Is There a Bamboo Ceiling in Australia?

Peter Cai, Business Spectator, June 13, 2014

Much ink and column space has been spent arguing for a greater role for women in politics as well as in business. Some of the country’s most senior political and business leaders have taken up the female diversity cause. However, few people seem to be interested in talking about another important diversity issue–the lack of Asian Australians in leadership positions.

Australians of Asian cultural backgrounds account for nearly 10 per cent of the country’s population but they only account for 1.9 per cent of executive managers, 4.15 per cent of directors and 1.3 per cent of federal parliamentarians.

If women are doing it tough in politics or the workplace, Asian Australians are doing it even tougher; at least that’s what the statistics tell us. At ANZ, arguably Australia’s most international bank with a strong Asia Pacific presence, there is not a single Asian executive in its most senior management team. There is one Asian on the company’s board who just so happens to be the younger brother of the Singaporean Prime Minister and the son of Lee Kuan Yew.

Some business leaders think this poor state of affairs is not good for Australia, especially at a time when the country and business community talk about the urgency of building Asia capability. Professional services firm PwC announced last year it would increase the number of partners with an Asian cultural background to 5 per cent by 2016.

However the most important and hard question is why Australians of Asian descent are under-represented in leadership positions, whether in politics or business. Race discrimination commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane believes the existence of a bamboo ceiling is partly to blame for the situation.

Like the glass ceiling for women, the bamboo ceiling is the invisible barrier to the professional advancement of Australians of an Asian cultural background. “Recognising that such barriers exist–and I believe they do exist–can be the most difficult part of starting a conversation about diversity and unconscious bias,” Soutphommasane told a gathering of Asian Australian lawyers in Melbourne this week.

Put simply, it is a question about whether there is wide-spread racial bias or stereotyping in society that is holding back the career advancement of Asian Australians. There is evidence to suggest racial discrimination does exist. Economists from the Australian National University found in 2010 that job applicants with Asian and Middle Eastern family names needed to submit 60 per cent more applications to get the same number of interviews when compared with people with Anglo-Saxon family names.

Apart from outright discrimination, the most important barrier is perhaps racial stereotyping. In the United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, there is a popular theory of the model minority, which is used largely to describe hard-working, law abiding and studious East Asians.

Though some people are happy to wear this model as a badge of honour, it also projects a far more negative image. “What one person may regard as the laudable qualities of being inoffensive, diligent, and productive can, for another person, sound a lot like passivity, acquiescence and subservience,” explains Soutphommasane.

It is easy to illustrate this point in real life. Asians are typically seen as maths or IT nerds with good quantitative skills. So often they end up as quants at banks or in R&D roles at technology companies. These perceptions can be career limiting for Asians who aspire to leadership positions. People see Asian deference to elders as a sign of their unwillingness to challenge authority and hence their lack of leadership potential.

By way of comparison, Asian Americans are also struggling with racial stereotypes but the United States has a far more open and inclusive corporate and business culture. There are many Asian Americans who are serving or have served as senior cabinet ministers in the Obama and Bush administrations.

Washington’s last ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, is Chinese American and was a secretary of commerce as well as the governor of Washington. Eric Shinseki, a highly-decorated Japanese-American, served as the chief of staff in the US army, something that was scarcely imaginable a few decades ago considering the legacy of Pearl Harbour.

First generation Indian migrants are running some of the largest and most quintessentially American companies like Microsoft, Citigroup and Pepsi. Even Deutsche Bank, a bastion of German conservatism, has an Indian as its co-chairman and co-chief executive officer.

An Asian-Australian executive who has worked for both Australian and American companies told Business Spectator the Americans were far more open-minded in promoting and hiring Asians including to top positions.

Australia has a proud record as a tolerant multi-cultural society. But we cannot shy away from talking about the uncomfortable fact that a sizable portion of Australia’s population is under-represented in politics and business and almost invisible from our mainstream media. Racial discrimination and stereotypes are certainly part of the problem.

PwC has taken the right step to highlight the issue. Senator Penny Wong is the first Asian-born member of an Australian cabinet. David Jones also recently replaced Miranda Kerr with Jessica Gomes, a part Singaporean model, as its ambassador to better reflect the demographics of the retailer. But business and political leaders need to do more to battle and challenge racial stereotypes and poke holes in our bamboo ceiling.

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  • An Asian-Australian executive who has worked for both Australian and
    American companies told Business Spectator the Americans were far more
    open-minded in promoting and hiring Asians including to top positions.

    Reasons for that:

    1. In the United States, Asians are a hedge against civil rights lawsuits, even though they are no longer a hedge against the justice brothers complaining about your lack of diversity.

    2. Maybe Australians (white) have a fear of Asians because there are more than two billion of them almost directly above their heads, and if only a small fraction of them come to Australia, that would instantly make white Australians a minority in their own country.

