Over the past twelve months, the rise in anti-Asian hate and xenophobia, combined with a global pandemic have made this 2021 AAPI Heritage Month more important than ever. In celebration and recognition of AAPI Heritage Month, the staff of Committee of 100 sat down with some of our members and asked them about their careers, what the past year has been like as a Chinese American and their hopes for the future.
This week we spoke with Buck Gee, an expert in the technology industry and executive leadership, Board President at the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and Executive Advisor at the Ascend Foundation. Buck has been a member of Committee of 100 since 2015.
Committee of 100: As a Chinese American, what are some of the challenges you have encountered to become a leader in your respective field?
Buck: In 1994, I interviewed with the president of a 5-person tech startup for the founding VP of Marketing role. Despite my 14-year background in tech marketing, he offered me a lesser position reporting to the VP, probably because I did not look like what this newly minted white male president thought a VP should look like. I declined and said I would only accept the VP role. Subsequently, I talked to his board chair, a venture capitalist I had known for years, who told him to make me the VP offer. Four years later, the company issued its IPO, publicly listed on NASDAQ.
Committee of 100: There are more than 5 million Chinese Americans in the United States today and it is one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S. Do you feel that Chinese Americans are well represented in government, business, and other parts of society?
Buck: Although Chinese Americans are well represented in the lower management tiers in government, business, and cultural institutions, they have been generally excluded from leadership roles and positions of power and influence. Research finds that systemic, implicit bias and cultural misalignments have made it difficult for many Chinese Americans and Asian Americans to reach executive levels.
Committee of 100: What moment or learning experience inspired you to work in your professional field?
Buck: As a college freshman, I took a summer Fortran programming course on an old IBM 1620 mainframe computer that changed my life. Completely fascinated by the analytical and problem-solving skills required for computer programming and after spending many nights at the computer lab to learn as much as I could, I challenged myself to understand computer technology and acquire the skills to actually design a computer. Eight years later, Hewlett Packard released a new minicomputer with central processor chips I designed. Ultimately, I spent over 35 years in technical, management and C-suite roles in Silicon Valley.
Committee of 100: What is one book you can recommend that is either about Chinese American culture or experiences or written by a Chinese American?
Buck: Professor Erika Lee’s 2019 book America for Americans is a well-researched history of racial, religious, and ethnic xenophobic efforts in the United States to keep the country’s peoples and culture predominantly White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. The book reminds us that today’s anti-China and anti-Asian populist hysteria should not be unexpected and that Asian Americans must be better prepared to respond to similar episodes in the future.