Tag Archives: Asian Leadership

Smashing through the bamboo ceiling

Bamboo ceiling

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Dr Verghese was interviewed in ‘Smashing through the bamboo ceiling’ to discuss the processes and barriers that serve to exclude Asians or people of Asian descent from executive positions in Western-run organisations.

A provocative article that features some pragmatic strategies toward shattering the bamboo ceiling.

 

 

Meeting the Challenges of Cultural Diversity

Last week I was a panelist for the discussion “Building Cultural Capability Networks” to further explore findings from Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century research. The Diversity Council of Australia surveyed over 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds working in Australia.

One of the challenges that I came away with was a longstanding challenge – how do we get organisations to pay greater attention to cultural diversity in Australia?   There are many compelling reasons to support greater diversity within our organisations, and yet while our diverse workforce continues to expand, we continue to inadequately support it.

Although countries such as Australia (and many other countries around the world) are highly multicultural societies, I believe that part of the cultural diversity apathy that exists in the Australian workplace is in part due to a lack of awareness, education and biases.

Some of the breakthroughs that I believe are needed to overcome these persistent institutional cultural barriers are:

  • Organisations need to review, educate and revise their current practices, strategies and objectives in terms of employee hiring, promotion, mentoring and leadership models; including succession planning to promote cultural diversity.
  • Double sponsorship should be promoted. Companies such as IKEA have a sponsorship/mentorship program that requires two people to be responsible for hiring decisions and sharing the development responsibilities for that individual.
  • Leaders and recruitment staff need greater education around unconscious and conscious cultural biases and the complexities of cultural identity i.e. alternative leadership models and communication styles. They need greater awareness of their own biases and should be made more accountable for their decisions and actions.
  • Improved understanding and appreciation of the value that cultural diversity brings to organisations and the ‘know how’ and skills to actually leverage these differences.
  • Senior Leaders must demonstrate their commitments to cultural diversity programs by truly getting behind them by modelling them through their actions and behaviours.

I urge you to read the Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century.

Diversity and Inclusion From an Asian Perspective

DIAN

Earlier this year I contributed to and reviewed a research paper – Examining Diversity & Inclusion From an Asian Perspective. The study was conducted by Community Business, a Hong Kong based organisation. The countries included in this study were Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Japan and China.

A previous study was a precursor to this paper. One of the findings was that diversity and inclusion in Asia are often considered western concepts that are sometimes at odds with local cultural norms and have little local relevance in the Asian context.

The purpose of this study was to:

  • Explore how relevant the concepts of diversity and inclusion are in Asia;
  • Uncover key diversity and inclusion dynamics at play in the different Asian markets;
  • Provide some recommendations for organisations to adapt their diversity and inclusion approaches that resonate locally.

This a very insightful paper that contains some really strong data and recommendations to support companies in their D & I strategies and approaches within the Asian context.

There were many interesting discussions in this paper, particularly the question “Is D & I a western construct.” The findings were that the majority of respondents agreed that it is a western concept – China (58%), Hong Kong (55%), Japan (61%) and Singapore (61%), India being the least at (21%). Interestingly, the Chinese and Japanese languages have no indigenous words for ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusion’, therefore the loosely translated words can be difficult for people to relate to. As each country is considered in their own context, the findings are an accurate display of the key D & I dynamics within each particular country included in this study.

Improved awareness of unconscious bias, greater transparency and continuous auditing of management processes, greater understanding of the importance of face, hierarchy and harmony; and addressing the assumption that proficiency in English equates to professional expertise are just some of the dynamics that this paper identifies.

The paper highlights the need for organisations to rethink their current D & I strategies, and the value of facilitating discussions with key stakeholders on the ground. Organisations must invest resources to support engagement with these key stakeholders in a bid to gain accurate understandings of the most pertinent issues at local levels. Only through this exposure can these issues be addressed in a culturally appropriate methodology.

Click here if you would like further information on this paper.

The Cultural Ceiling

lanternsI wanted to bring to your attention this month a recently released report that I had the good fortune of contributing to by way of a focus group.  The study was conducted by the Diversity Council Australia in partnership with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and IBM Australia, amongst others.  The research report ‘Cracking the Cultural Ceiling’ was based on a survey of more than 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds who were working within Australia.  My apologies to the international readers for this ‘parochial’ topic but I think you will be able to see some applications for this in your own countries.

There is a lot of focus currently in Australia about ‘Embracing the Asian Century’ and providing goods and services to the fastest growing region in the world.  The study looked at why, despite large numbers of entry level and middle level Asian managers, there are so few Asian leaders reaching the top in Australian organisations; and further how Australian organisations could realise the promise and potential of Asian talent.

Some of the key barriers that were identified as locking out Asian talent in Australia were:

  • Cultural bias and stereotyping
  • Westernised leadership models
  • Lack of relationship capital
  • The case for culture is misunderstood

This report highlights the under-representation of Asian leadership that is fundamentally hurting Australian organisations.  Given that 46% of Australian consumers are born overseas or have at least 1 parent born overseas, that over ¾ of Australia’s exports go to Asia and that by 2030 Asia will account for 60% of the global middle-class consumption, studies such as this deserve attention.

When I read statistics such as 30% of Asian talent are likely to leave their employer within the next year and that only 17% strongly agree that their organisations usilise their Asia capabilities well, indicates that Asian talent is being seriously undervalued and under-leveraged. The impact that this has on organisations, not just in terms of talent, but also innovation potential and the impact on existing and possible international markets, demonstrates wasted opportunities within the Australian landscape.  While ‘Cracking the Cultural Ceiling’ was an Australian based study, barriers such as those identified here continue to exist in a similar vein in other Western countries. You can also extrapolate this to other categories such as gender, generational, LGBT, the disabled and others.

Leadership needs to be re-defined, it isn’t a singular stationary model. Cultural intelligence needs to be built into the organisational DNA, it needs to be a business as usual process.  Cultural intelligence can assist organisations to navigate themselves successfully through the ambiguity and ever changing business and talent landscapes that exist even in local/domestic markets let alone cross-border markets.

While I support recommendations from this report such as improved leadership models, unconscious bias training, improved mentoring and professional networks of workers with Asian backgrounds, we need to take one-step back.  Before any of these can be implemented one of the key challenges I see is around supporting organisations to realise that the cultural ceiling does in fact exist within their organisations.  There needs to be a level of candidness that exposes organisational deficiencies, such as the under-valuing and under-representation of workforces and the cultural biases and stereotypes that continue to persist. This can be a confronting and intimidating exercise to say the least; hence it needs to be conducted in a supportive and well-planned manner that is deemed as the next step in the organisational growth structure.