Australian businesses are on the cusp of a massive opportunity with Asia expected to become the world’s largest economic region. Asia’s rising and increasingly wealthy middle-class is set to provide opportunities for business owners and those in the professional services.
The Australia in the Asian Century white paper released over the weekend outlines 25 key objectives for making the most of Australia’s place in the region – including a target that 30% of ASX-listed board positions will be filled by individuals with Asia expertise by 2025.
While much of the focus is on developing language skills for school-aged kids, women at the beginning, middle and end of their careers also have the opportunity to get involved.
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You can try and become fluent in Mandarin, take a 12-month posting in Vietnam, or prepare to do a two-year masters degree in Asian culture.
But if you’re like almost everyone else with commitments other than being part of the Asian Century, then the above might be unrealistic.
What we can do is take a few simple steps to increase your awareness of the region. Dr Margaret Byrne from UGM Consulting launched an Asia skills training program for women on boards earlier this year. She told Women’s Agenda some steps women can start taking today to develop an arsenal of Asia skills.
They’re skills that are realistic, practical and easily portable from one country to another.
1. Get motivated
If the amount of news coverage on the white paper isn’t enough, then go and do some additional reading. It’s difficult to get motivated to gain the necessary skills required if you’re not excited about what such knowledge can offer. The facts and figures regarding the rise of Asia are inspiring. So start by checking out what former secretary Ken Henry has to say about it.
2. Build some cultural knowledge
Get the basics down. Take a holiday or extend a business trip and start to notice a few more things regarding the ways people do business – even just from within a market. Get involved in popular culture by reading Asian books, watching Asian films and attending Asian festivals. Keep up-to-date with world news in the region. “It’s a great way to learn about a culture from an armchair,” says Bynre
3. Learn a little bit of a language
In Asia, people do business with people they trust and some language skills can go a long way in breaking the ice.
“Don’t think you have to learn Mandarin from A to Z,” says Byrne – which is a relief for those of who have other stuff going on. A few lines to aid social conversation will help and can be easily picked up during a community centre course.
Be able to talk about your family and where you come from. Here’s a language tip from Byrne: “Learn to say, ‘I’m only here for a short while. I really want to come back, what do you recommend I see?’. It’s a great way breakdown barriers on a short business trip.”
4. Appreciate different value systems and skills
There are three key skills good cross-cultural communicators have, according to Byrne, and they can make all the difference.
The first is being able to clarify meaning – essentially paraphrasing something back to an individual to show you understand or you’re at least willing to work on your understanding of what they’re trying to say. The second is the ability to repair misunderstandings and the third to manage disagreements. “Over the long term, beyond the honeymoon period, you’re going to have disagreements and you need to manage them,” says Byrne.
5. Find indirect ways to explain why you’re special
This is particularly difficult for Australians and a skill that takes some creative thinking, according to Byrne. Don’t brag, but don’t miss an opportunity to explain exactly what you can offer and why you’re special.
This works best with an introduction, but can also be managed by dropping small hints, such as a website URL or LinkedIn profile, that’ll direct the person you’re doing business with to sourcing more information about you. Dress particularly well for any initial introduction, and relax the attire as people get to know you.
Meanwhile, it’s important to appreciate Asian cultures are based on a hierarchical structure, which should be respected during all interactions.
This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.