The bamboo elevator

There’s a concept known as the bamboo ceiling, a set of cultural expectations that prevent Asians from reaching the highest levels of American corporate life. But what about the bamboo elevator?

In Slate, Philip Guo has an article about silent technical privilege: the ways that looking like a programmer, which in this case just means being an Asian guy, enabled him to fake his way into becoming an actual programmer. He was given opportunities based on the way he looked, and he made the most of them. The bamboo elevator lifted him up into positions he might otherwise not have reached.

In general, it makes sense to make the most of all the opportunities that come your way (barring those that involve genuine moral compromise, like the opportunity to get a job by lying or to win a deal through bribery). The aspects of our lives that are beyond our control — gender, age, race, appearance — affect how people perceive us, and the effects are likely to be varied: sometimes good, sometimes bad. I say use the good ones.

But be conscious of it. Understand what’s happening, and when you can, work to mitigate those arbitrary differences. You’ll be working to create a fairer, more diverse world, with more Asian athletes, more African-American mathletes, more women executives, etc. That might mean a diminishment of opportunity in certain areas for you personally, but hopefully it will lead to more and better opportunities for all of us.