Blasting through the bamboo ceiling

Jenny Taing learnt about responsibility and leadership from a young age. Growing up as the eldest child of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees was tough. Taing’s mother and father, who did not speak English, were both employed in a factory and the family lived in a housing commission.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

“I remember when I was 9 years old, my parents purchased their first home and, as the eldest in the family with the most advanced English at grade 2 primary school level, I had to translate for the whole purchase,” she says.

"While I come from a diverse background and had different perspectives, I always lead with my intellect and the contribution I can make.” – Jenny Taing

Taing knew education was the key to empowerment and was the first in her family to go to university, studying Arts/Law at the University of Melbourne and later Harvard Business School on the Hugh DT Williamson Scholarship awarded by the Financial Institute of Australasia (FINSIA).

It was during her graduate year working at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) that her board career and community work began.

“Mum had been complaining of an infection in her eye for a number of days and so I took her to The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. The patient journey of going to the emergency department and then being admitted to hospital is a vulnerable experience but incredibly more challenging as a refugee who doesn’t speak English,” she says.

This experience motivated Jenny to become a member of the hospital’s community advisory committee and subsequently, four years later at the age of 29, she was appointed to the board of the hospital by the Victorian Health Minister, making her the youngest board director ever appointed. Youth though, or her background, were not front of mind: “While I come from a diverse background and had different perspectives, I always lead with my intellect and the contribution I can make,” she says.

Having started her career at ASIC and then moving into the private sector working for Vanguard Investments Australia, Taing now works at Hive Legal. The challenge she sees is that while there are many finance and law graduates each year from a culturally diverse background, this is not reflected in the leadership positions held in the Australian corporate sector.

The ‘bamboo ceiling’ is a real thing and it’s important that we challenge and discuss unconscious bias and how we identify leaders and leadership potential.

Asked what has helped her break through the ‘bamboo ceiling’, Taing says mentoring and sponsorship have been critical.

One of the most influential mentors in Taing’s leadership journey was former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. “His strong belief in multiculturalism and the contribution that refugees can make to Australia is so inspiring,” she says. “My parents were able to come to Australia because of his humanitarian policy and as the children of refugees, we as the next generation continue to make contributions to Australia, its identity and culture.”

Taing’s view of mentorship is expansive: “I think it’s important to have mentors from a range of sectors not just the one you work in, you can get great insights from people from all walks of life,” she says.

Throughout her career, Taing has been a financial services lawyer and board director and has served on a number of government and not- for- profit boards, including Screen Australia, The Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) - and the Western Bulldogs Football Club Community Foundation.

The final one may strike some as unexpected but Taing says she feels like AFL has changed so much since she was growing up. “We now have a thriving AFLW competition [for women]. Community and diversity is at the heart of the Western Bulldogs club and I am so proud of the great work we do in the West and engaging with the local community.”

Taing is also a former Commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission. On the Queen’s birthday in 2020, she received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to the financial and investment sectors and to the community.

For those in the financial services sector, Taing says following the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, there are some great lessons and opportunities to think about the importance of diversity in leadership and how this translates into better corporate culture and outcomes. As we have seen so often, she shares the view diversity in leadership and thinking can facilitate a greater exchange of different ideas, promote better decision making and innovation.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has also seen the sector getting involved and supporting those in the community doing it tough. It’s an incredibly important time for us to reflect about leadership and our role in the community.

Julie Chai is the Founder and CEO of the Asian Leadership Project. She has over 15 years’ experience in private, public and not-for-profit sectors working in Diversity and Inclusion, Organisational Development and Human Resources.

The 2021 Asian Leadership Project National Conference - of which ANZ is Gold Sponsor - aims to help raise awareness and discuss these issues. This year’s conference is being held over two days on the 24th- 25th of February and includes speakers from the corporate and public sector, academia as well as a prominent TV personality. In addition, the Project delivers an outstanding professional development program including the Board and C-Suite experience series, educational masterclasses, speed mentoring events, networking and more.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

09 Feb 2021

I may be the first… but I won’t be the last

Katrina Rathie | Partner in Charge - Sydney, King & Wood Mallesons

People from minority communities need to be able to see people like them in the highest positions and know they too can make it.

17 Feb 2021

Unearthing a new layer of diverse leadership

Fiona MacDonald | Diversity & Inclusion Lead, ANZ

Diversity in the c-suite must go beyond gender and recognise ethnic and cultural backgrounds also have an integral role in success.