How Can Asians Break the High Tech Glass Ceiling?

Ascend uncovers the invisible barriers keeping Asian workers out of leadership roles in Silicon Valley

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Silicon Valley is perhaps best known for two things: technology and diversity. Yet the dichotomy between the two is as clear as a Sunnyvale, Calif., day. The Ascend Foundation, the largest non-profit Pan-Asian organization for business professionals in North America, wanted to uncover why Asian and Asian-American workers are so underrepresented in leadership roles, despite representing a large percentage of the talent pool. After it released its May 2015 report “Hidden in Plain Sight: Asian American Leaders in Silicon Valley,” it discovered that a whole lot of other people wanted to know why, too.

  • 130+ major outlets featured the Associated Press’ story on Ascend’s report
  • 2.2K shares of Fast Company’s feature in just two weeks after the release
  • 1.4M reach of Los Angeles Times’ tweet on the report


Fig3-1_AscendRpt_Management Pipeline by Race_graphUsing EEO-1 data released by Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, Ascend advisors quantified the impact of race and gender in a data-driven investigation of the Asian glass ceiling in Silicon Valley. Ascend needed to take its story to the market and broaden the media coverage of its research report’s key messages in order to raise awareness on the imbalance.

Sterling aimed to help close the Asian leadership gap by lifting management diversity into the mainstream. To do this, we needed to target the right outlets and voices who could help influence broader audiences, and ensure the messages were relevant to the marketplace.

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Sterling designed a tight campaign that was sharp and to the point like…well…a broken piece of glass. We discussed Ascend’s research findings with reporters at media outlets that:

  1. Have a HR/Talent/Leadership focus
  2. Specialize in Silicon Valley issues and trends
  3. Serve the main regions with large Asian-American populations
  4. Cover the business of technology

In addition to pinpointing top journalists in relevant regions, we facilitated a messaging session to identify and refine key points that would most resonate with media. We suggested edits to the report draft to increase impact, and created a one-page summary to use as part of the initial outreach. We also drafted the press release with quotes from the three authors and selected impactful images to accompany the text.

These targeted efforts led to enormous coverage, but that wasn’t all. Within the first month, Facebook and Google had invited the Ascend authors to present their findings. Moreover, the Berkeley City Council proposed sending a recommendation letter to Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo urging those companies to take the necessary steps toward increasing the number of minorities in executive positions.


Sterling helped Ascend secure mainstream press in numerous premier outlets, giving Ascend’s report the attention it demanded.

  • Statistics
    • Roughly 4M reach on all channels from May 5 to May 9; LA Times tweet had 1.38M reach alone
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    • Traffic to Ascend’s website nearly doubled within 24 hours of the report’s release
    • Views of Ascend’s EPI calculator page saw more than a 600% increase on the day of release
    • Ascend received coverage in Bloomberg Business TV almost one month after releasing its report
  • TestimonialsScreen Shot 2015-09-02 at 11.47.06 AM
    • “Sterling was extremely diligent in following up and recommending the strategy for the priority as well as the number of people that we should go out with; helping to shape the messages; the timing for the release; making sure the messages were relevant to the market place; and also for a very strong media outreach.” — Denise Peck, Executive Advisor, Ascend
    • “It is definitely due to the great media coverage that Sterling got us initially that led to The Economist’s interest in the Ascend paper.” — Buck Gee, Executive Advisor, Ascend
    • “We’re super-happy about the results. They exceeded our expectations and then some.” — Sofia Poyhonen, Public Relations, Ascend

Interested in learning how the right PR campaign can move the needle for your company? Contact our team at