Leadership reads: Fostering Culturally Diverse Leadership in Organisations

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and absorb the book Fostering Culturally Diverse Leadership in Organisations by Karen Loon. As someone with an Asian background (I immigrated to Australia from China when I was 6), I’m always excited to see greater research and discussion on this topic, especially from those approaching the topic with an Asian-Australian lens.

Karen is an Asia-Capable Non-Executive Director, Audit Committee Chair and former Financial Services Partner (Assurance) at PwC with over 30 years of deep, international experience with preeminent financial services firms across Asia-Pacific, particularly in Singapore & Australia.

Motivated by her own experiences and observations on the lack of Asian-Australian leaders in Australian firms, Karen’s book examines how successful culturally diverse leaders at work resolve the contradictions and tensions of their personal identities within organisations. She interviewed dozens of successful Asian-Australian leaders to listen to their experiences, research what factors hold organisational change back, and share what we can learn from leaders who have thrived and smashed the ‘bamboo ceiling’.

I found Karen’s book to be a thought-provoking, well-researched, and nuanced approach to culturally diverse leadership. As someone fascinated by systems-thinking, I really appreciate how she explores the different contributing factors experienced by different Asian-Australian leaders, from the influence of our family and cultural systems, the interplay with Australian cultural contexts, the dynamics of organisational systems, and the impact this subsequently has on Asian-Australian leaders.

However, what I particularly resonate with is Karen’s choice to focus on the individual journey at the start of the book. She starts by exploring the familial roots of Asian-Australian leaders, the role that family plays in their identities, how these experiences influence the way people show up at work, and their subsequent career trajectories. Importantly, Karen also examines and acknowledges the distinctions between the different Asian cultures (such as community-centric vs individualistic differences) and how these might influence different approaches taken by Asian-Australian leaders.

In the second half of her book, Karen then flips this around to explore how organisational systems influence the identities of Asian-Australian leaders. Here, Karen is particularly nuanced in exploring the pitfalls of capital D ‘Diversity’ initiatives and is unafraid to explore the complexity and hard work that drive genuine diversity in organisations. She identifies many of the paradoxes at play that both help and hinder progress, as well as provide practical examples for what organisations can do.

I thoroughly enjoyed Karen’s book, the effort put into the research, the depth of thought and examination, and recommend her book for both emerging culturally diverse leaders as well as those seeking to foster long term change.

You can order a copy of Karen’s book here.

Written by Scott Ko (COO for Leadership Victoria) 

Disclaimer: With thanks to Karen, who provided me a copy of her book for review.

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