The Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, released on Sunday, advocates a third of board members in Australia’s 200 largest listed companies, along with a third of senior leadership in the public service, to have “deep experience in and knowledge of Asia”.
The report suggests such goals be incorporated into the ASX’s reporting guidelines. Currently, companies have to report on their gender diversity through an ‘if not why not’ regime (if boards don’t appoint women, they have to explain why not). The report also suggests the Australian Institute of Company Directors could play a role by incorporating Asian “cultural competency” education into its company director course, completed by most Australian corporate board members.
John Colvin, the CEO of the institute, told LeadingCompany yesterday that while the AICD was open to the white paper’s suggestions, boards were already tied up with so many targets and regulations that one more wasn’t welcome.
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“I get nervous when people say we need so many red, blues, pinks or purples on our top boards in Australia,” he said. “These are some of the best boards in the world, and they will work out their need for diversity.”
But, in principle, most companies recognise the need to boost the ranks of executives with Asian experience.
Asialink is a University of Melbourne-affiliated body chaired by some of Australia’s biggest corporate chiefs, along with industry peak bodies and educational representatives. A report released last month and quoted in the white paper found most Australian businesses (74%) thought their future lay in Asia.
It also found companies that exceeded their own expectations of success in expanding into markets to our north often had senior business leaders who had cultural training, spoke an Asian language, or had lived or worked in Asia for more than three months.