‘Why are Asian women’s feet so small?’ Discrimination rife in Aussie workplaces

Financial Review Business Summit Jason Pellegrino, MD Google , . Wednesday 8th March 2017 AFR photo Louie Douvis .
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Ming Long, who until recently was group executive fund manager of $2.5 million Investa Office Fund.28th July 2016.Photo: Steven Siewert

“Why are Asian women’s feet so small? So they can stand closer to the sink!” a male employee joked with his Asian colleague, then got angry when she didn’t like it.

“Why are you so uptight?” he asked. “You’re misconstruing what I’m saying.”

She replied: “That’s not it, it’s just that I want to be treated with respect.”

Explicit bias, racist and sexist comments and offensive “jokes” are rife in corporate , according to a report from Diversity Council and the University of Sydney Business School, which asked 230 culturally diverse businesswomen (defined broadly in the report as someone with a non-Anglo Saxon background) about their experiences in the workplace. Women told to ‘move overseas’

The tale above was one of many similar stories featured in the report, Cracking the Glass-Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the 21st Century. The report found only 12 per cent of culturally diverse women surveyed strongly agreed they had the same opportunities in their workplace as anyone else with commensurate ability and experience.

Some women said “well-meaning” mentors had recommended they move overseas where their “difference” would be viewed as an asset rather than a liability. “They see you as three strikes and you’re out – a woman, a woman with children, and a woman with an accent,” a respondent said.

Male Anglo-Celtic leaders preferred and selected people who dressed, looked and sounded like themselves. “It’s like a voting system that doesn’t work because, well, look who’s voting,” another respondent said.

Muslim women also reported discrimination and intolerance. “Stereotypes about Muslim women result in them being written off as leadership material,” a respondent said. “They see a hijab and think I must be subjugated and I’m submissive and passive and therefore not able to lead.” Not valued

The report found that, while 88 per cent of culturally diverse female talent surveyed planned to advance to a very senior role, only one in 10 strongly agreed that their leadership traits were recognised or that their opinions were valued and respected.

Further, 26 per cent said cultural barriers in the workplace had caused them to scale back at work, including reducing their ambitions and working fewer hours. And 60 per cent of culturally diverse female executives and 79 per cent of senior managers surveyed were considering leaving their employers in the next year.

The report suggests raising awareness about common gendered cultural stereotypes, that leaders and colleagues commit to understanding different cultures, and ensure that unconscious bias training considers this. In the same way companies are setting and reporting on gender-based targets, the report suggests they also report publicly on cultural diversity inclusion and outcomes.

The number of culturally diverse women in ASX100 and ASX200 companies is minuscule. Only 2 per cent of ASX directors are culturally diverse women. In 2015, there were fewer than 25 female ASX200 senior executives, chief executives or chief financial officers, and 10 or less women in each of these positions in ASX100. The numbers of culturally diverse women in these categories were even smaller. Time for quotas?

AMP Capital Funds Management and DCA board member Ming Long, who participated in the research, told Fairfax Media it was time for gender-based quotas, noting they had worked in Sweden. “The case for quotas is getting much stronger because we’re not seeing the pace of change we need for women and, when it comes to ethnic women, we’re still in the dark ages.”

Ms Long said given women were making the bulk of purchasing decisions, it made sense to have more women, including women of non-Anglo saxon backgrounds, on boards.

The report notes that the n “multicultural market” has an estimated purchasing power of more than $75 billion a year, while the global buying power of women is estimated to reach $40 trillion by 2018.

“I’d love to challenge leaders to actually speak to ethnic women they have in their business, get to know them and earn their trust, ” Ms Long said. “They’ve probably been overlooked for leadership. Please, look beyond gender and ethnicity. You might actually find there’s a gem in your midst.”

Google, Aurecon, the Commonwealth Bank and Deloitte also supported the research. Google had to face hard questions following the anti-diversity memo from one of its US-based engineers James Damore.

Google and New Zealand managing director Jason Pellegrino said: “We strive to create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable bringing their best selves to work, so they can be more innovative, creative, and inspired.”

Female ASX leaders with non-Anglo-Celtic cultural origins make up:

??? 15 of all 1482 chief executives

??? 44 of all 2327 senior executives

??? 188 of all 7491 directors

??? 55 of all 1350 chief financial officers.

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