrepreneurs.

“Within the venture capitalist industry, 40 per cent come from Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford, if you haven’t gone to one of these top business schools, it’s very challenging to find someone who’s going to invest in you,” Wong said.

Venture capitalists are usually men, according to Wong, because they have fewer hurdles with respect to maternity, climbing the corporate ladder, and access to education.

“I think I identify with a lot of [women entrepreneurs] in terms of giving back. [The book] is one example where I’m giving back. I’d love for people to learn about my experience as an East Asian woman going to school at a predominantly white school called Queen’s University, which is a very traditional school as well,” Wong said.

Launched in 2020, Stolen from Smith is an Instagram account documenting discrimination present at the Smith School of Business. Stolen from Smith made Wong process many of her emotions, and she realized she didn’t have the greatest memories at Queen’s.

She realized there was a lack of diversity during her time at Queen’s—a trend which foreshadowed her career in business.

“Initially, I was so proud to have gone to Queen’s and honestly, the best part about Queen’s is not being there,” she said.

In her third year, Wong spent her fall term at Bader College , and during the winter, she went on exchange to Peking University in China. Spending the year away gave her time to reflect on her goals in the commerce program, allowing her to see a different side of herself and the program.

In 2011, Wong said most commerce students went on exchange, and when they returned to Queen’s, the campus had a different atmosphere.

“Everyone was a bit more settled in who they were and who they wanted to be friends with. That was a really refreshing experience because, for a long time, I didn’t feel like [I] quite identified with a majority culture at Queen’s,” Wong said.

She felt the school lacked diversity not just by racial demographics, but in the overall homogeneity of the campus. White students typically hung out with each other, and Asian students seemed to stay together.

It was Wong’s first time experiencing segregation.

She believes Queen’s students will find her book useful in the future. In addition to discussing the glass ceiling, she focuses on the bamboo ceiling, which looks at the anti-Asian bias in business.

She emphasized the model Asian immigrant trope to explain that though a company might have diversity on the ground level, very few Asian women hold executive positions within these major tech companies.

Tags

Commerce, East Asian, Glass Ceiling, Queen's culture, Stolen from Smith, Women in business

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