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New book: Stepping Up on Diversity and Growth

Pamela Young - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

'Stepping Up: Lead culture change for diversity and growth in the Asian century' shares the views of 100 leaders from 26 industries and 16 cities across Asia and Australia.

It is a 'must-read' for people in business and society who are interested in knowing 'how to' advance our cultures – country culture, organisation culture and our own individual culture – to achieve change that will build diversity so that everyone can access opportunities and participate equally in the workforce.

                         See Stepping Up's website here:

On the website you can read the Preface and Contents pages, biographies of the 100 people interviewed and a sample of the quotes taken from the book.

Stepping Up is a up-to-date account of what people think about the diversity challenges that we face in the 21st century and the steps we need to take to keep adapting our values to be competitive in the world, to create a thriving economy and to provide future generations with equal opportunity:

  • to achieving balance in the roles performed at home and in society
  • to performing the work they are trained to do to the highest level
  • to leadership positions in business and society

You can read here a little about the benefits of diversity:


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Getting Real About Asia

Pamela Young - Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Finally people are starting to face their fears of China as the next super-power of the world.

Asia, especially China and India, offer slow growth first-world nations like Australia, the USA and the UK, the most amazing opportunity for growth that we haven't seen for many years; yet we have been somewhat reluctant to respond.  Some say for good reason, others say we need to overcome the fear that uncertainty and the unknown bring and get real about the growth in Asia and the wide range of economic opportunities available.

There is safety in numbers it seems.

A group of leaders from Australian businesses made the journey to China with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the past week to sign a deal with the Chinese government allowing them to trade in Yuan and they reported that the negotiations were uncharacteristically relaxed and open. The group included Andrew Forrest (who organised the meeting), Tony Shepherd, Kevin McCann, Lindsay Fox, Michael Chaney, Gail Kelly, James MacKenzie, Nicholas Moore, Alan Joyce and Mike Smith. Read AFR's report here:

Hear stories from three of these leaders

Last year I spoke with Kevin McCann, Mike Smith and James Mackenzie who were amongst this China delegation about the opportunity that Asia presents for Australia and what we need to do to a take advantage of it.  Their views and suggestions are included in my book Stepping Up : Lead culture change for diversity and growth in the Asian century which is being launched next month (keep watching this blog and I'll announce when the book is available).

Also in Stepping Up I outline the implementation challenges that we face in trying to build stronger economic relations with Asian nations.  The most significant challenge is not overcoming the fear, but our relatively poor level of diversity in the leadership of our organisations: that is in both business and society.

Greater diversity - especially cultural diversity - would help to build cross-cultural awareness, prepare us to be more Asia-ready in terms of business and interpersonal protocols, and we would better appreciate the time-frame and processes required for establishing trusting and enduring relationships between partners that will increase our effectiveness and productively in the region.

There are no permanent or immovable barriers to a nation's growth and prosperity if its leaders are prepared to step up and make change happen...and if the people who follow these leaders are prepared to make the journey also. Chapter 12 of Stepping Up talks about the need for a private-public partnership to get social change happening in Australia to allow greater diversity to become a reality.  Perhaps last week's visit to China is the beginning - but we need to see much more cooperation at all levels of our society.



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Pro's and Con's of quotas

Pamela Young - Thursday, May 12, 2011
Quotas for women on Boards is being debated the world over.  Success in Norway is hard to ignore and the supporters of the "that's not meritocracy" argument are confronted daily with new press coverage on why quotas are a good thing.

Ginka Toegel, Professor at IMG in Switzerland and leader of the Strategies for Leadership program, has summarised the pro's and con's for us to consider in this article:  Boards of Directors Need Quotas for Women
Quotas or not quotas? Will it lead to over-promotion?

Some people worry that quotas would lead to women being promoted to Boards 'just because of the quota' and that for some this would be an over-promotion.  Others say, if there are 10 men on a Board, some of them must be over-promoted as that can't all be more capable than the women who applied for those jobs.   

Ginka says that because there are so few women in senior management, there are fewer women who have large company executive experience.  But there are some women in senior management...and yet too many Boards in many leading countries still have no women at all - or a token one.

Quotas or not quotas? Is that the question?

