Diversity and inclusion are not enough; real change only happens if we look in the mirror

The percentage of women on boards in Australia is often used as evidence that we need to do better when it comes to diversity.

For the record, that number is roughly a third. Directors from Non-Anglo-Celtic background? Just 10%.

This is clearly too low when you consider that a third of Australia’s population identifies are being Non-Anglo-Celtic.

It starts as kids

“Look, I’m Asian,” a small child said to me as she pulled the side of her eyes back with both index fingers.

“Yes, you are, because you were born that way,” I said.

“But you really shouldn’t be doing that to yours or anyone else’s eyes to reference anything of Asian origin. It’s not a nice thing to do. Please promise me you’ll never do that again.”

“Ok, I understand,” she said.

No Asian parent is going to ever teach their child to do the “squinty eyes” gesture, so the child in question likely learned it from other kids or from something they watched.

I was told of another little girl in this child’s school from a minority background who kept refusing to play with her “friends” even though she’d done so previously. When quizzed, it was revealed that she always had to be the servant while the other two, who were from a non-minority background, played the nobility.

No one is born with pre-conditioned biases. Nature isn’t to blame here. The wrong kind of nurturing starts many down this path, and it’s much more common than society willingly admits to.

As adults, we have a duty to ensure we minimize the cultural biases we impart consciously, or more likely unconsciously, onto the children around us

“I’m not racist,” we often defensively exclaim. Maybe not. But we all have cultural biases that we picked up through the years, starting very early in life.

Cultural biases leave a mark

I’ve lost count of the number of racists, derogatory insults hurled my way through life.

My earliest memory of it was as a child when we first moved to Australia. Long after I’ve forgotten the names of all the kids who called me names and told me I was less simply for being Asian, their faces remain branded in my memories as badges of honor and resilience.

While the ugly racist aspects do not occur as often in my professional life, the biases remain mostly because of insensitivity. In one of my prior roles, a colleague upon meeting me for the first time remarked: “you must be the new tech guy.”

“No. I run the business for this region,” I said calmly.

They didn’t know what to say and instead shuffled away awkwardly.

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