Asian Australian Foundation Looks to Empower Women Through Giving
12 October 2017 at 1:54 pm
A new initiative that brings Asian-Australian women together to share experiences of discrimination in the workplace and develop leadership skills through philanthropy is set to be launched, looking to “empower women through giving”.
The Gathering Circle was created by the Asian Australian Foundation (AAF), whose founder Cheri Ong said Asian-Australian women were often subjected to both conscious and unconscious bias at work, and deserved to feel empowered through leadership and contribution.
Ong, who was the first Asian-Australian women to be a Chief Operating Officer with KPMG in Asia Pacific, told Pro Bono News that The Gathering Circle wanted to create greater recognition for Asian-Australian women.
“I started the foundation to give Asian-Australians a platform to practise leadership through giving. Being a leader is about contribution and giving. The Gathering Circle focuses on the female aspect of this,” Ong said.
“I think there is a gap in the market in terms of recognition for Asian-Australian women and what they can do. And I found there’s a real desire in this section of the community to do something more positive and have the opportunities to practise leadership.”
Ong said Asian-Australian women in the workplace were often overlooked and “just got ignored”.
“We are sort of the invisible workforce and I think in a very real way we get stereotyped and [aren’t given] a voice,” she said.
“There’s a sort of recognition that Asian-Australian women are qualified and good workers, but no one gives us a second look. That’s an experience that most Asian-Australian women share and it’s frustrating because if you look past that first stereotypical veneer, you’ll find most Asian-Australian women, especially in corporate life, are extremely well-qualified, well-focused and are extremely ambitious.
“But they are often not given the opportunity to practise leadership and when you don’t have these opportunities, you don’t necessarily develop the skills to be a leader.”
This lack of opportunity was highlighted by a recent report from the University of Sydney and the Diversity Council Australia (DCA), which found there were a number of key barriers locking out culturally diverse women in the workplace, borne from a combination of gender and cultural biases.
As a result, only 2 per cent of ASX directors are culturally diverse women, and Ong said this was an area which Australia could look to Asia for inspiration.
“There are very few woman from an ethnic background on ASX boards and I think if you look at the Diversity Council’s report, you’ll see there is a huge loss of talent there,” Ong said.
“The biggest issue is that we just get ignored. There is often the assumption that Asian-Australian women are very quiet, and don’t have anything to say, when nothing could be further from the truth.
“In Asia, a fair chunk of CEOs are women, so I’m not sure why in Australia this is not the case, but our foundation hopes to gather the collective force of these women into a giving force… so that people can notice we’re here.”
The Gathering Circle aims to bring women together to share their resources, knowledge and experiences to mutually benefit others.
Ong said this focus on connecting women with other like-minded professionals would help foster greater understanding about shared experiences and build strong role model relationships.
“Well for one, the networking is important. A number of times, when Asian-Australian women come together, I’ve had a response of ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were going through this as well’. So it’s about talking through things that Asian-Australian women perhaps think they are the only ones going through, because there’s strength in that kind of sharing,” she said.
“But also I think they look for role models. Without having a role model, how do you aspire to be one?”
The initiative also has a strong focus on philanthropy and Ong said this was in line with the AAF’s broader mission to “enable and promote collective giving in the Asian Australian community”.
“Women are natural givers which is a real strength and nothing to be ashamed of. And I think leadership is about giving, and philanthropy is essentially about a giving attitude and mindset,” Ong said.
“The word philanthropy in some cultures doesn’t actually exist, not in the nature we think of philanthropy. I’m told in the Chinese language, there isn’t an exact word-for-word translation of philanthropy, which was a really interesting concept to turn my mind around.
“So it’s about changing your mindset as well. This is a way of positive contribution and if you want to change the mindset and stereotypes, it takes active steps to change the default position. And that’s why we have the tagline for our Gathering Circle to empower women through giving.”