“Roxy, say hello to Murali uncle”, my friend told Roxy. I looked at Roxy. I could see that he is ageing yet looked handsome. He glanced at me interestingly. His tail was wagging. Roxy is a Labrador with a shiny black coat.
My kids were a bit scared. They have not seen a huge dog, unleashed in such close proximity. Seeing their hesitation my friend assured them, “Do not worry, Roxy is a very, very friendly dog. He never hurts any one. In fact, our house was robbed few years back. Roxy could not even scare the intruders”.
Apparently, the robbers broke into the house in broad day light. They came prepared with dog biscuits. When they saw Roxy they threw some biscuits. Roxy happily ate the biscuits and wagged his tail.
My friend was still happy with Roxy. He was still treated like one of their own family members until he passed away.
Roxy and the Labrador breed reminds us the effect of years of domestication of a specific breed.
Let us leave Labradors for a while and shift our attention to fellow human beings. If you are in a corporate world in Australia, please look around you when you read this blog.
- How may of your colleagues are from Asian background?
- How many of them are in Managerial/Executive positions?
It is highly likely that you would have seen less than 2%. Bamboo ceiling is the term used to describe systemic discrimination that’s stopping Asian Australians from advancing to top jobs.
This is one of the areas retired Lieutenant General David Morrison, Australian of Year wants to address.
As General Morrison points out, discriminating Asians is not only racist but bad business. He highlights the fact that seven out of Australia’s top 10 export markets are in Asia, it constitutes about 66 per cent of our total market.
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.
Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner strongly believes the “unconscious bias” is very much existent in Australian society. He argues it is because the western media’s of portrayal of stereotyping Asian community – as meek, passive, acquiescent and subservient. 
Choices for an Asian immigrant:
As an Indian migrant working in Australia for 17 years, I do think there is an “unconscious bias”. I want to clarify that the term “unconscious bias” is not same as “racial discrimination”. I have not observed any systemic discrimination or racism in Australia. There have been isolated incidents, but they are not systemic.
There are choices I have to make at different levels. It starts with deciding whether I have to retain my name given by my parents. Some of my friends have changed their first name to sound Australian. They find it easier to interact and connect with others.
Professionally the name has wider implications. It has been proven that the probability of rejecting “non-European” names is greater when the resume is screened. So, when I apply for job “Muralidharan Ramakrishnan” will have less chance of getting an interview call than “Murray Robertson”.
I have two choices here. Either change my name to “Murray” or apply for more companies. I choose the second option. As a consultant/contractor I had to change job roughly every two years. I have to send applications close to 70 to 80 organisations each time I switch my job.
Another choice I have to make is to decide whether I need to talk with an Australian accent. Some of my friends have switched their accents easily. I have not made any attempt to change my Indian accent. I am used to confused looks in professional and social settings.
Last week, I went to shopping with my daughter who is Australian educated and can speak with a perfect Australian accent. The counter clerk refused to talk to me once she noticed my Indian accent. I watched the scene with amusement. My daughter was fuming the entire the day.
If you do not wish to change to your accent, you should be aware of the professional implications. One will be marked down for ratings in “communication skills” and “group facilitation skills”. It will also influence the choices you take in your profession. Before coming to Australia, I was a successful corporate trainer. I had made choices to that suited my “personal profile” and the environment.
The final choice I have to make is – whether to continue in Australia or go back? I find at an individual level a “typical-Australian” has a broader outlook, willing to listen and genuinely interested in other cultures.
I decide to continue. Unconscious bias is not just restricted to Australia. It is there in India or Timbaktu or US! It is a universal fact. There is no point in winging and playing “poor-me” victim game.
What we can do about it?
How we can break the ceiling or at a minimum raise the ceiling? I believe that journey starts with me, and you!
As General Morrison and Dr Soutphommasane point out, the discrimination is “unconscious”. The first step is to raise the awareness of the issue. We have to point out that the issue is worth debating instead of sweeping it under the carpet.
Do we want to be Labradors or Wolves?
As a community have become too obedient and meek that we do not protest/bark/bite when our territory is invaded? Can we take a leaf out of Wolves’ life? In order to survive in a dangerous and competitive world, wolves form cooperative groups known as packs. Members of a wolf pack hunt together, rear pups together and defend their territory. Cooperation benefits all members of a pack and improves their odds of survival.
If you are an Asian executive who has raised to the top, share your story and inspire others. Acknowledge the fact the each one is different. Help the community and businesses grow.
If you are native Australian, look around your organisation. Do you think it is really diverse? What you can do about it?