Dian came to Australia as a seventeen-year-old from Sichuan province in China. An only child, her parents pushed her to achieve academically but were also eager for her to experience the outside world. They suggested she move to Australia to learn English and see if it offered her what she needed.
Dian arrived in Sydney where she boarded with a family friend and studied at a local High School through to Year 12. Despite being scared to leave her family and not knowing what to expect, her experience in Australia was pleasant and she found it relatively easy to adapt.
The teaching style in Australian schools posed a challenge as she was not familiar with subject-based classes or the value attributed to individualism within our culture. Independent learning and intuitive learning was a novelty. “It felt to me like some people were ‘self-taught’ here. It is so different to China.”
Another difficulty was navigating our governmental and corporate structures as everything is more centralised in China.
”When I first came I didn’t know where to go to get help with anything – even simple things like getting a refund from a business. It took me a while to figure out which government body is responsible for which function”.
When asked about her transition into the workforce she is positive and pleased with her efforts.
Dian is positive about her transition into the workforce and is pleased with her efforts.
She is currently an active member of the Asian Leadership Employee Action Group (AEG) at Westpac banking corporation and mentors a group of university students. Dian completed a series of internships at Westpac and her first paid role was a result of her internships and corporate restructuring. Her four year career with Westpac as an analyst has been more successful than those of the majority of her friends. She says, “Many of my friends are unemployed or not working in their area of study – many returned to China. I think I have been quite lucky”.
An impressive 30% of Westpac employees are of Asian heritage yet very few are represented in senior roles. These statistics gave birth to the development of the AEG. Dian explains that the AEG’s development is a due to the former CEO and Asian-Australian employees within the organisation who questioned their lack of representation at senior levels.
The AEG’s objective is to actively engage, communicate, mentor and sponsor members to advance knowledge and understanding, in order to develop the Asian leadership pipeline. It aims to meet the needs of members and to improve Asian cultural awareness in the Westpac group – in short to close the leadership gap. When asked if she feels the program will successfully ensure diversity across all levels within the group and to encourage more Asian employees to move into leadership roles, Dian replies “I hope so. It is still a very young program but it has been effective so far.”
Dian suggests that the lack of senior representation from Asian Australian employees may be due to some individuals’ lack of ‘soft skills such as communications and building interpersonal relationships, which can impede career progression. “I really think it is because ‘soft skills’ are devalued in our culture”. Dian thinks that having senior Asian women as role models in the workforce are needed to demonstrate it is possible to marry soft skills with technical skills and clever business acumen.
Dian doesn’t feel there is overt racism in the workplace, “No, I don’t think there is anything malicious but I think sometimes the reservation that is present within Asian culture stops us from interacting with other cultures at work.” When asked if a person from an Asian background required assistance for a technical problem would approach another Asian or a non-Asian in your division? “I think they would go to another Asian, as you would know they are more likely to experience similar problems…But I think it is just our culture, we tend to ask each other more often. I think the men are a bit more reserved to be honest.”
“It is just the way we are. Other Asians understand that we have a ‘to the death’ type attitude to our work. We like to be thorough and not make mistakes.”
Dian plans to stay on with her employer as she feels change is imminent due to the formation of the AEG program.
“Asian insights are ‘invaluable to the banking culture and Westpac incorporates strategy into people they are hiring, therefore attracting young talent.” Dian suggests an example of how incorporating culturally sensitive strategies can benefit employees and organisations: ‘It would be great to have Chinese New Year as a holiday, or at least an early finish. It is a very important day for us. I think generally Asians are very flexible with their calendar. For example, it is not usually a problem to work late. So, if that day were marked as a holiday for us, it would be so appreciated that others acknowledge that for us’.
Interview by Alison Wilson.