The Confirm: Why Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling is Proving More Difficult Than we Thought

The confirmation bias is widely acknowledged as the tendency to search for evidence or information, in order to validate one’s own beliefs or hypotheses.

And for those of us who hold ambitions of reaching the upper echelons of the corporate ladder, the belief is, and always has been, rather oversimplified: Work hard. Get good results in school. Get good results in university. Where possible, try to stay active and maintain a healthy social life. Maybe even do some networking. Where possible, try to be a good person, and perhaps the most difficult of all, try to get enough sleep.

My mother would always point to successful people on the news, turn to me and say some variation of “You see that person? They got to where they are by working hard, being smart, and paying their dues. If you want to be that successful, that’s exactly what you must do”.

Of course, being the son of two migrants who had to claw and scratch for a living in a strange new country, I understood exactly where she was coming from. However, a new study from the Diversity Council of Australia proves that there are other, unexpected determining factors when it comes to the attainment of success.

Introducing ‘The Confirm-Asi an Bias’

In their latest report, Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century, the DCA found that, amongst ASX200 companies, only 1.9% of executives identify as having Asian cultural origins, compared to 9.6% of the Australian community, which subsequently makes up 9.3% of the Australian labour force.

The survey, which comprised 300 ‘leaders and emerging leaders’ of Asian background, confirmed what many had already suspected about the Asian-Australian work ethic: 84% plan to advance to a very senior role, and an incredible 97% have ‘Asia capabilities’, including 77% having Asian language proficiency across 37 languages, and 72% having experience working, living, and/or studying across 20 Asian countries.

Ironically, study of the current workforce situation appears to indicate that you are more likely to get a job where Asian capability is required if you are non-Asian.

However, when asked about their level of work satisfaction, another statistical disparity emerges. Only 22% of those surveyed reported that they have worked in organisations that value cultural diversity, and only 20% are satisfied with their career progress and opportunities.

The effects of this are already being seen; with the report showing that Asian talent has begun moving elsewhere, with 30% reporting that they were likely, or very likely to leave their employer in the next year. What is perhaps most frightening about this, is for one in four about to leave, “negative cultural diversity factors in their organisation significantly influenced their decision”. In other words, race is the issue.

“Only 18% of Asian talent feel their workplaces are free of cultural diversity biases and stereotypes. Many regularly experience bias and stereotyping, including about their cultural identity, leadership capability, English proficiency, and age. Women from Asian backgrounds experience a ‘double disadvantage’.”

It seems shocking, especially considering that people of Asian cultural backgrounds make up a large proportion of university students, and being very well represented in graduate positions in businesses. In fact, a quick peruse through the ‘New Members’ page of this very magazine shows a significant proportion of those who possess names of Asian origin.

Why then, are Asians not progressing to the loftier heights of corporate success? The answer to that question would not be a simple one to answer, but it is almost certain that bias plays a significant role. In an environment where they must work harder in order to dispel preconceptions about their English proficiency, leadership capability and cultural identity, it is not hard to see why Asian talent is struggling to find success.

“By understanding, appreciating, and leveraging the cultural diversity Australia has to offer we will collectively advance local and global business opportunities for Australian businesses in the Asian Century,” – Giam Sweigers, CEO Deloitte

Putting aside the importance of equality in this day and age, it is worthy of mention that it is vital for businesses to acknowledge, and utilise the wealth of untapped cultural capital at their fingertips. It seems painfully clear to say, but must nonetheless be said, that in the Asian century, Asian capabilities will become the most sought after asset in those seeking graduate and executive positions.

“The irony that our research revealed was that you are more likely to get a job where Asian capability is required if you are non-Asian” –Lisa Annese, CEO Diversity Council

The future of Asian talent in Australia will reach a crucial turning point, wherein it will thrive and, in turn, see the economy reap the rewards, or it will simply move elsewhere. One thing however, is for certain. It will require change on an institutional level before the bamboo ceiling comes even close to breaking.

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