Updated: Nov 28, 2021
Only twelve Australian women are leading international companies on the ASX 200 (Australian Stock Exchange) and only one of those women is of Asian descent. Nearly eighteen percent of Australia’s population are Asian, so it begs a question...
Where the Bloody Hell are They?
Well, it appears she hails from the sub-continent from descendants of what many consider the ‘curry and chai, tea connoisseurs of the world’. Shemare Wikramanayake, the CEO of Macquarie Bank, is the sole Asian woman of the ASX 200. Standing as a pioneer for Asian women, it just so happens Shemare has Sri Lankan heritage in her Aussie-English mix.
We decided to investigate and find another success story that proves South Asian women are exerting some serious spicy magic into the corporate world.
ASIAN #GIRLBOSS HALL OF FAME
We trolled through the web to see if we could find Asian #GIRLBOSS who were smashing the bamboo ceiling at the international level, and at the top of google search. Despite our efforts with various word searches, only two female Asians with South Asian heritage consistently popped up in our research result.
Indian woman Ankita Bose, the CEO of technology platform Zilingo, isn’t far from becoming India's first female unicorn - much like our own Melanie Perkins of Canva.
As a young determined 23 year old Bose co-founded Zilingo with Dhruv Kappor to change the way Indians shop by introducing an online marketplace for stall owners to buy and sell. Success came quickly for this power duo, who were both listed on Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 back in 2018.
The company has now gained worldwide reach and values at almost $1 billion.
For Ankita, this means she will be the first self-made Indian woman to claim the title of ‘Unicorn woman’.
Leading the way for Asian women in Australia is Shemara Wikramanayake, the CEO of Macquarie group and the first Australian female to top the highest paid executive list in 2019. Shemara is also recognised by Forbes as the fifth most powerful international women.
Taking home more than $20.4 million in 2020, she happens to be the only female that leads the top twenty highest market value companies in Australia. Surely one must wonder how she managed to land in such an esteemed position.
Shemara was born in England to Sri Lankan parents and moved to Sydney at the age of thirteen. Upon arriving she attended Ascham in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and then went on to study at the University of New South Wales. She later enrolled at the Harvard Business School to complete a management course.
Shemara is a perfect example of working your way to the top - and to the top she is. She began her career at an investment bank of Macquarie Group in 1987 and just after she joined, the company started to expand globally, leading to its name of ‘Millionaires Factory’ coined for paying its employees huge bonuses. In the span of her career she lived in nine cities and helped build the bank’s corporate offices in Hong Kong, Malaysia and New York.
In 2008 she was promoted to the Asset Management position of Macquarie bank, and then a decade later after proving her proficiency in management skills, she was given the top job.
There is no doubt that Melanie Perkins deserves a place on Captain Bagrat’s Asian #GirlBoss hall of fame. CBMP certainly hasn’t shied away from our ‘subtle’ Perkins girl crush. Admittedly, Melanie’s achievements cannot be exhausted – at least on our end!
Melanie happens to be the co-creator of the graphic design platform Canva. She founded the company alongside her husband, Cliff Obrecht back in 2012. Today, Canva has global reach, recognised for its highly accessible functions that sought to overturn the complexity of Adobe software. Everyday people, workplaces and more advanced graphic designers make use of the platform’s features. The company as of April this year is valued over A$20 billion dollars – not bad at all.
Perkins also happens to be the second richest Aussie women, with a net worth estimated over A$3.43 billion.
Now enough girl-crushing on her far-reaching successes (especially for the likes of content creation on Instagram) because what really needs mentioning is her genetic makeup.
Melanie happens to have Sri-Lankan heritage on her father’s side (being half Sri-Lankan and Malaysian) which is perfectly fitting to the South Asian successes of the above-mentioned women. So, there we go folks, Perkin does befit this power gene makeup that is getting Asian women to the top.
INDIANS AS ASIANS?
Even though some people don’t qualify Indians and Sri Lankans as Asians, they most certainly are. Forty eight countries comprise the entire Asian continent, meaning it's understandable that many people forget what being ‘Asian’ truly means.
To make sense of it:
● India is in the region of South Asia - which is one of the five distinct regions of the Asian umbrella - and is sometimes referred to as the Indian subcontinent.
● Coining India as its own continent seems fitting since it's so huge... but it can create an ‘Indian are not Asian mentality’ - leaving their Asian identity often unnoticed.
IT’S A MAN’S WORLD
As it stands, 95% of the companies listed on the ASX300 are led by men, leaving only fifteen women amongst a sea of 285 men.
Amongst these fifteen women, there is only one Asian woman standing on this esteemed list. To put it in a broader context, that's 1 out of 300 CEOs.
If Asian parents are living up to their tigering expectations, surely, they should be breeding tiger kids that also lead major global companies.
In 2013, Su Yeong Kim, a Korean associate professor at the University of Texas, decided to study this hypothesis and determine whether tigering of children really does equal success.
American researchers have typically considered Asian parents as being authoritative, however, in opposition to the four established parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and negligence), Kim researched Asian families and came up with four different categories that define Asian parenting styles.
Results: A ten year process of research and data punching led Kim to discover that strict tiger parents were decreasing a child’s success. Academic pressure of stricter parents meant children faced emotional trouble and family disconnect, leading to lower grades and depression. Asian kids that had supportive and easy-going parents were far more likely to achieve academically. She also discovered that the majority of Asian parents display a supportive parenting style.
