Too often we are thinking of going outside to Asia and succeeding that way without understanding if we focus inwards as well and succeed here first that will make success in Asia all the more easier.
For Asian leaders in Australia, there are clearly ‘blockages’ – if you can call them that.
If you look at the kinds of graduates we are pumping out from our universities, the high-achieving students, there’s no issue with diversity being represented. The question here is what's happening to those high achievers when they get into the workforce after five years? Or seven? Or 10, or 15?
Because you would think after 15 years in the workforce they would be coming through in roughly proportionate numbers - at least if we think the kind of technical ability and skills developed through university is any proxy for talent. And clearly it is.
What that says to me is a number of things. One, you might have structures within organisations which aren’t yet genuinely open to diversity. So you might have assumptions about who is fit to lead and who is fit to do certain types of work.
Perhaps here what you'll see is culturally diverse talent being seen as the technicians rather than dealers or managers.
And then on top of this there might be some cultural defects on the part of diverse talent which militates against them being rewarded in a commensurate manner.
This idea that ‘well, I let my work speak for itself. I don't need to sell my wares’. That’s a very classical Asian assumption to have. But in an Anglo-Australian context that's a sure recipe for failure.
There’s a saying ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’. The Chinese counterpart is ‘the loudest duck gets shot’.
SE: It’s interesting you say that as those exact words would be fitting if we were sitting here on a panel talking about gender diversity.
TS: Yes, I think there are clear parallels, as you rightly say. It’s important for us to apply some of the lessons learned there.
I think it’s important for senior leaders in business to recognise this is a priority. If those at the top of the tree don’t signal this is important it’s not going to be treated as such. That’s perhaps where we've fallen behind a little on cultural diversity more generally.
I have it said to me all the time, ‘well, it's not that we don't care about your issue but we already set targets for gender and Indigenous employment. But once we get those things bedded down we can deal with cultural diversity’.
That to me is a deferral into infinity and it doesn't allow for organisations to get on the front foot.
JC: For me there are three key barriers locking out Asian Australian leaders today: the lack of relationship capital - the ‘networking capital’; the non-stop stereotypes and biases that are placed on us; and the fact people feel the need to conform to the Westernised leadership model.
Shane White is senior production editor at bluenotes