In the Asian Century it’s time to look at the make up of our boards and lead­er­ship struc­tures writes Pamela Young.

Business First - - FRONT PAGE - Pamela Young is a strate­gic change con­sul­tant.

Aus­tralia looks like a mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion on paper, with 47% of 1 our pop­u­la­tion hav­ing at least one par­ent born over­seas. But mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is clearly not ev­i­dent at the top lev­els of govern­ment and in­dus­try. In Tony Ab­bott’s new Cab­i­net, for in­stance, there is not one per­son of non-An­glo-Saxon de­scent and in a re­view of our top-tier ASX100 com­pa­nies, only 3% of our busi­ness lead­ers were born in Asia2. With a sim­i­lar paucity of non-An­glo-Saxon people on the ex­ec­u­tive teams of most Aus­tralian businesses, it has to be said that, while Aus­tralia has the mul­ti­cul­tural num­bers, we are a long way from be­ing a truly di­verse so­ci­ety.

Go­ing for­ward, we need to ask our­selves, ‘Why haven’t many more im­mi­grants who have made Aus­tralia their home since WWII fea­tured more promi­nently as lead­ers in busi­ness, so­ci­ety and govern­ment?’ and ‘What im­pli­ca­tions will our lack of cul­tural di­ver­sity at the top of our or­gan­i­sa­tions have for our fu­ture?’

How might we have fared if we had more fully utilised the skills and ex­pe­ri­ence of all the people that now call Aus­tralia home?

In the 21st century, as the world continues to glob­alise and work­force mo­bil­ity in­creases, we need to con­sider our global po­si­tion. If we con­tinue on our present path, not en­cour­ag­ing and nur­tur­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity at the top lev­els of our or­gan­i­sa­tions, the world will no­tice. The net ef­fect is likely to dampen our prospects for in­ter­na­tional trade and limit our growth po­ten­tial with our clos­est neigh­bours in Asia.

How we can move for­ward? We must adapt to sur­vive. The Aus­tralian econ­omy is too small and growth of just 2.5-3% an­nu­ally is too low to sus­tain the qual­ity of life to which we have be­come ac­cus­tomed.

The ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion is to close the ‘cul­tural gap’ be­tween our is­land home and Asia, our fast-grow­ing neigh­bours. In do­ing so, we face a chal­lenge: many Euro­pean na­tions have made ear­lier and greater com­mit­ments to work­ing with Asia and now un­der­stand their cus­toms, prac­tices and their lan­guages. They

are sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pe­ri­enced at work­ing cross-cul­tur­ally than us. While we re­tain the ad­van­tage of prox­im­ity, op­er­at­ing in the same time zone, be­ing neigh­bours alone won’t be enough if we fail to build re­la­tion­ships and com­mu­ni­cate with­out shared mean­ings.

How do we be­come com­pet­i­tive in the Asian century? Firstly, we can en­cour­age greater cul­tural di­ver­sity in the workplace in Aus­tralia at all lev­els. This would im­prove our do­mes­tic pro­duc­tiv­ity and per­for­mance, and al­low us to de­velop greater skills for op­er­at­ing across Asia. By work­ing along­side people of dif­fer­ent cul­tures, our lead­ers could deepen their un­der­stand­ing – and de­velop or­gan­i­sa­tional ca­pa­bil­ity – for work­ing with the many cul­tures that make up the work­force of our Asian neigh­bours.

Sec­ondly, we could en­cour­age and re­ward those who have taken the time to learn the lan­guages that will help us forge new re­la­tion­ships with our Asian neigh­bours. Shar­ing lan­guages builds so­cial co­he­sion, im­proves cul­tural un­der­stand­ing and builds re­spect, co­op­er­a­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity in the workplace. Lan­guage is more than words; it helps us to un­der­stand­ing cul­tural dif­fer­ences, at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours. As we strengthen our lan­guage abil­i­ties, re­la­tion­ships with trade part­ners are more likely to im­prove.

When I in­ter­viewed Aus­tralian ex­pa­tri­ates work­ing in China for my book, ‘Step­ping Up’, they told me that the for­eign­ers who were con­nect­ing best with Chi­nese busi­ness­peo­ple were Rus­sians, Ger­mans and Ital­ians be­cause they spoke Man­darin and were cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive to the Chi­nese way of do­ing things. By con­trast, I heard that some Aus­tralians op­er­at­ing in China who hadn’t taken the time to learn Man­darin, were con­sid­ered cul­tur­ally in­sen­si­tive or ar­ro­gant, es­pe­cially when they pre­sumed ‘their way was bet­ter’.

