‘Bamboo ceiling’ blocking Asian Australians, says commissioner
Published: July 11, 2014 – 6:01AM
A ”bamboo ceiling” is preventing Asian Australians from taking their share of leadership positions, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, has suggested.
In a speech delivered in Perth on Thursday, Dr Soutphommasane said while children of Australians of migrant backgrounds outperformed the children of Australian-born parents in education and employment, the nation’s cultural diversity was not represented in positions of leadership.
”Equality of opportunity isn’t enjoyed in equal measure in all spheres,” Dr Soutphommasane said. ”Our efforts in opening the doors of power to all who knock are more questionable.”
Dr Soutphommasane said while nearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or had a parent who was born overseas, and about one in 10 Australians had an Asian background, only a handful of members of Federal Parliament had non-European ancestry, and less than 2 per cent had Asian ancestry. Of 83 secretaries and deputy secretaries of federal government departments, only three had Asian origins.
Asian Australian were also badly underrepresented among the management ranks of business and executive positions at leading universities, he said.
Dr Soutphommasane acknowledged other business leaders of non-Asian backgrounds, such as Irish-born Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and former Telstra boss Sol Trujillo, who has Mexican ancestry, had also been the victims of racial prejudice, but questioned whether Asian Australian faced greater hurdles than those from other backgrounds.
”Is there a bamboo ceiling that exists in the same way that a glass ceiling exists for women?”
Dr Soutphommasane said an optimistic view was that the underrepresentation of Asian Australians in leadership positions was due to the fact that large-scale Asian immigration hadn’t started until the 1970s and Asian-Australian leaders were still in the ”pipeline”. But he said a more critical view was that the situation replicated a ”pattern of invisibility” relating to Asian Australian within Australian culture. He said in the media, Asian faces were largely confined to presenting cooking programs. The stereotype of Asians as law-abiding, hard-working and studious disguised a more negative view of Asians as passive, acquiescent and subservient.
Referring to the indentured Asian labourers of the 19th and early 20th century, Dr Soutphommasane said Australia needed to avoid the creation of a new class of ”professional Asian-Australian coolies in the 21st century – a class of well-educated, ostensibly overachieving Asian Australian, who may nonetheless be permanently locked out from the ranks of their society’s leadership”.