Asian Australians are one of the fastest growing groups in Australia, yet they are almost invisible in leadership positions in the nation’s companies.
While one in five people have an Asian cultural heritage, only 3 per cent of senior management positions are held by Asian Australians.
Indeed, one study from Johnson & Partners revealed that 93 per cent of board members on ASX-listed companies have either an Anglo-Celtic or European background, while 94 per cent of top CEOs are of white or European heritage.
Chinese-born Will Liang arrived in Australia at the age of 16 by himself to pursue his education. Louie Douvis
The sub-par promotion paths for people with Asian backgrounds has been coined the bamboo ceiling, says Martine Letts, chief executive of Asialink, a think tank based at the University of Melbourne.
“There might be 20 per cent of Australians with an Asian cultural background, but this is not reflected at all in their promotion rates, their recruiting or their positioning at the CEO and director level,” Ms Letts said.
“Sometimes it’s racism, sometimes it’s not intentional, and often it is lack of familiarity and not being aware of the talent pool.”
Research from Monash University reveals that people with Asian Australian names are almost 60 per cent less likely to receive a call back from recruiters than people with an English name.
Ask Afghani-born lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh, who not only had to contend with an exotic name, but also that her degree in law and economics was from the very non-sandstone Western Sydney University.
“It wasn’t just that I was often the only Asian in the room, I was the only person with a headscarf and who graduated from Western Sydney,” said Ms Veiszadeh.
“It’s an uphill battle when in an area that is already competitive and very much based on who your contacts are and where you went to university.
“I had to find a creative way to navigate that first role as a graduate lawyer.”
Ms Veiszadeh was named the overall winner of the Asian-Australian Leadership Awards announced in Melbourne on Wednesday evening across six categories.
Have things improved over the past 15 years?
“Back in the days I could count the number of people with an Asian name on one hand. Now I can count them on more than two hands,” she said.
Chinese-born Will Liang, who won the business category, arrived in Australia at the age of 16 by himself to pursue his education – and learn English.
After completing high school and a false start studying law at the University of Sydney, he switched to computer engineering at the University of NSW where he started to study artificial intelligence.
Following 15 years in the financial services sector and consultancy KPMG, Mr Liang is now executive director of asset management for MA Financial Group.
“AI is such a powerful technology. It will profoundly change people and organisations, but how do we use it responsibly? My number-one passion is how to use technology to improve their life, improve their individual productivity and use it responsibly,” Mr Liang said.
Ms Letts said another study found similar evidence of a bamboo ceiling in the federal public service.
Follow the topics, people and companies that matter to you.
Fetching latest articles
The Daily Habit of Successful People