    • Einsatzgrenadier

      Another reason:

      3. The Chinese earn significantly less than white Australians. America has a far more selective immigration policy than Australia.

      • AutomaticSlim

        “America has a far more selective immigration policy than Australia.”

        America is more selective? How?
        The way I see it, we take in just about any 3rd world parasite that wants to come here. How selective can we be if we take in unskilled, uneducated, dirt poor Somalis. And that is just one example.

        • Jacobite2

          Normal people are interested in only one race — their own.

        • Einsatzgrenadier

          America is more selective when it comes to some minorities. With other minorities, such as the Somali refugees, they aren’t selective at all.

          White genocide is meant to destroy whites at the top and bottom of American society.

      • LHathaway

        Actually, Australia has a very tough immigration policy in the form of a very, very tough English language test. I suspect more Asians Want to immigrate to Australia than they do the USA.

        • henry ong

          This should be the way

    • 1stworlder

      Even more important is that the spark of ingenuity was decimated from the gene pool during the centuries in china & Japan when questioning anything was a deadly insult to emperors. The nail that stands up get hammered down. One of the tales in the art of war is a story of a brilliant tactician who tried to get a job for a leader that knew he would be very powerful hired by one of his enemies, and his lands where better set for defense, so he castrated the tactician.

  • M.

    Hi there. I know this is (slightly) off-topic, and I hope the moderator keeps this.

    Anyway, there’s a documentary that seems interesting about the history of Australia’s immigration policies, and how it went from White Australia to the origin-blind policy it has today. And also about immigration today. The title is “Immigration Nation”.

    Of course, it’s probably going to be from a liberal perspective, therefore one might expect to hear a lot of “racist” policies, but I’m sure the topic is still of interest for many here.

    Anyway, it’s gonna be aired on AlJazeera English, 12 noon GMT.

    • MekongDelta69

      (Nothing personal), but AlJazeera = Garbage.

      • M.

        I’m sure the Arabic one is, but the English one is nearly exlusively ran by Europeans.

        Anyway, I’m not even sure I have it. I just heard about the program on an Australian Facebook page, and I checked it on Al Jazeera’s site.

        I’m still interested to hear their viewpoint on the subject though.

      • M.

        Well, there you go. From what Alan D. said, they’re not even the producers of it, apparently. They’re just broadcasting it.

    • The Final Solution

      There is a great book on the subject called New Britannia: The rise and decline of Anglo-Australia by Alan James. Excellent read. It’s available on Amazon.

  • WhiteGuyInJapan

    Cry me a river, Mr. Cai.
    If I started whinging like this guy, many Japanese would tell me where to go.

  • Pro_Whitey

    Maybe they should rethink citing Shinseki as an example.

  • JackKrak

    So go back to whatever rice paddy-intensive place you came from and be a manager there.


  • dd121

    This is a ready-made situation for AA. That will solve everything.

  • There sat Australia, below Asia for thousands of years, but the Asians did not take the risk of venturing out and settling the place. Now that the land has been tamed, the Asians are demanding a free ride, piggybacking on the courage and foresight of those Australian settlers.

    Screw the Asians. Whites built the place. They own it. Be thankful they let you in, Peter Cai, you whining little slant-eyed rice gobbler with an English first name and a Chinese last name.

    • TruthBeTold

      ‘It’s not fair!’

      Typical minority attitude. Do nothing then claim ‘your share’.

      • M.Magog

        “Give me a piece of your pie” is what they are really saying. Let them make their own pies.

    • M.Magog

      Why , if asians are so superior , is there no abundance of asian owned firms in Australia for Cai to work at? Why are some of the best companies in China companies that are owned by or companies that were started by white Americans? Why did the ascendency of Japan as an industrial nation only occur after it copied and adapted the American invention of TQM?

    • “Screw the Asians”.

      I do, but only one, and only at home.

      One of our friends wanted a Western name, so I named her “Jennifer”. She’s a nice lady.

      Given what my mother endured giving birth to me, I’m lucky to be “Michael” and not some orcish name.

  • So CAL Snowman

    How many Whites hold executive positions and political offices in Asian countries Mr. Cai? Why aren’t you interested in the lack of Whites in positions of power in Asian countries?

    • Sick of it

      As we all know, the other races are highly aggressive and acquiescence to their demands only makes things worse for us.

    • LHathaway

      Yes, exactly, Australia should uphold the same standard as does Asian towards it’s immigrants. If Asian countries don’t really have immigrants, there you go! Since it’s about respect for other cultures and Asias, we can best respect them by emulating them.

    • M.Magog

      well, it used to be that Honk Kong was run by whites. Shanghai also started out as an enclave of European settlements. The two greatest cities in present day China would not exist if not for whites.

  • TruthBeTold

    Is there a bamboo ceiling in Asia?

    • Kenner

      Advisable in earthquake zones.

  • Jacobite2

    Read the press from England, and get them out now!

