They say that the sky is the limit for anyone who has the gumption, the goods and a touch of luck on their side to succeed – but not for Asians trying to get into more senior positions in Australia. The bamboo ceiling is a very real obstacle for Asian executives wanting to climb the corporate ladder despite 17 percent of the population identifying as Asian. Yet, whether it’s in a cab, or at a business networking event ask just about any Asian Executive in Australia about the most common banter people engage them on and they’ll probably recite a script that goes something like this –

Question – “So, where are you from?”

Answer – “I’m from Perth “

Question – “No, I mean originally?”

Answer – “Australia, my parents were born here”

Statement – “Wow you sound like an Aussie, you don’t have an accent at all!”.

Psychologically it’s interesting that as human beings we need to pigeon-hole people, to fit them into a little box so that we can control our world as much as possible.

Indeed, the situation for Asians is worse than it is for women. Described as a “bamboo tomb”, current statistics confirm a daunting picture. Despite a 17% representation in the Australian community, only 1.9% of executive managers are Asian. What we do know is that Asian-Australians have little difficulty attaining employment particularly in the STEM arena, but advancing beyond entry and mid-level positions is less likely. Those that do make it describe the secret to their success as de-ethnicising themselves so as not to play into the stereotypical view of the nerdy Asian with no personality that is too short and socially awkward. Some of them are even trying to become more outwardly blokey by playing more team sports and speaking in a deeper baritone with a tinge of Australian twang. The bottom line is that Asian-Australians wanting to climb the stairway to career success will always be starting on the back foot unless they start rocking the boat to cultural equity.

Thanks to Tony Nguyen from Mindmetrics and one of my favourite local CFO’s for contributing to this story.

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