The New Asian-Australian Century forum wrap-up

Today, Australia’s relationship with Asia has never been stronger. Our workplaces are becoming more diverse; trade is constantly on the agenda; companies are grasping the business case for catering to customers from Asia.

But there’s still more work to do, especially at the top. According to the AHRC’s recent Leading For Change report, currently, only 1.6% of Australian CEOs and 3.3% of Australian C-Suite executives have an Asian cultural background – an alarming statistic further heightened by the fact that 21% of Australia’s population is non-European.

NEEOPA’s latest forum on the new Asian-Australian century could not have come at a better time.

Julie Chai, CEO and founder of the Asian Leadership Project, opened the forum by reflecting on the recent demand for action on leadership diversity, as well as Australia’s readiness to champion the Asian Leadership Project’s mission to fast-track diverse Asian talent into leadership.

Julie then introduced our expert panel members:

  • David Field, Chief Legal Counsel at Canon Australia

  • Swati Dave, MD and CEO at Export Finance Insurance Corporation (EFIC), Non-executive Director at Asia Society Australia and State Super

  • Marina Go, Chair at West Tigers NRL club, Office Brands, Non-Executive Director at Energy Australia, 7-Eleven, Autosports Group ASX:ASG, Ovarian Cancer Australia and Author

  • Vajira Weerasekera, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft Services Asia and Author

To recap, here are some take-home points from the forum:

Face reality: we live in an increasingly diverse world

Inclusive cultures are a requirement of modern commerce. To move forward, Australian organisations must grasp that an increasing number of their customers come from diverse Asian backgrounds. To put ourselves in their shoes, we need diverse boards that understand what people from different cultural backgrounds desire and require.

Asia must also be front of mind, especially when it comes to international trade. Our relationship with Asia is key in how we can boost Australian exports and create more trade – not to mention more opportunities.

Lead change from above

Seeing different people on boards and in leadership teams shows everyone what is possible. It symbolically communicates what is acceptable in the community, and helps to build a pipeline of future leaders.

We can also never underestimate the importance of organisational mission, purpose and messaging from the CEO. For example, Microsoft’s mission is “to serve the world, they need to represent the world”. Organisations should consider how their mission translates into Diversity & Inclusion goals.

Culturally embrace difference

Culture is what allows diversity to thrive, making it the ‘norm’ rather than the exception. To change culture, leaders and hiring managers need to love and target difference, looking for people on the fringes; people who will drive the change and the culture you are looking for.

One important thing to remember: when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion, it’s and, not or. People can be Indian and Australian and female. This is the only way we will create organisations that celebrate people’s intersectionality.

Diversity affects our thinking too

We must foster a ‘learn it all’, not ‘know it all’, culture. In today’s dynamic and challenging world, organisation really need diversity of thought. We cannot afford to not think in new and different ways – we owe it to our investors, employees and teams.

We are all cognitively limited. To have any chance of responding to future changes, we must engage with people who view the world in different ways; who provoke and challenge us, and make us uncomfortable. Surrounding ourselves with different, clever people provides us with the opportunity to learn.

Examine your hiring practices

It’s critical that we consider diversity when hiring or working with suppliers. This may take more time, but it is so important to understand who someone is; what their name is; greet them in their own language and think about their potential – not just their past performance. There are plenty of helpful tools out there such as Textio, a program which reviews job descriptions and identifies gender bias and language.

We should look for people who will ‘raise the bar’ when we are hiring into teams. Organisations cannot afford to leave capability untapped, so it’s worth examining and challenging our preconceptions and expectations.

Vajira Weerasekera’s book, Motivating Mavericks: The Secret to High-Performing Teams, is now available for purchase. 100% of sale proceeds go to the charities Let Kids Fly and the Shanthi Foundation.

Thank you to Deloitte for hosting this forum.

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