  • Strike_Team

    Overall, how would whites be treated applying for work in Asian countries?

    Case closed. Just wait until whites regain control of (most of) their homelands.

  • henry ong

    Unrestricted immigration policy in today’s world do not do the host country any use.
    There is just too many countries with too many problems & people will always look for an escape route.
    Australia been so near & maybe too near tend to attract too many Asian migrants. Australia therefore has too be very selective. There must not be unrestricted immigration from Asia or Muslims. Core Australian values will be lost.
    In point of fact successful Asian Australians should call for a slow down of Asian immigrants because if there are too many Asians & Muslims one will be more comfortable with ones own kind & therefore will not adapt to Australian way of life. Calling for a slow down of Asian immigrants I feel is not a traitorous statement because we must adapt to Australian values.
    Do not get me wrong, it is to have a Chinatown but after 1 generation our young must have an Australian mindset.
    Thank you for allowing me to post my thoughts.


    Henry Ong

  • Löwenmensch ᛟ

    Hey where’s JohnEngelman to stick up for his gooks?

    • M.Magog

      He is shuffling through his IQ test data. In the past I have pointed out to him the large UNDERREPRESENTATION of asians in the top levels of every field of endeavor. The only response he manages is a repetition of of his usual facts. Yes, average asian family income is higher than whites, yes they do score slightly higher than whites on tests. Yes they are more law abiding. What this all boils down to is they are followers, not innovators, not trail blazers , not leaders.There are also very very few single parent asian households, and this drastically improves the figure for “average family income”. The same characteristics that make them obedient followers also makes them less likely to break marriage vows. Whole families will also work in a family business, thereby increasing the profitability of that business as standard “wages” are not paid. Also, new immigrants from China are often not paid a standard wage for a number of years. In other words, asians are operating under a totally different set of rules and it is almost meaningless to use “average family income” in comparing asians to whites.
      Born conformists do not innovate and lead. Asians are born conformists with a lower testosterone level. They also have lower verbal abilities than other groups. Lower verbal abilities, less aggressiveness due to lower testosterone levels and an inborn tendency to conform and follow rather than innovate and lead means they are not going to be able to compete with more aggressive, more verbal skilled whites who are at the high end of the white IQ bell curve. It may even mean they will not complete well with whites who are less intelligent than they are as they will buckle first in a war of wills.

      • freddy_hills

        I tend to agree. A high verbal ability does more for income than a high math ability. I’m not sure I agree with the battle of wills, though. Asians have a reputation as “grinders”. They just keep grinding away. That’s not aggressive but it takes determination and resolve.

        • M.Magog

          Grinding away is not going to help a person in short term endeavors such as fighting for a promotion.

  • So CAL Snowman

    I noticed non White third world immigration increased significantly in Australia after the Port Arthur Massacre and the subsequent disarming of Australian citizens.

  • Sloppo

    Instead of just complaining about things you don’t like about others, it’s better to set a better example yourself. Perhaps some Asian countries should demonstrate their lack of racism by electing African muslim political leadership at the highest levels like we have. Chinese people would become so proud if they could boast of leadership which marginalizes Chinese people in China.

  • benvad

    Whites are not managers in Japan either so boo hoo to the Chinese in Australia. You want to be upper management? Try Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul etc…..

  • freddy_hills

    Always with the ceilings. A glass ceiling. A bamboo ceiling. A fried chicken and watermelon ceiling. I don’t believe there’s a ceiling. Disparity doesn’t necessarily mean discrimination. The burden of proof rests with those claiming discrimination. There’s also the situation of minorities claiming discrimination even when they’re OVER represented. Asians are 25% at Harvard. Yet I’ve heard some claim they would/should be more if there weren’t quotas. Asians are 5% of the population, 25% of the students and STILL claim they’re under represented. Is it possible? Of course. But the evidence doesn’t support it. The only discrimination against asians is the same discrimination as against whites — affirmative action.

  • kjh64

    Yes, and I’m sure in Asian countries, there is a glass ceiling for Whites or any other non-Asian. Asians belong in Asia, then their problem of the “bamboo ceiling” will be solved.

  • Bossman

    There are just too many East Asians and South Asians. Australia would be wise to contain them. There is no valid reason why Australia should just hand over their country to the hordes of Asia.

  • Perhaps they should exchange the bamboo-ceiling for a bamboo bridge, that leads back to Asia.

  • The Final Solution

    You don’t see Asian companies scrambling to get white employees and board members so they can do business with Europe and America. When I was in Australia in 2004-2005, there were nothing but Asian faces everywhere in Sydney. My friend is still there and says it’s only gotten worse. Impossible to even meet any real Aussies. They own almost all the real estate in the city center and openly discriminate against whites. They are the vast majority of the world and they are not Australian in any sense of the word. The shift from England and Ireland as Australia’s number one source of immigrants to Asia is deliberate and must be stopped.

  • M.Magog

    you dont gots no pancake mix!