While Asia is fast growing in importance to Australia, few local companies are fully exploiting the talent of their Asian employees, or seeing significant management diversity. But one group, Star Entertainment, is working hard to break through the bamboo ceiling.
How have they refocused their recruitment and training programs to achieve management diversity?
A management imbalance
With properties in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, The Star Entertainment Group is Australia’s second largest casino company, generating more than $2 billion in revenue a year. It’s also a major multicultural employer with an 8,000-strong workforce and 40 per cent of its frontline staff boasting an Asian background. In Sydney, where the group’s flagship casino The Star is based, more than 50 per cent of frontline staff are Asian.
But in 2015, the company became increasingly aware of an imbalance. “We did some analytics that showed while at the frontline about 50 per cent of our team members come from an Asian background, those numbers progressively reduced as you worked your way up into management,” explains Greg Hawkins, managing director of Sydney’s The Star.
A mere 10 per cent of staff in the upper three levels of management came from an Asian background, with no Asian representation at all within the executive management team. The findings spurred the company into action, prompting it to introduce a number of initiatives aimed at boosting Asian representation in management.
A little over a year later, progress has already been made. Staff with an Asian background in the top three levels of management now tops 13 per cent; one of the 10-member executive team is also Asian.
“We’ve moved the needle a bit but our goal is to double representation in our top three levels of management from 10 to 20 per cent by 2020,” says Hawkins.
A question of visibility
The Star Entertainment Group is far from alone in having failed to exploit the full leadership potential of Asian employees.
‘Leading in the Asian Century’, a recent report by the Diversity Council of Australia, points out that while Asia accounts for two thirds of Australia’s export markets, many businesses don’t know how to use the expert knowledge – or so-called Asia capability – of staff. Surveys suggest that fewer than 13 per cent of companies are effectively using their staff’s connections to Asia to their benefit.
Hawkins explains that Star Entertainment Group’s road to organisational change began in 2013 when it established four focus groups aimed at developing its diversity and inclusion agenda. Along with groups dedicated to gender, LGBTI and age, a multicultural group was established, initially focused on celebrating the different cultures within the group’s workforce.
Hawkins, who had previously worked in Macau and Hong Kong, joined Star in 2014. In 2015, he became the executive sponsor of the multicultural working group, alongside members of the HR team including the group’s general manager for culture, capability and change, Rohan Dyster.
They started by trying to understand what was causing the bamboo ceiling within Star and a subsequent lack of management diversity.
“We conducted a number of internal research groups to understand how our Asian frontline team members feel about progressing through to management,” he says. “We learned that there were some language-barrier issues and also some cultural reticence.”
To help address the language barrier, the group translated key company documents into Asian languages so that staff members could understand policies even without a perfect grasp of English. On the cultural side, the group has begun work on adapting its management training program to better cater for differences in Asian and mainstream Australian culture.
“Asian team members tend to be a bit more comfortable in larger groups. They interact a little less than a group of Western people would. And they tend to be less overt in expressing opinions,” says Hawkins. “That’s to do with the Asian culture of respect, and deferring to someone in authority and perhaps not challenging anything that’s said to you; whereas a Westerner might be more assertive in confronting an issue they are uncomfortable with.”
“The concept that unconscious bias can exist can be confronting because it challenges your thinking and natural management style,” says Hawkins. “But it’s something that’s very prevalent, so it’s a worthwhile training program for the senior management team.”
Once Star has begun to move Asian employees into senior roles, they found a momentum for wider management diversity as these managers then became role models and mentors to more junior staff.
“There had been a clear lack of champions or role models from an Asian perspective in our management area,” Hawkins says. “So now we utilise the strength of our Asian managers to champion the cause. We’re also looking across the frontline to identify high potential team members who can evolve into management roles.”
Beyond the goals for 2020, Hawkins says there’s no reason for things to stop there. “When I sit down with my general management team, I would want to see half of them, in due course, having come through the ranks and reach senior influencing positions within the company. That’s the vision.”
How can your organisation capitalise on workforce Asia capability?
1. Review your organisation’s business strategies to ensure these are making the most of Australia’s multicultural society.
2. Develop a workforce Asia capabilities framework which defines and describes individual and organisational Asia capability and management diversity; identifies which particular Asia capabilities are critical to meet your organisation’s operational needs now and into the future; and specifies how these will be monitored and reported on over time.
3. Use Diversity Council Australia’s survey tool to measure and benchmark the Asia capability profile of your workforce.
4. Recognise and reward Asia capable talent. When recruiting, promoting and remunerating, place high value on candidates having Asian experience, Asian cultural identity, multiple cultural identities and experience working in or managing culturally diverse teams. Research shows people with these experiences and characteristics have higher cultural intelligence and can generate positive outcomes for the business.
5. Invest in building the Asia capabilities of your workforce and your leadership team through providing Asian cultural capability and intercultural awareness training, immersion experiences for staff (such as overseas placements in Asian offices, study tours), and access to written information and resources on Asian markets and cultural/political environments.
To assist with this, consider accessing Asialink Business’ comprehensive range of relevant and practical programs, research and information resources.
Come to AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conference in Sydney on Monday 1 May, and hear from Australian leaders and HR experts on how you can integrate inclusion and diversity into your organisation’s culture and strategy, and transform workplace attitudes.
This year, 2016 NSW Australian of the Year and Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick AO will be sharing her vision and experience as keynote speaker.