However, even if Asian women are raised by supportive parents, the barrier of the double glass and bamboo ceiling can still withstand their career success.
The Harvard Business Review said Asian people face difficulty in reaching leadership positions because of Asian stereotypes which deems them as a ‘career threat’ in a professional setting. This often leaves Asian women to fulfill the middle tier of the white corporate pyramid because of male-centric and racially driven barriers.
AN ASIAN WOMAN: LEARNING TO NAVIGATE CULTURAL NORMS
In noting the career success of these South Asian women it is important to address the broader reality of gender inequality within Asian countries. According to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, male-dominated societies are a “cultural sentiment” in Asia.
Women comprise eight percent of management positions in India, which is ahead of South Korea and Japan and leaves India as having the third lowest representation of women managers in the world. Refined further, only two percent of Indian CEOs were women in 2019.
For the Philippines and Singapore there have been impressive shifts for gender equality.
● Ranked in the global top 10 list of most gender equal countries, Philippines has increased female educational opportunities, implemented gender equal pay and significantly improved women's political representation.
● Singapore has also led the way for being the safest country in the Asia Pacific for women to live, determined by women protection laws and the high percentage of women in the labour force.
IS IT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM?
To finish things up, Captain Bagrat thought it necessary to add a fun fact - which happens to be quite dismal in the greater scheme of things but there's always some room for lightness amongst the dark right?
Corporate Adviser, Conrad Liveris revealed in 2018 there were more people named Andrew leading companies on the ASX 200 than women.
According to the study, 7% of all ASX200 CEOs were Andrews. That’s great news for all the Andrews out there but it does displace many high-achieving women with full capacity to lead only at a mere 5.5% based on the same ASX200.
Conrad also found that female CEOs in 2020 plummeted to the lowest figures yet (matching those of 2017). So despite a gradual resurgence in the last decade it's unfortunately fallen.
In response to this stark Andrew figure (no Andrew-haters here) female CEO, Andrea Myles, decided to make a mockery of this humorous statistic. Myles interestingly was the CEO of China Australia Millennial Project until early this year and also happens to be fluent in Mandarin.
Andrea went to the extent of changing her LinkedIn name to Andrew, matched with a white middle aged man as her profile picture. What followed is quite interesting: she saw an increase of people taking her seriously, LinkedIn started connecting her with fellow male CEO’s leading prestigious companies and she received better responses when making gender statements (as posed by a ‘man’). So there it is… Andrews can do something right!
In saying this, women’s capabilities in the career world are not to be understated. Think back to the success story of Macquarie CEO Shemara. Yes, she may have spent a lot more years than her male colleagues trying to prove herself (20 years at that) but she displays perseverance and passion to eventually rule the ASX 200 list. Her name is certainly not Andrew.
Beyond the success of Shemara, there are other promising victories for women’s careers.
Conrad in his most recent 2020 report found that young women are experiencing better work stability over young men, which in turn guarantees better long-term financial outcomes. So that's definitely a win.
On the ASX200 there is a record number… Yes RECORD number of women chairing the boards of companies. Women chaired 9 percent of the listed companies last year, which has been steadily increasing for the past decade. Fingers crossed this won’t stop any time soon.
This also means fantastic news for the glass cliff phenomenon mentioned earlier. If more women are chairing boards there will be less inclination (hopefully) to remove female CEOs on the company's revival. The Harvard Business Review even admits that women show greater support for females in the workplace, placing more faith in their capabilities and leadership skills.
Importantly, CBMP is not here to butcher men (or the Andrews at that) because female leadership achievements can often be attributed to male mentorship as a part of ‘succession planning’.
Succession planning is when companies undergo career development meetings to plan for the next person to take over a leadership position. Hence, prolific women undergo this succession bootcamp often credited to the support of men, in order to rise to the top.
WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE THEY?
In short. Asian women leaders are coming up fast and furious.
A well-established initiative, Asian Australian Leadership Summit (AALS) led by PWC, The Australian National University, Asialink and Johnson Partners, awards 40 upcoming Asian Australian leaders a year across a diverse range of industries and sectors. AALS is paving the way to recognize talent and their contributions to the broader Australian economy. We can not wait to see these aspiring individuals become leaders on the ASX during our generation.
Positively, with women leaping into the chairs of boards, it grants the greater possibilities of women leadership. Women and most certainly Asian women are reaching closer to esteemed positions with these boardroom shifts. After all, if women continue to gain traction in boardrooms, it will only reaffirm their competence. So here's to a resurgence in those grim CEO statistics of the ASX200.
Hear about Mia’s experience as a trailblazing Asian CEO on Captain Bagrat’s Podcast Episode 67 – Smashing the Bamboo Ceiling:
🎧 Spotify: http://ow.ly/VlWf30q07Nm
🍎 Podcasts: http://ow.ly/XVVa30q07P6
🔊Available on all major platforms ⚡️Google Podcasts⚡️ Anchor FM ⚡️Overcast ⚡️ Himalaya
Sasha Foot is a current first-year Journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney. Although she appears ‘Aussie’ on the outside, she is actually a quarter Japanese, thanks to her Japanese grandfather Suji. In recognition of her Asianish heritage she owns two white fluffy Japanese Spitzs - one called Yuki, meaning ‘snow’ in Japanese. She hopes to pursue hard-news journalism in the future with specific interest in politics and global issues.