A business lobby group is appealing to Australian employers to do more to promote and unlock the potential of their staff from Asian backgrounds.
Diversity Council Australia says Asian-Australians are vastly under-represented in executive positions and on company boards.
The council claims the Australian economy will ultimately suffer unless businesses are more prepared to tap into the linguistic diversity of their staff to help the country expand its reach into growing overseas markets.
Diversity Council Australia has surveyed over 300 Asian-Australian senior executives, managers and professionals.
Its research has found that while around nine percent of the nation’s labour force is Asian-born, they make up less than five percent of senior executives.
And as far as companies listed on the Australian stock exchange are concerned, Asian-born workers make up less than two per cent of the executives.
That compares with nearly ten percent of the Australian community as a whole.
The Chief Executive Officer of Diversity Council Australia Lisa Annese says many businesses are missing out on a lot of long-term economic benefits through not broadening their recruitment.
“Given our dependency on trade as a country, given the fact that many organisations are targeting Asian countries in terms of their business targets and objectives, it should follow that Asian background and Asian identity are at least equally valued in organisations. So the business case is actually really clear from a commercial point of view.”
The DCA research found many Asian-Australian workers struggle with westernised leadership models in place in most Australian workplaces.
These models tend to favour workers who promote themselves directly to senior staff.
Asian leadership models, by contrast, tend to value employees who are more reserved and who demonstrate more respect for seniority.
Vietnamese-Australian business director Vivienne Nguyen has worked for over 20 years across the banking and insurance sector.
She believes Australian businesses need to start factoring in culturally diverse leadership models to help ensure Asian-Australians get the same opportunities for promotion.
“We are brought up to think that we don’t necessarily have to blow our own trumpet- it doesn’t fit in with our culture, whereas in the Australian environment- the western leadership style, blowing your own trumpet is a necessity.”
Vietnamese-Australian Jenny Taing is a senior lawyer with the Australian Security and Investments Commission.
She is also a non executive director of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and of the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.
Her parents migrated to Australia from Vietnam by boat in the 1970s and she was the first person in her family to pursue a tertiary education.
Ms Taing says she found it initially quite difficult to achieve success without the support of mentors in a workplace where Asian-Australians are often misunderstood.
“From my own journey, what’s been critical is sort of having a sponsor and a mentor and leaders I guess from the established Anglo-Saxon culture who are your champions and I think that’s helped me in my career progression and in expanding my networks. So I think that’s quite a critical piece in that sort of success in the corporate sector.”
The DCA report found many Asian-Australians struggle to access the same mentors and professional networks as other Australians.
Alongside that, many also felt somewhat excluded from workplace social activities which could help them access important networking opportunities.
Business director Vivienne Nguyen says there are cultural factors that impact upon that too.
Ms Nguyen says in order to be more culturally inclusive, Australian workplaces could arrange more social functions around multicultural food festivals.
Lawyer Jenny Taing believes more businesses will start shifting their workplace practices once they start coming to terms with the economic benefits that come from having a culturally and linguistically diverse staff.
“I think economics is always a starting point for change. With cultural diversity, there’s research that shows that having a more culturally diverse workplace and culturally diverse thinking does help the bottom line. So I think there is nothing wrong with having that conversation as a starting point from an economic point of view.”