How important is culture to performance?

By Marc Resnick

I was listening to an interview show on NPR last night (2nd hour of On Point) where the topic was Asian American culture and their performance in the American workforce. The focus was on 1st and 2nd generation and made lots of generalizations (which the main interviewee, who was the author of a New York Magazine article on this subject, freely admitted, in part because it was a magazine article not an academic research paper). One stat that he cited was that Asian Americans are overrepresented among law school students and junior associates (thanks to the culture’s focus on professional careers), but underrepresented among law firm partners. Same thing with MBA students and CEOs.

It was also a call in show, so there were lots of opinions and passionate speeches on the reason for the disparity (the “Bamboo Ceiling”). Hypotheses ranged from discrimination by the existing partners/directors (old boy network), the reluctance of Asian Americans to play the political games that it takes to get ahead at law firms and corporations, and something about the culture that makes them less capable at lawyering (such as an inability to connect personally with juries, less flamboyance as litigators, etc) or senior management. The Tiger Mom book came up a lot. There was also some discussion of whether this was an Asian American thing or typical of any 1st and 2nd generation immigrant community. Nobody had any definitive answers, but the conversation was interesting (except for some of the extreme call-ins).

What do you think? Is it one of the three reasons I listed, all of the above, or something totally different?

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