On the in­ter­na­tional stage, we stand out as be­ing mono­lin­gual and mono­cul­tural. We can change both these con­di­tions if we are pre­pared to in­vest in our de­vel­op­ment: to ad­vance our so­ci­ety and cul­ture, we must re­alise that our project of build­ing a true mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety is not yet com­plete. Aus­tralia has come a long way in en­cour­ag­ing and em­brac­ing di­ver­sity and in learn­ing to em­brace the cul­tures and cui­sine of many races. Yet the facts re­main. The project isn’t com­plete. In the top jobs in in­dus­try, busi­ness and govern­ment we don’t have true egal­i­tar­ian lead­er­ship with many races – it’s just a few.

How do we go about in­vest­ing in the fu­ture? There is a broad dis­cus­sion in ‘Step­ping Up’ about how to ad­dress the chal­lenges of our is­land cul­ture, but let me share this ex­tract, which il­lus­trates what we are up against as a na­tion on the world stage:

“Learn­ing for­eign lan­guages to ad­vance the na­tion’s people is a pri­or­ity else­where:

• In China chil­dren get one class of

English tu­ition each week­day

• 21 of the 31 Euro­pean coun­tries re­quire stu­dents to study an­other lan­guage for at least nine years (and the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment is in favour of pupils learn­ing two for­eign lan­guages cit­ing mul­ti­lin­gual­ism as ‘a na­tions great po­ten­tial’);

• In Switzer­land it is com­pul­sory to learn two for­eign lan­guages from age eight: gen­er­ally three hours per week;

• In Nor­way, Malta and Lux­em­bourg lan­guage learn­ing starts at age six;

• In Ger­man-speak­ing parts of Bel­gium and Spain they start at the age of three.’

Ex­tract from Step­ping Up:

Lead cul­ture change for di­ver­sity and growth in the Asian century. The cul­tur­ally savvy heads of state of these na­tions have in­vested in lan­guage learn­ing that re­flects their lo­cal pop­u­la­tion as it helps to build so­cial co­he­sion, plus they are in­vest­ing in lan­guages that will equip them to be in­ter­na­tion­ally com­pet­i­tive.

In con­trast, the pri­mary school cur­ricu­lum in Aus­tralian pro­vides only one hour of lan­guage learn­ing each week. In Great Bri­tain stu­dents only come into con­tact with an­other lan­guage at the age of 11. And in the USA, stu­dents are aged 14 years be­fore they start learn­ing a lan­guage!

What are the busi­ness costs of not mak­ing the change? Coun­tries, cities, in­dus­tries and businesses that re­sist build­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity will con­tinue to block growth and op­por­tu­nity for them­selves and their people. The world is mov­ing and if you don’t move ahead of it or with it, you get left be­hind.

Those who fail to build cul­tur­ally di­verse work groups and em­brace Asians and other people who live in Aus­tralia are less equipped to recog­nise the di­verse needs of their cus­tomers and share­hold­ers. Our cul­ture must be freed to evolve: it is an eco­nomic im­per­a­tive that we al­low other cul­tures to blend into the pre­vail­ing na­tional cul­ture and re­flect all of Aus­tralia.

12011 Cen­sus – Aus­tralia Bureau of Sta­tis­tics Gen­er­a­tions in Aus­tralia. First gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralians are people liv­ing in Aus­tralia who were born over­seas. This is a di­verse group of people in­clud­ing Aus­tralian cit­i­zens, per­ma­nent res­i­dents and long-term tem­po­rary res­i­dents. In 2011, there were 5.3 mil­lion first gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralians (27% of the pop­u­la­tion)(a). Sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralians are Aus­tralian-born people liv­ing in Aus­tralia, with at least one over­seas-born par­ent. In 2011, there were 4.1 mil­lion sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralians (20% of the pop­u­la­tion)(a). Third-plus gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralians are Aus­tralian-born people whose par­ents were both born in Aus­tralia. One or more of their grand­par­ents may have been born over­seas or they may have sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of an­ces­tors born in Aus­tralia. This group also in­cludes most Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der people. In 2011, there were 10.6 mil­lion third-plus gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralians (53% of the pop­u­la­tion). 2http://­tional/board­s_­fail_asi­a_born_test_ec9rDQEC9Y8viIB8walxRL

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