Attitudes and behaviours that shape a nation's culture also influences the roles that men and women take on in life and therefore contain secret ingredients to changing the degree to which women ascend organisations and take up Board positions.  When looking to change attitudes and behaviours that have been present for many decades, it helps to look at the assumptions and values that lie at the bottom of the culture.

Shifting the values of a culture of a nation or company requires structural and systemic changes to support the new behaviour that you seek...and it requires consistent and very visible leadership.  So the first question might be "what systemic changes would lead to greater participation of women in senior management...and on Boards?"

In answering this question, quotas may well arise as a worthy solution, but there will be others.

How can women catch up after a family break?

Modern organisations could follow the example set by the professions.  For several decades now law, accounting and engineering firms world-wide have been offering dual-track careers paths.  One path for those who have strong people management or business development skills and are more suitable to line-management...and another for the 'thought-leaders', the 'great intellectuals' and those who have 'exceptional mental agility' and who might be more suitable to technical leadership roles.  The dual-track model allows peers to ascend the career structure at the same rate but on separate pathways and with different reuqirements and performance expectations.

Women who leave a company for 5-7 years to have a child or two often feel less inclined to want to return if their former subordinates have been promoted in their absence and may now end up being their bosses.  The dual-track career path would provide an opportunity for women to return to a non-line role to work on special projects or specialist task until they get up-to-date with the changes without feeling they have slipped backwards.

Could it be time to look at more flexible organisation designs to help attract talented women back to their caeers?

Please share your thoughts below.

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White Minority: A Case for Tolerance

Pamela Young - Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I recall June 1992 was when I first experienced being treated as 'white minority'.  I was in Orchard Road, Singapore at a sandwich bar one week after I had arrived to establish a satellite office and commence a client assignment.

Culture shock
I asked the sandwich maker for wholemeal bread in my usual way: long rambling sentences with lots of interesting double negatives.  He screwed up his face, tutted his tongue against his teeth, huffed at his colleague and moved to serve the Chinese person next to me. (It was months later that I learned to speak 'Singlish' which is the local person's way of enunciating English in a shortened form that they understand).

I was shocked at how it felt to be diminished and humiliated by someone who belonged, when I did not.  While this experience in no way compares with centuries of discrimination that people of some cultures have endured, it did make me realise how much we take for granted and that we need to be much more aware how things look and feel to others. 

That day I searched my memory long and hard to consider if I had ever treated a Maori, Polynesian or Asian person that way back in New Zealand.  Fortunately, my conscience was clear.

From Inclusion You Find Understanding
The 30 x 40 kilometre Island of Singapore then had $3m people of which around 10% were expats sent by their foreign bosses to work and live there to expand their international operations.   The expats were not only white, but every colour and race possible, including people from other parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the America's and beyond.

We did not segregate largely due to the small size of the country and we all lived and worked together in well organised condominiums.  I will always remember a dinner in 1996 (the year I moved to Singapore to live and work full-time); it was at the home of some friends.  They were from Laos and had lived in the USA for 10 years prior to coming to Singapore so they both spoke with America accents.  Our host was the Food & Beverage Manager at the Shangri La Hotel and he cooked an Italian style dinner. 

I immediately felt like I was attending an international event and then I discovered that the 10 other guests represented 8 nationalities, 5 religions and 7 languages.  As my first experience of being in such mixed company it felt surreal.  But mostly it was fascinating.  We indulged in and explored one another's journeys, values and traditions for hours.  The conversation was stimulating, the experience nourishing and it imprinted on my memory an image of unity, creativity and energy. (Read more about Pamela Young's own global journey).

Our Challenge
Back then I truly felt like I lived at the centre of a unified world.  Now in Australia, I feel like I live on the periphery, in a largely white-male dominated society that is trying to break-out.  Women are slowly being recognised and given more opportunity in some areas, but relative to leading countries around the world, research shows that women are slipping behind their peers in senior management (see here).

Non-white Australians do tend to segregate into corners of our cities.  While there is some integration and sharing, extra effort is required to benefit from the energy that more evolved cities of the world enjoy.  Despite decades of change, racism is still visible and it is felt by indigenous and immigrant people and we have a way to go to become a unified nation. 

Your Challenge
There is a lot to be said for totally immersing yourself in a very different culture to develop tolerance and understanding that will help you to be more inclusive in the way you live and work.  If you haven't experienced that yet, why not make it happen sometime soon.

Please feel free to share your experiences and comments below.

Pamela Young

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