Is a 'Bamboo Curtain' costing Australian business dear? | Asia Pacific

Is a 'Bamboo Curtain' costing Australian business dear?

Is a 'Bamboo Curtain' costing Australian business dear?

Updated 11 August 2014, 13:28 AEST

People with Asian backgrounds are vastly under-represented in the top echelons of Australian companies, despite being among the most capable and ambitious.

A new report has found that while almost 10 per cent of the Australian work forces is Asian, less than half than number ever make it to senior executive level.

Presenter: Tom Fayle

Speaker: Lisa Annese, head of the Diversity Council Australia

ANNESE: There's no one type of Asian, which is what we were trying to get out with the survey, with the research, that organisations are looking to improve on their capability in Asia, because we're moving towards the Asian Century, global power is shifting from the West to the East, by virtue of two very large economies which look likely to supersede the United States in the next decade. We know that our trading partners and our future as an economy is with its links to Asia and we are operating in a global market place, where the business day doesn't finish when the Australian stock Market bell closes. And so what we need is to be able to operate across these borders. In order to operate across these borders, you need a diverse group of Asian talent to be able to do that, because you cannot group all Asian companies in the same, if you're dealing with an organisation whose head office is in Japan, you need people with very different skills to those who are perhaps dealing with the Indian subcontinent. And so irrespective of where the people are newly arrived or whether they've been here for awhile or whether it's intergenerational, we actually need the diverse range of Asian capability to ensure that our workforces are sustainable and flexible enough to carry on into the Asian Century.
 
FAYLE: And is that why you're focusing on the Asian community, in particular, because, after all, as you've pointed out, all sorts of groups are under-represented at a senior level?
 
ANNESE: Yes, we are. I suppose the reason we are is because there's so much talk in the business community about the Asian Century. No-one's talking about the European Century, no-one's talking about the century in the Pacific Islands, no-one's talking about the century in the Balkans, everyone's talking about the Asian Century. That's where the new economy is, that's the new world in terms of food and trade and business operations.
 
So we thought well OK. Organisations are talking about this, but are they really ready? I mean we look at the way people of Asian identity perform at school, outstanding.  We look at the way they perform at university, outstanding. We look at graduate entry level into businesses, very well represented. And then we get to executives, and less than 1.9 of executives identify as being Asian, so something is going wrong. And surely, if one of the things that we have to do is become competent in the Asian Century, we need people who have got Asian capability and the irony of this that our research revealed was that you are more likely to get a job where Asian capability is required if you are non-Asian, but have had some expat experience in Asia or have studied Asian studies, such is the degree of exclusion from the leadership model.
 
And that's an unfathomable sort of thing to me, because I just think it would make natural sense if you had a group coming through your organisation who are already part of the culture and that culture was where your organisation was heading in the business model, that you would tap into those resources.
 
FAYLE: And what about other areas of public life, such as government, law and medicine. Do we know what the situation is there or did you not survey that?
 
ANNESE: We didn't survey that, but we have noted in our meta-analysis that there are only four Asian members of parliament and that is people who identify as being Asian, only one vice-chancellor I believe of an Australian University, which again, if you think about international students are one of our biggest exports is also interesting and not very obvious in other forms of public life. So we want to move away from the folk dancing and food festival idea of cultural diversity into what it really means which is people who bring all sorts of assets from different parts of the world.
 

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