Australian businesses failing to capitalise on Asian talent with “bamboo ceiling”: survey

Australian businesses failing to capitalise on Asian talent with “bamboo ceiling”: survey

Australian businesses greatly undervalue workers from Asian backgrounds, according to research released today by the Diversity Council Australia.

The council surveyed more than 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds who work in Australia, with just 17% of respondents agreeing the organisation they work for use their Asia capabilities very well.

Instead, more than 80% of respondents said they believe some form of cultural diversity biases or stereotypes exist in their workplace, giving weight to the council’s claim a “bamboo ceiling” exists in Australian businesses.

Just 18% of respondents said their workplaces are free of cultural bias or stereotypes.

The council found 4.9% of Australian senior executives are Asian-born, despite 9.3% of the Australian labour force being born in Asia. When it comes to ASX200 companies, just 1.9% of senior executives have Asian cultural backgrounds.

Australian businesses have significant room for improvement when it comes to harnessing the talent of employees with Asian backgrounds, with just 15% of survey respondents believing the organisation they work for takes advantage of workforce cultural diversity to better service clients and 12% believing their workplaces utilise their diverse workforces to enter new markets.

The survey found talented workers from Asian backgrounds are ambitious, with 84% of survey respondents indicating they are working towards senior roles and their strongest career driver is challenging work.

But almost a third of respondents said they are likely or very likely to leave their current employer within the next 12 months. Of these respondents, one in four said their decision to look for other employment was influenced by negative cultural diversity factors.

Lisa Annese, chief executive of the Diversity Council, told SmartCompany while the council has previously attempted to quantify how many Asian workers made it into senior executive roles in Australia, this is the first time the council has looked into the causes.

Annese says the key finding of the survey is the widespread prevalence of cultural biases and stereotypes in Australian companies against workers from Asian backgrounds, which is “really inconsistent with what is happening at universities and schools and in graduate recruitment”.

“The leadership model that many [companies] aspire to is a Western leadership model, based on white, European or Caucasian males, with traditional families,” says Annese.

“And if you sit outside that group, including women, you have to make adaptations. But you can’t change your race and you often can’t change people’s perceptions of your race.”

Annese says the survey also highlighted a lack of “relationship capital” or mentoring and professional networking opportunities for Asian workers in Australia, which can be the key to building leadership skills.

Based on the research, Annese says the Diversity Council “believes the case for culture is not really well understood” among Australian businesses.

“People talk about the Asian century … but they are more likely to recruit people with Asian experience but not Asian backgrounds,” she says.

“It seems like a waste of resources.”

Annese says small businesses can begin to address the diversity of their workplaces by first looking at their existing teams.

“Many people have assumptions about how people identify … so it starts with a conversation with who you’ve got and what capability you have,” she says.

“If big businesses are not capitalising, it seems to me you would be more likely to find this talent in small businesses.”


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