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Few Asian Leaders Reach the Top Reveals Research

11 August 2014 at 10:16 am
Staff Reporter
People from Asian backgrounds are significantly under-represented in leadership roles, representing an enormous waste of talent, says the latest research by the Diversity Council Australia.

Staff Reporter | 11 August 2014 at 10:16 am


Few Asian Leaders Reach the Top Reveals Research
11 August 2014 at 10:16 am

People from Asian backgrounds are significantly under-represented in leadership roles, representing an enormous waste of talent, says the latest research by the Diversity Council Australia.

The research, Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century, has uncovered valuable information about “the bamboo ceiling” and why so few Asian leaders are reaching the top.

It showed that while 9.3 per cent of the Australian labour force is Asian born, only 4.9 per cent made it to senior executive level.

In ASX 200 companies, only 1.9 per cent of executives have Asian cultural origins, compared to 9.6 per cent of the Australian community.

DCA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Annese  said “the bamboo ceiling” urgently needed to be addressed.

“It is inconceivable that in a country where nearly 10 per cent of the population is born in Asia or identify as having an Asian background that they should have such a low rate of representation in Australian corporate leadership,” Annese said.

“DCA’s new research represents a ground-breaking step in identifying the blockages and addressing them so that organisations can stop wasting talent and truly harness this cultural capital.”

She said Asian markets, both in Australia and in the region, had enormous significance for Australia’s economy.

“Australia’s two-way trade in goods and services totalled more than $A600 billion or 41 per cent of GPD in 2012 and eight out of ten of Australia’s ten largest trading partners are in Asia. Closer to home, Australia’s ‘multicultural market’ has an estimated purchasing power of over $A75 billion per year, with a higher than average disposal income,” Annese said.

“Clearly it is in all our interests to adopt a culturally responsive approach to business strategy and therefore talent management – indeed the benefits of doing so for corporate performance, innovation and access to new markets are well established.”

The other key findings of the report include:

  1. Asian talent is ambitious, motivated and capable: 84 per cent plan to advance to a very senior role, 91 per cent say challenging work is very important in their next career move, and 97 per cent have Asia capabilities.
  2. Asian talent is under leveraged, undervalued and likely to leave: Only 17 per cent strongly agree that their organisation uses their Asia capabilities very well, one in five are very satisfied with career progress and opportunities, and 22 per cent strongly agree that they have worked in organisations that value cultural diversity. 30 per cent say they are likely to leave their employer in the next year.
  3. Key barriers are locking out Asian talent in Australian organisations:
  • Cultural bias and stereotyping: Only 18 per cent of Asian talent feel their workplaces are free of cultural diversity biases and stereotypes. Many regularly experience bias and stereotyping, including about their cultural identity, leadership capability, English proficiency, and age. Women from Asian backgrounds experience a ‘double disadvantage’.
  • Westernised leadership models: 61 per cent feel pressure to conform to existing leadership styles that are inherently ‘Anglo’, for example, over-valuing self-promotion and assertive direct communication, while undervaluing and misinterpreting quiet reserve, deference and respect for seniority.
  • Lack of relationship capital: Only one in four has access to mentors or professional networks and even less has access to sponsors; similarly low levels feel included in workplace social activities.
  • The case for culture not understood: Only 15 per cent strongly agree their organisation leverages its workforce cultural diversity to better service clients. Organisations often fail to fully grasp the strategic value of Asian markets, capabilities and talent for Australian organisations operating in the Asian Century.

Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte who is a major sponsor of the research, said representation of Asian talent in senior leadership was a strategic business issue.

“The challenge to us, as Australian employers, remains our ability to view the talent agenda through a wide ranging lens, not only maximising the multicultural talent pool but actively addressing the bias, assumptions and stereotypes associated with the well-known term ‘bamboo ceiling’,” Swiegers said.

“Like many other organisations we are on a journey. By understanding, appreciating, and leveraging the cultural diversity Australia has to offer we will collectively advance local and global business opportunities for Australian businesses in the Asian Century.”

As part of the research DCA surveyed more than 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds who are working at more than 100 Australian organisations, to collect their insights into perceived barriers and enablers of their careers.

Survey participants came from a range of industries including professional, scientific and technical services; financial and insurance services; information media and telecommunications; education and training; health care and social assistance; public administration and safety; electricity, gas, water and waste services; transport, postal and warehousing; mining; construction; manufacturing; agriculture, forestry and fishing; arts and recreation services; rental, hiring and real estate services; and retail trade.

DCA also conducted four Think Tanks with 40 Asian leaders and emerging leaders, and with 18 (largely non-Asian) business leaders and human resource management/diversity practitioners, to test our survey findings and the framework for action generated from the online survey.

An interactive executive summary can be found, here.

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