Moss Adams Voices

Kevin Sutanto: Beyond the Bamboo Ceiling

Kevin Sutanto discusses moving beyond barriers in his personal life and in the accounting industry during this year’s celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month.

Kevin Sutanto

Kevin Sutanto, assurance senior manager, immigrated from Indonesia in the late 2000s for higher education. He joined a firm in 2016 that later combined with Moss Adams and currently works out of our Houston office. Kevin discusses his immigration experience, the bamboo ceiling that Asians face on their path to leadership in the accounting industry, and why breaking barriers is the theme of this year’s celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month.

What led you into the accounting industry after your immigration?

I decided on accounting because I thought it would be easier to find a job. Indonesia is an underprivileged country, and they have the biggest Muslim population in the world, so it makes it hard to apply for a visa to study or work in the US. I thought a job in accounting would simplify the visa process.

Applying for a work visa is different. It’s a longer process than that of the student visa and the quota for approved applications is much smaller. I only had three months to get a job and have my application approved. I got a job and I applied, but then I wasn’t picked.

It was scary. I already lived in the US, I started working, and I was building what I wanted for my life. That didn’t matter. I could be great at my job, I could be incredibly smart, but I was rejected in a lottery system. Without a visa, I felt so helpless because I might have had to leave.

I went back to school to extend my stay. During that time, I fell in love and married my wife. This meant I didn’t need to go through the unpredictable visa process again, which I was grateful for.

Kevin Sutanto

Your experience overcoming personal barriers connects to the Asian BRG’s theme for APIDA Heritage Month, Moving Beyond Barriers & Ceilings. How do you relate the theme to our industry?

Goldman Sachs released a report last year about the bamboo ceiling which summarizes Asian representation in the workplace. We’re represented in the industry at lower levels but only make up 6% of senior management positions. We’re slowly moving beyond those barriers, but we’ve got work to do.

Sometimes when I attend conferences or meetings, I look around the room and I don’t see people like me. This poses a challenge for our growth. Beyond the possibility of discrimination, it’s harder to find common ground when we don’t see someone who looks like us. Seeing someone like you in the next phase of your career reminds us that we can make it there too. It creates opportunity for mentorship, and that inspires us to keep going.

How have you moved beyond barriers in your career?

When I started out, I was trying so hard to mold myself into who I thought I was supposed to be. I ate at the restaurants my colleagues ate at, I did what they did, and talked about what they wanted to talk about. Nowadays, I embrace my culture because this is who I am. I feel more comfortable expressing myself.

There’s so many times in my personal life I’ve heard someone say, “You’re pretty cool for an Asian.” I also hear the assumption that since I’m Asian I must be good at math. Some people only expected me to excel in academia. It makes me wonder what their perceived idea of Asians might be. What do they think Asians are like? If I’m cool, it’s that I’m a cool person—period. It may not seem harmful to some, but assumption against an entire group of people is a stereotype. Stereotypes of all kinds are hurtful.

That’s one of the things the Asian BRG has really helped with. There’s this sense of belonging here in the workplace that tells me I don’t have to be somebody else just because I look different. Now, I can be free. I can be me.

Kevin Sutanto

How is the Asian BRG breaking barriers at Moss Adams?

Joining the BRG has been great. The more someone knows about my culture, a culture completely different from their own, the better they’ll know me as a coworker or a friend. The Asian BRG is pushing us to remember we can better our work environment to cultivate that sense of belonging. It’s okay to be different and we need to take the time to understand each other. The many events and resources the Asian BRG provides can help others learn about our culture in a fun way.

I also get to meet other people I probably wouldn’t have met were it not for the Asian BRG. I didn’t realize how many Asian professionals are working at Moss Adams until I joined the Asian BRG.

I wasn’t expecting it when I joined the firm. Now I see so many of us on a regular basis, especially in leadership roles. It helps me see the path ahead beyond the bamboo ceiling. It’s breaking barriers.

How do you embrace your culture during APIDA Heritage Month and beyond?

I have a two-year-old son now and I’m constantly wondering how I can pass my culture down while we’re here in the US, and APIDA Heritage Month is a great time to do that. APIDA Heritage Month allows us to celebrate our culture so we never forget where we came from. It helps us share the culture with the next generation and those around us.

This month also invites others in to learn about who we are. That helps us connect. I want my son to experience a little of what I experienced growing up. I want him to know where he comes from. If we don’t preserve that culture for him, I’m missing out on teaching him something valuable for his future.

So, we teach him Indonesian. We celebrate Asian holidays like Lunar New Year. We go back to Indonesia every now and again so we can immerse him in the environment and introduce him to the family still living there. He may be too young to know what’s going on, but I do all I can so he grows up with a sense of belonging and Asian pride.

Go Beyond the Desk

At Moss Adams, we believe in the power of possible to empower our clients and people to pursue success however they define it. Explore stories about our professionals, including their personal achievements, at our Beyond the Desk page.